Travel Therapy Pay 101

Travel Therapy Pay 101: How Does It Work?

A huge perk of travel therapy (Travel PT, Travel OT, Travel SLP) is that you can make more money! But how much more? And how does the pay work?

The way we get paid as traveling therapists is different than that of a normal salary or hourly position (such as at a regular permanent job or a PRN job). Why? For one, we don’t work on an annual basis, we work on a week to week basis, so you can’t discuss our pay in terms of an annual salary. We also can’t discuss pay in terms of a strict “hourly” rate, because we often receive tax-free stipends as part of our pay.

Typically, as a traveling healthcare professional, you’re going to get paid a regular hourly rate (which is taxed), plus a per diem or stipend for housing, meals, and incidentals (which is usually untaxed, as long as you meet the requirements of maintaining a proper tax home).

Why do we get paid this way? Well, as traveling workers, we receive pay not only for the work we do, but we also receive reimbursements to cover our housing and other expenses while we are there. Per the IRS, as long as you’re maintaining a “Tax Home” at your permanent residence, you get a tax break on the stipend part of your pay. So, at the end of the day, because you don’t have to pay taxes on that part of your pay, you end up making more money after taxes than at a regular job, where all of your pay is taxed.

  • To learn more about tax homes, stay tuned for the Tax Home part of our series coming soon! We also recommend visiting TravelTax.com to make sure you’re following all the proper rules!

Sometimes, travel therapists will also receive additional reimbursements for things like their state license, scrubs, and mileage/travel to get to the assignment.

So your pay is going to be broken into these segments which make up what’s called the “Pay Package“: Hourly Rate + Stipends/Per Diems + Reimbursements.

But, in order to easily discuss pay packages, people in the travel therapy industry normally refer to pay in what’s called the “Weekly Take-Home” amount. This is a number that encompasses how much you’re going to make each week in total, since it’s easier to discuss travel therapy jobs on a week by week basis. It’s important to distinguish when talking about “Weekly Pay” if the person you’re talking to is referring to gross pay or net/after tax pay. Most of the time we all discuss it as after tax pay which is what “Weekly Take Home” means, the amount you actually take home after taxes.

How do you calculate a “Weekly Take Home” number?

You take the hourly rate and multiply it by the number of hours you worked.

  • For example, $20/hr x 40hrs = $800

Then, you subtract out the taxes you have to pay on that amount, which depends on your state and your tax filing status (for example single/married and if you claim dependents).

  • So let’s say you owed 30% taxes, it would be $800 x 70%= $560 after taxes

Then, you’ll add in your weekly per diem amounts, for example $1000/wk total for meals/housing/incidentals.

  • So if your pay was $20/hr + $1000/wk stipends, your “weekly take home” amount would be: $560 (after taxes) + $1000 (untaxed) = $1560/wk after taxes!

Then you might get a one time reimbursement of say $500 for travel/license, so you’d get $500 one time, then each week also get $1560/wk!

Where Does the Money Come From?

It’s important to understand where the money comes from when you’re talking about pay. As a travel therapist, the facility decides how much they’re going to offer for the position. The facility pays the travel company an amount of money, which is called the bill rate. Then, the travel company has to take a cut for their costs (a commission for their services and overhead costs), then the travel company pays you out of the remainder of the bill rate left over.

Once the money gets to the travel company, they can decide how to divide it up and give it to the traveler, and the traveler often has some input too. Here is where money can be moved around and allocated different ways to maximize the tax benefits for both the travel company and the traveler. For example, as long as they’re following the IRS guidelines for per diems, they can put more money towards your stipend/per diems (which is usually untaxed as long as you qualify) and less money towards the hourly pay (which is taxed).

So the bill rate that the facility gives the travel company could be something like $60-80/hr. Then the travel company takes out their cut. Then your pay might look something like: $20/hr (taxed) + $1000/wk per diems (untaxed).

Similarly, they can choose to allocate some of the pay towards separate reimbursements. So you could see something like $20/hr (taxed) + $960/wk per diems (untaxed) + $500 one time reimbursement for licensure and mileage.

But, as we can see here, in the second example with the $500 reimbursement, the per diem is lower. If you divided that $500 out over the course of a 13 week assignment, $500/13=$38. So both the above pay packages are really about the same, because in one example the per diem is $40 higher each week, and in the other it’s $40 lower but has an extra $500 one-time payment tacked on.

It’s important to note that there isn’t just “free money” floating around that the company can give you for “extras”. Think of a pay package as all one big pie. You can cut the pie in different ways, but it’s still the same pie. Some companies will use gimmicks to say they’re going to give you more money for a certain contract by calling them reimbursements, bonuses, tuition paybacks, contract completion bonuses etc. But, as an informed and savvy traveler, you need to know that all the pay is coming from somewhere. Either, it comes directly out of the bill rate for that specific contract, directly from that specific facility to the travel company. Or, the travel company might allocate a particular budget into a department to give out money for things like licensure reimbursements. But, you have to understand that in order to have that budget available in their company, it means they take it out of their commissions/overhead for all contracts for all travelers across the board. So either way, the money comes from somewhere and affects your weekly pay in one way or another once it’s all said and done!

This is an important fact to remember if you find yourself trying to compare pay either between yourself and another traveler, or between two contracts you’re being offered by two different companies. You have to look at the entire “pay package” (the whole “pie”) not just one piece of it.

How Much Money Do Travel Therapists Normally Make?

The amount that travel therapists make varies highly based on a number of factors, with the main ones being: the type of facility, the location of the facility, and the travel company. These are all very important factors to keep in mind, especially again if you’re going to try to compare pay with another traveler, or compare between two different contracts you’re considering. You can’t expect the pay to be the same for a completely different setting, in a completely different state, and with a different company, which is just the same for perm jobs if you think about it!

So what’s a typical range?

A typical range for a traveling physical therapist, occupational therapist, or speech language pathologist, is going to be around $1500-1800/wk after taxes.

For PTA/COTA, you could see pay typically between $1000-1300/wk.

But we have seen PT/OT/SLP pay anywhere from $1350/wk to $2500+/wk! These extremes are going to be more rare. We don’t recommend taking jobs with pay below $1500/wk after taxes. However, during COVID, pay has been a little lower, and desperate times have called for desperate measures. But in general, we don’t recommend accepting below $1500/wk as a PT/OT/SLP.

Pay in the $1800-2500+ range is going to be only in certain parts of the country and for certain really high paying jobs.

For travel therapists, the setting that tends to pay the most is home health, while SNF tends to pay the lowest, and outpatient, hospital, or schools tend to fall in the middle.

The higher paying areas are typically more on the west coast, particularly in California. Where on the east coast and midwest you’ll see more moderate pay.

And as we mentioned, the travel company you’re working with can make a difference too, depending on how much overhead/commission they keep, and how they choose to allocate the pay.

The Bottom Line

So as you can see, travel therapists can make significantly more money than therapists at permanent positions in many cases. But, pay can vary highly across the board depending on a number of factors. And, it can be tricky understanding how your pay is broken down in order to compare pay between offers and with other travelers.

Learning and understanding how the pay works before you dive in and get started as a traveler is very important! To learn more, check out this Comprehensive Guide to Travel Therapy Pay.


We hope this article was informative and helped you! Stay tuned for more content during the remainder of our 6-week series Travel Therapy 101: The Basics

Please contact us if you have questions about getting started with your travel therapy journey, or would like our recommendations for great recruiters!

What is Travel Therapy and How Does it Work?

What is Travel Therapy?

Travel therapy, contract therapy, contract therapist, traveling therapist, travel physical therapy (Travel PT), travel occupational therapy (Travel OT), travel speech therapy (Travel SLP) — these are some terms you may have heard floating around, and you’re wondering, what does that mean?

The answer is, it could mean a variety of things, but in most cases it means that a therapist (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA) chooses to travel to different locations within the US for short term, contract work. This could be locally, within one state, or across state lines in any of the 50 US states.

In some cases, it could refer to working internationally, but this is not common and involves completely different steps than finding travel/contract work within the US. We are going to focus on travel therapy within the US only, as this is what is most feasible for US therapists, and it’s the focus of our Travel Therapy Mentor website.

How Does It Work?

In a nutshell, therapists (PT, OT, SLP, PTA, COTA) work with a recruiter at a travel therapy staffing agency, to search for short term jobs they’d like to apply to within the US. They have a phone interview to see if the job is a good fit, and if they’re chosen for the job, they move to the new location temporarily to work there for a short term contract.

A typical contract length is 13 weeks, or 3 months. But, it all depends on the facility’s needs and what you’re looking for. Some contracts could last just a few weeks, up to a year. In terms of finding short term housing, the staffing company can help you set up housing, or you can choose to set up housing on your own. Some travelers also choose to travel by RV.

The travel therapy staffing agency gets paid by the facility, they take a commission, and then you get paid weekly. You get paid an hourly rate, plus a stipend (also referred to as per diem) for housing and meals/incidentals (as long as you meet the appropriate guidelines for maintaining a Tax Home). You can also receive benefits from the staffing company, just like at a perm job, while you’re on contract with them. Remember, you’re an employee of the staffing company while on contract, not the facility itself.

When your contract is over, you can move on to another contract, or you could always return back home and work locally again.

Why Do Facilities Need Travel Therapists?

The facilities might need short term/travel workers for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Someone quit suddenly, and they need someone to fill in temporarily while they try to find a new permanent employee
  • Someone is away temporarily (for example on a maternity/paternity leave)
  • They have a temporary increase in caseload, for example some places that have higher needs during different seasons (think: Snow Birds in winter)
  • They’re having trouble finding a permanent employee or haven’t had a permanent employee for a while (for example rural areas or less desirable areas that don’t have a large pool of therapists in the area)

Why Do Therapists Choose Travel Therapy?

There are lots of benefits to travel therapy and reasons why therapists might choose this route, including:

  • You get paid higher as a travel therapist
  • You get to explore different areas of the country
  • You can try a variety of settings without committing to the job permanently

Do You Get to Choose Where You Go?

Yes, and no. There are 3 main factors to consider when searching for travel therapy jobs: location, setting, and pay. The more picky you are on one of these factors, the less picky you can be on the others.

You are at the mercy of the jobs available at a given time throughout the US. So you can say you really want to go to this state, but you can’t always choose exactly the city. Often, you won’t see any jobs in a particular city at a particular time, so you’ll have to look more at the whole state or a whole region. Plus, the more picky you’re being about the exact location, you won’t be able to be so picky on the setting and the pay.

On the other hand, if you’re only looking for a certain setting, for example outpatient or pediatrics, you will have to be more flexible on location and pay.

If you’re looking to make the absolute most money possible, you may have to be lenient on the setting and/or location available to find it!

Sometimes, you hit the “travel therapy jackpot” and get your absolute top pick on location, setting AND high pay! But it’s hard to come by all 3. So remember, flexibility is key!

What are Some of the Logistics with Getting Started?

First, you’ll want to find reliable recruiters at reliable staffing companies to work with. They help you find the jobs and can make or break your experience with travel therapy! We recommend working with at least 3 recruiters to open up more job options. To learn more about why this is, check out this article.

Next, you’ll want to consider in which states you’d like to work. You have to be licensed in every state in which you work, and it’s usually recommended that you get 2-3 state licenses up front so you’ll already have the license in hand before applying for jobs. In most cases, you have to apply individually to each state via their local state board website, but for PT’s and PTA’s you may be eligible for the PT Compact.

Once you’re set up with some recruiters and are working on getting your state licenses, the recruiters will help you search for jobs and submit your application for you.

Ready to Jump in & Learn More?

This is the first article in our Mini Series titled Travel Therapy 101: The Basics

Stay tuned for our upcoming articles and videos/podcasts in the series where we will cover:

  • Travel Therapy Pay 101
  • Travel Therapy Housing 101
  • Travel Therapy Licensing 101
  • Travel Therapy Recruiters 101
  • Understanding Tax Homes for Travelers

You can also find more detailed information on any of these topics via the links to other articles throughout this post, or by visiting our Educational Videos & Articles section!

Please send us a message if you have questions about travel therapy, or fill out this form to find out the recruiters and companies we recommend for you!