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california physical therapy license

Get Your California Physical Therapy License: A Step-by-Step Guide

You’ll want to bookmark this one! Whether you’re in-state or out-of-state looking to apply for PT/PTA licensure in California, chances are you’ve gotten a fat headache just clicking into the Physical Therapy Board of California website.

winter california physical therapy licenseI’ve done the dirty work navigating through link-mania and combing through (most of) the fine print; here’s everything you need to know – submitting your application for licensure, registering for the exams, getting PTLA status (located at the very end), and all the other tidbits in-between – streamlined onto one scrollable page!

 

Finally, get your California physical therapy license without the headache!

For brevity’s sake, I’ll only be using “NPTE”, “PT”, and “PTLA” throughout the length of this article, but all of this information applies to both PTs and PTAs. So for the PTA, just replace everything with “NPTAE”, “PTA”, and “PTALA.”

As a disclaimer, this information is current as of February 8, 2017. Also, as much as we strive to be accurate and current here at NGPT, you are ultimately responsible for double-checking everything! Please visit and familiarize yourself with the PTBC and FSBPT websites for the most up-to-date forms and instructions. If there are any questions, we are always happy to help. Just leave a comment below!

Additionally, California now has an online application system in place which means all these forms can be done online and paid for electronically: https://www.breeze.ca.gov/datamart/loginCADCA.do. Please note the steps below are for mail submission; however, you may still find this guide helpful. If you do choose to go the mail route, I recommend paying a little extra and having your package tracked so you can confirm its delivery to PTBC. (If anyone has experience using the BreEze website to file your application, please let us know in the comments section. I think it’s so new that schools aren’t aware of it yet and thus, current students are similarly not taking advantage of the online system.)

Stuff you need to know:

  • NPTE: National Physical Therapy Exam
  • CLE: California Law Exam
    You need to have passed BOTH the (1) NPTE and the (2) CLE to get your CA License.
  • PTBC: Physical Therapy Board of California – You submit your application for CA licensure and associated payments to them. They are the ones who will be in contact with you regarding your application status. They also communicate with FSBPT; when you meet all application requirements, the PTBC will let FSBPT know you can sit for the exam(s).
  • FSBPT: Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy – This is the national governing body that administers the national physical therapy and state law exams. You register with and pay them to take the exam(s). FSBPT receives permission from PTBC to send you the Authorization to Test (ATT) Letter (more on this later). FSBPT will also send your scores (both the NPTE and CLE) to PTBC so that PTBC can process them to grant you your CA PT license number. Also, it seems like different schools have different processes for setting up your FSBPT account. Look up your school here for further information: https://pt.fsbpt.net/UserJourneyMap
  • PTLA: Physical Therapist License Applicant – this is a provisional status that enables you to work as a PT under the “direct and immediate supervision of a licensed PT” for no more than X-number of days pending the results of your first try on the NPTE.
  • The players in this game: YOU, the PTBC, the FSBPT, and then MAYBE your school. I say this because my school offered to help us send in our P1E forms. Don’t worry, this will all make sense later. In any case, your school still needs to help you fill out that form.

Other stuff you want to know:

  • The timeline you follow will largely be dependent on when you want to sit for your exam, your date of graduation, if you’re applying from out-of-state, etc., but it’s best just to do everything as EARLY as possible.
  • If mailing the application form, the envelope in which it is contained must be postmarked by the application deadline, but again, BE EARLY!

In-state (California) applicants:

This section applies if you are a first-time California physical therapy license applicant, and you have yet to sit for the NPTE, CLE, or are about to graduate, etc.

  1. Figure out when you want to sit for the NPTE, take note of the registration deadlines on FSBPT: https://www.fsbpt.org/SecondaryPages/ExamCandidates/NationalExam(NPTE)/DatesandDeadlines.aspx
  2. Look at the PTBC application deadlines for your corresponding NPTE date: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/licensees/fsbpt.shtml
  3. Compile your PTBC Application Packet and submit by the deadline:
    There are 4 PARTS with associated forms.
    Part 1: The Application:
    http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/app_form_201612.pdf
    This form is the application for licensure and for permission to take the exam.
    – IMPORTANT! Sign in BLUE ink.
    – You will need a 2×2 color passport photo (taken within the last 60 days).
    Part 2: Fee Schedule:
    http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/pt_fee_schdl.pdf
    – Make check payable to PTBC and paperclip it to the form.
    Part 3: Fingerprints via Live Scan form:
    http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/livescan_form.pdf
    This document has 3 copies of the “Request for Live Scan Service” form. Make sure you and the Live Scan operator fill out all 3 completely with identical information. Send in 1 copy along with your application. One stays with the Live Scan site and the last one stays with you.
    – Live Scan is electronic fingerprinting and is sent directly to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
    – Prepare to pay a $49 processing fee ($32 DOJ and $17 FBI) at the site in addition to a rolling fee determined by the Live Scan agency (different per site).
    Here are a list of locations/pricing organized by county: https://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints/locations
    – Don’t do your fingerprints until you are READY to send in your application. The PTBC will only keep fingerprint clearances WITHOUT an application for up to 60 days before destroying them.
    – IMPORTANT! – Make sure the Live Scan Operator selects both the DOJ and FBI boxes on their computer screen as this could result in application processing delays.
    Part 4: Certification of Completion (P1E) Form*:
    http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/certcomp.pdf
    This form is completed by your college registrar or program director and must be in an officially sealed school envelope. Your school will likely talk to you about this when you are close to graduation. The P1E form verifies that you’ve finished all your didactic and clinical coursework.
    – *Note: The P1E form can be sent in later and has a separate deadline; check here: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/licensees/fsbpt.shtml.
    – The reason why there is a separate deadline is to help offset some of the scheduling issues between exam dates and graduation dates at different schools. However, if possible, send in all 4 parts as one packet if they are available to you; it just makes life easier.
  4. Within 30 days of submitting your application packet, you should hear back from the PTBC.
    You should receive an “Initial Acknowledgement Letter” (I got mine via snail mail). If you haven’t sent in your P1E yet (and only sent in Parts 1-3), they will also send you a “Notice of Deficiency” at this time, so just make sure you get your P1E in before the deadline.
  5. Go to the FSBPT website and pay for the NPTE and CLE.
    Once you’ve sent in a COMPLETED application (all 4 parts) to PTBC, it’s recommended that you now go to the FSBPT website to register/pay for the NPTE and the CLE* at https://www.fsbpt.org/OurServices/CandidateServices/ExamRegistrationPayment.aspxa.
    – Registering and paying for the NPTE DOES NOT mean you can take the exam yet; you still need to wait until you receive the Authorization to Test (ATT) letter via e-mail from FSBPT. This letter signifies that the PTBC has reviewed your application in full and has notified FSBPT you are eligible to sit for the examination. FSBPT will NOT send you an ATT letter until you have been approved by the PTBC and your registration is paid in full.
    You can choose to register and pay for the CLE now or at a later time. (I registered for the CLE after I passed the NPTE, so it’s really up to you. It will just delay getting your license number a little bit.) It’s also recommended that you budget at least a week to study for the CLE (study materials: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/laws/studycov.shtml)
    You’ll notice that the 1st link will say Physical Therapy Practice Act Prior to January 1, 2014 which is outdated; you can visit: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/laws/laws.shtml instead for the most updated practice act (first section). As far as I know, all my classmates studied off the old one in 2016 and passed, but better safe than sorry! And yes, really study for the California Law Exam.
  6. You will receive separate ATT letters for the NPTE and the CLE.  
    You’ll receive these from FSBPT over e-mail with a subject line like “IMPORTANT! ATT Letter”. Make sure you’ve added @fsbpt.org (specifically examregistration@fsbpt.org) to your whitelist.
    – For the NPTE, it is recommended you follow the instructions on the ATT letter immediately so you can choose a testing location close to you on the designated test day!
    – Seats fill up quickly; don’t get caught having to drive 4 hours to a different part of CA to take your exam especially during the packed July test dates. There’s a bit more leeway with the CLE, as the eligibility period is quite a bit longer and you can pick any date within that time frame to take it.
    – Your ATT letters will have information that looks similar to this (notice the difference in eligibility dates between the two exams):
    california physical therapy license letter
  7. Scroll down to “After the Exam(s)” for what to expect next!

Out-of-State Applicants

You are an “Endorsement Applicant” and must have already taken and passed the NPTE and have a current license in another state.

  1. You’ve decided you want to come to California! Yay!
  2. It’s somewhat easier for you.
    – Since you’ve already taken your NPTE, finished school, etc., it’s a bit less confusing, and you don’t have the hard deadlines.
    – You’re pretty much just at the mercy of the PTBC at this point.
    – You also have a few more things to do/submit to the PTBC (Parts 5-7 below).
  3. Your application will include Parts 1-4 as seen above in Step 3 (please refer to the in-state (CA) for more details):
    a. Application: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/app_form_201612.pdf
    b. Fee Schedule: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/pt_fee_schdl.pdf
    c. Certificate of Completion (P1E) form: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/certcomp.pdf
    d. Fingerprints*: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/forms/livescan_form.pdf
    – *If your physical body is already in California, you can follow the same process using Live Scan as outlined above.
    – If you’re still out-of-state, you will need to obtain a hard Fingerprint Card by emailing your request, full name, mailing address, and phone number to: Application_Material@dca.ca.gov and then just wait until you get the card. So, instead of submitting a Live Scan Service form, you will be submitting the fingerprint card and its associated $49 processing fee (check the extra box on the Fee Schedule) with your application packet.
  4. Part 5: Verification of all current/expired PT or PTA License(s)
    – The PTBC will check to see you have your license(s) online at each licensing jurisdiction’s website. If the PTBC is unable to verify your license online, they will contact you directly.
    – In this case, you must include with your application a Letter of Good Standing/Certificate of Endorsement from all the State Board(s) for which you have or have had licensure. Check with your individual jurisdiction on how to obtain an Endorsement letter from them.
  5. Part 6: Score Transfer Report
    – Have your NPTE scores transferred to the PTBC from FSBPT: https://www.fsbpt.org/OurServices/LicenseeServices/ScoreTransferService.aspx
  6. Part 7: Include a Resume of Work Experience in your application packet.
  7. Once you’ve submitted your complete application, go to FSBPT and register/pay for your CLE: https://www.fsbpt.org/OurServices/CandidateServices/ExamRegistrationPayment.aspx
    It’s recommended you budget at least a week to study for the CLE (study materials: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/laws/studycov.shtml).
    Tip: For real, study.
  8. Within 30 days of submitting your application packet, you should receive your “Initial Acknowledgement Letter”.
    – Check to see if you are missing any items.
  9. Wait for your ATT letter from FSBPT over e-mail.
    – Follow the instructions to take your CLE!
  10. After the Exam(s)
    Now that you’ve gotten everything in, passed all your exams, it’s time to wait for your California physical therapy license number! At this point, if you haven’t already, make sure you’ve registered for BreEZe https://www.breeze.ca.gov/datamart/loginCADCA.do so that you can check your status online.

california physical therapy license paperwork funny imageYou can also reference this link for standard application processing times (scroll down to the table): http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/applicants/how_to_apply.shtml. The short of it is

that processing will likely take a very long time, so apply early if possible. The PTBC is notorious for being slow, but that’s also because they are severely understaffed.

If it’s been more than 30 days and you still haven’t gotten your license number after meeting all requirements, it’s worth calling in. My California physical therapy license was delayed for over two months because the staff there were so overworked they didn’t notice I had already passed my CLE! My folder was shelved in a cubby hole that no one was looking at. Definitely worth the time to call them incessantly if it’s been more than a month of waiting.

I must thank my travel recruiter (Thanks Mike!) who helped me out by calling the PTBC like crazy on my behalf.

Contact information
Physical Therapy Board of California
Phone: (916) 561-8200
Fax: (916) 263-2560
Address: 2005 Evergreen Street, Suite 1350, Sacramento, California 95815
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PTBCnews/ (some forums have mentioned they hear back more quickly over FB messenger compared to other avenues)

A Tidbit on PTLA Status – Rules and Regulations

  1. Within 60 days of receiving your Acknowledgement Letter, and if your application is complete (have all 4 parts for first-time CA applicants, all 7 parts for endorsement applicants) and has been approved by the PTBC, you will receive a notice that you have been Awarded License Applicant Status and can thus practice as a PTLA in California under the direct and immediate supervision of a CA licensed PT. This will most likely be around the same time you receive your ATT letters from FSBPT.
  2. The letter will give you the Effective Date and Expiration Date* of your PTLA status. If you’ve passed the NPTE, the Expiration Date no longer applies and you can practice as a PTLA indefinitely until your California physical therapy license number arrives. (So out-of-state applicants, your expiration date wouldn’t apply.)
    – If you don’t pass the NPTE, you can no longer work as a PTLA; you may only work as a physical therapist aide under the direct and immediate supervision of a CA licensed PT. You can only be granted PTLA status ONCE.
    – *My letter said 120 days as the expiration date, but parts of the website said 90 days. Go with your hard copy letter as I’ve found parts of the PTBC website require some updating.
  3. You should bring this letter with you if you decide to practice as PTLA. The clinic you work for will likely want to make a copy of it.
  4. PTLA/PTALA Supervision Requirements: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/applicants/work_status.shtml

That’s it! Let us know if you have insight into the online application process using BreEZe, or if there’s something we can help further clarify. Best wishes on this whole process! Drop us a line when you have gotten your California physical therapy license 🙂

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About Emma Lam

Emma Lam
Emma is a clinician in the SF Bay Area focusing on orthopedics. She admires the resilience of the human mind and body, with vested interest towards holistic health and healing. She graduated as a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Samuel Merritt University in 2016 and enjoys the field in its entirety, with aspirations to contribute to PT education and research. Outside PT, she likes to spend time drawing, reading, playing with her bunnies, and staying active.

2 comments

  1. Bijal Toprani

    This article was really helpful, thank you! I do have a question though, I am graduating from an accredited PT school in Arizona in August and sitting for the NPTE in July since AZ allows you to test early. I am moving back to California in August and is where I want to practice as a licensed PT. Is there a way for me to apply for a license in California not as an endorsement applicant but as a new applicant? Can I do that now or do I need to wait until I have graduated?

    • Emma Lam

      Hi Bijal! Glad you found the article helpful and thanks for your question! I’m sure others are wondering the same. 🙂 To answer your question – YES! You can definitely apply for a CA license as your first PT license even if you are out-of-state currently. This is because you will be a new grad and you are starting the licensing process fresh. You can just assemble your CA license packet AS IF you were an in-state applicant (following the first section of the article). When you get your ATT letter from the PT Board of California (PTBC), then you can register to take the NPTE at any testing center (Prometric) close to you – doesn’t matter if it’s in California or in a different state since these testing centers are national.

      The thing that you might have to do a little differently is the fingerprint portion – since you won’t physically be in California, you will need to request a hard card: obtain a hard Fingerprint Card by emailing your request, full name, mailing address, and phone number to: Application_Material@dca.ca.gov and then just wait until you get the card. So, instead of submitting a Live Scan Service form, you will be submitting the fingerprint card and its associated $49 processing fee (check the extra box on the Fee Schedule) with your application packet.

      Hope this helps! If you have any further questions or need more clarification, don’t hesitate to let me know!

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