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Learn how to become a massage therapist in California

massage therapist in california taking notes with her patient

California is one of only a few states in the country that do not license massage therapists. California leaves certification of massage professionals in the hands of the California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC), a private nonprofit public benefit corporation created by the California legislature. The CAMTC offers voluntary certification for massage therapists in California.

Even though a CA massage license does not exist, you need to know what you’re doing if you want to attract clients and provide effective services that keep them coming back. That begins with a solid education of the human body, massage therapy techniques, and hands-on practice.

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Furthermore, individual counties and cities in California may require practitioners to get CAMTC certified. To qualify, you’ll need to attend a massage therapy training program. Read on to learn everything you need to know on becoming a massage therapist in California.

California requirements for massage therapy

California is one of the handful of states in the U.S. that do not license the massage therapy profession at the state level. That being said, individual counties and municipalities may have their own requirements for massage therapists in addition to a basic business license.

Advice from the CEO of the CAMTC

“Many cities and counties require CAMTC Certification, including Los Angeles. Because CAMTC certification allows massage professionals to provide massage for compensation everywhere in the state without the need to obtain a local permit, most massage providers choose to be certified,” wrote Ahmos Netanel, Chief Executive Officer of the CAMTC.

“Without certification, a massage provider would be subject to obtaining a local permit in each and every jurisdiction where they provide massage for compensation, generally at the cost of hundreds of dollars a year, be subject to varied education requirements such as 1,000 hours of education (instead of CAMTC’s 500 hours of education requirement), be subject to degrading medical tests (like tests for VD), be subject to local dress code requirements, and could be prohibited from massaging the gluteal muscles or providing other massage modalities approved by CAMTC.”

CA massage education and training requirements

The length of time it takes to complete an approved massage therapy program depends on the school and the schedule(s) they offer. For example, some CA massage schools offer full-time and/or part-time programs. Full-time programs can be completed in less time, typically 6-8 months. Part-time programs are spread out over a longer period, usually 10-12 months, but this can vary.

There are technically no education or training requirements needed to provide massage therapy services in California. However, you’d be hard-pressed to attract clients without some education and training, and you’ll need a solid education if you wish to get certified by the CAMTC or any other certifying body.

California Massage Therapy Council certification 

To obtain CAMTC certification, you must attend a CAMTC-approved massage therapy school in California with a program length of 500 hours or more. Of those 500 hours, a minimum of 100 must be in anatomy and physiology, contraindications, health and hygiene, and business and ethics.

If you were educated outside of California—and by default did not attend a CAMTC-approved program—the CAMTC will review your non-California massage schools to determine if it is comparable to their own standards. In addition to your education, you must satisfy the following in order to qualify for CAMTC certification:

  • Be 18 years old or older
  • Pay the certification fee
  • Submit fingerprints to an authorized agency in California
  • Have not violated any provisions of the California Massage Therapy Act or of CAMTC
  • Submit a photocopy of your driver’s license or official state ID
  • Get your passport photo taken

Exam and licensing requirements for massage therapy in CA

The state of California does not have exam and licensing requirements for massage therapists. Some counties or municipalities may require you to have a certain certification or other measures of competency in order to practice, however.

CAMTC certification, which may be required by some counties and/or cities, does not have an exam requirement. Other certifications, especially those offered at the national level or for specialty massage modalities, often require passing an exam to qualify for that certification.

One such example is becoming Board Certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB), one of the highest credentials in the field. Earning this certification entails passing their Board Certification Exam. 

Are there any continuing education requirements?

If you have CAMTC certification, you must renew your certification every two years. There are no continuing education requirements for recertification, only a fee.

Other certifications often do require continuing education within the renewal period, such as Board Certification from NCBTMB. They require 24 hours of continuing education from Board-approved providers every two years. 

California massage law: Things to know

Transferability of out-of-state massage therapists

Moving to California to begin or continue a massage therapy career is fairly easy considering the state does not have any licensing requirements for massage therapists to begin with. Instead, anyone who transfers to California must check to see if their local county and/or city has regulations for massage therapists that must be followed.

Regardless of whether or not it is required by your local regulatory body, getting certified by the CAMTC may be in your best interest. If you already possess a massage therapy license from another state, you will almost certainly qualify for CAMTC certification. However, if the licensing requirements of the state in that you hold a license do not meet or exceed the standards of CAMTC certification, then you may need additional training to qualify.

In addition, the CAMTC does not accept international education in its consideration for certification. “The requirements may vary depending on the individual’s specific situation.  All applicants must fully and truthfully complete the application, pay the fee, submit to a fingerprint background check, and provide proof of acceptable education,” Netanel said.

Professional conduct and ethical guidelines

The state of California does have various massage laws set forth in the Massage Therapy Act which was updated in 2021. This extensive legal code outlines the role and responsibilities of the CAMTC and provides definitions for relevant terms, the scope of practice, and more. The CAMTC has a summary of common actions that violate the Massage Therapy Act on its website.

Insurance and liability

The Massage Therapy Act states that the CAMTC has jurisdiction over individuals (applicants and certificate holders) while jurisdiction over massage businesses is vested in cities and counties. Therefore, any considerations about insurance and liability related to a massage business (even if you are the sole provider) should be sought out through your local county or city.

Working as a massage therapist in California

How much do massage therapists make in California?

Despite often being a salary frontrunner for many occupations, California massage therapists have an annual median wage of $58,920 according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

This falls between the median and 75th percentile for the whole nation. Of the areas in the state for which there is data, the San Francisco and surrounding metropolitan area has the highest annual median wage in the state at $67,730.

Massage Therapists
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Median Hourly Wage$28

Job growth18.3%

Total Employment12,660

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $67,730 $34,960 $178,310
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $63,850 $35,500 $121,710
Modesto, CA $61,560 $29,760 $92,840
Fresno, CA $60,620 $29,390 $96,390
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $59,930 $31,010 $99,500
Santa Rosa, CA $59,070 $32,100 $123,820
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA $56,290 $30,720 $102,060
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA $54,090 $29,890 $110,050
Stockton-Lodi, CA $48,670 $29,870 $83,430
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA $48,110 $29,320 $97,670

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

An FYI on massage therapist jobs in California

It should be noted, however, that the data sample size is probably much smaller than reality and therefore may not have accurate salary info for massage therapists. For example, the BLS says that there were 9,880 massage therapists in California in 2021. However, this doesn’t include people who own private businesses, which make up a large portion of the massage workforce.

“The number varies, but generally CAMTC has an active certified population of around 51,000 individuals,” Netanel said. If there is a large discrepancy in the actual numbers of massage therapists in the state, that affects salary data as well.

“Becoming CAMTC certified is the first step in [increasing your earning potential], as it assures consumers that the individual has received a high level of education and passed a strong vetting process,” Netanel said.

Job outlook and finding employment opportunities in California

According to the BLS, employment of massage therapists nationwide is expected to grow 18.3% through 2032, much faster than the average across all occupations. Some of this rapid growth may be explained by the medical profession’s increasing acceptance of the medical benefits of massage.

The American Bodywork and Massage Professionals (ABMP) stated in 2021 that they would work to get new legislation passed during the 2023 legislative session that would eventually create a required licensure process for California massage therapists. The AMBP stated that they support California licensing because it promotes more clarity, consistency, and safety within the massage profession.

“The Legislature considered state licensure last year and rejected it, reauthorizing CAMTC for four more years through December 31, 2026,” Netanel said. 

Setting up a private practice massage therapy in CA

Although having CAMTC certification makes you eligible to practice massage anywhere in California without having to obtain any additional massage permits, you may still need a business license from your local city or county if you want to set up a private practice. Contact the agency in your city or county that issues business licenses to see what applies to your business aspirations.

Staying up to date on industry developments and trends

As the sole certifying agency in the state, the CAMTC is your main resource for keeping your finger on the pulse of the massage therapy profession in California. They have a wealth of resources for massage professionals, business owners, CA massage schools, and consumers. CAMTC also has a list of approved massage therapy schools on its website where you can look for a massage program that suits your goals and needs.

You can also check out your state’s chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) for more information regarding industry developments in your area.

Massage therapy schools in California

Compared to the rest of the country, California is a bit of an outlier when it comes to the state’s massage therapy licensing requirements. Licensing and/or certification requirements are left up to individual cities or counties, most of which require massage therapists to get certified by the CAMTC.

To do so, it all begins with attending a CA massage school so that you can learn the essentials of this rewarding bodywork career. Start by utilizing our find schools widget to browse our database of vetted massage therapy schools in CA.

kendall upton

Published: February 27, 2021

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton
Staff Writer


With professional insights from:

Ahmos Netanel, CEO

California Massage Therapy Council