Travel Therapy Pay 101: How Does It Work?
A huge perk of travel therapy (Travel PT, Travel OT, Travel SLP) is that you can make more money! But how much more? And how does the pay work?
The way we get paid as traveling therapists is different than that of a normal salary or hourly position (such as at a regular permanent job or a PRN job). Why? For one, we don’t work on an annual basis, we work on a week to week basis, so you can’t discuss our pay in terms of an annual salary. We also can’t discuss pay in terms of a strict “hourly” rate, because we often receive tax-free stipends as part of our pay.
Typically, as a traveling healthcare professional, you’re going to get paid a regular hourly rate (which is taxed), plus a per diem or stipend for housing, meals, and incidentals (which is usually untaxed, as long as you meet the requirements of maintaining a proper tax home).
Why do we get paid this way? Well, as traveling workers, we receive pay not only for the work we do, but we also receive reimbursements to cover our housing and other expenses while we are there. Per the IRS, as long as you’re maintaining a “Tax Home” at your permanent residence, you get a tax break on the stipend part of your pay. So, at the end of the day, because you don’t have to pay taxes on that part of your pay, you end up making more money after taxes than at a regular job, where all of your pay is taxed.
- To learn more about tax homes, check out the Tax Home part of our series! We also recommend visiting TravelTax.com to make sure you’re following all the proper rules!
Sometimes, travel therapists will also receive additional reimbursements for things like their state license, scrubs, and mileage/travel to get to the assignment.
So your pay is going to be broken into these segments which make up what’s called the “Pay Package“: Hourly Rate + Stipends/Per Diems + Reimbursements.
But, in order to easily discuss pay packages, people in the travel therapy industry normally refer to pay in what’s called the “Weekly Take-Home” amount. This is a number that encompasses how much you’re going to make each week in total, since it’s easier to discuss travel therapy jobs on a week by week basis. It’s important to distinguish when talking about “Weekly Pay” if the person you’re talking to is referring to gross pay or net/after tax pay. Most of the time we all discuss it as after tax pay which is what “Weekly Take Home” means, the amount you actually take home after taxes.
How do you calculate a “Weekly Take Home” number?
You take the hourly rate and multiply it by the number of hours you worked.
- For example, $20/hr x 40hrs = $800
Then, you subtract out the taxes you have to pay on that amount, which depends on your state and your tax filing status (for example single/married and if you claim dependents).
- So let’s say you owed 30% taxes, it would be $800 x 70%= $560 after taxes
Then, you’ll add in your weekly per diem amounts, for example $1000/wk total for meals/housing/incidentals.
- So if your pay was $20/hr + $1000/wk stipends, your “weekly take home” amount would be: $560 (after taxes) + $1000 (untaxed) = $1560/wk after taxes!
Then you might get a one time reimbursement of say $500 for travel/license, so you’d get $500 one time, then each week also get $1560/wk!
Where Does the Money Come From?
It’s important to understand where the money comes from when you’re talking about pay. As a travel therapist, the facility decides how much they’re going to offer for the position. The facility pays the travel company an amount of money, which is called the bill rate. Then, the travel company has to take a cut for their costs (a commission for their services and overhead costs), then the travel company pays you out of the remainder of the bill rate left over.
Once the money gets to the travel company, they can decide how to divide it up and give it to the traveler, and the traveler often has some input too. Here is where money can be moved around and allocated different ways to maximize the tax benefits for both the travel company and the traveler. For example, as long as they’re following the IRS guidelines for per diems, they can put more money towards your stipend/per diems (which is usually untaxed as long as you qualify) and less money towards the hourly pay (which is taxed).
So the bill rate that the facility gives the travel company could be something like $60-80/hr. Then the travel company takes out their cut. Then your pay might look something like: $20/hr (taxed) + $1000/wk per diems (untaxed).
Similarly, they can choose to allocate some of the pay towards separate reimbursements. So you could see something like $20/hr (taxed) + $960/wk per diems (untaxed) + $500 one time reimbursement for licensure and mileage.
But, as we can see here, in the second example with the $500 reimbursement, the per diem is lower. If you divided that $500 out over the course of a 13 week assignment, $500/13=$38. So both the above pay packages are really about the same, because in one example the per diem is $40 higher each week, and in the other it’s $40 lower but has an extra $500 one-time payment tacked on.
It’s important to note that there isn’t just “free money” floating around that the company can give you for “extras”. Think of a pay package as all one big pie. You can cut the pie in different ways, but it’s still the same pie. Some companies will use gimmicks to say they’re going to give you more money for a certain contract by calling them reimbursements, bonuses, tuition paybacks, contract completion bonuses etc. But, as an informed and savvy traveler, you need to know that all the pay is coming from somewhere. Either, it comes directly out of the bill rate for that specific contract, directly from that specific facility to the travel company. Or, the travel company might allocate a particular budget into a department to give out money for things like licensure reimbursements. But, you have to understand that in order to have that budget available in their company, it means they take it out of their commissions/overhead for all contracts for all travelers across the board. So either way, the money comes from somewhere and affects your weekly pay in one way or another once it’s all said and done!
This is an important fact to remember if you find yourself trying to compare pay either between yourself and another traveler, or between two contracts you’re being offered by two different companies. You have to look at the entire “pay package” (the whole “pie”) not just one piece of it.
How Much Money Do Travel Therapists Normally Make?
The amount that travel therapists make varies highly based on a number of factors, with the main ones being: the type of facility, the location of the facility, and the travel company. These are all very important factors to keep in mind, especially again if you’re going to try to compare pay with another traveler, or compare between two different contracts you’re considering. You can’t expect the pay to be the same for a completely different setting, in a completely different state, and with a different company, which is just the same for perm jobs if you think about it!
So what’s a typical range?
A typical range for a traveling physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech language pathologist, is going to be around $1500-1800/wk after taxes.
For PTA/COTA, you could see pay typically between $1000-1300/wk.
But we have seen PT/OT/SLP pay anywhere from $1350/wk to $2500+/wk! These extremes are going to be more rare. We don’t recommend taking jobs with pay below $1500/wk after taxes. However, during COVID, pay has been a little lower, and desperate times have called for desperate measures. But in general, we don’t recommend accepting below $1500/wk as a PT/OT/SLP.
Pay in the $1800-2500+ range is going to be only in certain parts of the country and for certain really high paying jobs.
For travel therapists, the setting that tends to pay the most is home health, while SNF tends to pay the lowest, and outpatient, hospital, or schools tend to fall in the middle.
The higher paying areas are typically more on the west coast, particularly in California. Where on the east coast and midwest you’ll see more moderate pay.
And as we mentioned, the travel company you’re working with can make a difference too, depending on how much overhead/commission they keep, and how they choose to allocate the pay.
The Bottom Line
So as you can see, travel therapists can make significantly more money than therapists at permanent positions in many cases. But, pay can vary highly across the board depending on a number of factors. And, it can be tricky understanding how your pay is broken down in order to compare pay between offers and with other travelers.
Learning and understanding how the pay works before you dive in and get started as a traveler is very important! To learn more, check out this Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Pay.
We hope this article was informative and helped you! To continue learning about travel therapy, check out the rest of the articles & videos on our series Travel Therapy 101: The Basics
Whitney has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015. She has helped to mentor and educate thousands of current and aspiring travel therapists over the years.