- What is a Thai Massage certificate?
- What is a massage license?
- 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 licensing. However this article is not about opinions and preferences. Instead, it is 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 licensing
The first thing we need to understand is that there there is a difference between certification and licensing.
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.
This brings us to our next topic: Licensing. This is what gives you the legal right to practice massage IF your jurisdiction has licensing laws (not all do). A license 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, there are still some states that do not have licensing requirements for massage.
They are Vermont, Minnesota, Kansas, and Wyoming. Alaska is just switching over to a licensing 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 ABMP’s website:
State laws versus local rules
Mind you, we are talking about laws on the state level. But it is possible that in some of those no-license states smaller jurisdictions, like counties or cities, have their own licensing laws on a local level.
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 license. 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 license without a certificate that proves that you have had training.
So in most cases you need both, the certificate and the license.
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.
To illustrate this, let’s look at the massage definition of the state of Massachusetts. Here is an excerpt from the actual law (as of 2023):
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 bodywork 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 licensing requirement for massage, Thai Massage practitioners may not need a license.
The difference can be how you describe what you are doing. In many jurisdictions, you need a license if you call yourself a massage therapist.
However if you practice a type of bodywork that is significantly different from “normal” massage, you can call it something else like “Thai bodywork”, 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.
But in this article we are talking about the actual law, not loopholes.
Did you ever see Steven Spielberg’s movie “Catch Me If You Can” with Leonardo DiCaprio 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. But that’s not what we are talking about here. Let’s look at a practical example.
Thai Massage no-license scenarios
Many 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 bodywork) 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 license 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.
There 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 license. 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 in your state to find out how massage is defined.
Thai Massage in other countries
Now let’s move out of the US and look at other countries. For example, the UK does not have an actual massage licensing law at the time of this writing.
There are associations that issue certificates or licenses, but they are not legally required documents.
The main requirement in the UK is that you can provide a certificate that is acceptable to 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 its 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 its 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.
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
This 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 that 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 that is not available locally, you could be working in a foreign spa which can set you up legally as a contractor or temporary employee.
But 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’s take a look at what you can do with Thai Healing Massage Academy’s certificates.
THMA’s 2 types of certificates
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 Healing Massage Academy issues a second type of certificate which is a legally valid document.
This is a continuing education (CE) certificate that only US therapists can use to fulfill the requirements to maintain their license.
The CE certificates are valid wherever NCBTMB-approved CEUs are accepted, which is in almost all states in the US.
To learn or improve your Thai Massage skills with refined elements like good body mechanics, good communication skills, a developed intuition, and a great touch, check out our convenient online training:
The author, Shama Kern, is the founder 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 over two decades.