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!

Is Travel Therapy a Good Option for New Grads During COVID-19?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had dozens of new grad and soon-to-be new grad therapists reach out to us asking if now is a good time to start traveling as a new grad. This happens every year during May when the bulk of therapists graduate, but with all the uncertainty currently and full time therapy work being difficult to come by in some locations, there’s been much more interest in travel therapy than normal this year. Unfortunately, when there is uncertainty in healthcare, it is rarely a good thing for the travel therapy market, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different.

While travel therapy has historically been a good career choice over the last decade for many therapists, including new grad therapists, things have really been shaken up recently. Let’s dive in to why travel therapy has been affected and whether or not it’s a good time for new grads to be trying travel therapy.

Travel Therapy During the Pandemic

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread impact on our world, including US healthcare jobs. “Uncertainty” is the buzz word as we all wait and see what will happen as the situation continues to evolve worldwide.

A big reason why uncertainty impacts the travel therapy job market to such a large degree has to do with the cost of hiring travel therapists incurred by facilities. Travel therapists can be significantly more expensive than full time and PRN staff, so in a situation where caseloads could suddenly decrease, many facilities don’t want to risk spending money on a traveler that they may end up not needing. Instead, they’ll make do with current staff while supplementing with PRN or offering overtime to full time therapists if needed, and wait out the uncertainty.

In the past two months we’ve seen hundreds of travel contracts ended early or cancelled before they even started due to fluctuations in caseloads in all settings. There has been a significant decrease in the number of new travel job openings due to facilities not hiring. With that being said, settings have certainly not all been affected evenly. Outpatient and school contracts have been the hardest hit by contract cancellations and job cuts, with home health, acute care, and SNF jobs impacted to a lesser degree. Even in the lesser impacted settings, COVID has still caused problems. This is primarily due to the fact that elective surgeries have been limited or cancelled altogether for almost two months now. Fewer elective surgeries means fewer patients across the board.

Flooding the Market

Less patients means less demand for therapists and subsequent layoffs across the board, not only in the form of travel therapy job cancellations but also for permanent full time staff. Some of the laid off permanent therapists are unable to find work in their area right now and are turning to travel therapy for some respite during tremulous times. This is bad news for current and prospective new grad travel therapists.

The combination of previously permanent therapists, new grads, and current travelers whose contracts have come to an end or were ended prematurely all looking for travel contracts at the same time, has caused the travel therapy market to get flooded with therapists searching for jobs. This flood of job seekers, combined with a reduction in overall jobs, has led to significant over-saturation of the travel therapy job market.

The impact is evident in the number of open travel contracts available and the declining pay rates offered on those contracts. The recruiters and companies that we work closely with are all reporting about 10 times less travel therapy jobs currently for PTs and OTs when compared to earlier this year before the pandemic. When comparing to the travel market at this time last year, the numbers look even more grim.

The travel jobs that are available are getting many more applicants submitted than normal and are closing very quickly. In some cases jobs will get to the maximum number of applicant submissions in a matter of a couple hours. With facilities getting so many submissions for their available travel contracts, a natural consequence is reductions in the bill rates offered, meaning lower pay for travel therapists. In nominal terms, this manifests as a reduction of about $100-$200/week on average for many of the open jobs.

What Does This Mean for New Grads?

Due to a minimal number of travel therapy jobs open at any given time currently, higher competition for those few jobs, along with lower pay, we can definitely say that now certainly isn’t the best time for new grads to begin travel therapy careers.

If at all possible, our recommendation right now would be for new grads to consider finding a full time or PRN position for a few months to a year to save some money and get some experience until things improve.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to consider travel jobs as an option and be on the lookout for travel job opportunities, but we encourage you to keep your options open and consider all job opportunities available to you, including perm and PRN locally.

Actions to Take for Those Dedicated to Pursuing Travel Therapy as a New Grad Currently

If you’re set on starting out as a new grad travel therapist despite the current environment, there are a few things you can do to have the best chance of finding a contract.

  1. Be willing to accept lower pay now than during normal times.
    • We’re always advocates of being informed and understanding how travel therapy pay works prior to jumping in, in order to avoid inadvertently taking low ball offers from non-reputable companies and recruiters. However, in this situation, you should expect for pay to be lower due to the declining bill rates mentioned above. Unfortunately, even though we normally recommend avoiding any pay rates less than $1,500/wk after taxes, there are some contracts paying travel PTs in the $1,300/week range right now that are still getting tons of submissions.
  2. Work with at least a few different good companies and recruiters.
    • This is more vital than ever right now. Having a few recruiters from different companies helping you search for jobs leads to more options and a better chance of finding a travel contract that will work for you. If you need help finding reputable companies and recruiters, fill out our recruiter request form, and we’ll match you with some that should work well for you.
  3. Be more flexible on travel assignment setting and location.
    • In the past, Whitney and I have been able to find consistent contracts close to each other in the states and settings that we prefer. Currently that just isn’t possible. To have a chance of finding a travel contract in the coming weeks (possibly months) as a new grad, it is important to be lenient on location and setting as much as possible. In the future when the travel therapy market picks up again, you can go back to being more selective with regards to setting and location. And even better, by that time you will have experience under your belt and will be more competitive when applying to the setting and location of your choice.

The Future of Travel Therapy

With states beginning to open back up and elective surgeries beginning to commence again across the country, the need for therapists will undoubtedly pick back up, and with that, we anticipate the travel therapy job market will improve. In addition to patients undergoing elective surgeries, patients that have become deconditioned due to COVID will require skilled therapy to a larger degree than before in SNFs, home health, outpatient, and inpatient rehab facilities. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will be before the travel therapy job market gets back to normal completely, but in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen things starting to trend upward, which is a good sign. Once demand picks back up and travel jobs are more prevalent, increases in travel pay back to normal levels should follow.

We are optimistic that demand will increase in the coming months and travel therapy will once again be a great option for new grads, like it was for us back when we started traveling as PTs after graduation in 2015!

If you have any questions or need help getting started, feel free to contact us. We’ve helped well over 1,000 new and current travel therapists to be better informed over the past few years! Best of luck & stay safe!

Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT

Jared has been a traveling physical therapist since 2015 and travels with his girlfriend and fellow travel PT, Whitney. Together they mentor other current and aspiring travel therapists.