The Ultimate Guide for getting a Massage Therapy License

How does one get a massage therapy license?

There are three steps for getting a massage therapy license.

  1. Attend a massage school
  2. Take an exam
  3. Apply for a license in your state

As the current director of a massage therapy school in Hawaii and the former director of a massage therapy school in Oregon, I am intimately familiar with the ins and outs of this process.  My students come from all over the country, and so I’ve had to become familiar with the requirements in all of the states in order to create a program that meets or exceeds those requirements in most of those states.  Those details vary widely, but the following three steps provide the outline of the process for everyone.

1.  Attend a massage school

You can apply to a massage school in any state.  Most schools will require you to be 18 with a high school diploma or equivalent.  Because the licensing requirements vary widely between states, you should apply to a school that meets the requirements of the state that you plan to get licensed in.  An in-state school will always work, but for an out-of-state school you’ll want to make sure that the school not only meets the requirement for total program hours but also meets any requirements for specific topics within the program, such as anatomy, kinesiology, ethics, etc.  There is no need to attend an accredited school (except in RI).  State requirements (and massage school programs) vary from 500 total hours (including CA, CO, ID, MI, NC, NV, TN, TX) to 1000 total hours (NE, NY), but most are around 600-700 hours (including AK, AZ, OR, MA, NM, PA, WA).  If you think you’ll ever live in another state, it’s best to attend a program whose hours will be sufficient for most other states (think 750 hours) as it will be difficult to supplement hours later.  To find out requirements for any state, go directly to that state’s website rather than any 3rd party website that may have outdated or incomplete information.  For more info on choosing a massage school, check out The Ultimate Guide for Choosing a Massage School.  

2.  Take an exam

Once you graduate from the school, you’ll probably need to take an exam.  For most states, that exam is the MBLEx, which you’ll apply for at FSMTB.com.  For Hawaii and New York, you’ll need to take their own state-specific exam.  There are a very small number of states that don’t require an exam.  Once you pass the MBLEx, that passing score is good for the rest of your life.  You’ll never need to take the exam again, and you can take it with you as you apply for a license in any state.

3.  Apply for a license in your state

Once you’ve passed the exam, you can apply for a license in your state (though in Hawaii, steps 2 and 3 are combined).  The application can be found on the webpage for whatever agency oversees massage licenses in your state (usually the commerce or health department).  The application may be entirely on-line or may involve printing and filling out the old-fashioned way.  

All states are going to want to receive the following from your school (usually sent directly from the school at your request):

  • Your transcript
  • Proof of your school’s license
  • Possibly another form or two

What they’ll want from you is:

  • The completed application
  • Payment

Depending on the state, they may also want:

  1. Proof of CPR
  2. Proof of First Aid
  3. Background check, including fingerprints
  4. Proof of education or passing an exam on state laws
  5. Statement from others vouching for your moral character
  6. Proof of licenses in other states (if you don’t meet education requirements)

Once you send in your application, you can expect a processing time of 1-3 months, depending on the state, which means that most massage students will get licensed about a year after starting school.  

See Massage Licensing for additional information.