Working a Travel Therapy Contract in Alaska

Alaska is one of the most unique places in the United States, so for many travel therapists and other healthcare travelers, taking a travel therapy contract in Alaska is a bucket list item! Alaska has been on our radar since we first started traveling physical therapy in 2015, and we were finally able to make it a reality in the summer of 2022!

While taking a travel therapy contract in Alaska can be a dream come true for many, it doesn’t come without logistical hurdles. There is a lot to consider before you plan to move there. Having just gone through this process myself, I’ll share what I’ve learned and provide some valuable tips for those of you also considering taking a travel contract in Alaska!

Alaska Travel Therapy Contract Timing

The first thing you’ll want to consider is what time of year you want to go to Alaska and how long you might want to stay. Naturally for many people, the cold, snowy, and dark winters in Alaska can be a deterrent. So most often, people only want to go in the summer. We were 100% in this camp and only went there from late May through early August. But, I will say that after having spent 3 months there in the summer, we feel like if our life circumstances were different last year, we would’ve enjoyed staying 6-9 months. We’re still not completely sold on winter, but we met dozens of travelers that have stayed there for a year or more, and many of them have actually gone perm and now live there year-round. We still see their pictures during all seasons and see how much they’re enjoying the winter sports and activities, not to mention the Northern Lights which we personally didn’t get to experience!

So, it really depends on what type of person you are and if you’re comfortable being there in seasons other than summer. You’ll want to consider not only being there in winter weather conditions, but also traveling there during winter conditions, which could affect your entire gameplan for transportation, etc. In our experience, people who are from the Midwest, Northeast, and other very snowy places don’t have as much trouble adapting to the winter weather in Alaska, as far as road conditions go. But if you’re from somewhere that doesn’t have harsh winters, you’ll need to consider that the roads can be snowy/icy from essentially October through April (with even occasional large snow storms in May), which may affect how and when you choose to travel there.

Alaska Travel Contract Competition

Since most people want to take a travel therapy contract in Alaska in the summer, and often want to only stay for the summer, that means that summer contracts are very competitive. This is especially true in more popular locations like Anchorage. If you’re willing to work in one of the more remote areas of Alaska, you won’t face as much competition.

Since summer is such a popular time in Alaska, that means that housing is also harder to find, and a lot more expensive, in the summer months.

If you’re looking to beat out the competition for jobs and housing in popular areas like Anchorage, it’s a good idea to try to line up a contract a little before summer, in March or April if possible. Also if you can commit to staying 6 months instead of 3 months, this will help when negotiating both housing and your contract, because the employers and landlords would rather lock someone in for a longer duration.

Alaska Therapy Licensure

Once you’ve thought ahead about what time of year you’d like to go to Alaska, you’ll need to start working on the state license several months in advance. For physical therapy and occupational therapy licenses, the board website states to allow 8 weeks for your application to process, and this was almost exactly how long it took for us to receive our PT licenses. This 8 week timeline is after they receive all of your paperwork. So in general, it’s a good idea to start working on your Alaska PT or OT license application at least 3 months before you plan to begin working there. We have heard of some therapists getting their licenses faster, in about 4 weeks or so, and one tip that we were told was to include a cover letter detailing all of the steps you’ve taken to complete the other documentation, what’s included in the package you’re mailing, and a timeline for what other pieces of information they should still be waiting to receive. But keep in mind the processing time will also vary for people with more or less state licenses that need verification. For us having 5+ other state licenses slows things down. For other disciplines including SLP, nursing, etc, I am not as familiar with the licensing process. I would recommend checking the state board website for your discipline to get an estimated timeline.

In our experience, Alaska has one of the longer state licensing processes, so this is typically not a license you can wait to get until after you have accepted a travel contract. The only exception would be if you are negotiating a contract several months in advance, which sometimes is possible in Alaska, especially in the more remote places that need travelers year round. Some of these locations know that they will need a traveler well in advance, so you may be able to begin talking to them 6 months or more in advance to arrange a contract, then start your license after that.

For PT & OT, Alaska does have a “Limited Permit” option instead of the full licensure, but in our opinion this will not be appropriate for most people. The Limited Permit only allows you to work for up to 120 days (4 months) with no option for extension or renewal. If you’re someone who knows that you are absolutely only going to work there for a 3 month contract, and you don’t want to extend or go back again, then this could be the right choice for you. This was what we chose to do, because we know that at this stage of our travel therapy careers, we are not planning to return to Alaska to work again, and we knew in the summer of 2022 that we only had 3 months to commit to the contract. But, I would say that for most travelers, if you’re early in your travel career and you’re adventurous, you may just fall in love with Alaska and want to stay longer, or return again in future years. This has been the experience of the majority of the people we’ve ever talked to that have worked in Alaska. The biggest differences in the Limited Permit vs. the regular license are that there are less requirements for documentation that you have to submit and the fee is cheaper for the Limited Permit. But the timeline is actually just as long for them to process (8 weeks), so if you’re trying to get it done quicker, it’s really not that much quicker except on your end with collecting the documentation.

Alaska Location Considerations

When you’re beginning your search for a travel therapy contract in Alaska and trying to decide which location to choose, you’ll need to consider what type of experience you want to have there. From talking to travelers who have lived and worked in dozens of different locations throughout Alaska, I believe it’s safe to say that you’re going to have an incredible and unique experience regardless of where you land. But, some parts of Alaska are going to be starkly different for you as far as transportation, lodging, and activities. Only some parts of Alaska are accessible by the road system. Yes, that’s what they call it, the road system. Roads in Alaska are actually very limited and only go to certain places. So, there are a lot of places you can live and work in Alaska that you can only access by plane or boat. This is going to impact how you plan to get there and what you’ll be able to do on the weekends once you’re there.

If you decide to take a travel contract in one of the more remote locations, you’re going to be looking at flying there, and a lot of times the facility provides a car (if needed) or other transportation option for you to get to and from work, and sometimes lodging as well. These are going to be places like Barrow, Bethel, or Cordova. Whereas if you take a contract somewhere like Juneau, Kodiak, or Ketchikan, you can’t drive directly there, but you can drive part of the way, then get on a ferry, and take your car with you. But many still choose to fly there and arrange a car locally if needed. For places along the road system, like Fairbanks, Anchorage, or anywhere on the Kenai peninsula, you can drive your car all the way from the lower 48, across Canada, and down through the main part of Alaska and have your car with you. Or of course you could choose to ship your car, take the ferry part of the way, or fly and rent a car when you get there. More on this below.

If you don’t mind being in a smaller, more remote place, you can have an incredible experience getting to know the locals and exploring what that area has to offer (potentially hiking, skiing, fishing, or other outdoors activities depending on the area and the season). But it will be less likely that you will be able to take weekend trips to explore other parts of Alaska, except maybe a couple of times where you’ll have to fly out to Anchorage, and then from there rent a car or get a connecting flight elsewhere.

If you take a job that’s along the road system, you’ll have more options on the weekends to drive and explore the other parts of Alaska. This was our favorite part of being in Anchorage. We traveled far and wide during our 3 months there. We were able to make it to all 8 of the Alaska National Parks and explore a lot in between (although we were determined to do this, and also worked only part time to make it happen, which is not going to be possible for most travelers). For our goals with visiting Alaska, it just didn’t make sense to go somewhere that was more isolated. But, we think that for some people depending on your goals and the stage of life you’re in, taking a job in a more remote part of Alaska could allow you to become more connected with the local community and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Alaska Travel Job Search

When it comes time to begin your job search, keep in mind your location preference, but also be open to considering different options. You never know what opportunities are out there if you eliminate them off the bat because you think you only want to be in Anchorage. Yes, this is coming from someone who was dead set on going to Anchorage, did go to Anchorage, and had a fantastic experience, haha. But I have talked to so many people who loved their experiences in remote locations in Alaska that I truly would not rule out these other opportunities.

We always recommend working with a few different recruiters/companies when it comes to your job search so you can explore all the different options. While we did consider options with other companies, we ultimately ended up finding our ideal, perfect jobs in Alaska with Marvel Medical Staffing. We’ve known the owner and staff for years, but this was the first time we took a contract with them. We were blown away with how hard they worked to help us find the jobs we were searching for, and how they had job options that other companies did not. We particularly felt that our recruiter at the company who is a PT herself was so helpful in finding us our perfect jobs. We really value that Marvel employs clinicians as recruiters, because they have a better understanding of the clinical side of things. This is helpful not only during the job search, when you say things like you want a certain type of setting, patient population, caseload, etc, but also when you’re on contract so they can have your back if issues arise. So needless to say we were very happy we went with Marvel for our travel therapy contracts in Anchorage. If you’d like to get connected with one of our favorite clinician-recruiters at Marvel, send us a message or fill out our recruiter recommendations form & be sure to mention that you want to be connected with Marvel!! If you’d like to learn more about working with Marvel, check out their website here.

Transportation, Housing, and Pay

Once you’ve landed a contract in Alaska, as I mentioned above, figuring out your transportation and housing is going to be very dependent on the location of the job. Many of the remote jobs will offer housing and/or car as part of the pay package. They may also offer flight reimbursement if you are flying to the location. Work with your recruiter to find out these details based on what the facility is offering, and then ask what the staffing agency is able to help with as well.

Keep in mind that usually when they cover these expenses for you, it will affect your weekly pay. But often in very remote places, it is really to your benefit to let the facility or agency take care of these details for you, even if it means a slight reduction in pay. Typically you won’t have to worry about pay though, because pay tends to be very good in Alaska, especially in more remote places. They tend to pay higher to attract candidates, and fortunately insurance reimbursement is higher for therapists in Alaska as well which makes the rates higher.

Contract pay in Alaska for travel therapists can vary widely. We’ve seen some travel therapy jobs in Anchorage in the summer paying $1600-1900/wk after taxes, but this is in the most popular area at the most popular time. We’ve also seen contracts paying $2500+ per week in more rural areas. Sometimes you might see something like $1500 per week with car and housing included if it’s a more rural area. In general, pay is going to be on the higher end in Alaska, but it always depends on competition for the job and what the facility is willing to offer. You can always ask and try to negotiate your pay a little higher and/or try to work in having them cover a plane ticket, ferry ticket, car shipping, or arrange housing and car for you during your stay. It never hurts to ask!

If you’ll be searching for housing on your own, there are a lot of resources you can use to find short term, furnished housing. We searched on Furnished Finder and some other sites, but ultimately ended up finding our housing through a Facebook group. See a full list of ideas for finding housing here. Housing can be somewhat tricky and also expensive in Alaska, particularly during the summer months as I mentioned above. We ended up paying the most by far that we have ever paid for housing because the options were extremely limited. We paid $2500/month for a furnished, 3 bedroom house with utilities included. It actually wasn’t that expensive for what we had which was a beautifully furnished, large home, in a safe neighborhood, with private off street parking, all utilities included, a yard, an office, and more. But realistically we did not need all of that, and we would have been fine paying a lot less for a one bedroom apartment. But unfortunately because of the timing, there was just too much competition for housing, and we couldn’t find any other options. All in all it was worth it despite the high cost.

If you’ll be somewhere that is on the road system, you will need to decide if you’re comfortable driving all the way to Alaska, or if you’d prefer to ship your car, or fly and rent a car there. Keep in mind that all of these options are going to be expensive, whether it’s gas and expenses for a road trip, shipping your car, doing a combo of driving and taking the ferry, or renting a car locally.

For more information about car shipping options, check out this guest post. For more information about our experience driving to Alaska, check out this post. You can find information about the Alaska ferry systems here.

If you decide to drive and/or do a combination of driving and taking a ferry, you’ll need to do further research to ensure a safe and successful trip. We recommend getting the MilePost book if you plan to drive the Alaska or Cassiar Highways through Canada. There are tons of resources online about the drive, the road conditions, safety considerations, and more.

Packing for Your Contract

Packing can be tricky for a big move like taking a contract in Alaska. It will really depend if you’re going to be flying or driving how much you can bring. If you are flying and going to a very remote place, keep in mind that the remote areas do not have major grocery stores or ‘big box’ stores like Walmart. So you really do need to bring everything you’ll need with you, and be sure to find out what’s already provided at your furnished housing. Many people who are in the remote areas actually fly into Anchorage for the day to stock up on groceries and necessities and take it back on the plane with them in suitcases or large tubs.

What you need to pack will also depend on the season and what outdoor activities you plan to pursue. For many people, having your car with you will make a big difference if you want to bring lots of outdoor gear. If you are in a bigger city or driving distance to one, you can always try to get some of the necessities at Walmart or various outdoor stores when you’re there. We bought all new fishing gear in Anchorage to go on some fishing adventures when we were there. But also keep in mind, if you go on guided tours, sometimes the tour agency will provide a lot of gear.

As far as the basics on what to pack, be sure to bring layers. Most of the year it’s at least a little chilly if not freezing in Alaska. During the day in the summer it could get quite warm, but as soon as you’re on top of a mountain, out on a boat, a storm rolls through, or night comes, it’s chilly again. Bring a couple of good jackets and some waterproof layers, and of course good boots. I jointed the XTRATUF boot club immediately upon arriving in Alaska. You will not regret having those or similar waterproof boots when you’re there. While it might sound like a lot to pack, keep in mind that you can mix, match, and re-wear a lot of things. And for the most part in Alaska, it’s a very “come as you are” attitude, so don’t worry about bringing clothes to get dressed up.

Ready to Begin Your Adventure?

Once you’ve figured out all the logistics, get ready to have the most amazing adventure of your life, living and working in the great state of Alaska!

Our summer in Alaska was hands down our favorite travel PT contract we have ever taken. We saw, did, and experienced the most incredible things there, unlike anything we’ve done anywhere else in the world. From catching wild fish and cooking it ourselves, to watching bears up close, to being mesmerized by the massive glaciers, to going on some of the most beautiful hikes, Alaska is truly unmatched. We also met some of the nicest people we’ve ever met anywhere in the world. The people in Alaska, whether permanent or temporary residents, welcome travelers with open arms.

We cannot recommend highly enough that you take a travel therapy contract in Alaska, and if you have the opportunity, stay as long as possible and experience as much as you can! You may find that you never want to leave.

To read more about our experiences in Alaska, check out the posts and videos below.

Please feel free to message us if you have any questions about living and working in Alaska! If you’d like to get connected with the best recruiters to help you with your travel therapy job search in Alaska, fill out this form!

Additional Alaska Content:

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC – Whitney has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with her partner Jared. Together they have mentored and educated thousands of current and aspiring healthcare travelers.

Whitney Eakin headshot
Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

This post was sponsored by Marvel Medical Staffing. All information is original and reflects authentic viewpoints from Travel Therapy Mentor.