Understanding Compact Licenses for Travel PT, Travel OT and Travel SLP

It has now been over three years since our original article on therapy compact licensure, and in that time much progress has been made! The PT Compact has been up and running for many years now and has made life significantly easier for many Travel PTs. Before we get too in depth, let’s start with a overview of what compact licenses are and why they’re important for travel therapists.

What is a Therapy Compact License?

For American healthcare workers, an inter-state licensure compact facilitates inter-state healthcare practice. It is an agreement which allows those who meet certain requirements to more easily practice in other states which are in the compact agreement, without having to go through the full process to get a new license in that state. Nursing already has this type of agreement, and now the different therapy disciplines are starting their own licensure compacts.

Having access to a compact licensure agreement improves access to care and providers for patients in various states by reducing the barriers for clinicians to practice across state lines. It increases portability for military spouses, traveling healthcare professionals, and those clinicians who live close to the border of two neighboring states. It also assists with improving access to telehealth services in various states.

Currently, physical therapists in eligible states are already benefiting from the PT Compact, and occupational therapists and speech language pathologists in eligible states will soon be able to participate in their own respective compact licensure agreement, as each organization continues to develop the OT Compact and the ASLP Compact.

How Does Compact Licensure Compare to Standard State Licensure?

Traditionally, healthcare practitioners in most disciplines must apply for an individual license to practice in each different state. Each state regulates the practice of the healthcare discipline, with its own rules and regulations, and thus, its own application progress. Typically if healthcare practitioners would like to practice in a different state than their home state, they must apply directly to the new state to obtain a license there.

This process may include an application, a fee, often a jurisprudence exam on the state laws for that discipline, original transcripts from your educational institution, original passing scores for your national board exam, verification of good standing for any state in which you’ve previously held a license, and more. As you can see, this process can often be lengthy, daunting, and expensive.

Many practitioners may only require getting one or two state licenses in their lifetime, so this process isn’t much of an issue for most. However, for traveling healthcare providers, military spouses or others who may move often for their spouse’s work, or those living on a border of two or more states, this can be a big hassle. This is where having access to a compact licensure can save a significant amount of time, effort, and money.

Eligibility for Therapy Compact Licensure

Compact licensure is different for each healthcare discipline, but as it pertains to travel therapists, we will focus on the PT, OT, and SLP Compacts. Currently (as of September 2022) the PT Compact is the only one in operation, but based on the information available on the OT and ASLP Compact websites, the processes should be similar to the process for the PT Compact. Therefore, I will focus here on explaining how the PT Compact works, and we will assume for now that the others will be the same or similar.

The first and most important factor to understand about the PT Compact (and this will likely be the same for the OT and SLP Compacts), is that you are only eligible if your home state is participating in the compact. I repeat, you are ONLY eligible if your HOME state is participating. Do not pass Go, do not collect $100… if your home state isn’t participating, you are NOT eligible.

The PT Compact defines your home state as the state where you currently hold an active driver’s license. If your home state, where you have an active driver’s license, is not participating, then you are NOT eligible. You CANNOT ‘make yourself eligible’ by applying for a regular license in a compact state. You could, theoretically, make yourself eligible by moving your permanent residence to a compact state and obtaining a driver’s license there. But, this is a big hassle, and in most cases not recommended just to get access to the compact. More on this later as it pertains to travelers and your tax home.

In addition to having an active driver’s license in the compact state to prove that this is your residence, you must also hold an active therapy (PT/PTA, OT/OTA, SLP/SLPA) license, which is maintained in good standing, in your home state. This will be your primary state license (obtained the traditional way) on which all compact licenses/privileges will be based.

Which States Are Participating in the PT Compact?

As of September 2022, there are 25 US states that are participating in the PT Compact, and are actively issuing ‘compact privileges’ to members in those states. Additionally, there are 8 other states which have ‘enacted legislation’ to approve the PT Compact in their state, however they are still working out the details and have not yet started issuing compact privileges to their members yet.

In terms of determining your eligibility for the PT Compact, you will need to check the current map and list of participating states, and your home state must be currently ‘issuing and accepting compact privileges for you to be eligible. (Your home state must be DARK BLUE on the map to be currently eligible).

You can check the map for the most up to date status of all the states here.

Once you have determined that you are in fact eligible to participate based on your home state being DARK BLUE on the map, you can then look at all the other states that are actively participating (also in DARK BLUE) to see the other states in which you could quickly and easily obtain a compact privilege to practice.

What are the Statuses of the OT Compact and the ASLP Compact?

As of September 2022, neither the OT Compact or the ASLP Compact are fully operational yet, so no members are currently eligible to begin participating. Both compacts have had more than 20 states enact the compact into law, however they are both still in the process of developing and implementing infrastructure needed for to begin actual operation of the respective compact licensures. This can be a long process as it is a new organization and they must get everything in order.

Per the OT Compact website, they anticipate another 12-18 months needed following their August 2022 meeting in order to get the infrastructure in place to become operational. That would put them in late 2023 to early 2024 before occupational therapy members can begin participating and using the compact privileges. For more information regarding the OT Compact, visit their website here.

Per the ASLP Compact website, as of September 2022, they anticipate another 6-12 months in order to become fully operational. They state that they anticipate members becoming eligible for participation in 2023. For more information regarding the ASLP Compact, visit their website here.

The Process of Applying for a Compact License

So, once you are eligible to participate (based on your home state’s status in the compact), how do you actually obtain a compact license privilege in order to practice in another compact state?

For the PT Compact, the process of applying to use your compact privilege happens via the PT Compact website. This is very important to note, as unfortunately we have heard of therapists who were confused and applied directly via the state’s website, not the PT Compact website, resulting in them actually just applying for a full licensure in that state. This caused significant hassle as they just went through the normal licensing process, rather than actually getting to use their compact privilege. So be sure to start at the PT Compact website.

The process for obtaining a PT Compact privilege in a new state is very fast, and in many cases you can obtain the privilege the same day with a quick and easy process and small fee on the PT Compact website (as opposed to taking several weeks to several months obtaining a state license the traditional way). The only exception is for compact states which require a jurisprudence exam.

It’s very important to note that if the compact state where you are applying for compact privileges requires a jurisprudence exam, you must complete this BEFORE going to the PT Compact website to apply for your compact privilege in that state. The timeframe for the jurisprudence exam will vary by state, taking a few days to a few weeks depending on if it needs to be scheduled at a testing center. Check the list of states that have jurisprudence requirements for more information.

Overall, the process for getting your compact privilege to practice in another compact state is significantly easier, faster, and cheaper than applying for state licensure the typical way.

How do you Renew & Maintain CEU Requirements for Compact License?

Another benefit of using compact privileges to practice in other states is that the CEU requirements are significantly streamlined vs. maintaining multiple state licenses the traditional way. For travelers in particular who have several state licenses, you typically have to keep up with a variety of different CEU requirements and report to each state per their rules. However, with the PT Compact, you only have to maintain your CEUs for your home state, and you have no requirements for maintaining CEUs for any states where you practice using the compact privilege.

You do however have to renew your compact privilege. The expiration date is the same as when your home state license expires. So when you go to renew your home state license the traditional way via the state’s website, you will also need to go to the compact website to renew any compact privileges if you want to continue having compact privileges in that state or states. You can learn more about the PT Compact renewal process here.

Compact Licensure Specifics for Travel Therapists

Here are some key points for understanding compact licensure as it pertains to travel therapists:

Does having the compact make it easier to be a travel therapist?

Absolutely. Those who are eligible will have easier access to taking jobs in any of the compact states, without having to wait to go through the full licensure process. This can make your life easier in general because you don’t have to go through the long application process for compact states.

It also makes the job search process a lot easier, because you can essentially apply for any job that pops up in any compact state without worrying if you already have a license there. In contrast, for most travel therapists who are going through licensure the traditional way, it’s not recommended to apply for jobs in a state unless you already have the state license. Most travel jobs need someone ASAP and can’t wait for you to get the license. There are some exceptions in states where the licensure process is quicker and for jobs that are more desperate and willing to wait on you to get the license. But sometimes standard licensure can take several weeks to several months, so in general you usually don’t apply for jobs without having a license.

So, say your dream job pops up in Colorado, but you don’t have the license yet. Normally you’d have to pass it up because they’ll take someone who is already licensed. But if you’re compact eligible, you could go ahead and apply, and if you get the job, you can easily and quickly get the compact licensure within a few days.

But, one other thing to consider with the increased access to the compact states, is that there could also be increased competition for the jobs in these states. But, as time goes on and more and more states are participating in the compact, this competition will even out.

Do all facilities accept the compact licensure?

In the beginning, there were some issues with certain insurances not recognizing the PT Compact as equivalent to the standard license, so they were not accepting billing from therapists practicing with compact licensure. Therefore, certain facilities were declining applicants who didn’t have the regular license. For the most part this has been resolved, and nearly all insurances and facilities are accepting the PT Compact license.

However, this does still come up occasionally where a travel therapist is asked to get the full license instead of the compact, so be aware if that happens to you. For OT & SLP Compacts, this could be a potential issue in the beginning, but hopefully by the PT Compact paving the way, insurances will be on board when the OT & SLP Compacts are rolled out.

Can I apply for a regular license in a compact state to get access to the compact?

No. This is one of the biggest misnomers about the compact. You can’t become eligible just by getting a license in a compact state. Your home state has to be participating for you to be eligible.

But what if I already have a regular state license in the compact state?

Same as above. Even if you already have a regular state license in a compact state, and maybe you’ve even had it for a long time, this does not make you eligible. Your home state has to be participating for you to be eligible.

New grads – where to get licensed first

Another misnomer that we’ve often heard from therapists is that they think their eligibility for the compact has to do with the state they received their FIRST license in. For example, they think that if they apply to take the board exam in a compact state and/or get their very first license in a compact state, that this will somehow make them eligible for the compact. This is not the case. It only has to do with your home state where you have a permanent residence and driver’s license.

This could be particularly confusing for someone who went to school in a compact state, but has their permanent residence and drivers license at their parents’ house in a non-compact state. In this case, unfortunately, even if you went to school in a compact state, took your board exam there, and got your first license there, you still aren’t eligible if you are keeping your permanent address at your parents’ house in a non-compact state. Now if you decide to rent or buy a place and change your drivers license and permanent address to the compact state where you went to school, then yes you could be eligible. But this gets into a whole other can of worms when we start discussing tax homes.

Home state (permanent address) vs. tax home

Are these the same? In some ways, yes, but not completely. For most people, your permanent residence is the same as your tax home. But, as far as the PT Compact is concerned, the rules for verifying your home state are very relaxed compared to the rules for maintaining a tax home. For the PT Compact, you only have to show that you have a driver’s license in the compact state to be eligible. The tax home rules are a lot more complex. If you’re unfamiliar with tax home rules and why this is important for travel therapists, I highly recommend reading this Tax Home article.

Can I move my home address to a compact state to become eligible?

Yes, you could do this if you wanted to, but in our opinion it would be much too complicated to make it worth it just to get access to the compact. Of course you would need to change your permanent address on lots of documentation and get a driver’s license in the new state to make this work. And theoretically, actually move yourself and your belongings there. But, you may be thinking, I want to be a travel therapist, so I won’t even be at this new “home address” most of the time anyways. Why not just say that my new permanent address is at my parents’, or aunts’, or friends’ house in a compact state to get all the benefits of having access to the compact?

The main reason this isn’t a good idea for a travel therapist is because it can then interfere with your established tax home situation. It’s not as easy as changing your drivers license to establish a new tax home in the eyes of the IRS. A tax home is tied more to the area where you have been earning income and conducting business. The only case where it would be more feasible to make this move of both your tax home and perm address is if you’ve just graduated from college and are re-establishing yourself back at home with your parents, where you grew up, returned for school breaks, and already had ties.

If you’re trying to move your permanent address and thus tax home to a place where you never earned any income, had any business ties, or actually lived before, you are not going to meet the tax home rules and will be at risk of not qualifying to receive tax-free stipends as a travel therapist.

If you’re considering moving your address for the compact or other reasons as a travel therapist, we highly recommend setting up a consultation with a professional tax advisor in order to make sure you’re meeting the tax home rules. We recommend TravelTax for this.

What if your home state isn’t participating but you want them to?

The best route is to contact your PT, OT, or SLP board for your home state and advocate for the importance of access to the compact. Let them know the benefits for patients to have access to care, and the benefits for clinicians. If you need help with this, first talk to the PT, OT, or SLP Compact to get some direction.

If your state has already passed legislation but has been slow to actually move forward with issuing compact privileges, contact the Compact as well as the state board to get an update.

If I’m not eligible for the compact, can I still travel?

YES! Keep in mind that the compact is VERY new. Therapists have been traveling to other states for decades without using a compact license. In fact, we have been traveling ourselves for over 7 years, starting as new grads, and have yet to use the PT Compact, even though our state did begin participating a couple of years ago. And of course OTs and SLPs currently don’t have a Compact that’s active at all, and they still travel. It does require a little bit of extra work to get licensed in each new state where you’d like to practice as a travel therapist, but it’s completely doable.

Additionally, keep in mind that even if you are eligible for the compact, there are still several states that aren’t participating. So, for example, if you’d like to work in Alaska, Hawaii, California, or Florida as a PT, as of 2022, you have to apply for those state license the traditional way. So, the compact does make traveling easier in a lot of ways, but it’s definitely not the end all be all of being a travel therapist.

Summary

The PT Compact, OT Compact, and SLP Compact have a lot of benefits for our professions and the patients we treat, and they can be especially helpful for travel therapists! If your state isn’t participating yet, consider advocating for them adopting the compact by talking to your state board and/or contacting your compact organization. But, even if you aren’t able to take advantage of the compact license just yet, never fear. Being a travel therapist is still totally doable even without the compact! We and many others have been traveling for many years by getting licensed the traditional way!

If you’re ready to get your travel therapy journey started, reach out to us for help getting connected with great travel therapy recruiters!

Additional Resources:

Whitney Eakin headshot
Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC – Whitney has been practicing as a traveling Doctor of Physical Therapy since 2015. She has educated and 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.