Why a Cancellation Fee is Not “Free Money” for Interpreters.

As you already know from our Blog, the overwhelming majority of conference interpreters are freelancers. They run their own businesses and work for a variety of clients, including government and international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Bank etc., as well as for private conference organizers and translation companies.

simultaneous interpretation equipment

Simultaneous interpretation console with a gooseneck microphone.

For experienced interpreters, schedule fills 1-2 months in advance. That is why you should book the best interpreters as early as possible: it is not uncommon to book interpreters for major events 6 months before they happen and a year in advance for annual events.

Conferences do get canceled sometimes, however. In that case, a cancellation fee paid to interpreters is common, and here is why:

  • Interpreters prepare diligently for your event. Sometimes, it takes 3 days of reading agendas, reports, glossaries, and online sources to prepare for a 1 hour event. Preparation time is required even for seemingly simple topics and is included into interpreters’ daily rates. It would not be due diligence and highly unprofessional to come to a conference unprepared.
  • If your event is canceled or dates are changed, “lucrum cessans” (lost income) practice dictates that interpreters receive a cancelation fee for the time they spent preparing for the event and for the income that was lost.
  • The amount of the cancellation fee is negotiated on a case by case basis and it can reach 100% of the daily rate for the most experienced senior level interpreters, the reason being that it is next to impossible to find a replacement assignment at the last moment. (For conference planning purposes, a month is “the last moment.”) The amount charged is at interpreters’ discretion.
  • The cancellation clause should be included into the contract between the client and the interpretation services provider, as well as between the provider and the interpreter.
  • Cancellation fee clause applies after the contracts are signed: first, the contract with the client, and then the contract with the interpreter.
  • Cancellation fee can be progressive depending on when the event is canceled or postponed: e.g. 50% if more than 30 calendar days and 100% if less than 30 calendar days before the event.
  • For extra due diligence, interpretation services provider will confirm with the interpreter if the interpreter has not, indeed, been able to find a replacement job and will correct the cancellation fee charge accordingly. It is an honor system and no serious interpreter would attempt to damage his reputation by charging two clients for the same day of work. All we have, after all, is our reputation!business people handshaking
  • While a 100% cancellation fee may seem steep, you need to remember that it is not “free money” for the interpreters. They invest a huge amount of time preparing for your event, honing their skills, and should be compensated fairly.     


Clients should take into account a possibility of event cancellation and plan their budgets accordingly. It will secure the best available interpreters and help make your conference a success!