Onsite Interpreter Versus Remote Interpreter: Weighing the Pros and Cons

With global businesses expanding their reach and working with foreign partners, the need for effective language interpretation services has never been more important.

Professionals in a wide range of fields are taking advantage of the ease that remote interpretation services offer. Every day, professionals use and depend on services like over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) and video remote interpreting (VRI).

Photo of an onsite interpreter and a remote interpreter

Remote interpretation services make it easier and more convenient for people to talk to each other and reduce the stress and potential negative outcomes that can happen when people don't speak the same language.

The question that arises is whether an Onsite Interpreter or a Remote Interpreter is the better choice. Is there a clear winner? Both options offer unique advantages and drawbacks, and making an informed decision requires a comprehensive understanding of their differences.

In this article, we’ll look into the complexities of both approaches, weighing the pros and cons to help you make the right decision for your specific needs. This will help answer the question of which one is better.

The Role of an Onsite Interpreter in Facilitating Direct Communication

An onsite interpreter is a professional who offers real-time interpretation services at a specific physical location. From assisting patients at hospitals to enabling smooth dialogue at international conferences, they are typically physically present where the conversation happens.

An onsite interpreter facilitating a real-time interpretation service

Due to the interpreter's physical presence, onsite interpreters are able to provide the best and most accurate information because they can see, hear, and feel what is being said.

The best time to hire an onsite interpreter is when the subject matter is private or emotional. Onsite interpretation services are great for conversations between lawyers and their clients who don't speak English well.

This service would be very helpful for office meetings, depositions, hearings, mediations, court appearances, and any situation where an attorney needs to interact with a client who doesn't speak English very well.

An onsite interpreter is also a great help for many types of healthcare appointments, like physical therapy (where there are a lot of difficult directions, movements, and instructions to follow), or when giving/ receiving detailed and complicated care directions, test results, or information about surgery. Having an onsite interpreter can help a patient who doesn't speak English, to feel calm and at ease in an otherwise stressful scenario.

Sample photo of an onsite interpreter in a hospital setting

For a deeper understanding of the world of interpretation, you can explore resources and insights provided by recognized bodies, like the U.S Department of State’s Office of Language Services, which sheds light on the complexities and best practices in the field.

Now, here’s a closer look at an onsite interpretation’s pros and cons:


  • In-Person Interaction: A deeper sense of connection is possible when an onsite interpreter is there. Non-verbal cues, facial expressions, and body language are a big part of how well people can communicate, and an on-site interpreter does a great job of picking up on these subtleties.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: In cross-cultural conversations, it is very important to understand cultural contexts. An onsite interpreter is better equipped to pick up on cultural distinctions, ensuring that messages are conveyed accurately while considering cultural sensitivities. 
  • Immediate Clarification: Questions and clarifications can come up in the middle of a complicated conversation. An onsite interpreter can instantly seek clarity and provide immediate responses, minimizing misunderstandings.


  • Logistical Challenges: Hiring an onsite interpreter involves logistical considerations such as travel arrangements, accommodation, and scheduling. This can be time-consuming and costly, especially for urgent situations.
  • Limited Availability: Depending on the language and location, finding a qualified onsite interpreter might be challenging. This limitation can lead to delays in communication.

Remote Interpreter: Breaking Down Geographical Barriers

When there’s a language problem that needs a quick exchange between people who don't speak the same language, remote interpretation services like over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) and video remote interpreting (VRI) are great. 

Remote interpreters doing an over the phone interpreting (OPI) and a video remote interpreting (VRI)

Because of how easy it is to use both OPI and VRI, language services are now available to anyone, anywhere, and at any time of the day with little to no wait time. Both OPI and VRI are extremely cost effective ways to learn a language because customers only pay for the time they spend talking to the remote interpreter. 

OPI works best for short conversations where details need to be gathered, information needs to be given, or a meeting needs to be confirmed or canceled. VRI is a service for remote interpretation that leaves the audio and visual parts of the interpretation the same.

VRI combines the ease of remote link that OPI offers with a virtual physical presence that is similar to what an onsite interpreter offers. It’s done a good job of making a platform where professional sign language interpretation services are available remotely. 

As technology advances, so do the possibilities of seamless remote communication. Remote interpreters leverage digital platforms to provide their services, offering their own set of advantages and challenges:


  • Global Accessibility: Utilizing remote interpreters allows you to access experts from around the world. This is especially advantageous for rare languages or specialized fields.
  • Cost-Efficiency: By eliminating travel and accommodation expenses, remote interpretation often proves to be a more cost-effective option, particularly for long-term collaborations.
  • Quick Availability: With a vast network of remote interpreters, finding an available professional on short notice becomes feasible, ensuring that your communication needs are met promptly.


  • Technology Dependency: Remote interpretation relies heavily on technology infrastructure. Technical issues, such as poor internet connectivity, can disrupt communication flow and impact the quality of interpretation.
  • Reduced Non-Verbal Cues: While video calls bridge the gap to some extent, remote interpretation still lacks the depth of non-verbal cues that an onsite interpreter can provide.

Making the Choice: Factors to Consider

The decision between an Onsite Interpreter and a Remote Interpreter depends on various factors that are unique to each situation. Consider the following aspects to guide your choice:

  • Nature of Communication: If your communication heavily relies on non-verbal cues and cultural nuances, an onsite interpreter might be preferable. However, for more transactional interactions, a remote interpreter could suffice.
  • Urgency: Urgent situations often require quick access to interpreters. In this case, remote interpreters might have the edge due to their availability and quick response times.
  • Cost Considerations: Budget constraints can play a significant role. Evaluate the costs of travel, accommodation, and in-person services against the cost of remote interpretation services.
  • Technology Reliability: Assess the reliability of your technological infrastructure. If your communication platform is stable and dependable, a remote interpreter can be a reliable choice.


In the ongoing debate between Onsite Interpreter and Remote Interpreter, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. There isn’t much of a skill/ functionality difference between the two interpretation services. Your choice should align with your specific communication needs, the nature of your interactions, and your budgets.

Both options have their own strengths and limitations, and the key lies in finding the right balance between the two. There are times when it's best to use onsite interpretation and times when it's best to use remote interpretation services. For example; People with limited English proficiency (LEP) often can't find an onsite interpreter who knows the language and dialect they need, so they have to look for a remote interpreter.

As technology continues to evolve, remote interpretation is becoming increasingly ideal, bridging the gap between geographical distances. 

However, the timeless value of in-person interactions and the depth of understanding they offer cannot be overlooked. Ultimately, your decision should be driven by your unique circumstances, ensuring that your communication transcends linguistic barriers accurately.

Language services are an important part of our diverse communities. Having choices that meet all of your language needs makes it easier to communicate clearly and accurately in any situation.

Contact us today if you’re looking for a platform where you can book an onsite interpreter, video remote interpreting (VRI) or over the phone interpreting (OPI) services and find out how our innovative software can transform your interpreter scheduling needs.

Our team at Interpreter.io is here to assist you and help you understand the positive impact it can have. Call us at 1- 855-  340- 8855 (Toll Free) or go to our website at Interpreter.io to find out more.