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In New Zealand, starting your own business is very straightforward. If you have a talent for languages, branching out on your own and creating your own business for translation services as an interpreter could be a great way to be your own boss. This article will outline:

  • what an interpreting job looks like;
  • the qualifications you need to be a professional interpreter; and
  • what possible business structures your interpreting business might take.

What Does an Interpreting Job Look Like?

Being an interpreter is a flexible and constantly-changing job. Language and intercultural communication are vitally important, with the world continually becoming more interconnected. As an interpreter, you may do all or some of the following:

  • read and translate documents into the target language for clients;
  • check translated material is correct and the meaning is maintained;
  • ensure that technical terms have been correctly translated; and
  • live-translate meetings or seminars into foreign languages. 

As an interpreter, you have many people who may need your services, including government agencies, private individuals, charities or other social organisations. A wide range of individuals and groups may need professional translation services, which provides an excellent opportunity to find potential customers. You could work for translation agencies or start your own business.

Do I Need Any Qualifications?

You will need to ensure that you have the correct licences and qualifications for your speciality to call your business ‘professional interpreting services’. As a translator or interpreter, you will likely need to have a Bachelor’s degree or a very high level of competency in one or more languages, and potentially even a Master’s degree in translating to understand better how you should translate information.

Additionally, the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters recommends that you attend their seminars and workshops to become further qualified and better understand the specifics of translating.

Finally, you may need to receive an additional qualification or registration with this organisation to get particular employment. 

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What Business Structure Should I Choose?

Sole Trader

Becoming a sole trader means starting a business on your own without registering as a company. However, getting a New Zealand Business Number (NZBN) can be useful. It allows people to search your business on the New Zealand Business Register, potentially improving your customer base and attracting potential clients. As a sole trader, you will have total control of your business and get all the profits. Furthermore, you will be taxed based on your IRD number. If your translation business earns more than $60,000 a year, you will need to register for GST. It would be best to work out how you prefer to be paid. You can be paid per:

  • line of text translated;
  • hour; or 
  • project. 

However, there are a few disadvantages to becoming a sole trader. First, you will be personally liable for all debts that your business might accrue. So, you may be risking some personal assets if something goes wrong with your business. 


You could also create a company for your interpreting business. If you create a company, the company will be a separate legal entity to you, unlike being a sole trader. You can become a company director and its shareholder, which will provide you control of the company. Creating a company has higher startup costs and requires a time-consuming registration process with the Companies Office. There are also more legal requirements to maintain a company. However, there are several positives to creating a company.

For instance, if the company experiences issues, you will not be personally liable for any financial issues the company faces unless you are negligent or break the law. 


If you wish to enter into business with some fellow interpreters, another business structure may be available. If you create a partnership, you and several different individuals will have an equal share in the business. This means that you will not have complete control over your business and its profits. However, you will also have partners if your business experiences struggles. You will all bring your strengths to your business, making you stronger overall. To create a partnership, you will need to register for an IRD number for your business and create a partnership agreement that will outline each partner’s rights and responsibilities.

It would be best to get an NZBN for your partnership to allow individuals to search for your business.  

Key Takeaways

If you are looking for a flexible and varied job and have a passion for languages, becoming an interpreter could be the perfect job for you. First, you must ensure that you are correctly qualified to work as a professional interpreter. Then, you can choose between a sole trader, partnership or company for your business structure, based on how you would like to operate your business. 

If you need help understanding how to start your own business, our experienced business lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. You will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents for a low monthly fee. Call us today on 0800 005 570 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need any professional qualifications to become an interpreter? 

You do not need to formally register to a board or wider authority to become an interpreter in New Zealand, however, you will need to have a high level of fluency in another language and show an ability to interpret and translate. You can do this by obtaining a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. 

Can I create a business with other interpreters that speak other languages?

Yes, it is possible to create a business with interpreters that speak other languages to grow your business possibilities. For example, you can create a business partnership or a company where you are all directors.  

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