8 Lessons Learned After 6 Years as a Travel Therapist

Whitney and I began our careers as Traveling Physical Therapists in 2015 when we were new grads. Since then, we’ve taken over a dozen travel contracts each and mentored thousands of current and prospective travel therapists. We’ve also talked to and interviewed nearly 100 recruiters at over 15 different travel companies while in search for the best travel therapy companies and recruiters.

Over the last 6 years we’ve learned a lot about the travel therapy industry, from both the perspective of the travel therapist and the travel therapy company. In this article I hope to share some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in order to help you become a more informed travel therapist.

1. It’s Not What You Make, But What You’re Able to Save

The vast majority of new travelers who contact us have decided to travel in order to improve their financial situations. This was also my main motivation for wanting to pursue Travel PT as a new grad. Many therapists assume that I was able to reach financial independence in such a short period of time as a traveler by taking only the highest paying contracts, but this actually isn’t true. Often, the highest paying contracts in the country are also in the highest cost of living areas. Unfortunately, traveling to high cost of living areas, even when the pay is higher, often doesn’t lead to the best outcome financially. I learned early on in my travel therapy career that taking moderately paying contracts in lower cost of living areas where housing and other expenses are more affordable was the way to make the most of my travel contracts to get ahead financially.

If reaching financial independence or improving your financial position is your primary goal with travel therapy, then keep in mind that the amount you’re able to save on each contract after taking into account your expenses is more important than just looking at the weekly take home pay alone.

2. The Recruiter You Choose is More Important than The Travel Company

New travelers are often in search of the best or highest paying travel therapy company, and I was no different. But Whitney and I quickly realized, after talking to recruiters from a few different companies, that each travel company has its pros and cons; but what will impact your experience as a traveler the most are the recruiters you choose to work with, not as much the travel companies themselves. This has only become more clear as we’ve mentored more and more travelers over the years.

For example, a travel company could have great job options, high pay, and great benefits; but if your recruiter there is not on top of communication, you may be late in getting submitted to jobs and never have the opportunity to get the contract you wanted. Since the recruiter is the main, and sometimes only, point of contact with the travel company, a traveler’s perception of a travel company is shaped almost entirely by the recruiter they choose.

Finding the best recruiters for you isn’t always easy though and can require some trial and error. In the past, Whitney and I have occasionally had awful experiences with recruiters that were highly recommended by others, and had great experiences with recruiters who we’d never heard anyone talk about or had heard less favorable things about. Recruiters aren’t one size fits all, and sometimes the personality and communication style of a recruiter that are great for another traveler, won’t fit you at all. Ideally you’ll find a recruiter and company that are both perfect for your wants and needs, but keep in mind that if you find yourself choosing between a great recruiter at a less desirable company and a bad recruiter at a more desirable company, your experience as traveler will almost certainly be more enjoyable working with a recruiter that you mesh well with and that has your best interest in mind.

3. It’s Important to be Very Selective on Which Contracts You Take

When I started traveling, I was focused on working and savings as much as possible early on to reach a point of financial security quickly. This meant trying to take back to back contracts as often as possible and occasionally settling on the facilities that I went to in order to make that happen. While this undoubtedly allowed me to reach my financial goals more quickly, it also caused me more stress and hassle than it was worth. Some travel contracts are absolutely amazing, while others are terrible. The more selective you are on which contracts you take, the better your experience will be as a traveler, and that is often more important than working as much as possible or only taking the highest paying jobs. Knowing what I know now, I’d much rather take a travel job paying $1,600/week take home at a great facility where I’ll enjoy my time, than one paying $2,000/week take home with a stressful work environment with unrealistic productivity expectations.

4. Arranging Short Term Housing Can Be a Hassle

Finding affordable short term housing can be very difficult, especially recently with rent prices seemingly increasing all over the country. Mistakes with housing are also the most common way that travelers lose money. As a traveler it’s very important to avoid locking yourself into a lease any longer than month to month if at all possible, because if your contract happens to get cancelled then you’re in a bad position. It’s also important to watch out for scams where you’re asked to send money prior to ever seeing the property. These scams are becoming increasingly common, and the scammers often prey specifically travel healthcare workers. For therapists who travel with a family or with pets, which further limits housing options, sometimes buying an RV is a very good choice. When looking for housing, make sure to consider all options, and spend some time choosing the best fit for you.

5. You’ll Always Be Nervous When Starting a New Contract

When I started traveling, I can remember being very nervous about my first day at a new facility. I thought that after I did a few contracts and increased my confidence that I’d no longer be nervous. But now, 6 years later, I realize that was naïve. In this regard, my experience taking travel contracts has been similar to public speaking. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, but I still get nervous each time. This is only natural because each contract is brand new and no matter how good you are at asking the right questions in the interview, there’s always going to be some uncertainty prior to starting the job. It’s important to not let that nervousness deter you though! Realize that this is a normal part of the process.

6. Your First Week Likely Won’t be Perfect

No matter how experienced you are as a traveler, the first week at a new job is almost always pretty tough. Even at the best contracts, you’ll have to get used to all new patients, new coworkers, a new clinic setup, and a new documentation system. On top of that you’ll be familiarizing yourself with a brand new area of the country. We often hear from new travelers that they’re overwhelmed after their first few days at their first contract and worried that they made the wrong choice. Whitney and I have had this experience many times ourselves, and almost every time, once we give it some time and get comfortable at the clinic, we end up really enjoying it. So don’t worry if your first week doesn’t go as well as you hoped. Things should get much easier after the first week.

7. Thirteen Weeks Goes By Really Fast

When starting a new contract, 13 weeks can seem like a long time, but inevitably before you know it, you’re looking for your next contract and this contract is almost over. When we started traveling, we’d often get toward the end of a contract only to realize that there was going to be no way to fit in all the things we wanted to do and see in before we left.

To avoid this, in the first week at a new travel assignment, it’s a good idea to get some recommendations from coworkers and patients for things to do and see around the area. Then make a list of the things you really want to do before you leave and a rough plan on which weekends you’ll do each thing. If you don’t plan things out, it’s very easy to get to the end of the contract and have regrets about not doing everything you wanted to because the time goes by faster than you think it will.

8. Travel Therapy Can Really Improve Your Clinical Skills

Many new grads considering travel are worried that they won’t improve their clinical skills as a traveler. In my experience, this has not been the case at all. In my first couple of years as a traveler, I worked with dozens of PTs in many different clinics and made a point to ask questions and learn from each of them. I picked up wisdom, manual techniques, and exercises from a large variety of therapists with different treatment philosophies each place that I went. This was very valuable to me in my practice as I learned not only how I wanted to structure my own evaluations and treatments from great therapists, but also things I wanted to avoid doing as well. If you go into travel therapy with curiosity and a hunger to learn, you can significantly improve your clinical practice from all the therapists you meet along the way.

Summary

When starting out as a new travel therapist, there is a lot to learn. Over the years Whitney and I have learned a ton, and we do our best to share these lessons and experiences with you all in order to improve your travel therapy journey. The more time you can spend becoming educated on all the ins and outs of travel therapy prior to starting, the better your experience will be. If you’re brand new to travel therapy and looking for somewhere to start, our free Travel Therapy 101 Series is a great place to begin!

You can also message us with any questions you have, and get our recommendations for recruiters here!

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

Jared Casazza, PT, DPT, Travel Therapy Mentor

Canadian Travel Therapy: Can Canadian Therapists Work in the US?

Image of woman hiking with words "Canadian Travel Therapy: Can Canadian Therapists Work in the US?" Guest post written by Eni Kader for Travel Therapy Mentor

So… you’re Canadian… but you can work as a physical therapist in the U.S… but you don’t live here… ?

—These are the inevitable follow up questions I get from patients, colleagues, Canadians and Americans alike. The answer is “yes,” and I’ll tell you how I did it! 

Guest Post Written for Travel Therapy Mentor by Eni Kader, Canadian PT working in the US as a Travel PT

Licensing & Education

The Canadian and U.S. physical therapy (or physiotherapy) licenses are unfortunately not equivalent. In order to work in the US, a Canadian-trained physiotherapist would have to choose a state to become licensed in, then go through the process of applying for and writing (taking) the NPTE, prior to attempting working and travelling in the U.S. 

I personally went to PT school at D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY. I decided to continue living in Canada and commute over the border for school instead of living in the U.S. To make this process easier, I applied for my Nexus Trusted Traveller pass, which expedited the border process significantly. In fact, some of my Buffalonian classmates had a longer commute to school than I did!

I went to school under an F-1 Visa, which meant that I was approved to commute over the border to school while maintaining my residence in Canada. In order to be approved for the F-1 Visa, I had to first be accepted to the school, then for each year of study, I had to have the immigration officer at my school sign off on my I-20 which I brought to the border for approval. More info on this here.

After completing my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in the United States, I wrote the NPTE and went through the licensing process for NY physical therapy licensure. Unless you are a dual citizen, this still does not allow you to legally be employed in the U.S. See the Work Visa section below to learn more about the next steps.

For those who went to PT school in Canada, you would need to check the state-specific guidelines for internationally-educated applicants, but for the most part, the NPTE eligibility criteria is your first hurdle to overcome. In order to be eligible for the NPTE, you must have been educated by a CAPTE accredited institution, and some Canadian physiotherapy schools are listed in their Previously Accredited Foreign Programs. Some states may require you to show proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. (see work visa info below), and an equivalent education.

Work Visa 

If you are a Canadian who has gone to school in the U.S., F-1 students are eligible for the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Visa, which allows you to work in your field of study in the US for up to 12 months after graduation. There are some restrictions around this Visa, and you can find out more about it here. I personally chose not to go this route because I was late for the application process and wasn’t sure what my moves were going to be when applications were due. I did have Canadian classmates go this route and the immigration officer at my school was an excellent resource for information. 

As a skilled healthcare worker and Canadian citizen, I was eligible for a TN Visa under NAFTA, which is what I work under now. The TN visa is different from the H1B because it does not allow you to work permanently in the U.S. as a resident, however it can be renewed indefinitely. It tends to be a little more cost-effective and time-efficient if you don’t plan on settling in the United States permanently. More about H1B visas here.

The TN visa is specific to the travel company you are working with. This means if you plan on working with multiple recruiters, each one would have to sponsor you for a separate TN visa once you sign a travel contract and are ready to work with them (more on the TN visa process below). 

The licensing and work visa process can take a lot of time, especially if you miss any steps or paperwork. Thankfully, I work with a large travel recruiting company with an immigration department that was very knowledgable about the whole process and helped guide me through it. I used the Department of Homeland Security websites, travel therapy and immigration forums to answer my questions. I didn’t personally go this route, but some people choose to consult with an immigration lawyer to make sure the process goes smoothly. 

TN Visa

The TN visa requires a Visa Screen for approval, so you can start the Visa Screen process before you plan on working, and once you have the Visa Screen in-hand, you can actively look for travel contracts without the TN. Once you have a contract, you’d take the Visa Screen with all the things (see below) to the border for TN approval and then you can officially work! 

As I mentioned before, I found it very helpful woking with a larger travel company that was familiar with the TN Visa process. I prioritized looking for a recruiter and travel company that was experienced working with Canadian Citizens because I wanted to make sure I didn’t make costly mistakes in the process. Thankfully, my recruiter and travel company had tons of experience and access to immigration specialists that answered any questions that arose. 

Visa Screen

In order to be approved for a TN visa, all applicants are now required to produce a Visa Screen. The Visa screen is a tool that allows border officers to verify an applicant’s credentials when they apply for approval. 

There are two main companies that do the Visa Screen: CGFNS and FCCPT.  I opted to go with CGFNS due to cost and my recruiter’s experience with them.

Visa Screen process:

When I was ready for my contract, I took the Visa Screen, letter of employment + contract dates from my company, my US (New York) PT license, PT school diploma & Canadian passport to the border for validation, and then I was eligible to begin work in the US!

More Info Here: https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/temporary-workers/tn-nafta-professionals

Note, this is simply what I did for my situation. Each individual should take their own situation into consideration and contact immigration services in the respective countries for accurate, up to date info. 

Other Considerations

In addition to getting your license and work visa taken care of to be allowed to work in the US, there are some other logistical considerations for working and living temporarily in the US:

Banking 

  • As a Canadian Citizen, I had to apply for a SSN with my TN visa in order to be able to open a US bank account and be put on payroll. I found it easiest to go with my Canadian bank’s U.S. Branch and have my U.S. credit card through them too. 
  • Exchange rate: consider when paying Canadian bills such as your rent or loan payments. 
  • US credit card: to save on exchanging rates and fees that a Canadian credit card would place on you.
    • I also applied for this low-limit credit card to begin building my credit score in the U.S. which has come in helpful when doing background checks for landlords

Health Insurance 

  • Go through your travel company as anybody would normally because Canadian health insurance doesn’t typically cover your expenses when you’re abroad. 
  • I make sure I get appointments scheduled in between contracts and travel home for those.
  • At the time of writing this, some people may also need to consider a 14 day mandatory quarantine coming into Canada, so take that time into consideration as well and call ahead to your border crossing as regulations are constantly changing.

Taxes 

  • Travel tax & tax home are the same as for U.S. travellers but you claim your tax home in Canada instead. I used TravelTax.com for their expertise, and they helped me when it came time to filing taxes as well. 
  • As my tax home is in Canada still, I pay my taxes to the U.S. first then pay the difference to Canada (since Canadian taxes are higher). As I mentioned, I used a tax professional to avoid mistakes. 

Tips for Canadian Travel Therapists

  • Give yourself lots of time to get through the process from start to finish 
  • Keep documents with you at all times during your travel assignment, especially if you will be travelling via airplane or crossing the border. I keep an electronic scanned copy of my documents on my phone using the Genius Scan app so I can access things quickly. 
  • Try and get your healthcare check ups done in between assignments as mentioned earlier. This is typical of any traveller, though! 

Summary

If you’re a Canadian looking to travel the U.S., learn a ton, and have greater flexibility with your career, don’t let the process stop you from going after it! I’d highly recommend beginning the process as soon as you can and just taking it one step at a time. I’ve been grateful to take advantage of the flexibility of my travel therapy career, live in some amazing places, and connect with other incredible professionals as well. If given the opportunity, I hope you do too!

Bio

Dr. Eni Kadar is a travelling physical therapist and holistic health & fitness coach. She is a first generation Canadian and calls Niagara Falls, Ontario home. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Instagram or via email!

Instagram: www.instagram.com/holisticdpt

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ekadar9/ 

Email: ekadarPT@gmail.com 


We would like to thank Eni for this educational guest post! If you have further questions specifically about traveling in the US as a Canadian citizen, please contact Eni via the links above. If you’d like help getting started with travel therapy in general or getting connected with travel therapy recruiters, please contact us here.