Travel Therapy Pay 101

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!

Understanding a Travel Therapy Contract

Understanding a travel therapy contract

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT — Jared Casazza, PT, DPT — Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Important Aspects of a Travel Therapy Contract

If you’re like us, and most people we know, you rarely read an online contract or terms of service; just blindly hit the accept button online and assume all the legal rambling for your credit card and other contracts is just the normal stuff. However, you’ll want to get in the habit of making sure you analyze a travel therapy contract since it is much more important. Your contract is your protection, so you want to make sure it says what you want it to say. This is always the document to fall back on if any problems arise with either your travel company or the facility at which you’re working. Luckily, in our experience, these contracts are pretty short (only a page or two) aren’t filled with tons of legal nonsense and we can help you to understand exactly what everything means.

Here are the most important aspects:

  1. Start and end dates: Seems straight forward, but always make sure to double check that it’s the contract length you agreed on and the dates that you desire. Then make sure to mark your calendar accordingly. We’ve seen a traveler and the facility have different assumptions regarding start/end dates which led to significant confusion, and ultimately the traveler being cut out of work mid-week without a plan.
  2. Pay: Make sure your hourly pay and stipends are what you agreed upon with your recruiter. We have caught errors before, and it’s doubtful that that the recruiter/company had any malicious intent. Things happen, mistakes get made, and you want to find those mistakes before you sign a contract and are stuck with something other than what you thought you were agreeing to. Also, you want to check your pay breakdown according to IRS and GSA guidelines. Check out this post on pay to better understand how pay packages work and details on how to calculate exactly what your take home pay should be after taxes.
  3. Required time off (if applicable): We often build vacations and long weekends into our contracts in advance, so it’s agreed upon by us, the travel company, and the facility. This also applies to holidays or special occasions for which you plan to return home (weddings, graduations, birthdays, etc.).
  4. Cancellation policy: This is the policy that allows you, or the facility, to terminate the contract. Generally it’s going to be either two weeks or 30 days notice. This provides you security in case the facility cancels your contract, so you can make arrangements regarding living situation and finances. Ideally we recommend to always push for 30 days notice on any contract so that if the facility needs to end your contract early for any reason you’ll have time to find another assignment before the 30 days is up.
  5. Guaranteed hours: We all have always had guaranteed hours in our contracts, and we love that security. If your facility gets slow or has low census and needs to cut hours, you have the security of a guaranteed salary, so your pay is never in question. Sometimes the facility will guarantee 40 hours, sometimes only 32, but either way, that gives you a guaranteed base salary to budget with. A 40 hour guarantee is the ideal situation and should be pushed for in most cases. 40 hour guarantees on every contract for Jared has led to thousands of dollars of free money due to being paid for hours that weren’t actually worked for things like low census, holidays, and inclement weather!
  6. Overtime Pay: This is one that we all learned the hard way. With your decreased taxable hourly rate as a traveler also comes a decreased standard overtime rate. You can, and we recommend you do, negotiate a higher overtime rate that makes overtime worth your while. Personally, as a PT, we ask for a minimum of $45/hour but have often been able to get rates of up to $70/hour. Either way, make sure you at least get a rate that makes it worth your time. Most of the time, the facility won’t want you getting overtime as a traveler anyway, but Jared has worked over 400 hours of overtime in less than three years, so it definitely isn’t unheard of and can mean a lot of extra money when available. The bottom line with overtime is that if you agree to work overtime, you want to be compensated accordingly and negotiating a higher rate makes that possible.
  7. Reduced Hours Fee: You shouldn’t need to worry about this if you have 40 hours guaranteed, but if you don’t have guaranteed hours, or the guarantee is less than 40 hours, this statement says that the travel company can decrease your housing and per diem pay. You want to watch out for this if you don’t have guaranteed hours and be aware when making a budget that your pay could be lower if census drops at some point.

We hope this helps you better understand a travel contract and gives you some insight on things to watch out for so that you don’t make some of the mistakes that we did when starting out.

Is there anything we are missing? Feel free to send us a message or comment below letting us know! Also, if you want help understanding your travel contract, send us a message here and we will gladly take a look for free and see if we can offer some advice!