Working as a Travel PT in the US Virgin Islands

We love to share unique travel therapist stories, so today we’re bringing you Marcela’s story about working as a Travel PT in the US Virgin Islands! We’d like to note that it’s not very common to see travel therapy contracts in the Virgin Islands, and most travel staffing companies do not staff in the Virgin Islands. But on rare occasion you might see a job opportunity pop up there! If so, hopefully Marcela’s insights can help you learn what to expect from a contract there!


Good day, you guys!

My name is Marcela and I’ve been a Physical Therapist for 7 years and a Travel PT for 5 years. I went to PT school in Virginia– the same school that Whitney went to actually! I’ve worked in multiple settings including acute care, skilled nursing facilities, home health, and outpatient. So far, I’ve worked in Virginia, Texas, and St Thomas. In this article, I want to share the details about my assignment in St Thomas, US Virgin Islands with you all since it’s a unique contract location!

How Did I Land an Assignment in the US Virgin Islands?!

It was pretty simple really, but mostly by luck and good timing! One day while scrolling on Facebook, I saw a job posting on the Facebook group Travel Therapy Job Opportunities for an outpatient PT assignment in St. Thomas. It was with a company and recruiter that I had never worked with before. I reached out to the recruiter, set up a phone interview with the clinic manager a few days later, and got the assignment!

The Licensure Process

My next step was to get my USVI PT license, which I didn’t know at the time is infamous for taking a really long time. I’ve heard of one PTA that took 6 months to get his license! Upon signing the contract for the assignment, I was given the contact information of an island PT, Erin, who has a side business of helping people expedite their USVI PT licensure. At the time, Erin charged $1,000 — but it was absolutely worth every penny! She helped me get my license in only 4 weeks. At different times in the process, she was able to go into the licensing office and figure out what was slowing down my licensing application. She truly did shorten the whole ordeal, as I had a few snags which were totally out of my control. Without her help, it easily would have taken 6+ weeks, and the clinic in St Thomas was holding a spot for me which I did not want to miss out on! If you need help getting your USVI license expedited, you can contact Erin at: erindavidson13@gmail.com.

Housing on Island

While Erin was working hard for 4 weeks to help me with the licensure process, I then turned my attention to finding housing. I usually find cheap furnished housing by renting a room in a home for my travel assignments. I am okay with cheap housing and living with others, as I’d rather spend my money in other categories. Well, unfortunately for this assignment, I quickly found out the islands are not a place for cheap housing. Almost all places cater towards tourists, so you’re going to get tourist prices. Expect to pay about $2,000/month or more if you want a clean place with the amenities you’re used to on the mainland. My landlady is currently not renting rooms anymore, so I sadly don’t have any current housing leads to share.

I want to add something else about housing that will be very important to know. The USVI has one utility company and its infrastructure is dated. In 2017, two category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, hit the islands and further damaged the already struggling infrastructure of the utility company. Because of this, it’s very common to lose power on island. One week I was there, we were without power for 30 hours. If you’re there during hurricane season, just assume you won’t have power for a while after a storm. I grew up close to the Southern US coast and have experience living through hurricanes and without power before. You either have to be okay with living like this or willing to pay extra to stay at a place that has a backup generator.

My PT Contract

I ended up working for 4 months on island at this contract. It was a private practice outpatient PT clinic. I had the opportunity to work a schedule of 4, 10 hour days each week, which was great for having 3 day weekends and being able to explore. As far as pay, the pay tends to be a bit on the lower end than what I’ve seen for mainland contracts. But it’s kind of like taking an assignment in Hawaii: you don’t go there for the pay, you go for the experience! And contracts in Hawaii usually tend to pay on the lower end as well. In addition to my weekly pay, I did also receive reimbursement for my flight to the island.

Insights on Island Living

Public Transportation

St Thomas does have public transportation, but the route is limited. The type of public transport is called a “safari” which is essentially a diesel pickup truck with covered open-air benches in the back.  It’s a great way to assimilate with the local culture and enjoy the wind. But like with all public transportation: be patient (haha)! The hours are limited and so are the locations to which they travel. St Thomas is very rocky, so the safaris don’t go up the hills. If you plan to live up a hill, you’ll have to get a car or walk a distance to get to a safari. I did not want to have a car on island, so I relied heavily on safaris, walking, and taking taxis.

Resources

Another thing to take into consideration is that you’re living on an island that does not have the same resources that the mainland does. Lots of things are imported and therefore the cost of food and other supplies reflects that. The islands also don’t have the same variety that the mainland does in terms of resources. But, you should totally enjoy the food that the islands do have to offer. If you eat local food, it greatly helps! Plus, you get to eat all kinds of tasty fruits, juices, and sea food!

The People

Many people in the Caribbean like to call themselves West Indians. West Indians are probably the nicest people I have ever encountered. Once you learn the proper way to greet in the Caribbean, people will easily give you directions, help you with a ride, and share food with you. It’s truly a village mindset. Everyone’s also on “island time” there, so don’t expect anyone to be prompt. Haha. As patients, they have been the best population I’ve ever worked with. They are respectful and hard working. I often found myself telling them to stop doing extra sets to allow their bodies to rest.

The good stuff!

Now onto the super fun stuff about living and working in the Virgin Islands!

The beaches are to die for! Sand so white it glitters, water you can see straight down into for yards, sunsets you can frame, waves so calm you can soak and float, and water activities for everyone! Snorkeling, kayaking, waterskiing, parasailing, regular sailing, yachting, scuba diving, sea planes, and hiking! (I know, not a water activity but would be a shame to not list). Each island has its own vibe, so visiting all three major USVI islands is required. And many more islands in the archipelago are also worth visiting! Depending on which island you’d like to visit, most can be reached by boat/ferry, but some of the further islands require private boat or a flight.

If you think you can handle life in the islands, then I recommend trying to get an assignment there. If interested, I can give you the name of the recruiter I used. You can reach me here via Facebook.


We’d like to thank Marcela for sharing her insights with us about her travel therapy contract in the US Virgin Islands! Please feel free to contact Marcela via Facebook or message us with any questions!

How to Avoid Booking Fees for Short Term Housing as a Travel Therapist

The Logistics of Finding Short Term Housing as a Traveler

When you begin to look into becoming a traveling therapist, it can be a little tricky to figure out how to find quality short term housing and still be able to pocket some of your left over housing stipend. While travel therapy pays better than a lot of permanent jobs, keeping a good portion of the tax free income is what makes it more lucrative. 

When searching for housing, not only do you want to find housing that’s affordable, but you also have to find housing that has a shorter lease term than most rentals, and most travelers prefer to find something fully furnished because most of us don’t have the ability to bring larger belongings on the road. If you travel in a small car, it can even be challenging to bring basic items like towels or bedding along with all of your other basics, much less worry about furniture and bigger items.

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Using Vacation Rental Sites for Short Term Housing

Because of the need for travel therapy housing to be essentially ready to live in when you walk in the door, the original gold standard was for travelers to reach out to landlords of vacation rentals and explain their situation to see if these landlords would be interested in negotiating a “mid length” rental term. Most of the time, vacation rental owners are open to this idea, because it gives them the security of knowing that their space will be filled and bringing in income, without having to worry about people coming and going often or dealing with cleaning the unit between vacationers. 

However, vacation rental platforms are not designed for short term leases. They are designed to bring in revenue based on the number of bookings, and are priced to include cleaning fees, pet fees (sometimes daily depending on the space) and a vendor fee paid to the platform. Because they depend on these vendor fees, vacation rental sites absolutely need their travelers to book directly with them.

As a result, it can be hard to bypass the set fees, which can limit how much of a “deal” the landlord can truly give you as a traveling healthcare provider. Some of the fees the platform imposes cannot be adjusted. In addition, because these websites are designed to make money off of each booking, they don’t want you to easily bypass their system. 

So of course, travel therapists figured out how to work the system.

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Trying to Work the System to Your Advantage

Let’s be honest. The concept of a travel therapist living in a vacation rental for several months is mutually beneficial for the landlord and the traveler. The landlord receives guaranteed income, and the traveler feels safe knowing they are renting a property that has been visited by other travelers and has visible reviews online. 

The [likely] obvious solution to this problem of booking fees is to arrange a way to pay the landlord directly without having to pay the platform. This would be super easy if travel therapists lived near where they were planning to move for work. You could arrange a meetup in a public place, see the property in person, the landlord could feel secure knowing you were a real person as well, and then you would negotiate.

But, because we have to arrange our housing from a distance for travel assignments, this simply isn’t an option for most travel therapists. Most of the time we want to feel secure that our housing is arranged far in advance, especially if we are going somewhere where housing is hard to find and/or is pricey. The last thing you want to happen is get somewhere and have no place to live and end up dropping a ton of money on a hotel or other accommodation for your whole assignment.

Some traveling therapists will book these vacation rentals for a week or two at the beginning of an assignment to sort of “try before you buy.” This allows them to check the place out, meet the landlord, and perhaps negotiate a short term lease from there. The only problem with this tactic is, the more time you wait to finalize a spot, the more time other people have to book the property. Occasionally vacation landlords will be willing to cancel these bookings to accommodate a longer stay, but many will not and you will end up back at the beginning of your housing search.

To try to get around this, many travel therapists will message owners directly and explain their situation. They send a chat within the booking platform explaining what they are going to be in town for and essentially ask for a monthly versus nightly rate. If the landlord is willing to accommodate they can send a “special offer” through the platform.

There are two problems with this. First, you (the traveler) are still slapped with the booking fees. And secondly, you are at the mercy of the platform design for how you pay your rent. Rather than a monthly rate, many booking platforms will collect a lump sum. And while you definitely should have a decent amount in savings if you work as a travel therapist, most people cannot afford to pay for three months of a short term rental up front. Plus, if you have a contract cancellation, you are once again at the mercy of the rental platform, and a lot of the time you will get little to no refund for the amount you paid up front.

The absolutely icing on the cake of this whole scenario is, even if you and the landlord are willing to connect off platform and make a long distance arrangement, you will have a heck of a time trying to do so. The chat platforms on these websites are designed to detect and block any personal information being exchanged such as email addresses and phone numbers. Like I said before, they rely on you using their platform to host the whole transaction to make money on your booking. 

Luckily, there is a way to dodge the booking fees without sending encrypted messages via vacation rental websites.

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A Better Way to Book Short Term Housing

Furnished Finder and Travel Nurse Housing were designed to actually connect landlords and traveling healthcare providers directly without any weird hoops to jump through. Because these sites were created specifically for travel nurses and therapists, you don’t have to figure out how to work around limits set for other types of short term rentals. 

The main way these websites are different is they list the property contact directly on the listing. You are able to actually call or email the person listing the property and have a real conversation. Or, if you feel more comfortable, you can start by chatting on the Furnished Finder app.

These websites operate more as an advertising platform rather than a booking website. Meaning, they charge a fee to the landlord once per year to list, and they have no stakes in what you pay or how you arrange your lease with your landlord. This also means that you can discuss with your landlord directly any concerns such as potential cancellations, extensions, or even details like their pet policy. 

The other good part of this is that you can search for the property with filters that actually make sense for short term travelers. While most travelers don’t necessarily care if their rental comes with shampoo and conditioner, they definitely want to know proximity to local hospitals and if they have a washer and dryer available in the unit.

Furnished Finder also has similar safety features to those you would see on vacation rental websites. Guests can leave ratings and reviews, and there are different levels property owners can go through to reassure renters that they are legitimate. Every landlord is also screened by a staff member prior to listing, and property details are checked via public record to make sure they match up with what the listing says. Plus, if a property owner really wants to bump up their credibility, they are able to undergo a more thorough vetting process to alert travelers that they are verified, which includes adding a logo next to the title of their listing.

Another perk of using a website designed specifically for travel healthcare workers is that the landlords understand our profession and what our typical contracts look like. The landlords who choose to use websites like Furnished Finder and Travel Nurse Housing do so because they know what great tenants travel healthcare providers make, and they want to rent their property to more of those types of people. As a result, their homes are usually set up, stocked, and priced appropriately based on what they know is desirable for people in our field. 

And as one more added bonus, Furnished Finder provides several other tools that just make your life as a healthcare traveler easier. If you are short on time and don’t want to sift through properties, they actually have a Housing Request Tool that allows landlords to approach you. There is also a Free Owner Verification Report that can be used for any property, even if you don’t book on the Furnished Finder platform. And of course, there is a blog dedicated to all things related to travel healthcare housing, so you can empower and educate yourself on the housing process from top to bottom.

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The Bottom Line for Improving Your Travel Housing Search

While the vacation rental style of housing is exactly what a travel therapist is looking for in short term housing, the rental model is not. It is possible to make these types of websites work for our needs, but it can also be very time consuming to do so. By connecting directly with landlords via a site designed specifically for traveling healthcare professionals, travelers are able to save money, time, and frustration by skipping over booking fees and landlords who might not truly understand the needs of a traveling healthcare professional. 

Any savvy healthcare traveler will tell you that being in control of your situation is the best way to make and save the most money, and housing is no different. You do not need to rely on a third party platform to manage your rental agreement (and often that will just cost you more time as well as money). Find the right landlords who value working professionals, utilize tools that are actually beneficial to travelers, and avoid crazy markups on websites that are designed to make the most money out of their guests’ pockets by using sites designed specifically for us as traveling healthcare professionals during your next housing search!


Guest Post written by Alex McCoy, BSN, RN  

Alex is a pediatric travel nurse and the content manager of Furnished Finder After traveling for four years with her husband, a physical therapist, they recently welcomed a daughter, Jade, into their crazy travel family. Read more articles from Alex on Furnished Finder or Travel Nurse Housing, or read about her previous travels at her blog Fit Travel Life. Have an idea you would love to share with fellow travel nurses or landlords, or want to ask Alex a question? Be sure to email her at Alex.McCoy@FurnishedFinder.com.