Physical Therapy PT

| 9 August 2023

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

How To Become a Travel Physical Therapist

physical therapist working with a elderly patient

Just as not everyone is destined for a career in medicine, not every physical therapist (PT) wants to work in the same location every day for their entire career.

Look into how to become a travel physical therapist if the idea of working in the same office seems boring, or if you aren’t sure what type of practice you want to pursue.

At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), we recognize that the medical field is constantly evolving. We prepare our graduates for different practice options, including travel and virtual physical therapy positions. Learn how to become a travel physical therapist so you can help patients and see the world as soon as you graduate.

What Is Travel Physical Therapy?

what a travel physical therapist does

A travel physical therapist does everything that a traditional physical therapist does, but on a short-term contract. They travel to different locations to fill gaps where physical therapists work. Sometimes these openings include positions the facility has been unable to fill with a full-time employee; other times the travel physical therapist is filling in for a staff member on maternity or short-term disability leave.

Currently, the demand for physical therapists is expected to grow 17 percent between 2021 and 2031 due to current physical therapists leaving or retiring.1

Four Steps To Start Your Travel Physical Therapist Career

travel physical therapist career checklist

There are many reasons people opt for a travel physical therapy job. They may want to see the world or work somewhere that pays them more. Others might not know what type of setting they want to work in and pursue a travel PT role to experience different opportunities before accepting a long-term position.

The journey to becoming a travel physical therapist overlaps with the path to becoming a physical therapist, and includes a few additional steps. Here’s how to become a travel physical therapist:

 1. Earn A Physical Therapy Degree

First, you’ll need to earn a physical therapy degree. 

Start with a bachelor’s degree in one of the best undergraduate degrees for physical therapy. You can also earn a degree in any related field with classes that meet physical therapy educational requirements and prerequisites, such as health sciences, exercise or sports.

Then, you’ll need to earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. This will include coursework in subjects such as pathophysiology and biomechanics. You’ll also gain hands-on experience with simulations and on-site rotations.

2. Educate Yourself About Travel PT

As soon as you think you want to be a travel physical therapist, start researching how the industry works. Talk to other travel physical therapists or explore online resources.

For example, there are some things you’ll need to know that other physical therapists won’t, such as:

  • What will your taxes be like?
  • What licensing requirements exist where you want to work?
  • What locations are most interesting to you?

Some people prefer to stay close to home or places they already know. For example, maybe you vacation on a Florida beach every summer and want to work there. Others prefer to use travel physical therapy jobs to cross destinations like Hawaii or Australia off of their bucket list.

Be aware that international travel physical therapy jobs are often challenging. You’ll likely need to apply for a visa, get additional immunizations or meet a language requirement. 

3. Pass the NPTE and Get Licensed Where You Want To Travel

Once you know where you want to practice, you’ll need to take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and get licensed for any state where you want to practice.2

30 states are members of the PT Compact privilege, a licensure option that member states recognize.3 However, you will still have to pay state-based fees and potentially take the state’s jurisprudence exam.

4. Work With a Travel Physical Therapy Recruiter

While it is possible to find and book jobs yourself, it’ll take a lot of time and effort, limiting your ability to enjoy your destination. Consider working with recruiters at travel healthcare agencies. Their job is to find jobs you’d be a good fit for and pass them along to you—and because that’s all they do, they often have access to more resources than you would on your own.

Look for a dependable recruiter who puts your needs before their commission. Find one who communicates the way you want—some travel physical therapists want to review every possibility with daily updates, while others only want to hear from a recruiter when they have the perfect job opportunity. 

Optional: Get Work Experience Before You Start Traveling

Travel physical therapy jobs assume you are ready to work independently on day one. Since you’re only on the job site for a few weeks at a time, they are less invested in your long-term growth, and mentoring you won’t be high on their list of priorities.

Some physical therapy graduates are ready for the challenge and can start working as travel physical therapists after obtaining their licensure. Others feel that they need more structure and could benefit from the mentorship of a traditional physical therapy job.

If you think you would benefit from mentorship, consider working as a traditional physical therapist for a year or two before you reach out to a travel physical therapy recruiter.

Pros and Cons of Travel Physical Therapy

pros and cons of being a travel physical therapist

No matter your reason for becoming a physical therapist, you may want to consider whether traveling is the right choice for your career.


Becoming a travel physical therapist has several benefits that make it an appealing career.

  • Adventure: As a travel physical therapist, you’ll get to see many new places and experience unique challenges. Use your free time in a new city to explore and live like the locals, and try new foods and activities. The challenges involved in traveling and working in new places will make you a stronger, more adaptable person (and physical therapist).
  • Flexible schedule and good work-life balance: Research shows that physical therapists are at a high risk of burnout. According to a study published in the Journal of Educational Evaluation for Health Professions, burnout is prevalent in the physical therapy profession, as almost half of respondents (49.34%) reported burnout. 4 As a travel physical therapist, you control when you work, so you can take time off between contracts to travel or take care of personal responsibilities like caring for a sick family member.
  • Higher pay: Because travel physical therapists can work where demand is highest, they often get paid more. The average salary for a travel physical therapist is $75,116.5 Your pay is based on whether you are licensed in one of the highest-paying physical therapy specialties, your level of experience and education, where you practice and how much you work. 
  • Clinical and soft skill growth: By traveling, you’ll experience a variety of hospital systems and practice models, pushing your clinical skills more than if you stayed in one location. You’ll also increase soft skills that will make you a better therapist, such as: 
    • Resilience
    • Problem solving
    • Adaptability
    • Communication
    • Compromise


A career in travel physical therapy isn’t for everyone, since it comes with a few potential downsides.

  • No paid time off: Because employers hire you for short periods, you won’t accrue any paid time off.6 However, if you save appropriately, you can take time off without worrying about money. 
  • Lack of short-term housing: Affordable short-term rentals take a lot of work to find.7 Some recruiters can help you find different options wherever you’re headed, or you can talk with other travel physical therapists for suggestions. You can eliminate housing issues altogether by getting an RV or camper and parking at campgrounds near your temporary office. 
  • Canceled contracts: Just because you signed a contract doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a job. For example, you may be filling in temporarily for an open long-term position, and they may find someone available to start sooner than they expected. To minimize the loss of pay, negotiate for a two-week or one-month notice clause in your contract.8 
  • Health insurance gaps: Because you are bouncing from contract to contract, your insurance can get complicated. Protect yourself from gaps in coverage by asking for specific health insurance start dates before you sign a contract, or get coverage through your travel healthcare agency.9 
  • Higher costs: Working as a travel physical therapist involves costs that others don’t have to worry about.10 These costs can add up to the point that they offset any financial gains you make by choosing high-paying contracts. 
    • You’ll need to set up a tax home for tax purposes.11 House hacking can potentially make some extra income from a home you aren’t living in.12
    • Moving expenses add up. Most travel physical therapists travel light to keep these costs as low as possible, and it might be a good idea to keep moves close together. 
    • You’ll put a lot of miles on your car (and gas in the tank) as you move from place to place. You can limit your driving time by traveling to areas with well-developed public transportation systems or renting a car when traveling from one position to the next.
  • Loneliness: Traveling between new locations  can make it hard to develop and maintain relationships.13 While constantly changing locations is exciting, it can get lonely. Some travel physical therapists partner with another traveling healthcare worker or get a pet to keep them company. 

Become a Travel Physical Therapist With USAHS 

Now that you know how to become a travel physical therapist, start your journey with USAHS. We’ll ensure you get the PT education you need to succeed, whether you want to see the world while you work or stay close to home.

Apply today to take advantage of our flexible programs and start your journey to your DPT degree. Financial aid options are available.

The information provided on this website is based on self-reported data and is intended for general informational purposes only. PayScale is a limited data source that relies on voluntary submissions from individuals and employers.

Please be aware that the accuracy, completeness, and reliability of the data may vary due to its voluntary nature and limited scope. While efforts are made to maintain the data’s accuracy, we cannot guarantee its absolute correctness or currency.

The largest PT school in the United States,* the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a hands-on Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Join a collaborative cohort of peers who learn under the mentorship of expert faculty-practitioners. Practice with mock and real patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with a wide range of patients, as well as for advanced roles in research, practice leadership and policymaking. Residential (blended didactic courses + in-person labs on weekdays) and Flex (online courses + in-person labs on weekends) formats are available.

*Based on total DPT degrees conferred, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data is captured by IPEDS through interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).


  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Physical Therapists,” Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  2. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, “National Exam (NPTE),” The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy,
  3. PT Compact, “PT Compact,” PT Compact,
  4. Kwon, H. (2020). An analysis of the relationship between learners’ motivational beliefs and their perceptions of online courses: A self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Educational Evaluation for Health Professions, 17, 35.
  5. Payscale, “Average Travel Physical Therapist Salary,” Payscale, 
  6. Jared Casazza, “Is It Worth It Financially To Be a Travel Physical Therapist?” last modified August 21, 2022, Travel Therapy Mentor,
  7. Davina Ward, “How To Find a Short-Term Rental Apartment,” Apartment List, last modified October 23, 2022,
  8. Laura Pilger, “Travel Therapy Contract Cancellations,” Travel Therapy Mentor, last modified April 27, 2023,
  9. The Traveling Traveler, “Understanding Options for Travel Therapist Health Insurance,” The Traveling Traveler, last modified February 22, 2023, 
  10. Jared Casazza, “Is It Worth It Financially To Be a Travel Physical Therapist?” last modified August 21, 2022, Travel Therapy Mentor,
  11. Julia Kagan, “Tax Home: What It Is, How It Works, Examples and FAQ,” Investopedia, last modified February 28, 2022,
  12. Victoria Araj, “What Is House Hacking and Is It Something You Should Be Doing?” Rocket Mortgage, last modified February 16, 2023,
  13. Morgan Lauchner, “Being a Solo Travel Therapist,” Travel Therapy Mentor, last modified April 10, 2021,

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