What is the pay difference between Travel PT and Permanent PT jobs?

What’s the Pay Difference in Travel vs Perm PT jobs?

This is one of the most common questions I get asked by physical therapists or DPT students that are considering travel PT. Everyone knows that generally you make more, but these people want to know if the extra pay is enough to outweigh the hassles of traveling. In previous posts I have written that $1,500/week take home pay is a pretty decent starting point for a new grad travel assignment, but many people don’t understand exactly what “take home pay” means compared to a standard, permanent PT pay check.

Let’s start with some definitions before getting into an example:

Gross pay: This is your total pay before taxes. This is the number that people talk about when they say things like, “My salary is $70,000 per year.” If you’re hourly you can get this number by taking your hourly rate, multiplying by the hours you work per week, and then multiplying by 52 weeks in a year. (i.e. $33.50/hr x 40 x 52 = ~$70,000/year)

Net pay: This is your “take home pay” after all deductions and taxes. These might include: federal taxes, state taxes, Medicare taxes, insurance, etc. Finding what this number would be for you can be a little more difficult unless you are currently working. This is the amount that is directly deposited into your bank account on pay day.

Per diem/stipends: This is money that you get as a traveler that is tax free to reimburse you for things such as housing, meals, and incidentals while on a travel assignment. You only get this money tax free if you make sure you meet the requirements in the tax laws for travelers. For more info on these requirements, I recommend checking out Traveltax.com  

Understanding the Difference in Travel vs Perm Pay

In the past I have had people comment on the $1,500/week take home pay for travelers and say, “I can make more than that at a full time job! Why would I travel and make less?” I guess that it is possible you could make more than that as a perm employee, but it is very unlikely, especially as a new grad. Most likely these people are confusing gross pay with net pay. $1,500/week gross pay is definitely possible as a perm PT, but getting that same amount after taxes is much more difficult.

Also, this is probably obvious but, it’s important not to confuse just the amount per paycheck for travelers with the amount per paycheck for perm PT’s: as I have mentioned, travelers get paid weekly, while most perm employees get paid bi-weekly. But for the sake of comparison I’ll be using the weekly pay numbers.

An Example Broken Down

Let’s breakdown $1,500/week gross pay into hourly and salary numbers, and then compare that to $1,500/week net pay to see the true difference.

Gross pay: $1,500/40(hours per week) = $37.50/hour. $1,500 x 52 (weeks per year) = $78,000/year. Depending on setting and location, these numbers may or may not be attainable as a new grad PT. People starting out in a SNF or working in home health will likely make this much or more, while for those starting in outpatient or acute care it may be a little less likely. Ben Fung has some great resources on average salary for full time PT jobs across the country, and this would be a good comparison to look at for new grads deciding between travel and full time jobs.

Net pay: This will be different for everyone depending on the state you live in and your number of federal allowances (dependents). Fortunately there is a great site called Paycheckcity where you can easily calculate this number for yourself. The results I will show here are for my situation (living in Virginia with only one allowance). To get a net pay (take home pay) of $1,500/week, my hourly pay would have to be $57/hour, and my gross pay would have to be $2,280/week. $2,280 x 52 = $118,500/year.

As you can see the difference between gross pay and take home pay is huge ($78,000/year compared to $118,500/year) and this is due to the factoring in of taxes, which are usually much higher than people new to the working world expect.

Personal Experience

Now you may be thinking, “Almost $120,000/year as a new grad sounds great, but how likely is it to actually make $1,500/week take home pay as a traveler?” The short answer is, very likely. Whitney and I have been traveling for a year and a half (at the time of the original article… 3 years as of summer 2018) and $1,500/week is the lowest we have ever been paid on a contract so far. Some contracts have paid quite a bit more than this.

Example: Fortunately at one of my first travel assignments, I was offered a full time position after finishing my travel assignment with them, so I can directly compare my travel pay to the perm PT wage offered. For reference, this was an outpatient ortho clinic. My travel take home pay was $1,530/week, and I was offered $35/hour to stay and work there as a perm PT.

Let’s break these numbers down and see what the difference would be in my pay if I had stayed as a perm employee.

$35/hour x 40 hours a week x 52 weeks per year = $72,800/year gross pay. Now I can use Paycheckcity to see what my net pay per week would be on this amount. Filling single in VA with one allowance, $35/hour would equal $983/week net pay (take home pay). That is quite a big difference. I would make $550 less per week after taxes by taking this job as a permanent employee instead of as a traveler. We can also go the other way with the numbers and determine what my hourly pay was at this job and then compare that to the $35/hour offered for permanent employment. Filling single in VA with one allowance, my $1,530/week take home pay would be the equivalent of $58/hour! I would make $23/hour less by taking this job as a full time employee instead of as a traveler.

So What Does It Boil Down To?

These are obviously very big differences in these examples, and it illustrates the very high pay rates that can be achieved with travel assignments compared to full time employment, but I would be lying if I said that this is all you need to consider.

If I had taken a full time job at this clinic, I would have gotten paid vacation of three weeks per year, whereas with a travel assignment, paid vacation doesn’t exist. This can be a huge benefit of being a permanent PT. Paid holidays as a perm employee can also be a consideration, although we have always made sure that we get paid when the clinic is closed on a Holiday and we have to miss work when agreeing to our travel contracts. Also, depending on how you choose to travel, working all 52 weeks in a year as a traveler may or may not be feasible. When we first started traveling, Whitney and I worked 16 months straight with no unpaid days, but doing that is not for everyone. Many people want to take time off between assignments, and this will obviously cause you to earn less for the year.

Bottom Line

In my opinion, traveling as a new grad is a great way to gain a variety of experiences as a clinician, in addition to limitless adventures, while also making extra money to pay off loans or contribute to personal investments. On the flip side, you do miss out on some of the perks of being a permanent employee.

 

From a financial perspective, hopefully these pay breakdowns help in understanding what the actual difference in pay would be. If you have any questions about travel or pay, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below or by sending me a message!

 

Originally published January 2017, updated August 2018

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58 thoughts on “What is the pay difference between Travel PT and Permanent PT jobs?

  1. Your blog is very helpful, thanks for sharing your experience! I graduate in May 2018 and am highly considering traveling for a bit as a new grad to make some extra cash. I understand there is no paid time off, but is it possible to take a couple weeks or a month off between contracts? Also, is it pretty common to be able to extend contracts a few times, so that you perhaps stay in the same location for longer vs. moving every few months?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes you can always take unpaid off between contracts if you would like for as long as you want. The only consideration is that if you take more than a month off between contracts you lose your health insurance for most companies. Extending your contract is very common. My first job I extended twice and ended up staying there for nine months total. My second job I stayed for almost six months. Most places would rather have you extend than get a new traveler that they have to orient. Whitney and I try to stay for two contracts in each location as long as everything is going well and we’re happy there.

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      1. Hi! I’m a not so new grad but am thinking of making the transition from perm to travel. I dabbed a little with Med Travelers when I first graduated and talked myself out of it. But I would like to know any other companies that you liked. shelton.shade@gmail.com

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great Article. It’s really making me consider this. One question: Are you including housing in the $1500/week? Or do you get a housing stipend on top of the $1500/week?

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    1. The $1,500/week includes the taxable pay after taxes and all stipends so whatever you pay for housing would come out of that amount. The housing stipend is usually around $400-$500/week so if you took company provided housing, you would get your housing paid for but would only be making around $1,000/week after taxes which is usually not in your best interest. If you’re interested in traveling, let me know and I’ll email you some company/recruiter recommendations.

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  3. When did you start this whole process of applying, contacting recruiters etc.? Was this after the NPTE or did you already have a job lined up after you passed?

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    1. I actually took the NPTE a month prior to graduation so once I was done with graduation I was ready to go. I graduated in May but started talking to recruiters around February so that I could start looking for jobs right around graduation time.

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  4. Hello, I love the article it really helped me see the major differences between travel PT and being permanent! I’ve always been interested in travel PT to see new places and gain major experience but didn’t know if it was really worth it. Thanks again, if it’s not too much can you send me recommendations.

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  5. Thanks for the informative article, Travel PT has not been discussed officially through a presentation at all in my program and I’m trying to get my hands on any information I can. If you could send me some information on reputable companies and your recommendations that would be awesome and greatly appreciated. ApollonianPhysique@hotmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Awesome article! Thanks for sharing your experiences and offering insight on a rarely covered topic. I’m a second year student and was interested in travel PT upon graduation but am concerned about growth and mentorship in such a dynamic setting. In your experience, were you given the opportunity to learn from mentors or co-workers in the limited time at each contract? Also curious as to which recruiters or services you’ve used or recommend. I appreciate any thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ray, I’m glad this article was helpful to you. We started out as new grads and don’t regret it one bit! Some travel companies specifically have new grad friendly programs to help with mentorship. Something else you can do is make sure you go to facilities where there are other PTs in the building and ask specifically during your interview if they’d be willing to mentor you. Overall we’ve had great experiences and have been able to learn from others at many of our sites. Otherwise the great thing about today’s PT world is there are so many online resources via blogs, podcasts, peer groups, online CEUs, etc where you can learn even remotely! Post your email here or Send me a message through the contact me link at the top with your email and I can send you company and recruiter recommendations!

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  7. Hey Jared. I think the Paretto Principle paid off with your writing skills, too!

    Great read. I’m a 2nd year DPT. Strongly considering travel. Plan on reaching out to recruiters during 3rd year. Can you please email me your recommendations. Email is Gregory.pando@gmail.com.

    Thanks and if you ever work out of the NY market and have questions let me know.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Jared,

    Thank you for posting this. Very informative! I’m also very interested in travel PT. Could you e-mail me your recommendations as well? My email is gwfh1618@aol.com. Your blog has many great articles. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hey Jared,
    Thanks for the good read, seeing the numbers really helped put some things into perspective! My girlfriend and I are considering travel therapy. Would you mind sending me any information on the companies/recruiters you guys have had good experiences with? Thank you, it would be much appreciated! steigejn@mail.uc.edu

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What would you say is the main difference between registry and travel therapy? Also after you pay health insurance, what would be the real difference in your net pay?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pay is usually higher with travel jobs than with PRN/registry positions. Also travel jobs include benefits (health, dental, vision, 401k, etc.) whereas PRN jobs usually don’t. The travel contracts we accept have a 40 hour guarantee as well which means that we get paid even if the facility is closed whereas that isn’t the case as a PRN employee where hours can be limited. In my experience, most PRN jobs pay around $50/hour without benefits whereas we make the equivalent of $60-$70/hour with benefits as a traveler due to the tax free stipends reducing the tax burden.

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      1. Thanks for reading, Elton! Many companies say 50 miles is the minimum to receive tax free stipends but that’s actually a myth. It’s not the mileage that matters but the fact that you have a tax home and are duplicating living expenses. A great resource is traveltax.com for any tax related questions. He has a great Q&A section on the site that answered a lot of my questions when starting out.

        I’ll send you an email with some recommendations!

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  11. Thanks for the article it was a great read. I will graduating next summer and am interested in traveling as a new grad. What is the range in net weekly pay that is currently out there in the travel job market?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, David. The range can be huge depending on the company you work with, the location you’re working in, the setting, your experience, and how desperate the facility is to have someone. Some lower paying companies offer new grads pay packages in the $1,200-$1,300/week after taxes range whereas some experienced PTs working with higher paying companies doing home health in CA can make up to $2,000/week after taxes. The important thing is finding a good company and recruiter that won’t take advantage of you as a new grad! Feel free to reach out for recommendations as you get closer to graduation!

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  12. Thanks for the informative article. Are the costs of housing when travelling taken into account in the net pay? For example, if the net pay is $1500 per week do you have to subtract a few hundred dollars more for housing from that amount? This would be a more accurate comparison since with permanent jobs you don’t have duplicate housing costs. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You do have to account for the extra cost of duplicating expenses when considering the net pay when comparing to a permanent job where that isn’t needed. It’s impossible to generalize though since costs vary so drastically depending on the person and what they’re comfortable with.

      For example, most assignments, my total cost for housing and utilities with duplicate expenses is less than $650/month since I only rent a room at my tax home and Whitney and I split the cost of campground rent while on assignment. There are other travelers that spend three times as much as me when considering maintaining two places that cost a lot more. There are also people that spend significantly more than $650/month when working a permanent job and not even having to duplicate expenses.

      For that reason it’s much easier to give a net pay amount not factoring in maintaining a tax home and have the individual determine what they’re comfortable with as far as expenses for both places to determine how much they would actually come out ahead when traveling. I appreciate the feedback and have definitely thought about how to express the extra cost but there’s not standardized way that would make sense.

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      1. Thanks. This is true. Someone working a permanent job can easily have a $2000/month rent or mortgage payment s it is difficult to standardize housing costs. Do you know of any other creative ways travel PT’s can save money on housing besides the campgrounds? Also, when the travel companies offer their own housing how much is it usually on average per month? Thanks again

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      2. The best way is to rent a room in someone else’s house or apartment as both your permanent home as well as the place you’re staying at your travel assignment. AirBnB makes it much easier to do that now and with looking at reviews, you have a good idea of what you’re getting into.

        Having the company provide housing is almost never worth it financially and I wouldn’t recommend it. When the company pays for housing for you, they keep the housing stipend which is generally $500-$600/week so you’d bring home a lot less.

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