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Facts About Thai Massage Certification And Licensing

Thai Massage and the law

  • What’s a Thai Massage certificate?
  • What’s a massage licence?
  • How are they different?
  • When and where do you need them?
  • How do you get them?
  • What do you need to know to practice Thai Massage legally?

You will find all the answers right here!

Thai Massage legal aspects

There are many therapists, especially in the US, who passionately argue for licencing. However this article  is not about opinions and preferences, but strictly about facts and the legal side of massage in various parts of the world.

Here at Thai Healing Massage Academy we are often asked by our students if our Thai Massage certificates give them the right to practice massage.

Certification versus licencing

The first thing we need to understand is that there there is a difference between certification and licencing.

Thai Massage certification

Certification means that someone, like a qualified individual teacher or a massage school – in our case Thai Healing Massage Academy – certifies all or part of the following:

  • You are qualified to practice Thai Massage
  • You possess the necessary skills
  • You have had a certain amount of training

Certification is only about qualification, skills and training. It does not automatically give you the legal right to practice Thai Massage or any massage.

Thai Massage licensing

This brings us to our next topic: Licensing. This is what gives you the legal right to practice massage, IF your jurisdiction has licencing laws (not all do). A licence is generally issued by a legal entity like a state licensing board, for example.

In the US most states have licensing requirements for massage therapists. However at the time of this writing, April 2017, there are still some states which do not have licensing requirements for massage.

They are Vermont, Minnesota, Kansas, and Wyoming. Alaska is just switching over to a licencing system but doesn’t have strict training requirements yet, and California has a sometimes confusing mix of voluntary certification with a bunch of local regulations.

All those laws can and do change. You can check for an updated list on ABMPs website:

State laws versus local rules

MindRules for Thai Massage practice you, we are talking about laws on the state level. However it is possible that in some of those no-licence states smaller jurisdictions, like counties or cities, have their own licensing laws on a local level.

So just because a state does not have a licensing requirement for massage therapists does not necessarily give you the right to practice massage everywhere in the state without some kind of licence. So find out about local laws, not just about state laws.

To sum it up:

  • Certification means you are qualified to practice massage
  • Licensing (if required) gives you the legal right to practice massage.

Certification is generally a prerequisite for licensing. In other words, you generally won’t be able to get a massage licence without a certificate that proves that you have had training.

So in most cases you need both, the certificate and the licence.

Thai Massage legal insights

Special rules for Thai Massage

In the case of Thai Massage, the licensing requirements are not necessarily the same as for “normal” massage like Swedish massage.

Why not? It depends on how massage is defined. Thai Massage is quite different from table massage since it is done fully dressed, and it involves yoga-like manipulations which do not exist in typical table massage.

Map of MassachusettsTo illustrate this, let’s look at the massage definition of the state of Massachusetts. Here is an excerpt from the actual law (as of 2017):

Massachusetts Massage Law (If you want to read the entire law, click on the link)

Nothing in this section shall prevent or restrict the practice of a person who uses touch, words or directed movement to deepen awareness of patterns of movement in the body, or the affectation of the human energy system or acupoints or Qi meridians of the human body while engaged within the scope of practice of a profession with established standards and ethics, but such services shall not be designated or implied to be massage or massage therapy.

Such practices shall include, but not be limited to, the Feldenkrais Method; Reflexology; The Trager Approach; Ayurvedic Therapies, Rolf Structural Integration, Polarity or Polarity Therapy; Polarity Therapy Bodywork; Asian Bodywork Therapy that does not constitute massage as defined in this chapter; Acupressure; Jin Shin Do; Qi Gong; Tui Na; Shiatsu; Body-Mind Centering and Reiki. These exempt practitioners may use the terms ”bodywork”, ”bodyworker” and ”bodywork therapist” in their promotional literature.

Not all body work counts as massage

As you can see, as per this definition Asian bodywork is not necessarily considered a massage. This means that although the state of Massachusetts has a licencing requirement for massage, Thai Massage practitioners may not need a licence.

The difference can be how you describe what you are doing. In many jurisdictions you need a licence if you call yourself a massage therapist.

However if you practice a type of body work which is significantly different from “normal” massage, you can call it something else like “Thai body work”, or “Thai Yoga therapy”, or “assisted yoga”, or something along those lines, as long as you don’t use the word “massage”.

This is what the state of Massachusetts tells you to do in the actual law. So you are not skirting the law or hiding from the law, you are following the law.

Massage laws and abuses of them

At this point there will be some licensed therapists who will cry foul and worry that this leaves a backdoor for unqualified persons to do low quality or even risky work on unsuspecting clients.

Let’s be clear about one thing. There will always be people who abuse the system, who are looking for shortcuts and who try to take advantage of loopholes.

However in this article we are talking about the actual law, not loopholes.

Famous example

Catch Me If You Can movieDid you ever see Steven Spielberg’s movie “Catch Me If You Can” with Leonardo DeCapri and Tom Hanks?

It’s the true story of one of the greatest con artists who, among other cons, pretended to be a doctor – and got away with it.
If you haven’t seen it, go watch it – it’s a great movie.

No law can prevent everyone from cutting corners. However that’s not what we are talking about here. Let’s look at a practical example.

Thai Massage no-licence scenarios

Yoga practitionerMany of Thai Healing Massage Academy’s students are highly experienced and trained yoga teachers.

They are adding Thai Massage (or Thai Yoga Massage, or Thai body work) to their repertoire. 

This is a perfect fit for them since yoga and Thai Massage both share the same background and in many cases can look quite similar.

So chances are good that yoga teachers might not need a massage licence to practice Thai Massage, although it would be prudent to not call it a “massage” to avoid possible conflicts with the wording of the law.

Thai Massage signThere are other examples of professionals who can add Thai Massage to their skill set like personal trainers, Pilates instructors, Chiropractors, Physical therapists, etc.

They might just use some elements of Thai Massage which are pretty far removed from Swedish massage, like some of the stretches for example.

Those professionals may often not need a massage licence. Again they might be advised to not use the name “massage”.

Let’s summarize this. Even though states might have licencing requirements for massage, “Thai Body Work” might be excluded from those laws, as is the case in Massachusetts.
==> Read the text of the law to find out how massage is defined.

Thai Massage in other countries

Thai Healing Massage Academy trainingNow let’s move out of the US and look at other countries. For example the UK does not have an actual massage licencing law at the time of this writing.

There are associations which issue certificates or licences, but they are not legally required documents. 

The main requirement in the UK is that you can provide a certificate which is acceptable by insurance companies. If they cover you, you can practice massage legally.

You might be more accepted if you can show a document from one of those associations, but they are not legally required.

I know for a fact that some of our students have obtained insurance coverage in the UK based on our certificate, and this enabled them to practice Thai Massage in the UK. 

However every insurance company in the UK has their own rules, so one might accept a certificate, and the other might not. It also depends on how you present the training that you have received. There is no one country-wide rule or system in the UK, and this can make things a little confusing.

From what I have heard, in Germany Thai Massage is also not treated in the same way as table massage and does not require a regular massage licence.

So every country has their own laws. They might be country wide, state or province wide, or they might be local laws by counties or towns. Or, there might not be specific laws, but insurance requirements instead. 

Legal disclaimer

At this point I need to mention that the information which I provide is not guaranteed to be correct. There is no way for me to be up to date on all massage laws in all countries.

Laws can change at any time, and there are so many different interpretations, local variances and even cultural considerations (like in Thailand) that there is no way for me to give accurate legal advice for the entire world.

Do your own research locally

Globe of the worldThis article is meant to be a useful guideline for you to do your own research. Clearly nobody could give you accurate legal details for all locations in the world.

My intent was to provide you with a road map, examples and possible scenarios.

This should go a long way in helping you to do the final research locally wherever you are living or planning to practice Thai Massage.

Practicing Thai Massage as a foreigner

Here at Thai Healing Massage Academy we often receive inquiries where someone wants to know if our certificates can be used internationally to practice massage in a variety of countries. The answer in most cases is “no”.

Every country has laws which regulate work that is performed by foreigners. In order to do any work in a foreign country, you will need some kind of work permit which is issued by the authorities in this country. Doing Thai Massage sessions in exchange for money is definitely considered ‘work’.

Often work permits are issued only for one particular kind of job, or for one specific company. For example, in Thailand it is quite easy to get a work permit for teaching English, but it is next to impossible to get a work permit for practicing Thai Massage.

The reason is that native English speakers are badly needed, but foreign Thai Massage therapists are not needed. Just the opposite – you would be competing against the locals.

This means that you could get the highest Thai Massage certificate in Thailand, issued or endorsed by the Thai Ministry of Health, but this would not give you, as a foreigner, the right to practice Thai Massage in exchange for money in Thailand.

Are there exceptions?

We all know that in all countries there are people who skirt the law and get away with it, and enforcement of labor laws in some countries is not very strict. But the purpose of this article is to discuss what can be done legally.

I am obviously not able to be familiar with all labor laws around the world, but I am familiar with the laws in Thailand. You might have heard of someone who was practicing or teaching Thai Massage in Thailand without a work permit, but this doesn’t make it right or legal, and the person is at risk of being arrested and kicked out of the country.

However there can be exceptions. If you possess a particular skill in the healing arts field which is not available locally, you could be working in a foreign spa which can set you up legally as a contractor or temporary employee.

However if you are thinking of doing general Thai Massage work on your own in Thailand (or most other countries) – this is generally not possible legally.

Now let’ take a look at what you can do with Thai Healing Massage Academy’s certificates.

THMA’s 2 types of certificates

International Thai Massage certificate

Thai Healing Massage Academy’s “international” certificates prove that you have trained in Thai Massage and that you have demonstrated proficiency in it. We have strict qualifying requirements to ensure that this is true.

Our certificates might help you to obtain local licensing. In some places they might be all you need, and in others they might not give you any legal rights. This totally depends on the laws wherever in the world you live. You need to find out the details locally.

However the function of a certificate is not only a legal one. They are great for display in your place of work to give your clients the confidence that you know what you are doing.

They can also be a pleasant reminder of the time when you started or improved your Thai Massage career.

Thai Massage CE certificate

Thai Healing Massage Academy issues a second type of certificate which is a legally valid document.

NCBTMB approved CE providerThis is a continuing education (CE) certificate which only US therapists can use to fulfill the requirements to maintain their licence.

The CE certificates are valid wherever NCBTMB approved CEUs are accepted, which is in almost all states in the US.

If you want to learn or improve your Thai Massage skills, and obtain a certificate from Thai Healing Massage Academy, you can enroll in our online training here:

The author, Shama Kern, director of Thai Healing Massage AcademyThe author, Shama Kern, is the founder and director of Thai Healing Massage Academy. He is the creator of 20 Thai Massage online training courses and has been practicing and teaching Thai Massage for 18 years.

8 thoughts on “Facts About Thai Massage Certification And Licensing”

  1. thankyou for clarifying between qualification and license. I am currently in the US working on my license and also applying for THAI RTT status and the two distinctions are a bit confusing. After reading your article I am quite about the path I need to take.

  2. Im a qualified yoga teacher and Holistic Health Coach.
    There is Nothing in the above notes about Australia. I have looked into and I don’t believe an online course is acceptable

    • Hi Leisa,
      There is nothing about Australia in the article because I don’t know enough about Australia. As I mentioned, there is no way that I or anyone can be familiar with the laws of all countries. That’s why I wrote about countries that I DO know something about.

      When you say in Australia online courses are not acceptable, I would ask: acceptable to who? Thai Healing Massage Academy has graduated many students from Australia over many years and has issued many certificates to them.

      I would like to clarify something. Online courses are accepted in every single country for their main intended purpose, and that, in this case, is to learn Thai Massage. The certificates are an additional benefit. Many of our Australian students have gone through our certification program. I don’t know what exactly they did with the certificates.

      The main purpose for our certificates is not to provide a legally accepted document since this is beyond our control. We provide the certificates to certify that a student has learned Thai Massage from our school.

      If those certificates can serve another purpose, like for licensing purposes, that would be an additional benefit. But again, this is beyond our control since every country makes up their own rules, and it is really not our intended purpose. Our main purpose is to teach Thai Massage to students all over the world.

  3. Thank you so much for your reply…. this was mainly for insurance purposes through IICT?? I totally understand you cannot assist with questions in all countries. I so wanted to do this course, by am finding it difficult for anyone to recongnise in order to get my insurance. If you have any suggestions regarding insurance, Im all ears. Like many, I just don’t have the time to get to 14 full day courses. But would love to do this course at my own pace with you.

    • I have been lucky enough to be educated about the UK system by our students in our facebook group, and I have helped some to get our certificate accepted by a UK insurance company.

      I hope that some of our Australian students will enlighten me how exactly the legal massage system works there. If, as it seems to me, insurance is also an issue in Australia, then I can repeat to you what I had told the UK students.

      I told them to not just hand over our certificate (which the insurance company probably won’t be familiar with since it is not from their country) to their insurance company, but to provide a written explanation with a mini bio of Thai Healing Massage Academy:

      – In business since 2001
      – Has graduated thousands of students worldwide successfully
      – The largest Thai Massage school which is exclusively dedicated to worldwide online training
      – Located in Thailand, the home land of Thai Massage
      – Run by a American and Thai couple who have practiced and taught Thai Massage for 18 years
      – Interactive multi-media training with personalized instructor support for all students via forum, facebook group and one-on-one communication
      – Official continuing education provider in the US via the National Certification Board (NCBTMB)

      This sounds a lot more serious and meaningful compared to just handing over a piece of paper (certificate) which theoretically anyone could print out.

      Insurance companies want to know that they are dealing with a reputable company. Therefore a cover letter along those lines would most likely increase your chances of getting our certificate accepted. I know it has worked for students in the UK.

  4. Yes have done that before. But still no luck… I would be interested as well to hear from your other students about how they got on with their insurance in Australia who they went through… This is the only thing holding me back

    • There is no place in our setup where students have to say where they are from. So unless students volunteer which country they are from, we have no way of knowing this information. So in other words we have no data base of Australian students. If I would have this information, it would indeed be useful to send them an email with a survey about this insurance issue. Maybe we should start to collect such country information. It would be quite useful for a purpose such as this one which we are talking about.


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