Because of its human touch nature, massage therapy is often used as a legitimate cover for illegal activities. Asian massage parlors are, fairly or unfairly, considered more suspect than others.
By asking a few basic questions and having the same kind of information you would need when visiting any other medical practitioner, you can have a safe and professional therapy experience.

How to Talk in an Asian Massage Parlor

Be observant. In a legitimate massage clinic the furnishings will be similar to those at any other clinic, but some Asian wall decorations or soft music should be expected.
Look for Registered Massage Therapist licenses or certificates (depending on your state) framed and near the entrance. If you do not see these, do not hesitate to ask.

In a therapeutic clinic, a new client will be asked to fill out a medical check list. The therapist will need to know if you have any contra-indications (areas or conditions requiring special care to avoid causing injury) to massage.

When you first speak with the therapist, use specific terms (not Latin or medical terminology, but clear) for where you need work. Ex: My right shoulder is very tight and it hurts when I lift my right arm above shoulder level.
Note: if you have not seen a license or registration before this point, a legitimate therapist should have a wallet card detailing their registration number and state test completion date. Ask to see this.

Phrases to avoid: I’m looking for stress relief; I have been feeling really tense lately; I’m new in town.
Even if these are true, they may lead a legitimate therapist to conclude you are looking for illegal work (at which point they should ask you to leave), or it may invite a questionable “therapist” to offer other services.

Do not discuss tips before or during the massage therapy session. For a professional therapist, a 15% tip after the session is reasonable, but not required.


  • Spas often have massage therapists on staff. The license questions and tipping rules apply here as well.