Working As A Therapist In Europe
A How-To Look

By Kameel Nasr

Originally published in Massage Bodywork magazine, August/September 2005.
Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

There's no better way to immerse yourself in another culture and language than by living and working abroad. It is not too difficult to find employment in another country, but it does take research, initiative, and a lot of patience. You never know what kind of adventures await until you try.

Over the past seven years, I've found my own adventure practicing shiatsu during the summer in a private, Italian studio. Here, in this resort hotel on the dark blue Mediterranean, surrounded by flowering hibiscus and oleander, it's difficult to come closer to a picture of paradise.

I began working here after meeting an Italian osteopath who runs the studio. She often needs an additional therapist for the summer season, a common occurrence with resorts here. The environment is very relaxing, and most of the clients are regulars with whom I've developed a relationship.

But Italy isn't the only location where I've sought work abroad. During winters, I've been employed at mountain resorts in the Alps, skiing in the morning and working at night. Many employees in Europe alternate this icy option with their summer work along the coast. There are so many opportunities to be discovered, and Europe offers some of the best for bodyworkers.

Getting Information
First, before making any decision about working abroad, do your research. The Internet is loaded with information, making it easy to search for just the right opportunity. There is also a small selection of books to help interested people find job opportunities around the world. Flip through How to Get a Job in Europe by Cheryl Maztherly and Robert Sanborn, Work Worldwide by Nancy Mueller, Work Your Way Around the World by Susan Griffith, and Working in Ski Resorts by Victoria Pybus. The travel section of a good bookstore will likely have several offerings about working abroad.

Temporary work agencies, such as Kelly (www.kelly and Manpower Inc. (, as well as Internet job sites like and also provide overall useful tips. With so many websites promising the best information, it is difficult to know where to begin. But if you start with a site like or www.goin, you will find a variety of information and links to other sites.

Getting Permission
While many Americans, Canadians, and others might choose to work in Europe illegally, this is not recommended. It's better to struggle through the bureaucracy and obtain permission from the proper authorities. Legal work status will allow you to relax and enjoy being part of your surroundings without compromising your job or your stay.

The challenge in securing proper work status is the hoops you have to jump through. Being "legal" in Italy, for example, means going to the regional police and obtaining a permit to settle and work for a specified period of time. Because administering this permit is left to each province, there is no rule on what's required to get permission, called a permesso di soggiorno. Just as laws in each U.S. state vary, the same is true of Italian provinces, with some being much more difficult to work with than others. Still, never underestimate the strength of personal contact.

The situation in other European countries is about the same. For French information, visit www.diplo; Germany's official site is www.auswaer For the United Kingdom start with London has specific laws for massage therapy that are different from the rest of England. Switzerland is also a special case since it is not part of the European Union. Check out Living and Working in Switzerland by David Hampshire or visit www.swissemi If you are leaning toward Scandinavia, perhaps you can start at

Temporary residency permits are easy to get if you sign up to study a language at a school, but a respected employer can request one on your behalf as well. You're almost guaranteed obstacles on the path to getting a permit, but whenever you have a frustrating experience with officials or language, just remember how much more difficult it is for workers and visitors from poor countries to come to the United States. If you spend a couple of hours on the Web you will find more details and advice than you ever imagined, and in that time you can probably decide if working abroad is an avenue you want to pursue.

Landing the Job
Although Europeans have embraced the Internet slightly later than Americans, they have quickly utilized it as a business tool. That's good news for job seekers who can replace the old tried and true method of going place to place and presenting yourself to hotel and spa managers with research from your living room. Unless you're going to start your own business and develop your own clients (a completely new level of bureaucracy), a hotel or resort is probably the most common place you can find a therapist job overseas, and almost all these institutions now have websites.

You can do a series of searches by location and activities offered. First locate where you want to work, then go through the websites of spas, hotels, and resorts, to see if they have a massage studio. Once you have a name, I suggest making direct contact by telephone and asking if you can send your resume. Start checking the big chains such as Four Seasons, Hilton, and Club Med, then move on to the smaller spots. Usually the spa is run separately from the hotel, but hotels like to advertise the services available. Once you work locally and talk to people, you can make new contacts and discover other good places to work. Also, various massage societies have publications and meetings; the gatherings of the Italian Shiatsu Federation I attended proved to be a rich source of contacts.

How much you should charge is usually not up to you unless you open your own studio or have your own business. Rates are set by the establishment, and they're about the same range as in North America. A number of five-star spas charge up to $350 for a 90-minute treatment, but almost everywhere else the rate is between $50 and $100 an hour. I have also met foreign therapists who set up a table on the beach and charge $25 an hour. Keep in mind the varying exchange rate. When you work in someone else's studio, which is more likely, what you take home will be one-third to one-half the rate charged, perhaps less because taxes are usually included in the price. The benefit to being in a resort is that compensation may include room and possibly board. This is important since because renting an apartment in a European city can cost as much as in an American city, and that could notably change your financial picture. As with work anywhere, nothing is fixed -- each place has its own way of doing things. A prudent rule of thumb: Do not expect to get rich working for someone overseas.

Comparing Cultures
Remember you travel to experience diversity. You may make a faux pas here or there -- learning a foreign language has a way of humbling the student. But if you go with a spirit of discovery, you'll have a wonderful experience. Polls show that Europeans dislike American government policy, but you won't find many who dislike Americans. In fact, it's just the opposite. They'll ask you to translate pop songs and interpret Hollywood movies.

When it comes to body therapy, there is very little difference, either. Norms of nudity vary country to country, generally more relaxed the farther north you go. I found differences between certain therapies, but no more than the way one American massage school might differ from another. Work the way you've been trained, and work with heart, and you can't go wrong.

The German author Goethe said we learn more about our own language when we study another. That's also true for our way of life. By seeing, hearing, and experiencing a different way of life, we understand more about ourselves.

Kameel Nasr, a Palestinian-American, has traveled the world by bicycle and is the author of books on cycling. He lives in Boston and works summers as a shiatsu therapist in Italy.

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