Travel Physical Therapy (Travel PT)- The Ultimate Guide

Since starting as new grad travel physical therapists in 2015, Whitney and I have learned so much. I can vividly remember when beginning to research travel physical therapy as a third year DPT student being completely lost and overwhelmed. Resources for learning were very limited and the information available was either very vague, or geared toward travel nurses which can be very different. Some sort of guide to travel physical therapy is exactly what I was looking for, but it didn’t exist. After struggling through and learning many things the hard way, we started writing and making videos about travel physical therapy so that other prospective travel PTs didn’t have to make the same beginner mistakes that we did.

Travel Physical Therapy Lessons Learned

Now after over 7 years in the industry, writing hundreds of articles about travel physical therapy, and making over 100 hour long live videos discussing all of the ins and outs, I can confidently say that Travel Therapy Mentor is exactly what I was looking for when we were starting out all those years ago. We’ve mentored many thousands of current and prospective travel PTs and become the go-to resource for all things travel physical therapy. Now after becoming so well versed in the nuances of travel PT, it’s sometimes difficult for me to remember exactly the questions and concerns I had back then, but in this article I’m going to do my best to answer some of the most common questions we get from prospective travel physical therapists.

The information here also applies to Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech Language Pathology (SLP), Physical Therapist Assistants (PTA), and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA), as well since most of the basics are exactly the same. The big differences between travel physical therapy and other disciplines is job availability and pay rates, but besides that everything else is relevant to all disciplines.

Do You Really Make More as a Travel Physical Therapist?

What first made me very interested in travel PT was the higher pay. I knew that as a new grad physical therapist in my hometown working in outpatient at a permanent job, I’d likely be making around $65,000/year. This didn’t sound great to me as a student graduating from PT school with 6 figures of student loan debt and a goal to reach financial independence as quickly as possible. I’d heard rumors that travel physical therapists made significantly more but honestly couldn’t find great information about how much to expect or how the pay was structured. When starting out, travel physical therapy pay can be a little confusing, but once you understand tax free stipends and how take-home pay relates to a normal hourly or salary position, it gets a lot less complicated.

Discussing travel PT pay in terms of an annual salary doesn’t really make sense due to the fact that each contract pays differently, and every travel physical therapist works a different number of weeks per year. Also, not every contract has a need for 40 hours of work, so it’s possible to work more or less each week, which makes a travel physical therapy salary very inconsistent. If you’re confused by all of this and don’t yet understand how the pay works, this guide to travel physical therapy pay will be very helpful along with this travel therapy pay 101 article.

The Average Travel Physical Therapy Pay Range

On average, a travel physical therapist can expect to make about 1.5-2 times as much as a therapist working a permanent position. Of course this varies significantly depending on the setting and location of the contract, as well as how much permanent positions pay in your area. There are some therapists that are thinking about leaving a permanent position paying $120,000 a year to become a travel physical therapist, and the contracts they are looking at actually pay about the same as they are making at their current job. On the other hand, there are some new grads that live in an area where permanent jobs are only paying $58,000/year, and instead they decide to take travel home health contracts in California where they make 3 times more than they would back home.

In general, the majority of travel physical therapy contracts pay between $1,600-$2,000/week after taxes, but there are always outliers. We’ve seen contracts paying as low at $1,400/week and as high as $3,400/week depending on the setting, location, and how urgent the facility needs a PT.

Why Do Facilities Need Travel Physical Therapists?

There are a variety of reasons why a facility might need a travel PT. Some of the most common include a therapist going on maternity leave or short term disability for an injury, a sudden influx of new patients, or a permanent PT leaving on short notice before they can find a replacement. There are also many travel contracts available in rural areas all over the country where they have a very hard time keeping permanent staff due to therapists not wanting to live long term in that area. These facilities may use travel therapists year-round because they don’t have any candidates for the permanent job.

How Do You Find Travel PT Jobs?

There are a variety of ways to search for travel physical therapy jobs. The vast majority of travel physical therapists find contract jobs through travel staffing companies and recruiters. While it’s possible to set up your own contracts as an independent contractor, this is often not worth the hassle and risk involved, so only a very small percentage of travelers go this route. While it’s possible to make more money when finding your own contracts, the travel company often keeps much less of the bill rate than most travel PTs assume.

If you go the typical route of working with recruiters and staffing companies, the recruiters will present you with open travel jobs that fit your search criteria, and you’ll choose which ones you want to be submitted for. Once your application is submitted, the manager at the facility will decide whether or not they want to interview you for the position. Beware to ask the right questions during the phone interview to avoid bad facilities. If the interview goes well and the offer sounds good to you, then you accept the contract and start preparing to move to the new location!

This Step by Step Guide goes into all the details on how to search for and prepare to begin a travel therapy contract.

How Do You Go About Finding a Good Travel Physical Therapy Company?

The travel staffing companies (or agencies) and recruiters that you work with are a vital part of your travel PT experience. Currently, there are well over 100 travel agencies staffing physical therapists around the country, and if you ask 10 different travelers, you’ll get 10 different answers about which travel companies are the best. The truth is that there are pros and cons to every travel company depending on your needs and wants in terms of setting, location, and benefits. The best travel company or the highest paying travel company for a physical therapist looking for a SNF contract in Texas who doesn’t need health insurance will be completely different than for a therapist looking for a outpatient contract in Maryland who needs health insurance for a spouse and kids. In addition, the best recruiter fit for each travel therapist will vary based on communication style, personality, and the therapist’s wants and needs.

Asking questions about the travel company and recruiter to make sure they’re a good fit for you is very important. It’s always a good idea to work with a few different companies and recruiters to have more job options, especially if you’re looking for contracts in very specific locations. Over the years we’ve interviewed dozens of companies and over 100 recruiters to find great ones to send therapists to based on their needs. If you need help finding good companies and recruiters for your situation, fill out our recruiter recommendation form and we can get you connected with some that should work well!

Do You Have to Get Licensed in Every State You Work In?

Yes, and licensing can be a pretty big hassle depending on the state. States can have a variety of different requirements including background checks, school transcripts, verification of other state licenses, board exam scores, finger prints, and jurisprudence exams. Fortunately for travel physical therapists now, the PT compact was introduced a few years ago, which makes the process much easier for those who are eligible to participate. The OT and SLP Compacts are coming soon as well.

Can I Travel With Another PT or Healthcare Worker?

Yes! While most travel therapists are solo travelers, it’s definitely possible to travel as a pair as well. Whitney and I have become experts at navigating this after traveling as a pair for over 7 years now. It is more difficult to find two jobs around the same location vs. only one job, and it can be a little more difficult finding housing, but it’s really nice to always have a partner to go on adventures with. As with just about everything in the travel therapy world, there are pros and cons! There are also lots of therapists that choose to travel with pets or with a spouse that is not a therapist which is certainly doable as well but may require some additional research and planning.

How Do I Negotiate Higher Pay on My Travel Physical Therapy Contract?

Understanding how to negotiate pay as a travel physical therapist is very important. Unfortunately, it is very context dependent since every situation is different. If you’re the perfect candidate for a job that desperately needs a PT and they don’t have any other applicants, then you can play hardball and often get a really great pay rate. On the other hand, if you’re applying for a travel job in a desirable location with many other well-suited applicants, then trying to push for higher pay may only cause you to lose out on that contract to someone else. The key to being a good negotiator as a travel physical therapist is understanding when you have leverage and can push for higher pay and when you don’t.

Is it Difficult to Find Housing On Travel Physical Therapy Contracts?

Finding short term housing can be a major pain in some areas of the country. The availability of short term housing options varies drastically depending on where you’re looking. For most of the country, it really isn’t that big of a deal though. Travel companies can find housing for you, but this is almost never in your best interest due to missing out on the housing stipend, which is a significant amount of your weekly paycheck. In this article we discuss all of the ins and outs of housing as well as where to look and what to watch out for.

You may also consider traveling in a camper or an RV to avoid having to find short term housing. Whitney and I did this for 3 years. There are pros and cons to the RV Life, but it can be a great option for some!

Are Travel Physical Therapy Jobs Available Internationally?

Although working contracts internationally is possible, we don’t recommend it for most PTs. Getting visas to work in other countries, getting the degree equivalency, and applying for licensure in another country can be very difficult and time consuming depending on the country. Also, international jobs are not nearly as plentiful as travel PT jobs inside the US, and pay is often significantly less. That’s not even to mention potential language barriers. Instead of working overseas, we prefer to leverage our higher incomes and flexibility as travel physical therapists to do lots of international travel for fun between our travel contracts in the US.

We do know therapists that have worked in Australia, Belgium, and in other various countries around the world, so it’s certainly possible to make it work if this is a goal of yours. But typically these therapists go to work overseas for a year or more, not short term contracts like travel therapy in the US.

What is the Length of a Normal Travel PT contract?

The majority contracts are 13 weeks long, but we’ve seen some as short at 3 weeks and as long as 9 months. Often facilities are willing to negotiate on the length of the contract though, so if a potential travel job is perfect for you besides the length of the contract then it’s always worth applying for it and trying to negotiate the contract length in the interview.

Can You Stay Longer at a Contract If You Like It?

Contract extensions are pretty common for travel physical therapy contracts. We’ve actually extended several of our contracts for an additional 13 weeks after the original contact ends. Extending a contract can be a great way to reduce expenses by not having to move as often and also get an increase in pay for the extension. Whether you can extend or not will always depend on the needs of the facility though and if they will still be short staffed after your contract end date.

How Long Do Physical Therapists Usually Travel?

This varies massively and is completely up to the therapist. We know some travelers who take only one contract before settling down at a permanent job. We also know therapists who have been traveling consistently for over 10 years! The average travel PT will usually stop traveling after a couple of years. Currently, Whitney and I have been traveling for over 7 years and have made a career out of it. We look at it as an alternative lifestyle that gives us lots of flexibility and time off to pursue other interests. There are all different types of travel physical therapists and it’s not uncommon for your plans to change over time the longer that you continue to travel.

Starting Your Travel Physical Therapy Career

Hopefully this article has helped to answer many of your questions about travel PT. If you still have other questions, then our guide to getting started and Travel Therapy 101 Series are great places to go for more in-depth learning, as well as the other resources linked throughout this article.

If you’d like a step by step guide to not only starting your travel therapy journey, but becoming a financially successful travel physical therapist, then our comprehensive travel therapy course would be perfect for you. It’s 12 hours of video content along with helpful guides and handouts that has helped over 100 new travel PTs succeed with travel physical therapy. Don’t forget to reach out to us for recruiter recommendations to help you get started, or contact us for anything we haven’t covered!

Additional Resources:

Jared Casazza
Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and has mentored thousands of current and aspiring travel therapists.

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