Being a holistic health care educator and one who passionately lives for the chance to explore our globe, I have had the opportunity to come in contact with a demographic of Massage Therapy Student who I fondly refer to as the “Massage Gypsy”.

The “Massage Gypsy” has this beautiful vision of traveling around the globe with their massage tools intact at the ends of their wrists massaging their way from one adventure to the next. It’s a fantastic and bold idea. I know…I had it too. I fully explored dropping that dream into reality in the biggest way, and would like to offer some information for my globe trotting bodywork brothers and sisters who wish to follow suit.

The first thing you need to wrap your head around is the world vision of a United States Citizen.(if that is what you are. I would imagine if you are Canadian or European it’s the same deal when traveling to any second or third world country.) From the perspective of a second or third world government you are a very wealthy and privileged person…because on the global scale, you truly are.

Governments have the responsibility to do a couple of things that may impact your dream. First, protect jobs for their native citizens, and second, collect taxes for the benefit of their nation. If you are a “Massage Gypsy”, and you perform massage in a foreign territory and collect money for that service you are benefiting from the economy of that country without giving back…at least this is how the government sees it. Additionally, if the country is regulating the activities of your industry, they have not had the chance to scrutinize you as a professional and ensure you have had the education necessary to keep the public safe.

I’m sure the reasons a government would not like a foreigner to perform massage in their country goes on…and these are just a few that I am aware of.

Another issue that may arise for you is if you compete with established locals for clients. There could be animosity, and they could report you to the authorities, and sometimes a worse fate…confront you.

If you plan to go somewhere and hang your shingle/start a practice that is one thing. Being in a location for 2 weeks and then moving on is another. Let’s visit both:

If your dream is to completely relocate to another country and plant your roots to live there, I would suggest to you that this is going to cost you a significant amount of money, and time. You may find yourself negotiating some unreal bureaucratic red tape. Even after you jump through those hoops, you may still not be able to get your work visa, or establish residency. Most third and second world countries will want you to demonstrate at least 6 months of steady income through a national bank before they grant you permission to work, and some want you to prove that you are doing something that is completely specialized, a service that no one else in their own country can provide!

Here are a couple of ways around these constraints:

  1. Marry a local citizen.
  2. Start a company which brings a great deal of income into the country, AND employs natives.

If you want to skip around you certainly can do that, and you most likely will be doing massage illegally as far as the government is concerned. If this is what you intend to do, and many MANY massage therapists do this, here is my strong advice to you. You MUST very clearly understand what penalties you will face if you RUB the Authorities the wrong way.

  • Will you be extradited?
  • Will you be arrested?
  • Will you have to pay a $5 fine?

Good things to know!

You can always work for a company under their legally operating umbrella. This can be great, however the inherent problem here is if it does not go well and you end your contract prematurely, you may not be able to work anywhere in that region legally without the umbrella. These opportunities are few and far between as  resorts, spas, and hotels etc. can pay the local talent far less than you require to do the work.

I hope I have not burst your pink bubble vision of seeing this beautiful planet by sharing the love and mad skills in your hands. You CAN make this work…you just need to be smart and resourceful and don’t expect the opportunities to fall into your lap. You need to be thoughtful and strategic. Plan ahead! In the end, if you want to be the globetrotting Massage Gypsy here are some strong recommendations.

Do NOT rely on your imaginary massage income to sustain your livelihood. Have a safety net! Be careful not to compete with the locals! Carefully consider if advertising is a good idea if you are not satisfying the government protocol and finally DO massage new friends in exchange for hostel stay, meals, and other traveler’s benefits such as laundry, souvenirs, and the joy of giving.

Good luck!