Working as a massage therapist in Vermont
April 27, 2013 8:29 PM   Subscribe

Hi! I´m planning to move from Uruguay to the US around the end of the year. This will probably be the preface of many questions to come (as these two countries couldn´t be any more different). I still have to decide exactly where in the US to live, so please help me decide.

My reason to move is to be able to participate in more of a series of workshops that happen a lot in NYC, Philly, Toronto, and Montreal, so I want to be close to those cities (closer to Montreal, where there is a special person I want to visit and be visited by often). In my situation it´s harder to get a working permit for Canada, so my most realistic choices are in the US. I´ve been reading and googling, and Vermont sounds (in general) like my type of place.

Being months away I´m trying to plan as much as I can, and to figure out some minimum savings to take with me to settle there, so I want to get an idea of the cost of living. I´ve been looking at house rentals on Craiglist and see some great differences in the prices. From that point of view it would be more convenient not to rent in Burlington, but sparser population can make it harder for me to get a decent income.

I´m training as a circle dance instructor and a doula, but my main source of income right now is as a massage therapist. While I don´t discard the possibility of working for a spa or a hotel if I need to, I would rather work on my own (I normally take between an hour and a half and two hours per massage, I wouldn´t like to do 30 or 45 minutes massages), so I would depend a lot on the people that would be willing to drive to my place. So here comes my question to you Vermonters.

How far would you drive if someone recommended you a good massage therapist (or doctor, or lawyer, or any other professional whose services you may need)?

If I were to move to, let´s say, Middlesex, would it be realistic to expect people from Burlington to go there (after proper advertising and mouth to mouth, I know how to be known)? Or at least from Montpelier? What if it wasn´t in a town or city but out in the country?

And quite related to that, is there some zoning rule that would prevent me from having my practice at my home? And if there is, is it actually enforced? It´s not like I would bother my neighbours. I "may" want to put up a small sign outside.

Thanks a lot for any answers or advice you can share with me.
posted by Fermin to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well the good news (for you) is that Vermont is one of the few states that doesn't regulate massage therapy, so pretty much anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves a massage therapist even without an hour of training. Every city/town/county/neighborhood has its own zoning rules; if you are in a strictly residential area then running a business out of your home is not allowed. However, every neighbor is different and there's no saying whether anyone would complain/report you, or how strictly zoning laws are enforced.
posted by headnsouth at 8:45 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

How far would you drive if someone recommended you a good massage therapist

The real problem as I see it (and I am in favor of people moving to Vermont generally and am in favor of you moving here if that's what you want) is that anyone in a bigger population center is going to have more options for massage therapy where they are so there would have to be something pretty awesome to get people to get in the car. You might be better off living in the sticks but commuting to a shared office/practice space or even renting a room from someone in a larger place in a more populated area where you could practice. So people in Montpelier have good massage therapists, so do people in Burlington. I live in Randolph and I think there are at least a few people in town who are good. And in wintertime I'm not driving anywhere if I can help it, especially not a few exits on the highway. Or, alternately, being further north like in North/South Hero or Essex where you could get people where you were their closest person that was still in the US. And also being in more affluent areas where people like paying for stuff like this is absolutely critical. The more rural areas are also the more broke areas so be mindful of that fine line.

So I'd look into why or how you might be able to make it worth people's while. Like, for example, if you could be covered by insurance, you might be the closest practitioner for maybe not people from Burlington but people from Moretown or Rochester or someplace smaller and they'd make the drive if insurance would cover the massage. Or maybe a B&B situation where you had AirBnB space and you also offered massage, tasty food, whatever. Maybe a thing where you'd work with a space like this one near me to do a set of massages in tandem with a program they were running.

Zoning is likely not a problem but it's town by town for the most part and you'd have to think about whether you'd be doing it above board (i.e. paying taxes) or not. Feel free to hit me up over email if you have other local questions, happy to answer.
posted by jessamyn at 9:36 PM on April 27, 2013

Response by poster: Well, I do have "an hour" of training.

Jessamyn, thank you for your answer. Of course I would do this above board, I´m Swedish ;) (and this is too important for me to risk getting in trouble for something as stupid as not paying taxes).

Now I live in a city with 1.3 million people, and this is the smallest city where I have lived. I guess the idea of "sharing" a city of 7k inhabitants with 8 other therapists (according to Google) scares me a bit.
posted by Fermin at 11:16 PM on April 27, 2013

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted; the OP hasn't given any indication that they will try to illegally immigrate and mentions getting a work permit in the US.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:33 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not in Vermont but I live somewhere with similar winter weather and you can't discount how the disincentive to drive affects businesses in winter. Instead of expecting people to drive to you, can you provide in-home services with a portable massage bed? That would allow you to live somewhere cheap but focus your marketing somewhere wealthy.

I know Canadian immigration has gone really wonky in the past couple of years but I believe the student visas are still relatively easy to get - are the courses/schools you are looking to attend eligible for that type of visa (with allowed legal employment), since Montreal is your focus anyway? If you are a Swedish citizen and fit the criteria you may be able to get the IEC permit.
posted by saucysault at 5:43 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

IEC for Sweden, spots still available.
posted by saucysault at 5:52 AM on April 28, 2013

I've spent some time in Vermont because my mother lives there, but I haven't lived there, so take all this with a grain of salt. My mother lives about an hour from Burlington, though not on the interstate. Basically, she goes to Burlington as a last resort, when whatever she wants isn't available locally and tries to combine a bunch of stuff into one trip. She does go about 18 miles for the doctor because there wasn't a closer doctor who was taking new patients (or new patients and her insurance) and there are at least a dozen closer. Anything over, say, half an hour is in the 'would prefer this not be a regular trip' category. (Though most things are either in town or at least 40 minutes away.)

I really can't imagine people in Burlington driving out to Middlesex unless you are the best massage therapist on the face of this earth. But even then, you'd have to persuade them to drive out the first time. I suspect people are willing to drive further if they can use the interstate because the driving is easier. In any case, if you set up shop in town A and want to draw people from town B, you want the road between A and B to be not too treacherous in the winter. Some roads do close and I think driving over the mountains in winter is more than anyone wants to do if they can avoid it. (Driving anywhere in the dark is not something I like doing in Vermont. If I lived there, I might have to get over that.)

If you were to opt for the working in Burlington and living elsewhere option, there are actually some buses for commuters. Of course, this assumes you don't offer evening appointments (I have no idea if you would).
posted by hoyland at 6:08 AM on April 28, 2013

I'm new to Vermont, but the sense I get is that people here are generally game to commute to far-ish places for services, products, experiences, etc. that they want. I know of those who drive an hour to get to rehearsals for community theater 3x a week. For a lot of people, the grocery store might be 30 minutes away -- so in comparison, driving an hour and change to see your Doctor/Masseuse/etc. might not seem so outrageous. (That said, if you live in Burlington and there are a plethora of Masseuses down the street, you're probably not going to trek an hour to Middlesex to see one.)

If Montreal is a place you want to get to frequently, I'd suggest moving more toward the Champlain Valley. (It's closer than the Middlesex/Montpelier area.) Also, there are a lot of retirees in the Shelburne, S. Burlington, Williston areas with disposable income who hail from places like NYC or some such who might be more likely to schedule regular massages then say, a working family in the central part of the state.

That said, I live in the greater Burlington area and things here are EXPENSIVE. I'm talking 5 bucks for a can of crushed tomatoes expensive. That's good and bad: good because it means most people here have enough $$ to afford that type of thing (and other things like massages), bad because it will eat up the majority of your budget if you don't end up making a lot of money.

In summation: If I were you I'd look into locations at the far west of the state (along Lake Champlain) that are north of say, Charlotte, excluding Burlington proper (due to market saturation and highest rent), and extending all the way to the top of the state, including the islands.

If you're really feeling exotic, you might also look into Northern NY: Lake Placid, Plattsburgh, etc. Much cheaper, less market saturation, but a decidedly different culture.

Good Luck!
posted by RingerChopChop at 7:28 AM on April 28, 2013

Response by poster: Saucysault, I already researched all my migration options. I´m too old for the IEC and the workshops I will be attending don´t qualify for student visas.

With that out of the question, the requirements for European citizens (except Brittish, of course) are the same in both countries. I would have to find a job at a company willing to sponsor me for the visa first (plus learning french in the case of Quebec, which I am doing). The only difference is in my particular situation, my brother is an American citizen, so I can obtain a permit through him, bring some money in my belt and then worry about working (freelance or otherwise).

I´ll try not to threadsit, I am new here, so please understand if I do. I just wanted to take that out of the way, as if the IEC was an option it would pretty much invalidate my need to ask this question.

All the answers are giving me great perspective and even options I hadn´t thought of. While working at my own place (at home or in a separate place, with home being the cheapest) is ideal (it allows me to provide the best service I can), I don´t think I´m in position to be really picky.

posted by Fermin at 8:16 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Family-based immigration based on a sibling is a 4th preference visa; there is currently a more than 10yr backlog for fourth preference family based visas all countries.

If you have talked to an immigration attorney who has advised you differently please disregard this information, of course!
posted by insectosaurus at 9:06 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might want to consider setting up seasonally in a tourist market in a ski town. Most of Vemont's economy is tourism. Pick a ski hill. Set up shop from November-April and have a tourist clientele. Then take your time to consider doing the same in the summer in a different state with clientele. Newport, Cape Cod, the Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard, Lake George etc.

Most bartenders and restaurant staff in Vermont operate by this seasonal ebb and flow to follow the tourist dollars.

And a lot of the locals who are left behind in the summer (outside of relative the economic powerhouse that is Burlington) are not in a socioeconomic demographic that can afford regular massages.
posted by slateyness at 11:12 AM on April 28, 2013

Also, if you are currently living in a city of 1.3 million, please keep in mind that the entire state of Vermont, across its vast stretches of emptiness, only has 600,000 residents. It's very, very, very different.
posted by slateyness at 11:15 AM on April 28, 2013

As a former Burlington resident, I can tell you that my crowd wouldn't leave the greater Burlington area for a massage unless it was extraordinary.
posted by k8t at 12:05 AM on April 29, 2013

Response by poster: Family-based immigration based on a sibling is a 4th preference visa; there is currently a more than 10yr backlog for fourth preference family based visas all countries.

Wow, I hadn´t seen that.... Thanks, Slateyness. I guess that changes my plans. I´ll end up taking a six months job hunting holiday in Canada, then.

Thank you all for your answers.
posted by Fermin at 8:57 AM on April 29, 2013

I would be carefull about the job hunting holiday in Canada if I were you. You will have a great deal of difficulty getting an employer to convince CIC they couldn't find a masseuse/doula in Canada so they had to hire internationally. And coming in as a visitor but then applying for a work permit may get you some sideways glances from CIC as they escort you out of the country. I think your best bet is to come in on a study permit; you can apply to work off-campus. Tuition in Quebec is pretty reasonable and there is a large number of eligible institutions with diverse topics.
posted by saucysault at 8:51 PM on April 29, 2013

Vermont is where you go after you make your money. It is not a good place to run a business. (Expat Vermonter)
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 10:51 PM on April 29, 2013

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