For many healthcare workers, taking a travel assignment in Hawaii would be a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want to get to live and work in the beautiful Hawaiian Islands for a few months? In fact, many travelers who take an assignment in Hawaii end up extending their contracts, returning for future contracts, or even staying there permanently. Fortunately, taking job in Hawaii is a real possibility for many healthcare travelers, but it doesn’t come without some logistical hurdles.
I had the opportunity to work as a traveling physical therapist (Travel PT) in Hawaii in the summer of 2021, and I want to share with you some of the logistics that you’ll need to know if you also want to take a travel healthcare job in Hawaii!
As you can imagine, getting a travel contract in Hawaii can be pretty competitive. It’s a highly desirable area to live and work, particularly in the more popular areas like Honolulu.
On the other hand, sometimes there can be a lack of healthcare workers in the more rural areas of Hawaii, so you’re more likely to be able to find a travel contract if you’re open to any island and any town in Hawaii. Trust me from having visited all four of the major islands: you’ll still get to experience so much no matter which island and which town your contract is in. Even on the largest of the islands, you can get from one side to the other in 2 hours or less. So your weekends can be filled with adventure in any corner of the island (or you can hop a quick flight over to another island) no matter if your contract itself is right in the middle of the action or not.
Since jobs are generally more competitive, it also helps if you have more experience on your resume before applying to travel jobs in Hawaii, including years of experience and sometimes variety of settings. You’re less likely to be able to beat out the competition and get a job there if you’re a new grad.
In general, it’s best to be as flexible as possible when looking for a job in Hawaii in order to increase your chances of being chosen for a job. If you’re open to all settings and any location, and you have some experience, you’re much more likely to get a contract than if you’re being too selective on both setting and location.
Unfortunately, pay tends to be lower for healthcare jobs in Hawaii. This goes for both travel and permanent jobs. One major reason for this is that insurance reimbursement is lower (particularly for therapy). In addition to that, higher competition for jobs (since it’s a desirable area) means that employers can also usually get away with paying lower and they’ll still have plenty of applicants. This is an unfortunate truth when looking at jobs in Hawaii, even though the cost of living is fairly high.
So you’ll have to go into your search for jobs in Hawaii knowing that you’re not necessarily going to make (and save) a ton of money compared to other travel healthcare opportunities on the “mainland.” You’ll have to look at it as more of a “working vacation.” This is another reason that we generally don’t think it’s best for new grads or new travelers to try to seek out jobs in Hawaii right away. It’s best to get some experience as a traveler on the mainland first, which will both help build your resume and your savings account! Having some savings going into working in Hawaii is always a good plan.
For travel therapy jobs (PT, OT, SLP), we typically see pay around $1400-1700/wk after taxes. This is on the lower end for what we usually recommend for travel therapists. Typically we look for jobs on the mainland paying more in the $1600-1900+ range. But, for Hawaii, $1500 seems to be pretty typical. For nursing and other disciplines, pay in Hawaii also tends to be on the lower end compared to mainland jobs, unless it’s a crisis job for a specialty such as ICU. You may get lucky and find higher paying jobs in Hawaii sometimes, but don’t be surprised if you see what looks like lower pay for a travel contract.
You may also be wondering about reimbursements you can receive as part of your pay package for a job in Hawaii, for things like traveling to Hawaii for the job (plane ticket), licensing, renting a car, etc. Keep in mind that almost always, reimbursements for these things have to come out of the bill rate for the job. So, if the recruiter adds in reimbursements for you, then it will likely affect your weekly take home pay. But you should definitely ask if it’s possible to get reimbursed for these additional costs and how it will affect your total weekly pay if they do reimburse you.
As always, we recommend working with 3-4 different recruiters to assist you in your travel job search. If you’re looking for a job in a very competitive location like Hawaii, working with multiple recruiters is particularly important to see more job options!
If you’re a therapist, you can contact us to get connected with recruiters who we know tend to have more jobs in Hawaii. When I was searching for my travel job, I knew specifically from our connections which companies were more likely to have outpatient physical therapy jobs in Hawaii, which was my first choice for setting. I was flexible and willing to consider a hospital position if it was some inpatient and some outpatient, but I was fortunate to be able to find a contract that was strictly outpatient (private practice) that worked really well for me.
Traveling as a Pair
Since Jared and I travel together, we originally considered trying to find two Travel PT jobs together in Hawaii. However, knowing that the jobs are more competitive there, and since we are now “semi-retired” and don’t work full time, we figured it would just be easier if only one of us took a contract rather than trying to find two jobs.
But, to our surprise, when it came time for our job search, there were actually quite a few places looking for two PT’s. So we could’ve both worked there in reality, but at that point Jared hadn’t even started the process to get a Hawaii license (more on this below) and I had mine, so we just stuck with going for one job.
With that said, it is always going to be more challenging as a pair to find two travel jobs together in the same location. So if you’re trying to do that in an already competitive location like Hawaii, being flexible on setting, location, pay, start date, etc. is of the utmost importance.
Licensing can be a hassle for any travel healthcare job, but I’d say that the license process for Hawaii is one of the worst. They’re well known for being “on island time,” and processing new licenses is definitely a slow and tedious ordeal there.
I started working on getting my license during a particularly poor time, during the height of COVID in 2020. Unfortunately due to many hassles and delays, my physical therapy state license for Hawaii actually took nine months to receive! I will say that this seems to be an unusually long time, and most therapists have told me that theirs only took 1-3 months. But, needless to say, it can take a while, so you’ll have to be on top of getting your license early!
All licensing for all professions in Hawaii goes through the Hawaii Professional & Vocational Licensing Division. It’s really hard to get anyone on the phone to get the answers you need, and their website is not user friendly, so I suggest emailing them instead to follow up (the appropriate email addresses are not easily found on their website, so I’ve included them below for therapists & nurses):
- For Physical Therapy: email@example.com
- For Occupational Therapy: firstname.lastname@example.org
- For Speech Language Pathology: email@example.com
- For Nursing: firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to your job search in Hawaii, you pretty much have to already have the license, or be very close to receiving it (all documents submitted & you’ve called to check on the status) before you start applying to jobs. There are certain states where you could potentially find and sign a contract, and then get the license. Unfortunately Hawaii is not one of them. Most employers will not hire you unless you already have the license in hand.
Finding affordable short term housing in Hawaii can sometimes be a challenge. The cost of living is very high there, so you can expect to pay a lot for short term furnished housing, especially if you want your own unit. It’ll be important to get housing that includes all furnishings and housewares, as you won’t be able to bring much with you when flying to the island from the mainland.
The best we were able to find when we were there was $1800/mo for a private “Ohana” unit (like an in-law suite, attached to someone’s home) which was furnished and included all utilities. We found our housing on Furnished Finder. We had previously heard of friends paying $1500 for a similar unit (pre-COVID). But we also saw listings for $3000+/month for similar units on Airbnb.
When searching for housing, we recommend checking multiple sources just as you would for any contract. Furnished Finder is usually our first choice if there’s anything available, but also check Airbnb, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, VRBO, and Facebook housing groups (search “travel nursing” and “travel therapy” housing keywords). You should also ask around with travelers who have worked in Hawaii before and ask the facility to see if they have any connections.
As a last resort, you can have your company book housing for you. But keep in mind this will likely cut into your pay a lot because you won’t receive the housing stipend.
Something else you’ll have to figure out while living and working in Hawaii is transportation. For the most part, you’re going to need a car, with very few exceptions. The only case when you might be able to get by without a car would be if you work in Honolulu and could be walking distance to work, get just a bike/moped, or rely on Uber/public transportation. But even then, you’ll probably want to have your own vehicle to explore the island when you’re not working.
For any other locations outside of Honolulu, you’re going to need to have a car. Most travelers will rent a car, but some will choose to buy a used car (“island car”) then resell it when they leave. Buying a car would probably only make sense if you plan to be there 6+ months. For shorter stays, renting is likely your best bet.
At the time of writing this (early 2022), there is a shortage of rental cars and used cars due to COVID/supply chain issues, making finding a car in Hawaii an even bigger challenge. This was definitely the case for us in the summer of 2021 when we were there. We ended up finding out through word of mouth about a local who rents his own used cars out to traveling healthcare workers. We were lucky and got our car for $600/mo from this person (yes that’s actually cheap compared to alternative options we had!). We’ve since found out about other locals who do the same on different islands. So it’s a good idea to ask around to other travelers who have been there before and see who you can get in contact with for car rentals (we only have info for the Big Island, so you can ask us for contact info there- we don’t have contact info for the other islands so you’ll have to ask other travelers).
Besides renting from a local, your other rental options would be checking Turo (like Airbnb for cars) or car rental agencies, but this is likely going to be more costly than going through an individual. Another option could be shipping your car from the mainland, but this can be an expensive and timely endeavor. So it’s probably not worth it to do if you’ll only be there a few months.
As a last resort, you could have your travel company try to arrange a car for you, but keep in mind they’ll be searching the same methods as above, and this will likely cut into your pay a lot if they book a car for you.
Packing, Flying & Moving
Figuring out what to pack for an assignment where you have to fly can be tricky. As a traveler, you have to learn to become somewhat of a minimalist and pack only the essentials. For Hawaii, you shouldn’t need to bring much besides your clothing, shoes, and essential personal items. You should plan to have all the housewares you need at your furnished place. And any odds and ends you can get on the islands at Walmart or Costco! Think of only packing for about a 10 day vacation, then plan to wash, rewear, and interchange all your outfits. You’ll need a few work outfits, your bathing suit, hiking/workout clothes, and some summery outfits. Plan to only bring a few pairs of shoes (work shoes, sneakers, sandals). Luckily the weather is pretty much the same year-round and you only have to pack for one type of weather. The only time you’ll really need a jacket is if you plan to go to the top of one of the volcanoes!
As far as flying to Hawaii in the age of COVID, be sure to check any current regulations. The state of Hawaii was originally being fairly strict on their COVID entry/exit requirements, but it looks like they’re going to be lifting a lot of these requirements, so make sure to check their website for the most up to date information. Visit this site for up to date information on travel requirements.
The Fun Stuff
While all of this may sound daunting, trust me it’s worth it! You’ll have some hurdles to get through before you can make it there, but once you do, you’re going to be living in Hawaii for a few months! Talk about living the dream!
Living and working in Hawaii is a very culturally enriching experience. You’re in the United States… but not really. The culture there is very different, so taking a travel healthcare assignment there will be like no other assignment in the US.
In Hawaii, there are endless new things to experience: from volcanoes, to gorgeous beaches, to traditional Hawaiian music and dance, to unique foods, to epic hikes, and so much more. Once you get there, you’ll surely want to stay longer, or come back for more!
If you want to learn more about our experiences in Hawaii, check out the articles and podcasts below! Feel free to message us if you have any questions, or want to get connected with some recruiters who can help you land your dream job in Hawaii!
Additional Hawaii Content:
- Hawaii Planning & Logistics Podcast
- Hawaii Moving/First Week Podcast
- Hawaii 3 Month Recap Podcast
- Big Island Expenses & Summary
- Oahu, Maui & Kauai Expenses & Summary
- Summary Blog of Our 3 Months in Hawaii
Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC – Whitney has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and has mentored and educated thousands of current and aspiring healthcare travelers.