Net Take Home Pay Vs Gross Pay Quotes for Travel Therapy Pay Packages

It’s no secret that travel therapy pay packages can be confusing, especially for new and prospective travelers.

I’ve often gotten messages and comments from therapists not familiar with travel therapy pay saying that there’s no point in traveling when you can make just as much money at a permanent job. This is almost always just a misunderstanding in how the compensation is quoted, which is understandable because it is confusing. They look at a take home pay number for a travel job, and compare that to the gross pay they’re making at permanent job, and assume those two numbers are talking about the same thing, but this is incorrect. Even comparing pay between two travelers can be difficult due to all of the variables involved.

Travel Therapy Pay is Unique

While almost everyone in the regular working world discusses pay uses either an hourly pay number, or a gross yearly salary, those numbers don’t really make sense to use when talking about travel therapy jobs.

There are too many variables to determine a “typical travel therapy salary” on an annual basis. The biggest variable is how many weeks the therapist works each year, since flexibility to take long periods of time off and even semi-retire is a huge perk of travel therapy.

An hourly rate doesn’t make sense without knowing the stipend amounts and the number of hours expected or guaranteed.

As a remedy to this, in the travel therapy world, pay is almost always quoted in a weekly “take home” amount, otherwise known as the total weekly net or after-tax pay. This is the amount you can expect to see deposited into your bank account each week when working a contract. This amount typically includes both the hourly rate (minus taxes) plus the non-taxed stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with how travel therapy pay packages are set up, I suggest reading this article or this article to gain a better understanding of this topic.

Unfortunately, while the standard is to quote a weekly after tax total, or “weekly take home pay,” there are also issues with this method.

Drawbacks of Quoting Take Home Travel Therapy Pay

If you’ve only ever looked at travel therapy pay packages, it may come as a surprise to learn that therapy is the only area of travel healthcare that commonly discusses compensation in terms of take home pay aka after-tax pay. Travel nursing and other travel healthcare disciplines almost always discuss compensation is a weekly gross (before tax) amount.

Why is that? It’s because take home pay numbers can also be confusing and hard for recruiters to determine accurately.

Think about it, for a recruiter to quote accurate take home pay for a job, they have to know details about your life to try to determine what your tax rate will be. They also have to know what benefits you’re going to choose that come out of your paycheck before taxes.

Here are some things that can cause take home pay to be different for one traveler compared to another:
  • Are you single or married?
  • Do you have dependents?
  • What is the state income tax rate in your tax home state?
  • Which health insurance plan are you going to choose?
  • Are you going to opt for life insurance or disability insurance offered by the company?
  • Are you going to contribute to a 401k plan if offered by the company?
  • Do you have any side hustles/other jobs that will impact the amount of tax withholdings on your paycheck?

Difficulty for Recruiters

Now, put yourself in a recruiter’s situation. What if you quote a traveler take home pay for a job assuming they’re single with no dependents, have a tax home in a state with no income tax, carry their own health insurance, and aren’t going to contribute to the company 401k plan, and then all of those assumptions are wrong. The actual take home pay the traveler receives could be much higher or lower than the quoted amount, but it wasn’t the recruiter’s fault. The traveler may feel like they were lied to, when in reality that wasn’t the intention of the recruiter at all. Even the highest paying travel therapy companies can run into issues with this.

You may think, “Oh well they should just ask those things before quoting a pay amount,” and that’s true, but some travel therapists don’t want to give all of that information to a recruiter who they may not even take the job with. Also for situations like with our hot job list or other publicly posted pay packages, the recruiters have no contact with the traveler before determining the pay package posted, so they just have make assumptions that of course may lead to inaccuracies for the individual traveler.

What About Gross Pay?

With all of the assumptions that go into determining a take home pay quote in travel therapy, you may think that quoting gross pay would be better. Well, yes and no. It certainly leads to less confusion since recruiters aren’t having to guess on your tax rate and the benefits you’ll choose, but there are issues as well. The main problem with quoting a weekly gross pay amount is that there’s no way to know how much of that pay is taxable and how much of it are tax free stipends.

For example, let’s say a recruiter quotes you $2,500/week gross pay for a travel contract. That sounds pretty good, but the amount you actually receive each week can vary a lot depending on if the taxable hourly rate is high or low. If the job is $20/hour taxable pay with $1,700/week in tax free stipends, then your weekly paycheck will be much higher than if it’s $40/hour taxable pay with $900/week in tax free stipends. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you’re trying to decide between two jobs based on pay, then a difference between $100-$200/week in take home pay could really sway your choice.

What’s the Best Way to Discuss Travel Therapy Pay?

Unfortunately there’s no perfect answer here. Hourly rates and annual salary are inadequate, and weekly take home pay and weekly gross pay both have drawbacks.

Take home pay quotes lead to unavoidable inaccuracies, and sometimes even hard feelings between travel therapists and recruiters. Gross pay quotes lead to less information being communicated, which can make choosing between jobs based on pay hard for the traveler. Gross pay also means a little more work on the part of the traveler to determine their own expected tax rate and calculate their own approximate net weekly pay.

Overall, gross pay is probably a little better to quote than take home pay, since many more variables are eliminated. But for whatever reason, that has never been the standard in the travel therapy world, and it’s hard to change what people expect.

I’ve seen some people in various Facebook groups claim that any recruiter that is quoting gross pay is intentionally trying to mislead or take advantage of travel therapists. This is almost never the truth. Usually recruiters will quote gross pay in order to avoid the inherent confusion that comes with trying to guess someone’s tax and benefits situation. Certain companies even have policies that do not allow their recruiters to quote the net pay due to inaccuracies and miscommunications this has led to in the past. You certainly shouldn’t be choosing to work with a recruiter or not based solely on how they communicate pay information. There are many much more important variables when picking great recruiters.

Ensuring Your Travel Therapy Pay Package Quote is Accurate

Whether you work with a recruiter who quotes you weekly take home pay or weekly gross pay, it isn’t a big deal if you’re a smart travel therapist that understands the limitations of each, and understands how to calculate your own pay package. Just make sure that you are clear on which way they are quoting the pay to avoid further confusion. If you have one recruiter quoting net and the other quoting gross, you will be sorely disappointed when you realize that the reason the gross weekly pay package was so much higher was that it was before taxes! So just have clear communication with the recruiter if they quote you a weekly amount: be sure to ask is this weekly net or weekly gross.

If your recruiter quotes you a weekly net take home pay number for a potential contract, you need to understand that this is just an estimate based on the average travelers’ situation and could be a little more or less for you based on your personal taxes and benefit elections. No big deal. The recruiter is probably doing their best to be accurate, but it’s never going to be perfect. Quoting approximate net pay can give you a good idea of a rough estimate of your weekly take home pay, which will make it easier for you to quickly compare jobs side by side. Once you’ve been quoted the approximate weekly take home pay, you can do the leg work to figure out a more precise weekly take home number for yourself before accepting the contract.

If your recruiter quotes you a gross pay number, no problem. It’s easy to get a rough estimate of the take home pay amount yourself.

Whether you’re quoted the net weekly take home or the gross weekly amount, you just need to find out how the pay package is broken down to run the calculations for yourself. Ask the recruiter what the hourly taxable rate is, and what the stipend amount is.

To get a rough estimate for my own taxes, I take the hourly rate and multiply by 40 hours, and then subtract 20% of that to account for estimated taxes. I then add in the tax free stipends and have a pretty good guess of what I’ll receive on my weekly paycheck. If I want to be even more accurate, then I’ll use a pay check calculator as discussed in this article. The calculators at Paycheck City are great for this. I’ll then subtract whatever I estimate that the pretax benefits I choose will cost (such as insurance premiums and 401k contributions).

So in summary, as long as you have a good understanding of how pay packages are broken down, you can get a good estimate of what your own weekly pay will be no matter whether the recruiter quotes it as net or gross. It’s very important to know that recruiters are not “good” or “bad” for quoting it one way or the other, this usually has to do with their company standard. A savvy traveler will not be fazed by it being quoted one way or the other. In fact, smart travelers will prefer to see the pay package breakdown and run the calculations themselves.

Being an Informed and Savvy Traveler

Something that helps significantly with getting accurate, as well as the highest possible, pay quotes is working with high quality and reliable recruiters at good travel companies. If you need help getting connected with some that will work well for your situation, be sure to fill out our recruiter recommendation form. We’ve spent years interviewing recruiters and companies to find the best ones for all sorts of different situations.

If you’re brand new to travel therapy and want to learn more information that will help you to be successful and avoid mistakes, start with our free Travel Therapy 101 series. If you want to take your learning to the next level and use travel therapy to become financially independent, then our comprehensive travel therapy course “Becoming a Financially Successful Travel Therapist” is for you.

Best of luck in your travel therapy journey!

Related Articles:

Jared Casazza

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT – Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015. He has become an expert in the field of travel healthcare through his experience, research, and networking over nearly a decade.

What is a Typical Travel Physical Therapy Salary?

What is a typical travel physical therapy salary?

Travel PT Salary Explained

When it comes to travel physical therapy pay (travel PT pay), there is a lot of misinformation and deception out there. There are dozens of different ways that money can be moved around and presented differently in a travel PT pay package to try to make the compensation look better. Understanding a typical permanent physical therapist’s salary and benefits package can be difficult enough, but travel PT pay packages take that to a new level. The big reason for this is that travel physical therapy pay can’t be expressed in a a yearly salary amount due to the nature of the jobs being temporary, short term positions. One traveler may choose to work back to back contracts for the whole year, while others, like us, may choose to just work one or two contracts each year. This will obviously make a massive impact on the amount each travel physical therapists earns each year. Since discussing compensation in terms of travel physical therapist salary doesn’t work, our best solution is to discuss pay in terms of weekly pay.

Now to complicate matters even more, most travel PTs receive tax free stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals (assuming they maintain a tax home) in addition to their hourly taxable pay. That means that even discussing pay in terms of weekly gross or net amounts can be confusing, since part of the money we receive each week is taxed and part of it is not. The best solution for all of this is to discuss all travel PT pay in terms of a weekly “take home pay” amount. This is essentially the net pay amount that the traveler will receive in their bank account each week. To determine this amount, we take the regular hourly taxable amount, multiply by 40 hours (the typical work week), subtract out the estimated taxes on that amount, and then add the stipend (sometimes called per diem) amounts. Since the majority of travel physical therapists and travel therapy recruiters talk about pay in these terms when discussing various travel PT jobs, it’s vital to understand how this all works when first starting out. To see in much more depth how this is calculated and how to find what your tax rate may be on the taxable portion of your travel PT pay, check out this article breaking it all down.

What is Normal for a Travel Physical Therapy Salary?

Now that we understand how travel physical therapy pay works, let’s discuss what you can actually expect to make in those weekly take home pay terms. If you ask a few travel therapists and recruiters what average pay should be for a travel contract, you can almost guarantee you’ll get conflicting answers. The reason for this is that is depends on a number of different factors. These factors include:

  • The location of the travel PT job
  • The setting in which the travel therapist will be working
  • The company and recruiter that the traveler chooses to work through
  • The urgency with which the facility needs to fill the position
  • The reimbursements included in the pay package that are separate from the weekly pay amount

Depending on these factors, over the past several years we’ve seen travel physical therapist pay offers range from $1,300-$2,500/week after taxes! That is a truly massive range, which leads to a lot of confusion for new travelers! You may talk to a current travel PT that tells you that you should never accept a job making less than $2,000/week take home, while another tells you they usually make around $1,500/week take home. To understand why this is, let’s discuss each of the factors mentioned above in more detail and explain exactly how they affect travel PT salary.

Travel PT Job Location

In general, the location of the potential travel PT job usually has the biggest impact on the pay that is offered. Travel jobs in higher cost of living areas tend to pay higher than jobs in lower cost of living areas. Also jobs on the west coast tend to pay higher than jobs on the east coast or in the midwest. In addition, rural jobs (read: less desirable locations) usually pay higher than jobs in cities where more physical therapists want to go. What this all means is that you’re much more likely to see a very high paying travel PT job in California in a high cost of living area or a very rural area than you are in a city on the east coast or in the midwest. As I mentioned earlier, every travel PT jobs is unique, so this isn’t always true but in the majority of cases it holds true.

  Travel PT Job Setting

Just like in the permanent physical therapy world where physical therapy salary is significantly affected by setting, so is the case with travel PT jobs. Interestingly enough, the settings that would typically pay well for a permanent PT aren’t always the ones that pay travel physical therapists well. Whereas for permanent therapists, skilled nursing facilities (SNF) often offer comparatively high pay, for travel therapists SNFs are usually the lowest paying setting. This can leave new travel PTs frustrated when they’re offered low pay for a SNF job that may not even be much higher than it would be for a permanent therapist taking a job in that facility. For travel physical therapists, typically home health pays the highest followed by outpatient and acute care, with SNFs and schools bringing up the rear.

Travel PT Company and Recruiter

There are well over 200 travel therapy companies in existence, so it should be no surprise that some of them pay better than others. In addition, over the years we’ve learned that some recruiters will pay more or less than others even at the same company for a given travel job. This means that when picking a company and recruiter you need to choose wisely! Generally (although not always) smaller companies with lower overhead are able to pay higher than bigger companies that have more buildings to maintain and employees to pay. The flip side though is that the bigger companies almost always have more jobs and better benefits. This makes the choice between big companies and small companies difficult. After all, high pay is wonderful but not if it means getting placed in a job that is a bad fit for you due to the company not having as many options.

***For help finding companies and recruiters that will fit you well, fill out this short questionnaire and we’ll help you out! 

Urgency of the Need of the Travel Job Facility

Every travel job is unique, which means that each job will differ with regards to why a travel PT is needed and how urgently they need the physical therapist. For example, a small outpatient facility that just had their only physical therapist leave will need someone to fill in much more urgently than a large company that just lost one out of their twelve PTs on staff. In the first situation, the facility will likely be willing to pay more to get a PT in there as quickly as possible (our specialty as travelers) so that they can get new evaluations in, whereas the second facility might be fine spreading the caseload out among the other therapists for a few weeks. Some jobs pay higher in a given location and setting just because the need is more urgent.

Reimbursements in the Pay Package

You have to look at each pay package as one big pie. You can cut the pie into two huge pieces or eight small pieces, but in the end it’s still the same amount of pie. For any travel job, there is a total amount that the travel company is able to pay you, and it’s up to you and them how that pay is divided. New travelers not understanding this is why some travel companies will use things like tuition reimbursement, vacation days, and money for CEUs to entice travelers to work with them, but ultimately that money all comes from the same pie. In practical terms, that means that the more reimbursements and perks that you receive in your contract, the lower your weekly take home pay amount will be. Let’s look at an example of this:

  • Contract 1: $1,600/week take home pay x 13 weeks
    • $400 license reimbursement for the cost of getting this new state license
    • $350 beginning and $350 ending travel reimbursement for getting to and from the travel assignment location
    • $300 CEU reimbursement during the contract
  • Contract 2: $1,700/week take home pay x 13 weeks
    • No reimbursements offered for licensing, travel costs, or CEUs

In this example, Contract 2 pays $100/week higher than Contract 1, but when we break all of those reimbursements down into a weekly amount ($400 + $350 + $350 + $300 = $1,400 / 13 weeks = $107/week) the traveler would actually make less in total with Contract 2.

This is the difficulty with discussing only weekly pay and not looking at the whole picture. It’s completely possible (and we’ve seen it often) that the traveler that takes Contract 2 could brag about making $1,700/week after taxes, and the traveler that takes Contract 1 could feel like they are being taken advantage of by their company since they’re only making $1,600/week after taxes, when in reality the total compensation with Contract 1 is better than Contract 2! This is the danger of comparing weekly pay to other travelers sometimes. In addition, one of these contracts could have some intangible benefits that don’t necessarily show up in the weekly pay or reimbursements that the other one doesn’t!

What Does This All Mean for Average Travel PT Salary?

Determining a normal travel physical therapist salary is impossible since, unlike permanent PT positions, travelers may choose to work any number of weeks per year with the time off between contracts being unpaid. This means the best way to compare pay in the travel PT world is in terms of weekly take home pay amounts. When determining what is a normal weekly take home amount, we have to take in to account a variety of factors that have a significant impact on the pay amount. The location, setting, urgency, reimbursement amounts, and the travel company that a particular travel job is through all have a big impact on weekly pay.

It’s very difficult to make an apples to apples comparison in pay between travel PT jobs and with other travelers since every travel company and contract is unique. Don’t be fooled by travel companies offering high weekly pay but no reimbursements and poor benefits because when you consider the total compensation package you may actually make more with a recruiter offering less pay weekly. Take the whole pay package and the company benefits into account each time!

If after reading all of this, you still want a general range as to what you can expect to earn as a travel physical therapist (I hear you, I searched far and wide before we started traveling 4.5 years ago), here’s a general guideline I can give you:

  • East Coast and Midwest: $1,500-$1,900/week after taxes
  • West Coast: $1,700-$2,100/week after taxes

Where you can expect to fall within that range will depend on the factors above, but the majority of jobs are going to be within these amounts. Any job offers paying less than this are probably not worth considering. You can certainly make more than this sometimes as well in certain circumstances!

Travel therapy can be confusing and intimidating when first starting out. We’re doing our best to help travelers become as knowledgeable as possible to avoid being taken advantage of by marketing gimmicks and smooth talking recruiters. If you would like help finding a few recruiters and companies that we like and trust then, feel free to reach out and we can help you. If you have any questions or suggestions, then contact us!


Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT


Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and is co-founder of Travel Therapy Mentor. He travels with his girlfriend, fellow physical therapist, and Travel Therapy Mentor partner, Whitney.