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!

40 Hour Guarantees: An Underrated Perk of Travel Therapy

40-hour guarantees: an underrated perk of travel therapy

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

If you’ve read some of our prior articles or watched any of our weekly Facebook live videos, you’ve undoubtedly heard us mention how we’ve always made sure to have a 40 hour guarantee in all of our contracts. We also recommend 40 hour guarantees to every current or prospective traveler that contacts us. To us, it’s not worth the uncertainty with pay to not have that guarantee in place before taking a travel contract, especially now that we are only working a couple of contracts each year. We need to be certain we will be getting our full pay every week! Even with the clear benefits of having a 40 hour guarantee in your contract, I still think this perk of travel therapy is underrated.

What is a 40 Hour Guarantee?

In travel therapy contracts, therapists are hourly employees. This means they usually only get paid for the hours they work, unlike a typical salaried employee. A 40 hour guarantee, otherwise known as a “Guaranteed Work Week,” is a clause in the contract that states the therapist will be paid for a full 40 hours each week, regardless of how many hours they actually work. The guarantee typically covers things that are out of the therapist’s control, such as being called off work or leaving early for the day due to a low facility census or low caseload, or sometimes missing work due to the facility being closed for a holiday or inclement weather. It does not cover if the therapist asks off for work, for example to take a long weekend trip or for a doctor’s appointment.

Sometimes, a “Guaranteed Work Week” will only cover 32 or 36 hours, or another specified amount. Whatever amount is stated in the contract is how much the therapist will be covered for in regards to pay for that week, regardless of how many hours they actually worked. But, we always recommend trying to get the full 40 hours covered in the contract when possible. The amount of hours guaranteed can vary by facility and by travel company, as can what actually qualifies (for example, some cover low census, but not facility closure for holidays).

Hourly vs. Salary Pay

I often see debates between therapists looking for permanent jobs about whether they should try to get a position that pays a salary, or go with hourly income instead. There are pros and cons on both sides of this argument, which means there’s no one answer for everyone. With hourly pay, the biggest advantage is that if you work over 40 hours per week then you’re legally obligated to receive overtime for those hours. On the other hand, as an hourly employee you’re only paid for the hours you work, so if you work less than 40 hours then you won’t get your full pay for the week. For salaried employees, they’re always guaranteed to get their full paycheck each week, but they often end up working over 40 hours with no additional compensation.

I’ve considered both sides, and if I was looking for a permanent PT job, I’d prefer an hourly pay situation as an employee to ensure that I’m being compensated for every hour that I work. I can appreciate the security that comes with a salaried position; but, who wants to work 50 hours per week, but only be paid for 40 hours?!

Luckily for us, in the travel therapy world, at least with 40 hour guaranteed positions, it’s possible to get the pros of both an hourly and a salary position without the downsides! I’ll have my cake and eat it too, thank you very much!

The Best of Both Worlds

A 40 hour guarantee means that you get the security of a salaried position (always getting your full paycheck even if there’s a low census or a lot of cancellations) with the benefit of getting paid overtime if you have to work more than 40 hours in a week. That’s something that just doesn’t exist in the permanent therapy job world and is one of my favorite parts of being a traveler.

Let’s look at some real examples of how much this benefits us as travelers. Below are the hours I worked during a 5 weeks span at one of my outpatient contracts. The caseload was really sporadic at that contract, with some very busy weeks (especially when other therapists there were out sick or on vacation) and some really light weeks with lots of cancellations.

  • Week 1: 44 hours
  • Week 2: 37 hours
  • Week 3: 36 hours
  • Week 4: 36 hours
  • Week 5: 45 hours

Now let’s look at how many hours I got paid for here compared to how many hours I would have gotten paid for as both an hourly and salaried employee in this same situation.

hourly vs salary vs 40 hour comparison

As you can see, as a traveler with a 40 hour guarantee I got paid for 209 hours of work, about 10 hours more than an hourly (198 hours) or salaried permanent employee (200 hours) would have in this 5 week span. Multiply this extra pay out over the course of a year, and it can mean being paid for many more hours than the permanent staff at these same  facilities on top of the already much higher pay that we make each week as travelers! That’s a huge benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked or discounted.

Over the years, I’ve been paid for hundreds of hours that I didn’t actually work due to the 40 hour guarantees in my contracts, which wouldn’t have happened with a strictly hourly position, while also getting paid for hundreds of hours of overtime at various facilities, which wouldn’t have happened with a salaried position. Ultimately, that means thousands of extra dollars in my bank account each year, which is one of many factors contributing to me being able to reach financial independence so quickly!


Do you always ensure that you have a 40 hour guarantee in your contracts? Let us know in the comments!

If you need help getting in touch with recruiters that will have your back, then fill out this form and we’ll help you out! If you have questions about 40 hour guarantees or anything else travel therapy related, feel free to send us a message.

You can also follow along with our travels on Instagram @TravelTherapyMentor (with occasional giveaways!) and tune into our weekly Facebook Live videos on the Travel Therapy Mentor Facebook page to learn more about travel therapy!