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.

How to Become a Travel Therapist

One of the most frequent questions we receive from students and prospective travel therapists who find our website or Instagram account is, “How do I become a travel therapist?”

They usually see all of the amazing adventures we’ve had and the financial independence we’ve been able to achieve since we decided to become new grad travel PTs in 2015 and want to go down a similar path. Becoming a Travel PT, OT, SLP, PTA, or COTA is something that just about all therapists consider at some point during their schooling or upon graduation. Traveling around the country meeting new people, trying out different states and practice settings, all while earning 1.5-2 times as much as at a permanent therapy job on average, makes travel therapy a pretty compelling option, especially for a new grad.

We love getting these questions and helping others get started with becoming successful travel therapists now, especially since we made lots of mistakes when we first started due to no resources being available at that time. How to become a travel therapist is not a straightforward question to answer due to everyone starting at different places and having different wants/needs with travel therapy jobs, but I’ll do my best to give some insight applicable to everyone!

Do Your Research Before Becoming a Travel Therapist!

When considering becoming a travel therapist, doing your research before starting and understanding the process is essential. After mentoring many thousands of new and current travel therapists, the one theme that consistently emerges is that the therapists who jump into travel without understanding the ins and outs first are the ones who are much more likely to have a bad experience early on, causing them to stop traveling. The horror stories about travel therapy are almost always coming from therapists who didn’t understand what they were doing and allowed themselves to be put in a bad position, or made avoidable beginner mistakes.

Naïve new travelers are very easy for bad travel companies and recruiters to take advantage of by either paying much too low or by sending them to terrible facilities. There are certainly pros and cons to travel therapy, but the best way to minimize many of the cons is to be well informed.

We created Travel Therapy Mentor in 2018 to make becoming a travel therapist and doing your research as easy as possible by providing a plethora of resources. Now we have over 100 articles as well as over 100 live videos (audio versions of most of them here on our podcast) on just about every possible travel therapy topic. We also have our step by step course that will walk you through becoming a financially successful travel therapist.

Another great option for learning and connecting with other travelers is our Facebook groups, Travel Therapy Mentor Community Group and Healthcare Travelers on FIRE, where thousands of travel therapists ask questions and learn from each other. If you’re completely overwhelmed with content, then the single best place to start is our Travel Therapy 101 series which covers all of the basics, with links to more in depth content. However you choose to learn, just make sure to do your research and start your travel therapy career informed!

Find Trustworthy Recruiters at Good Travel Therapy Companies!

With hundreds of travel therapy companies out there placing travel therapists, and many of those companies having dozens of recruiters, finding the best travel companies and recruiters is undoubtedly daunting. Finding great companies and recruiters is the most sure fire way to have a good experience when becoming a travel therapist. Every travel company will say they’re the best, and most recruiters are great at selling themselves since their livelihood depends on it. There are lots of great companies and recruiters out there, but unfortunately there are also a lot of not so great companies and recruiters.

Working with multiple different companies and recruiters is very important so that you have as many job options as possible, increasing the odds of finding a great fitting contract. Every therapist wants to find the best travel companies or the highest paying companies, but the truth is that the best and highest paying companies will vary depending on your specific needs in terms of discipline, setting, location, and benefits. Finding the best recruiters for you is also difficult because every traveler has their own communication style and expectations which will mesh well with some recruiters more than others. This means that the best travel companies and recruiters for you will often be different than for your classmates or coworkers.

Let Us Help!

Since finding amazing companies and recruiters is difficult, one of the most important services we offer at Travel Therapy Mentor is helping travel therapists get connected with good companies and recruiters that should work well for their specific situation. We’ve spent thousands of hours interviewing companies and recruiters to find their strengths and weaknesses to know which travelers they would work best for. We also continuously reassess which recruiters we work with and recommend based on their performance, communication, and feedback we receive from travelers. We have over 50 recruiters at over a dozen different companies that we send therapists to according to their wants and needs. If you’d like us to help you get connected with companies and recruiters that should work well for your situation, then fill out our recruiter recommendation form!

Determine Your Priorities as a Traveler

Every traveler chooses travel therapy for different reasons. When I started traveling as a new grad physical therapist, my main reason was to make and save as much money as possible. I had a lot of student loan debt and was determined to improve my financial position quickly, which made Travel PT extremely appealing. While traveling, I could earn a lot of money while also making very minimal student loan payments, meaning I could invest a ton of money each year to get myself in a better financial position early in my career. As time went on though, my priority shifted from saving as much as possible each year to having more free time which is when I decide to “semi-retire.”

Some travelers choose to travel because they want to explore the country and find where they want to eventually settle down. Sure, making a lot of money is great, but for them that’s secondary to checking out cool locations across the country where they may end up staying long term. Other therapists choose to travel because they aren’t sure which setting they want to work in long term, and with travel they’re able to try out different settings for a few months at a time before choosing and settling into a permanent position. Still other therapists choose to travel for the flexibility of being able to take long periods of time off between contracts to do long road trips and travel internationally. Whitney and I have used that flexibility to take multiple 2-5 month international trips including our five month around the world trip in 2018.

Every Travel Therapist is Unique

Since all travelers have their own priorities, it’s important when becoming a travel therapist to sit down and think through yours and decide what’s most important for you. Ideally you get all of your contracts in the exact location you want, in the setting you desire, and with extremely high pay. Realistically though, this is unlikely. Most of the time you’ll get one or two of those, but not all three. For that reason, ranking setting, location, and pay in order of what is most important to you is necessary before becoming a traveler, and this may evolve through your travel career as well.

For me when starting, finding outpatient PT jobs in low cost of living areas was most important. I was willing to work just about anywhere on the east coast as long as it was an outpatient job in a low cost area where I’d be able to save a lot of money. Another traveler might want the absolute highest paying contracts and care much less about the setting and location, so even though they’d prefer to work in outpatient on the east coast, they end up working home health in California where contracts pay much higher. Think about these factors as you prepare to begin your journey as a travel therapist, as it can help guide you with your job search and career choices.

Is Being a Travel Therapist Really for You?

Becoming a travel therapist isn’t a decision you should take lightly. While just about everyone considers it, it’s certainly not for everyone, especially not for all new grads. While we started traveling as new grads and have helped many hundreds of other new grads get started with travel, we occasionally advise against it for some therapists. If you’re a therapist that isn’t comfortable yet with your evaluation and treatment skills, or have a difficult time with change, or get overwhelmed easily, then travel might not be right for you.

Additionally, if you’re a therapist who’s already planted some roots, maybe you own a home with a mortgage, or you have a family or a spouse to consider, you will have various factors to take into account to determine if traveling is the right move for you. You may also have a lot of financial factors to consider in order to decide if travel therapy is really worth it for you financially.

Weigh the Pros and Cons

Adapting to new clinics, job searching and interviewing for jobs every few months, packing and moving often, and being away from family and friends for long periods are all things you need to consider before deciding to become a travel therapist. Also while most facilities we’ve worked at over the years have been very good, not every contract is going to be perfect, and some can be downright difficult.

Before deciding to become a travel therapist, make sure that you consider all of the pros and cons, and that the pros outweigh the cons for you. If they do, then travel therapy can be the adventure of a lifetime for you! We have had an amazing experience ourselves as travelers and wouldn’t change anything about choice we made to travel, despite occasional headaches along the way. The financial freedom, adventure, and flexibility it has given us would have been impossible by any other means as therapists.

What are You Waiting for?

If becoming a travel therapist sounds like a good fit for you, then use the tips above, and jump in! Utilize the resources on our site and in our groups to set yourself up for success. If you have questions that aren’t covered in our content, then feel free to contact us. Best of luck on your journey to becoming a travel therapist!

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.