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Author: Devon Breithart, OTR/L
It’s a double-edged sword: as a traveling occupational therapist, it’s hard to beat California as far as pay, number, and variety of jobs go. But getting the initial licensure has a reputation for being such a long, arduous, and expensive process. Some therapists consider if it’s even worth it. The California OT license was much more cumbersome compared to say, my Kentucky license which took $50 and a week at most. However, I’m happy to report that I feel the license has definitely paid off in dividends. While it can be intimidating to start this license, I do recommend that every travel therapist consider it. Not only are the contracts here higher paying than most other localities, the quality of life, weather, and access to entertainment and activities are hard to beat.
Related: If you are not already an OTR, check out the steps to become an occupational therapist.
- Application fee: $50. Fee for application California OT license only. This does not include the initial licensure fee.
- My total for initial California OT license: $293 – the costs are broken down at the end of this blog.
6 steps to getting a California OT license:
- Begin the online application process on BreEZe
- Submit a transcript for an occupational therapy degree from an ACOTE accredited institution (B.S. if grandfathered in, M.S. for newer grads), including fieldwork requirements OR for foreign-trained therapists, a program that meets the educational and fieldwork requirements set out in the OT Practice Act, plus eligibility to sit for the NBCOT exam
- Submit proof of passing the NBCOT exam
- Complete fingerprinting for background checks
- Submit a passport-style photo
- Submit licensure verifications as necessary
You’ll want to begin the process by signing up for an account on BreEZe, which is a system the state of California uses to license most professions. Once you are signed up for an account, the system will direct you to the OT license application. This application will ask for basic demographic info and some of your work or fieldwork history. This part of the process is fairly quick and painless.
Sending Your Transcripts & NBCOT Verification
Once you have filled out your basic info, the application will give you instructions on how to send the California Board of Occupational Therapy (CBOT) an official transcript from your program. Since it’s an official transcript, this is something that your school will have to send directly as opposed to you being able to make a copy of the one you might already have.
Different schools have different processes for this, but most these days allow you to make a request online on the school’s website. If you can’t find this information, contact your college’s registrar office. Keep in mind that while some schools may offer this service for free, others may charge a small fee. For example, my alma mater charges $10 per official transcript.
You’ll also be required to submit proof of passing the NBCOT exam. The application will provide instructions on how to submit this, but be aware that this is another place where you will likely have to pay a fee. NBCOT currently charges $35 for official verification of certification letters or $40 for electronic score transfers.
FingerPrinting: LiveScan or Ink
Fingerprinting for your California OT license can go two ways. If you’re in or near California, I highly recommend you complete a LiveScan. This is a service offered by the state that involves taking digital fingerprints as opposed to traditional ink and paper forms. I prefer this method because you’re less likely to run into errors (such as ink smudging and being unreadable) and the processing time is also very quick (less than 72 hours).
Now, if you’re 2000 miles away like I was when I first applied for licensure, this probably isn’t a feasible option. This means your license may take a little longer, but I was still well within the time they originally quoted me when I began. I do recommend going somewhere to get your fingerprints done that has a lot of experience doing this to prevent any difficulties or delays. Most experienced fingerprinters will know what the form needs to look like to ensure that it can be read correctly.
Fingerprinting is another place where you will be charged a fee. If you go the traditional route, you’ll be charged a processing fee of $49 by CBOT plus whatever the store/agency charges to do fingerprints ($17 for me at the time in Kentucky). If you go for the LiveScan, you’ll technically get to skip the processing fee charged by CBOT but will still be responsible for the LiveScan background check charges (typically $32 for DOJ and $17 for the FBI) and whatever the store/agency charges for completing the LiveScan ($35 for me when I completed one recently).
Something worth pointing out here as well is that in addition to the license background check requirements, many California companies and facilities require this as well and surprise surprise, they do NOT communicate with each other. For example, on my most recent contract, despite already having a California license, I had to complete two LiveScans: one for the new travel company I was working for, and one for the school district. These are typically reimbursable expenses, but it is something to keep in mind as far as managing your time goes – if you have multiple fingerprint requests, try to take care of them all at the same time.
Along with the rest of the application, you will also be required to mail in a physical photo of yourself to CBOT. This should be a 2 by 2 passport-style photo taken within the last 6 months. If you need to get physical fingerprints done, it’s likely you can find a place that does passport photos as well and kill two birds with one stone. When I did this, the cost was $15 for two copies of the picture.
State License Verifications
Last but maybe not least, you’ll need to submit licensure verifications from all the states where you currently hold an OT license. For me, this was thankfully easy as I only had a Kentucky license at the time. But if you’ve been in the traveling game for a while, this part of the process could take a while. You must contact each state board individually to request that they send a “letter of good standing” to CBOT.
Now, California will accept this letter by mail or electronically, but what I have found is that many other state boards will not provide this information electronically, which can delay the application process. If this happens to you, my best advice is to continue contacting the state board that has not yet provided the information. If you are unsure where the hold up is, someone at CBOT should be able to tell you what part of the application they are waiting on. The good news is that CBOT starts to process your application as soon as you submit it, so if you do end up waiting on license verifications from other states, once they come through your application should be swiftly approved.
One more thing to mention here that you can probably guess – state boards might charge you for this service. I was lucky in that Kentucky didn’t charge me, and many state boards will do it for free, especially if they can do the electronic verification. But keep in mind this could be an added cost.
Once the online portion of the application is complete, the system will prompt you to print a summary PDF, sign it, and mail it to CBOT along with your photo and fingerprint cards, if applicable. I purchased a nice manilla envelope for this and a couple of stamps, which, while small compared to some other fees, was an additional $2 charge.
Application Timeline and Follow-up
Once everything was submitted, I found that the licensure timeline was a lot quicker than I had been worried about. For me, I started filling out the online application on October 26th, completed verification requests and fingerprinting over the next week, had everything mailed off by November 7th, and had my license approved by December 13th. So overall, it was about 5 weeks of processing time once all of the information was submitted and about 8 weeks in total of preparing the necessary items. I imagine this process could go even quicker if I had done a LiveScan because I know the last thing the board was waiting on was for the FBI background check to clear. Regardless, I had worried this license would take several months and this definitely was not the case!
Once your license is approved, you have one last step: pay the actual license fee. Your initial fee will be pro-rated based on the month and year you’ll need to renew your license. For me, since I was born in an even year, my license expires in my birth month on even years. This meant that my initial licensure fee was $110. However, this also meant that my license was due for renewal the very next year as opposed to the 2 years that California typically gives. When I renewed my license, I paid the full fee of $220.
Total Application Cost Breakdown
So, if you’ve been following along with a calculator at home, you’ll probably notice that this is one of the more expensive licenses in the country, but let’s look at the actual total cost I paid for my California OT license.
- Application Fee: $50
- Official Transcript: $10
- NBCOT Electronic Score Verification: $40
- Fingerprint Processing Fee: $49
- Fingerprint Rolling Charge: $17
- Passport Photo: $15
- Other State Licensure Verifications: $0
- Envelope and Stamps: $2
- Initial (Prorated) Licensure Fee: $110
Total for initial California OT license: $293
Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth it? Definitely! Getting this license enabled me to get a travel therapy job that nearly doubled my perm salary in Kentucky. Even with the cost of living differences here, I’m still in a much better financial position than I was as a perm therapist. I’ve also been blessed with little difficulty finding contracts in my preferred specialty. And at the end of the day, I just love this beautiful state and feel so grateful to work here.
Have you worked as a travel therapist in California?
Devon graduated with a B.S. in Health Science from Spalding University in 2014. She continued on at Spalding to finish her M.S. in Occupational Therapy in 2015. Devon presented her master’s research project, Strategies to Promote Safe, Healthy, and Appropriate Sexual Behavior in Individuals with Disabilities, at the AOTA conference in 2016. Devon’s primary clinical experience is with the pediatric population, which she has served in a variety of settings including outpatient, early intervention, and the public school system. She has additional experience working with adults with developmental disabilities as well as in skilled nursing and home health settings.
Beyond clinical practice, Devon also enjoys writing and educating other therapists through continuing education courses, test prep questions, and blog posts. She enjoys many aspects of occupational therapy; her current subject interests include assistive technology, executive function, and program development. In her personal time, Devon enjoys board games, hunting down great restaurants, and community building. She has been a travel therapist for a year and a half now and has no intention of stopping. You can learn more about Devon at her website https://devonbreithart.com/.
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