Travel Therapy Licensing Process 101

Travel therapy licensing process

Physical, occupational, and speech therapists who are new to travel therapy often wonder, “Do I have to have a state license for each state I want to work in?”

The answer, unfortunately, is YES! As a PT/PTA, OT/COTA, or SLP, you must have a state license for any US state where you want to work, in order to take a job there, even if you are just there temporarily as a travel therapist.

  • There are exceptions to this rule, such as for certain government jobs, when traveling with a sports team, or sometimes during a state of emergency. But for the most part, you always need a license in that state.

This can be a tricky part of being a traveling therapist and wanting to travel to new states to work. So let’s go over how this process works and how you can master it to be a successful travel therapist!

The Typical Licensing Process

Under most circumstances, therapists (like other healthcare professionals) must apply individually to each state licensing board where they would like to obtain a license.

Sadly, passing our national board exams for PT/OT/SLP doesn’t automatically qualify us to work in all of the 50 states. We must also apply for a license in the individual states we want to work in. (Unless you are eligible for a “Compact License” — more on this below!)

When you first graduate and apply to take your national exam, you will apply for your first state license, normally in your home state or the first state where you plan to work. This process is called “Licensure by Examination.”

After you get your first license, you can apply for as many additional state licenses as you want, and this process is called “Licensure by Endorsement,” because your first state endorses that you have a license in good standing, and gives you the ability to get any subsequent licenses!

To get licensed in each state, you need to visit the state licensing board for your profession in that state. For example, if you want to get a PT license in Hawaii, visit the physical therapy board website for the state of Hawaii, and so forth. Each state will have slightly different requirements, so it’s important to go directly to their website to see all of the steps to getting licensed there, and give them a call if you have questions!

Licensing requirements for each state usually involve: an application (paper or online), an application fee, and sometimes: a background check, references, verification from other states where you’re licensed, verification of your passing scores for your original national exam, verification from your school where you earned your professional degree, fingerprinting, and/or a jurisprudence exam (which is a test on the laws for practicing in that state).

Again, every state has different requirements, so it’s up to you to find out what all you need to complete to get the license there!

Compact License

Fortunately for PTs/PTAs, there is now the “PT Compact” which is a compact licensure that allows you to more easily and quickly obtain compact licensing privilege to work in another state. This cuts out a lot of the hassle and fees involved in applying to each state individually.

It’s very important to know that not everyone is eligible for the PT Compact. Only certain states are participating at this time, and in order to be eligible, your home state must be participating. I repeat, your home state must be participating. You cannot simply get a license in a compact state, then become eligible for the compact. For more information, please check out this article specifically on the PT Compact, and visit for all the eligibility rules and to see which states are participating!

For OT/COTA and SLP, compact licensure agreements are in progress, but have not been fully enacted yet. If you’re an OT/COTA or SLP, reach out to your national and state organizations if you’d like to help get the ball rolling to make the licensing process easier!

Does the Travel Company Help with Licensing?

Usually travelers want to know whether the travel therapy company helps you get licensed in a new state, or at least pays for you to get the license in order to take a job with them in a new state.

The answer is that, yes, they can sometimes help you with the process, but usually you are going to have to do most of the work to get the license upfront, then get reimbursed for the fees later.

In some cases, usually if you are already a current traveler working with a company, they can help you with the licensure process by taking care of some of the steps and fees upfront for you. But normally this is not the case unless you’re already working for them.

Most of the time, if you take a job in a state with that company, they will reimburse you for the cost of getting the license as part of your pay package for that job.

  • But, as always, it’s important to understand how pay packages work as a traveler. All the money usually comes out of the bill rate for the job, unless the company has a separate budget set aside for licenses. But the bottom line is, even if you are getting reimbursed for a license, it’s probably coming out of your pay one way or another. Always remember that the pay package is all one big “pie” no matter how the company “slices” it.

Strategies for State Licensing as a Traveler

In general, we recommend that travelers plan to have at least 2-3 active state licenses at a time, in order to have more job options in different states. If you only hold one active state license, you really limit your ability to find jobs as a traveler.

Some travelers will plan to wait until they get a job offer to apply for the license in that state. However, this process usually is too slow and does not work out. Some state licenses are fairly quick to get, maybe just a couple weeks, but some can take months to process, especially if they’re waiting on verifications from other states where you have licenses.

In addition, most jobs will want you to already have the state license before even interviewing you. So, this is why we recommend already having a few licenses before you apply for travel jobs in another state.

So this raises the question, how do you know which state licenses to get? Our recommended strategy is to talk to recruiters and other travelers to find out which states usually have a good amount of travel jobs for your discipline.

Unfortunately, there are certain states where you might really want to go, that don’t tend to have a lot of jobs. For example, it’s often rare to see many travel PT jobs in Utah for some reason. Whereas certain other states tend to have really good travel job availability, like California.

It’s important to strategize where you choose to get licensed. If you have 3 state licenses but they’re all states where there are no jobs, this doesn’t help you. If you have a particular region in mind, for example New England, try to pick the state in that region that has the most jobs to get licensed. For example, as a PT pair, we wanted to go to Maine or Vermont, but we found out there weren’t usually a lot of jobs there. So we applied for Massachusetts instead since they tend to have a lot of jobs, and we ended up working there, but got the opportunity to visit Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, etc on weekend trips!

The licensing process can be tricky, and unfortunately sometimes you end up applying for some licenses and then never get to use them and never get reimbursed for them. This is a bummer, but it’s part of the process. You’ll usually only be out a few hundred dollars, but you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting consistent back to back jobs when you want them, which limits unwanted time off where you could lose thousands of dollars by not working.

Maintaining Several State Licenses

The last consideration for travel therapy licensing is whether or not you keep the license when it comes up for renewal. This is up to you.

We usually let licenses lapse if we don’t think we will end up working there or going back there. If you go this route, you could always reinstate the license later by paying a fee, which usually is not too difficult of a process.

For those licenses that you choose to keep, you’ll want to make sure to keep track of deadlines, fees, and CEU requirements in order to renew each state license you hold. We personally keep a spreadsheet just to track the details of each license to make sure we don’t miss anything.

We also use MedBridge for our CEUs, which is a great resource to get online CEUs, and it has nice features which allow you to see which states your CEU course qualifies for and how many credits. You can almost always “double dip” your CEU credits across all your state licenses. So all in all, it’s not that difficult to maintain a few licenses.

Summary for Licensing as a Travel Therapist

The licensing process as a travel therapist can be challenging and cause some headache. But the time and effort invested in getting a few state licenses will be worth it in the end when you are able to have more job opportunities and explore new states! Hopefully with the insight provided in this article you’ll be better prepared to get licensed and pursue your career in travel therapy!

Check out the rest of the Travel Therapy 101 Mini-Series in order to learn all the basics of travel therapy, including: pay, housing, working with recruiters, tax homes, and more!

If you have questions or are ready to get started on your travel therapy journey, please feel free to contact us or ask us for recommendations for our favorite travel therapy recruiters to help you get started!

Written by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Whitney Eakin headshot

Travel Therapy Licensing Process

Travel therapy licensing process

Written by Travis Kemper, PT, DPT with contributions by Whitney Eakin, PT, DPT, ATC

Licensing and housing are probably the two most frustrating and challenging aspects of being a travel healthcare professional. We will cover housing in future articles, but let’s dig in to the current state of licensing, and I’ll give an overview of how my wife Julia and I, as well as Jared and Whitney, have attempted to navigate licensing as traveling physical therapists thus far.

How Does Licensing Work as a Travel Therapist?

In general, if you want to work in a different state as a travel therapist, you need to get licensed in each individual state where you plan to work. There is a “PT Compact” license that has begun for physical therapists, which makes the licensing process much easier for those who are eligible for the compact. Some type of compact license is also in the works for occupational therapists, but has not been passed yet. But, with the exception of the small percentage of therapists that can take advantage of a compact (or multi-state) license currently, the rest of us have to take care of licensing the old fashioned way.

What does licensing entail? Generally, an application, a fee, sometimes a jurisprudence/law exam (usually can be taken online or sent in on paper, but some states require you to test at a testing center), sometimes fingerprinting, and sending in a lot of verifications including: school transcripts, original board exam scores, and verifications that your license is in good standing from all other states in which you are licensed.

In some cases, travel therapy companies can help with the licensing process. Generally, this means they will reimburse you for a license once you’ve obtained it yourself and have accepted a contract with their company in that state. Sometimes, they can help you with the licensing process up front, including paying some of the costs and doing some of the leg work for you. But this is usually only once you are already a current traveler of theirs and are looking into your next contract with them in a new state.

Our Approach to Licensing Thus Far

We certainly don’t have all the answers, and like housing, there are multiple approaches and techniques to the licensing process that can all be successful for different travelers at different times. As a couple, finding positions has generally been time consuming and difficult, and starting contracts when we want has been challenging. Our friends who travel solo have found it much easier to find positions in the states in which they are interested and in a more timely manner than we have.

At first, we decided to only look at quick license states, meaning that we could look for jobs in states that would allow us time to find the job first and then get the license second. Therefore, we would ensure that we were only paying for the license once the job was already secured, instead of wasting time and money getting licensed in several states without knowing if we would actually take a job there. This tactic was primarily because we were broke after grad school (I’m sure most of you can relate) and couldn’t afford to pay for multiple licenses out of our own pocket up front, with the hopes of taking positions in those locations and then getting reimbursed.

We started with our first license and job in Arizona, because that is our home state, and we were getting that license no matter what. Next, we went to South Carolina, because it was a quick license state.

A note about “quick license” states: They are quick once they get all your paperwork, but most still require paper verifications from your current licensed states, and this can be a very timely process in itself. Licensing makes me speak very negatively about our state governments when they take two weeks to print out and send a piece of paper that I paid them $15-$25 to send! In the case of South Carolina, our start date was delayed two weeks because of the license verification from Arizona.

After that fiasco, we became more proactive and decided to get licenses up front in West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and Tennessee while on contract in South Carolina, so we would not have a delay again in starting our next contracts. This seemed like a great idea at the time, and we figured a couple thousand dollars we spent on these licenses could be recouped fairly quickly.

This once again turned out to be a losing plan, after taking two extra weeks to find positions, we finally accepted positions in New Mexico (notice New Mexico was not on the list of licenses we had!) and started that licensing process there due to not being able to even interview for any positions in the other states. Again, the other states where we were already licensed made getting this license expensive and time consuming. New Mexico also lost half of the documents that were sent in. Luckily, the staff there was actually helpful unlike other states (cough West Virginia cough), and after 8 hours on the phone, we were able to get our licenses pushed through even though they did not have all the physical documents that were required.

What We’ve Learned About Licensing

So, where are we currently with licenses and what have we learned? Well, as of this point we are back working in Arizona, and seeing as that is our home state, we will be keeping that license. We still have New Mexico and Kentucky, but will be letting Kentucky expire in March 2019 instead of renewing. We already let the rest of them expire instead of paying to renew them.

Right now we are in the process of getting our California licenses, because California is reportedly a gold mine for travel therapy couples, and it is a gorgeous state. The current plan is to hang out in California and Arizona until our home state of Arizona starts issuing compact license privileges, and then use the compact to be able to move around the country again.

You can find out more about the PT Licensure Compact here.

What About Jared and Whitney’s Experience?

So far, Whitney and Jared have had a little better go at licensing than us, for the most part. Similarly, they chose to start by working in their home state of Virginia. After that, they were methodical in their licensing choices, and chose to get licensed in advance in each state rather than wait until after they found jobs to get licensed. They always chose states based on trends of which states tended to have the most PT jobs, since they also travel as a couple.

They chose their next state, Massachusetts, based on seeing a lot of job options in that area, and that choice worked out well with them being able to find two jobs together for their desired start date after they were already licensed. Next, they chose North Carolina, for the same reason. They wanted to be in South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida ideally, but they were seeing a lot more jobs show up in pairs in North Carolina, so they went with that. And, that ended up being another good choice, with them able to start with two jobs in the same area right on time, after they were already licensed.

After North Carolina, they chose Illinois due to seeing a lot of jobs there in general, but this choice never quite panned out. They ended up letting this license lapse and never used it. For what ever reason, the timing wasn’t right and they weren’t able to nail down two jobs together in Illinois. Similarly, they got licensed in Arizona due to a high number of PT jobs, but so far the timing has not worked out for them to go to Arizona either. They plan to keep this license though and use it in the future.

So, their travels have been a little limited due to licensing restrictions, and they’ve only ended up working in Virginia, Massachusetts, and North Carolina so far in 3.5 years of being travel therapists. But, a big reason for this also is that they were risk averse, and did not want to waste a lot of money on licenses if they didn’t think they’d use them, so they’ve held off on some opportunities because of that.

They too are holding out for their home state of Virginia to start issuing compact license privileges, which will significantly open up their options. Otherwise, they plan to get one to two more licenses, including California and possibly Washington due to lots of PT opportunities in those states, making it more likely to find two jobs together as a pair.

Take Home Points

The licensing process can be challenging and frustrating as a travel therapist, especially when traveling as a pair. All of this is at least twice as easy if you are traveling as a solo healthcare professional, but you may still have some of the same challenges that we have faced.

In general, you have a few different strategies you can use to approach licensing, which include:

  1. Pick a state you think will have good job options, one at a time, and get licensed in advance. Have the license in hand, then start looking for jobs there.
  2. Look for jobs in quick license states, and then if you find a job, get the license there afterwards.
  3. Get a few different licenses up front to open up your options before starting to look for jobs.

Although this process can be cumbersome, it is still doable. Many therapists don’t have near the trouble Julia and I have had, especially those traveling by themselves. Jared and Whitney had a fairly easy time with licensing and job finding for the first 2+ years, and have only recently run into some hiccups. If you play your cards right, you’ll still have a great experience as a travel therapist, as long as you’re somewhat flexible and willing to go with the flow if setbacks do happen.

Let us know what strategies have worked or failed for you for licensing! We are always open to hearing ideas from fellow travelers. Have questions for us about licensing? Send us a message!