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How to become a massage therapist and get your business license

Massage therapy may just be the world’s oldest profession. As far back as Ancient Egypt, therapeutic massage has been used to relieve stress and pain and is one of the most popular wellness procedures. About 47 million Americans received some sort of massage in 2018.

However, massage is more than just a perk you get on cruise ships; massage therapists work with all different types of injuries and conditions and can form an important part of their clients’ healthcare routine.

That’s what makes massage therapy such a rewarding career—and a pretty lucrative one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, massage therapists make about $44,000 on average. The field is expected to grow by 21% between 2019-2029 (way, way higher than the 5% average growth of all occupations).

Since massage therapy can be a form of healthcare, there are licensing requirements you’ll need to fulfill to ensure the physical safety of your clients and that you’re adhering to the professional ethics of the industry. Below is a breakdown of what you’ll need to know to get started in your new career as a massage therapist!

What is a massage therapy license?

A massage therapy license is exactly what it says on the tin; it shows that you have completed all the necessary coursework and training to safely work as a massage therapist in your area.

Licensing requirements tend to vary state by state, but there are a few general requirements you’ll be expected to fill wherever you’re practicing.

First, you’ll need to have completed a massage therapy training program at an accredited institution. Virtually every massage therapy school will require you to hold at least a high school diploma or the equivalent (like a GED) to enroll.

Next, you’ll need to pass a licensing exam. Some states have their own exam, though most require applicants to take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination (MBLEx), administered by the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards (FSMTB).

Once you’ve passed your exam, you can register with your state’s board of massage therapy and start down your new career path! The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) has a state-by-state guide of how and where to register.

Is a massage therapy license the same as a business license?

No, although you may be required to have both, depending on the type of massage therapy work you do. Massage therapy licensure is required for any practitioner of massage therapy, even if they’re an employee of a larger company. The massage therapy license is unique to the industry and shows you’re competent in the field.

On the other hand, a business license certifies that your business is allowed to operate legally in your area and is safe for the public to engage with.

Not every massage therapist will need a business license since not every massage therapist is a business owner. For instance, massage therapists who work full-time at fitness centers won’t need to register for a business license since they’re employed by a business that will be licensed. But if you decide to pick up your own clients part-time, you most likely will need to register as a business.

How much does it cost to become a licensed massage therapist?

The cost of licensure in massage therapy comes from three main sources: your education program, the cost of exams, and the cost of the license itself.

Like any schooling or training program, massage therapy education will vary in cost, depending on where and what you’re studying. Certificate programs tend to start around $4,000 to $6,000, while associate degree programs can be anywhere from $10,000 and $25,000. You’ll also need to pay for any books or materials, which can cost anywhere from $1,300.

The prices may look steep, but most massage training programs will offer some sort of financial aid, so be sure to look over all your options!

After completing your training, you’ll need to pay an application and administrative fee to take the MBLEx, which is $265. The FSMTB also offers an official MBLEx study guide for about $30, which isn’t required but can be a valuable resource.
Once you’ve passed your exam, you’re ready to register with your state’s Massage Therapist’s Board. Licensing fees vary by state, but almost all states will require you to renew your license periodically. For example, New Hampshire licensure costs $110 and requires an annual renewal.

If you decide to run your own clinic or work as an independent contractor, you’ll also want to get small business insurance. (Huckleberry can get you some of the lowest industry rates and quotes in less than five minutes!)

All in all, you’re looking at around a minimum of $4, 300 to finance your new career path. A hefty investment, but worth it if massage therapy is your passion!

How long does it take to become a licensed massage therapist?

Like most things massage therapy, this will depend on your state, though all states require a minimum amount of training time before you can take the licensing exam. States like Kentucky require at least 600 hours of training, while some states, like New York, require as many as 1,000 hours of training.

Depending on what kind of massage therapy school you attend and whether you go full-time or part-time, these hours can take anywhere from 5 months to 2 years to complete, with most training programs taking about a year to complete.

You can sign up to take the MBLEx as soon as you finish your hours of training, though it can take up to 5 days for the application to process once you’ve paid the fee. You have a maximum of two hours to complete the test once you begin. If you need to retest for any reason, you’ll need to wait at least 30 days.

Once you’ve finished your hours and passed your exam, you’ll also be required to complete a background check to make sure there are no crimes in your past that directly go against the professional ethics of the industry. Depending on the service used, this can take a few days or a few weeks to process.

And when you’re finally all set to apply for your state license—prepare for a little more waiting. Massage therapy licensure is a government process, which means it might take a little time to get past all the red tape. Some states offer a temporary license so that you can begin practicing while you wait for your official documentation.

7 steps to become a massage therapist and start your own business

1) Enroll in a massage therapy program

You’ll want to make sure you thoroughly research any schools you’re thinking about attending to ensure they have the proper accreditation and teach the type of massage you’re most interested in. Once you find an approved school, check to see if you apply for any financial aid, and get ready to dig deep into the world of clinical massage!

2) Meet your state’s licensing requirements

Each state has its own requirements for massage therapy licensing, so make sure to double-check with your Massage Therapy Board to ensure you haven’t overlooked anything. If your state requires a certain number of hands-on training hours, now would be a good time to start seeking out clinics or practitioners you’d love to intern with.

3) Pass your licensing exam

44 states require massage therapists to pass the MBLEx before being licensed, though some states have their own exams. If you’re taking the MBLEx, the FSMTB does have an official study guide, so pick up a copy and start studying!

These tests are pretty pricey (between $195 and $265), so it’s in your best interest to get it right the first time, but with the right schooling and study regimen, you should be ready to go.

4) Consider opening your own practice

Once you’re ready to start working, the first major fork in your career path will be whether to work with a larger, more established practice or branch out on your own.
Both options have their pros and cons. Starting with an established clinic means you’ll have a steady stream of clients, a steady income, and (if you’re a full-time employee) health insurance and other benefits. Especially if you’re just starting, it can be comforting to work under a more experienced therapist who can give you on-the-job tips to help you with the rest of your career.

However, in starting your own practice, you can be your own boss, setting your schedule, rates, and services. You can work out of your own home (so long as it meets clinic requirements) and build the career of your dreams. It may be a bit harder starting out, but you can say that you’ve truly created something of your own.

5) Get a business license

So you’ve decided you’re going to open your own practice. Congratulations! Now your next step is getting a business license.

For most states, to get a business license for massage therapy will require having your state certification ready to go (not a problem for you, go-getter!). You’ll also need to set up your business entity (are you an LLC, a sole proprietorship? Learn more about the differences here) and an EIN (your business’s Social Security Number, of sorts).

Then, once you have all the appropriate paperwork (there will be a lot, so double-check you have everything), you can register with the appropriate government branch (usually your state department) and wait for approval.

Business license requirements vary by state (what else is new?), so check out this state-by-state guide to get more info on what you need.

6) Get small business insurance

Small business insurance is especially important for massage therapists since you have so much hands-on contact with your clients and might be treating people who are already injured.

Make sure that you’re properly covered for any risk to keep both your business and your clients safe. To get specifics on your state’s insurance requirements, we have a state-by-state breakdown of the most popular kinds of small business insurance—all in plain English, of course. You already know the names of every muscle in the jaw; you don't need to be fluent in legalese, too.

7) Work on your continuing education

Since massage therapy is so closely tied to healthcare, you must be up to date with the latest trends, not just in your field but in medicine in general. That’s why Continuing Education (or CE) is required for any massage therapist.

This doesn’t mean you need to go through your entire education all over again. Still, it does mean that you’ll need to refresh your knowledge every few years (for most states, every 1 to 5 years) when you renew your license to make sure that you’re not still using any outdated modalities that could harm patients.

Huckleberry is here to help!

Getting started with your massage therapy career is a huge and exciting step. And while you’re helping your clients improve with their health and wellness, Huckleberry is here to help protect your business’s wellness too.

Get a business insurance quote in as little as 5 minutes so you can run your business with the peace of mind that comes with great insurance coverage.

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