Toptal vs Upwork: Which Site Is Best For Hiring Developers?

Toptal vs Upwork

If you've ever been in the position to hire a developer, you've probably been faced with the decision of which outsourcing company to choose, particularly when looking at the most popular sites, Toptal vs Upwork.

These two sites both offer development resources for hiring, but what is the difference between them? Which one makes the most sense for you?


We are writing this article because we've hired app developers from both Toptal and Upwork and CollectiveRay has experience working with freelancers from both sites.

With Toptal, we went through the onboarding process and quickly got working with a freelancer who exceeded our expectations.

Before we used either of these providers, we tried hiring on popular marketplaces and this is what happened:

  1. We hired somebody who copied the code and gave us work owned by somebody else.
  2. We hired another programmer who became very unresponsive and never actually gave us the work.
  3. We tried multiple times with multiple people from different countries at different budgets. It took us a long time, and a lot of frustration, to find good programmers. Besides plenty of missed deadlines...

Then we found out about Toptal and Upwork and everything changed.

Toptal vs Upwork


toptal logo

logo upwork


Per hour, per day, per project or fixed fee

Per hour, per project or fixed fee


$500 deposit fees via quotation


Candidate selection

Fully vetted and skill tested

Open platform, anyone can apply. Optional skills testing


Email and ticket support. Account managers for larger customers

No support for free users. Email and ticketed support for premium users.

Billing methods



Client experience

Polished experience with better dashboard and smooth hiring process

Polished but not as well organized. Some elements hard to find. Hiring process is smooth but you have to do all the work.

Complaints and resolution

Email and chat support. Complaints system within the dashboard.

Complaint function within the dashboard. Email and ticket support.


 All candidates skills tested and vetted.  Hire from a huge pool of talent.


 Dashboard is easy to get to grips with.  Dashboard contains everything you need to hire freelancers.


 Dashboard provides all tools necessary to hire freelancers  Ability to set milestones and review work.


 Talent pool is limited compared to open marketplaces.  Some Dashboard elements are hard to find and use.


 Rates are higher, commensurate with skills.  Quality of freelancers varies massively.


 Not upfront about fees.  All the filtering, interviewing and hiring is down to you.


For the quality of developers available, Toptal wins

For lower-end projects and for the variety of talent, Upwork wins.



What is Toptal?

Toptal logo


Toptal is a marketplace where only the top 3% of people to apply are accepted. The basic premise is very clear, even from the very name they've chosen for themselves, they only employ Top Talent.

The company was founded in 2010 by Taso Du Val and Breanden Beneschott and their aggressive growth has been attributed to the way they operate.

But what makes this company stand out?

  1. They only hire the very best talent. The company accepts only the top 3% of developers who apply to become freelancers with them.
  2. They have very tough tests, to make sure they weed out anybody who is not of the highest quality. This pre-vetting of the candidates that apply to be listed with the company means one thing.
  3. They have at least 3 interviews and at least 3 skill tests that are not for the faint of heart.

So when you hire with Toptal - you're hiring the very best.

As a company doing the hiring, this means, you as the client are going to save all of the time and hassle that comes with finding and hiring freelance developers. You don't have to worry about whether the freelancer you hired will meet your expectations either. These experts are guaranteed to be the best in the business.

All of the main development niches are covered, including Javascript developers, WordPress, PHP programmers, web designers. In essence, if you're after any kind of technical freelancer for hire, they've got your back.

To get approved as a freelancer with them, you'll need to pass through 4 phases of testing

  1. Vocal interview to test language
  2. Skills review to assess knowledge
  3. Live tests to prove skillset
  4. Practice projects to assess the quality of work

As you can see, this rigorous testing process guarantees that only top talent is listed with this company!

Check out Top Talented freelancers

On the next part of our Toptal vs Upwork review, we discuss Upwork.

What is Upwork?

logo upwork


Upwork is a freelance developer marketplace. As a client, you post a project description on the site and potential candidates bid to win your project. Once you hire a freelancer, you agree to a fee. You deposit this fee in escrow and agree to release it once the freelancer submits the work to your specification.

This company came about by merging two popular freelancing platforms, elance and oDesk in December of 2013. It created the largest freelancing platform around, connecting thousands of freelancers with clients. Rather than being limited to developers, this is a marketplace for all sorts of skills.

Users from all over the world will be competing to win your project, so you can expect lots of proposals to come in for your project at a wide range of prices.

You typically decide what you want to pay beforehand. When putting together your project brief, you should research the going rate for the size and complexity of the project. You can decide whether you want to pay by project, or on a per-hour basis and developers who apply for your job will submit proposals accordingly.

With so many freelancers available for hire, making a good choice is actually quite tough, especially when you get so many applicants for most jobs.

This marketplace tries to guide you by awarding "achievements" to freelancers on their network. You'll get such achievements as "Rising Talent", freelancers who are relatively new but have a good success rate. Individuals who have been on the platform for a while and have a good rating can also achieve such statuses as "Top-Rated".

However, you'll typically get all sorts of applicants applying for most jobs, so the toughest job for a hiring company is sorting out the wheat from the chaff. If you'd like to know more about them, this is a great review here.

Visit Up Work now


Now you have a good idea of who and what Toptal and Upwork are, let us compare them in several key areas. We will look at:

  1. Pricing and fees
  2. Candidate selection
  3. Support
  4. Billing methods
  5. Client experience
  6. Complaints and resolution

Each of these can exert huge influence over how positive your experience is on each platform.


See Top Talented freelancers

toptal vs upwork - Pricing and fees

Toptal vs Upwork - Pricing and fees

The pricing and fee structure of Toptal vs Upwork are very different.


  • Toptal offers payment by hourly rate, by project or fixed fee.
  • Upwork also offers by hourly rate, by project or fixed fee.

On Toptal, as you’re working with the cream of the crop, hourly rates are typically $50 per hour and above. Upwork’s hourly rates can be lower, from $10 upwards depending on the skills you require.


Toptal requires an upfront deposit of $50 regardless of the cost of your project. This is refundable should you not end up hiring. Unfortunately, they are not upfront about their fees and will quote on a case by case basis.

Upwork has four business plans.

  • Free - Costs nothing per month but includes a 3% fee for all payments to freelancers you hire.
  • Plus - $49.99 per month and includes dedicated support. It still includes a 3% fee for all payments to freelancers you hire.
  • Business - $849 per month and includes a dedicated account manager and detailed reporting. No payment fee but 10% ‘client fee’.
  • Enterprise – Quote and includes compliance services and fully managed solution.


Candidate selection

Candidate selection

Candidate selection can be a considerable headache or it can be smooth as butter depending on your requirements. Again, Toptal and Upwork have different ways of working that will lend themselves to different audiences.

Toptal goes to a lot of effort to vet all candidates, with a 97% failure rate. While this doesn’t guarantee success, it goes a long way to smoothing the way. As we mentioned in our overview, candidates have a four-stage selection process before being accepted onto the platform.

That includes:

  1. Vocal interview to test language
  2. Skills review to assess knowledge
  3. Live tests to prove skillset
  4. Practice projects to assess the quality of work

Upwork is an open marketplace with no vetting or selection system. Anyone can join, set up a profile and begin pitching for work. Candidate selection is down to you.




Both Toptal and Upwork are very straightforward to use and mostly hassle-free. However, a service can only be judged truly good when things go wrong, so how do they stack up?


This platform has a customer support department that can help with most issues. Depending on your membership level, you may get an account manager. They also runs trials where you can ‘try out’ a developer before hiring them which should minimise issues.


If you’re a free user, you’re largely on your own. There is a useful user forum with lots of advice but customer support is offshored and not very helpful. Business-class clients do get priority or dedicated support and can utilise that if necessary.

Billing methods

Billing methods

Both platforms (Toptal vs Upwork) are similar when it comes to billing. Both accept most major credit cards and PayPal. Toptal also accepts major bank accounts and wire transfers too, for a fee.

Both use an escrow service for payment. Toptal requires that initial deposit and will pay freelancers from it to begin with. It will then invoice every fortnight during active projects.

Like Toptal, Upwork uses escrow which needs to be paid upfront. You then set milestones or release the entire fee depending on your arrangement with the freelancer.

Client experience

Client experience

The client experience is very subjective but as we have used both to hire developers, we have an idea of what it’s like to be a client on both platforms.

Toptal has a more polished feel about it and you have a sense of a more professional setup. You are left to your own devices most of the time and can manage your hiring and firing as you see fit. The dashboard is very straightforward, communication generally professional and timely and work can be tracked between milestones.

Upwork has a polished feel too but is a little more haphazard. The dashboard is easy to use once you get to grips with it but does have a couple of quirks. As applying for a project is a free-for-all, it can get a little overwhelming at first. There is more work involved too as you will see applications that vary massively in terms of quality and suitability. 

Complaints and resolution

Complaints and resolutions are two important aspects of using freelancers on a regular basis that we've also looked at in our Upwork vs Toptal comparison. The vast majority of your time on each platform will be positive but there will be times when you’re going to need a little help.

Toptal offers account managers for larger companies or email or chat support for smaller clients. The website doesn’t even mention a complaints procedure but there is one accessible from the dashboard. Again, the system is skewed towards the client over the freelancer so any issues you have when you hire a developer should work out in your favour.

Upwork has a reporting function within the client dashboard you can use if necessary. It provides a means to communicate your problem and have customer services look at it. You are then in their hands as their decision is final and there is no appeal. The system is biased in favour of clients, so you should end up with a positive result.

What is the difference between Toptal and Upwork


What is the difference between Toptal vs Upwork?

When you're considering which platform between Upwork vs Toptal to use there are a few very clear differences.

  1. Quality - With Toptal the quality is guaranteed. With Upwork, although you'll find good developers, you'll need to actually discover this yourself through trial and error.
  2. Price - You'll probably find that hiring on top talent might be somewhat more expensive on a price per hour basis. However, this difference is typically recuperated due to the shorter development timeframes and quality of the work delivered.
  3. Hiring methodology – Toptal goes to great lengths to do the hard work for you. This won’t guarantee success but it drastically increases the chances. Upwork is a free-for-all and you will have more work to do when selecting candidates.


Should you hire From Toptal or Upwork?

If you're trying to decide between Upwork vs Toptal, your choice is this:

  • If you want top-notch developers hired in a short time-frame, choose Toptal.
  • If you are hiring more experienced developers or need high tier skills, choose Toptal.
  • If you want to select from a narrow field of pre-selected developers, choose Toptal.
  • If you’re hiring for a low-end project or don’t require such skills, consider Upwork.
  • If you have the time to go through a hiring process to find a good programmer yourself, choose Upwork.
  • If you want to choose from a much wider and more diverse field of candidates, choose Upwork.

See Top Talented freelancers

Toptal vs Upwork Frequently Asked Questions

Is Toptal any good?

Toptal is a very good option for businesses looking to hire reliable freelancers. The way the company works means that you are guaranteed to get good results because for freelancers to get listed on their marketplace they need to pass through very rigorous tests. While in general, the hourly price is typically more expensive than other places, you'll find that the total peace of mind and guaranteed good results are why people opt to work with this company.

How much can you make on Toptal?

Most developers on Toptal make between $800 and $3000 per month, but there are developers who make much more. This is because the typical hourly rate for work averages between $60 and $90, though you will find higher hourly rates. Multiply these rates by 20 to hours per week and you'll be in between this range of income.

How much does Toptal cost?

Toptal asks companies working with them to deposit $500 once they hire talent, however, if they decide not to move forward, the deposit is refunded. The cost of work then depends on the hourly rate of the developers hired. This typically ranges from $60 per hour for part-time work, to more than $6,400 per work for full-time hirees in certain niches that are in high demand.

How do I work for Upwork?

To work for Upwork, all you need to do is create a Freelancer profile with your skills and then start pitching for jobs that are posted. You will be much more effective as a freelancer if you earn a good reputation for high-quality work. Ideally, you start performing small jobs, even if it means you don't make as much money until you build a good reputation. At this point, you will be able to pitch for higher quality and higher value jobs.

How do you get paid in Upwork?

There are several withdrawal methods you can use to get paid in Upwork. Several payment methods are supported including Direct to US Bank, Direct to Local Bank, US Dollar Wire Transfer, Instant Pay, Paypal, and Payoneer. Upwork works with an escrow concept. The company who has a job needs to deposit the fee beforehand. This amount will be released to the freelancer when the company approves that the work has been submitted to specifications.

Conclusion: Upwork vs Toptal

After all that Toptal vs Upwork analysis, what’s our verdict?

As a client, both platforms are skewed in your favour. The setup is designed to work for clients over freelancers. Any arbitration and complaints are usually skewed toward the client so using either platform to hire a freelance developer should deliver the skills you need.

Toptal provides a narrow field but one that has been weighed, measured and not found wanting. They tend to be at the higher, more expensive end of the freelance market but their skills are guaranteed.

Upwork is a free-for-all open marketplace. You will have access to a huge, diverse talent base but will have to do much more work to filter the good from the bad.

Both offer payment by the hour or by the project and both offer escrow services to clients. Both offer a review system and ways to give feedback about the experience and the individual freelancer.

Our verdict is for higher-end projects that depend on quality over price. Choose Toptal.

For projects at the lower end of the scale or where price is more important, choose Upwork.

Have you worked with Toptal, Upwork? What was your experience like? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Tell us about your experiences below!

See Top Talented freelancers  

About the Author
David Attard
David has been working in or around the online and digital industry for the last 21 years. He has vast experience in the software and web design industries using WordPress, Joomla and niches surrounding them. He has worked with software development agencies, international software companies, local marketing agencies and now is Head of Marketing Operations at Aphex Media - an SEO agency. As a digital consultant, his focus is on helping businesses get a competitive advantage using a combination of their website and digital platforms available today. His blend of technology expertise combined with a strong business acumen brings a competitive edge to his writings.

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