Spa and Beauty Certification, What are the key differences?

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student-with-certificateBy Penny Ellis, Founder, Bali International Spa Academy
CIBTAC Centre of the Year 2015 and Finalist 2014

The Bali International Spa Academy known as Bali BISA offers our own proprietary BISA courses and programs, plus an array of CIBTAC and VTCT qualifications.   We carefully considered which of the major awarding bodies worldwide to feature in addition to our Bali BISA course line-up.  CIBTAC, CIDESCO, City & Guilds, VTCT and ITEC are all excellent with quite similar course content.  Yet on closer inspection each has its own advantages and disadvantages, so knowing exactly what suits you personally is vital.

The final decision was significantly guided by Bali BISA’s unique situation, specifically the school’s location in a popular holiday destination and hence the predominantly overseas student mix.  The very limited number of local residents capable of paying the BISA fees (even with a 30% discount) demanded that we focus on shorter courses with full-time training hours as these are more convenient for visitors.  CIBTAC was originally selected for this very reason, and recently we added VTCT awards, certificates and diplomas courses to give students even more flexibility in scheduling.


It is easy to understand why one of the most frequently asked questions from prospective students is which certification(s) is the best.  Before we can make an appropriate recommendation, we must learn more about each individual.  We typically ask the following questions;

  • What experience do you have in the spa, beauty or wellness industry, if any?
  • Where do you plan to work after completion of the course(s)? This is important as for those wishing to work outside of their country of origin, as just state and government qualifications may not be acceptable in some countries.   It is crucial to carefully consider future places of employment, so the appropriate international qualification is selected, if legally necessary.
  • What is your long – term plan? For example some of our students plan to eventually open their own spa; travel the world as a free lancer or cruise ship spa staff; move up the ranks into a supervisory or management role; or wish to continue working as a therapist, but with a wider scope of expertise.

This will give us the basic information to provide several options for your consideration.


Bali BISA trainer demonstrating a massage techniqueThroughout its over 10 year history, employers worldwide have welcomed BISA certifications.  The school’s reputation over time has strengthened given the quality of its graduating students whom are work force ready, as well many industry accolades.  In fact, many spas now ask us to train spa therapists on their behalf as they appreciate the effectiveness of our training methods.  Click here for information.

The 5 to 90 day BISA modules were created by my team and I based on many years of combined experience.  These are constantly being refined and new courses added in order to stay in-tune with industry standards, employer expectations and consumer demands.

Even though BISA certificates are widely accepted globally, some countries require at least one qualification from an awarding body such as CIBTAC, CIDESCO, VTCT, City & Guilds or ITEC.  We can give advice about mandatory minimum standards, but as regulations regularly change it is the responsibility of the student to research current legislation in the countries they wish to work.  Your embassy or the country / regional professional spa association of your desired location(s) are useful places to start the investigation.

Yet even when one of these qualifications is legally demanded, many students choose to top-up their qualifications with one more BISA courses.  Additionally, many practicing therapists opt for BISA courses as a means of cost effectively expanding their skill set or fulfilling their continuing education requirements given Bali BISA fees are generally much less.

apoorva-3In addition to the lower course prices, students can also comfortably stay in Bali for relatively little money while enjoying all that the “Island of Gods” has to offer……..fascinating  Balinese ceremonies, stunning temples, shimmering rice terraces cascading down mountain slopes, tasty cuisine and world-class beaches.  All of these value-added benefits make Bali BISA very attractive for students from all regions.

Furthermore, virtually any massage, body treatment and aesthetic skill can be mastered in five days, even BISA’s management modules are five days.   This time frame is made possible due to comprehensive training manuals, plentiful time for practice and experienced, dedicated trainers.

Students find that it is easy to find a course start date that suits their own schedule as many courses start every Monday throughout the year, and all courses have a start date of at least once per month.  As a small school, scheduling can often be adjusted to meet a student’s timing preference.


Logo for CIBTAC Professional Endorsed TrainingThe industry asked CIBTAC to authenticate and regulate the standards of training, product and equipment providers.  The endorsement process is meticulous as each business must undergo a thorough quality assurance inspection by a CIBTAC Board member to verify their promises.  However, this ensures consistent delivery of exceptional standards, making a CIBTAC endorsement of tremendous value for certification holders.

Bali BISA was the first and is still one of only a few spa training centres to have some of its own tailor-made courses and programs officially endorsed by CIBTAC.   These have become quite popular as students receive the benefits of both the BISA and CIBTAC certification in bodywork modalities that are not so frequently found in the offerings of international awarding organizations.

Currently, Bali BISA offers the following CIBTAC endorsed opportunities;


Confederation of International Beauty & Cosmetology CIBTAC logoBased in the United Kingdom, the Confederation of International Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology is one of the longest-established awarding bodies within the health and beauty sector.  The international industry considers CIBTAC to be a leader in their field given their consistent ability to produce graduates of the highest calibre.    First-rate employers seek out CIBTAC certification holders, because they know they are both educated to a high level and are spa ready.

They offer a wide portfolio of courses in beauty therapy, spa, well-being, diet and nutrition, sports therapy and several other complementary and holistic qualifications.

Their courses have been developed in conjunction with government agencies, industry leaders, employers worldwide and even individual therapists to ensure they are customized to provide for the global industry’s evolving requirements. CIBTAC have been instrumental in continually raising standards in order to meet the objectives of employers across this burgeoning sector.

By working closely with many governments internationally in order to match their criteria as well as UK standards, they are now officially accepted in 26 countries with the list constantly reviewed and added to.   This is a huge benefit for students as it enables them to legally obtain employment in some of the world’s most wonderful locations.

CIBTAC’s Exam Process

Our CIBTAC Students are doing CIBTAC Final Exam at BISA Training CentreThey are very well-known for their rigorous examination process which uses a diversified range of assessment methods, and a portfolio designed to showcase learning and skills. A CIBTAC examiner evaluates the practical exams and supervises theory papers.   Although their grading is strict, the pass mark is set at an achievable 60% and superior performances receive credit or honors ratings. Any failed subjects can be re-taken.  Please read tips for effective test preparation.

Therefore, spas, wellness centres and similar organizations truly value and seek out CIBTAC graduates as they are confident that they possess the professionalism, understanding and competency to start adding their own flair to treatments as soon as they begin working.

Accreditation Alternatives

They feature two types of accreditation.  Their QCF (Qualification and Credit Framework) course structure is divided into three levels which recognize achievement through the award of credit for completed units and qualifications.  It provides flexible routes to full qualifications by making them attainable in small steps.  The most recent framework provides for consistency across all vocational qualifications.

In contrast, their be-spoke qualifications (at BISA they are known as tailor-made) are all referred to as diplomas.  They are not restricted to the same criteria as QCF.


Email-VTCT-logoThe Vocational Training Charitable Trust known as VTCT is a United Kingdom government-approved, awarding organization.  Since 1962 they have been at the forefront of developing the country’s vocational system of qualifications. They are also very involved in many new educational initiatives, including the embedding of general education skills and online-assessment.

They are highly regarded for their service industry qualification packages, especially in sectors such as Hairdressing & Barbering, Beauty Therapy, Complementary Therapy and Sport & Active Leisure.  VTCT is the largest provider of qualifications in massage, aromatherapy and reflexology. This sector is growing very rapidly and new qualifications for skills such as  Crystal Therapy  have already been added and reiki courses are in the planning stages.  These type of courses are helping VTCT to meet the demands of spa therapists for more holistic practices.

Jennifer with Trainer - Balinese Massage StudentWith more than 800 approved centres, VTCT has an ever expanding list of centres throughout the UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Cyprus, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia and many more nations around the globe.  Their intention is to diversify into even more markets through innovation, acquisition and partnerships.  Recently they acquired ITEC, so have become a truly powerful force in the education sector.

The VTCT Grading Approach

VTCT offers different international qualification levels such as Awards, Certificates and Diplomas, but they do not relate to academic status.  Rather, they are indicative of the complexity of the tasks covered in each module.

While CIBTAC uses practical and theoretical exams in order to pass or fail students, the VTCT approach to assessment is quite different. As their qualifications are based primarily upon practical performance, the VTCT assessor, which is myself at Bali BISA, continuously checks progress against prescribed requirements.  If during a formal assessment, the assessor believes that a student has not yet reached full proficiency, they will explain why and advise exactly what to do before the assessment. As many re-assessments as necessary are undertaken until 100% competency is achieved in the particular skill and level.

There is an on-line theoretical final exam for Anatomy and Physiology and a few other selected courses. Results are provided in 30 minutes. If the score is not 100%, there are two options;

  • They can re-sit the test in 7 days
  • If the student has a score of 80% or above, the assessor is allowed to ask for clarification on the failed questions. If they are satisfied with the answers, then they are allowed to pass

However most of the their syllabus encompasses on-going written work and case studies. This helps tutors quickly identify strengths and weaknesses, and give assignments targeting areas requiring further study. There are also many mini-written exams that can be repeated up to three times.

wayan-sujaniAll of this written work is consolidated into a portfolio of evidence which is evaluated by VTCT staff for final confirmation of 100% competency, the only acceptable score.  This portfolio is extremely valuable for graduates as it proves to potential employers and non-UK regulatory authorities that they possess the necessary skills.

This system of on-going assessment by myself at Bali BISA and the accumulation of written work makes it much easier for students to progress at their own pace.  It is ideal for people already in the workplace as no or limited time off is required as much of the theory work can be completed at home.  Additionally it creates much more flexibility for students to start their desired course when it is most convenient.


Choosing a school and if applicable an international qualification is an important decision, whether you are a novice or a professional.   It is recommended to first undertake a great amount of self-reflection as this will guide the research and decision-making process. Consider which aspects of spa, beauty, health and wellness most appeal to you, your personality, lifestyle and ambitions.  This will help direct you to the right combination of comprehensive programs.

If you plan on working in the area you currently live in, then it is straight-forward to check the prevailing regulations and requirements, plus assess what types of therapists are in greatest demand by business type.

However, if you plan to work elsewhere, especially in a different country, it is absolutely essential to investigate what is necessary.   Some countries have very specific regulations regarding qualifications that are recognized for work purposes. Sometimes employers cannot accept applicants unless they have a specific qualification. In others, Professional Indemnity Insurance isn’t obtainable unless you have a specific certification.   It may sound daunting, but there are plentiful resources to help you make the right choices.

Re-locating to the USA in particular produces problems as many states have their own regional requirements, especially in connection with physical treatments on human beings.

At this stage it is recommended to narrow down the schools you are considering.  All schools are not created equal, so it is important that they are carefully evaluated.    Indicators of what to expect are often reflected in the response time and quality of the first inquiry.  Also carefully review their website, especially student testimonials, press coverage and blogs.  Do not be afraid to ask plenty of questions as the choice will affect your entire career.

We hope that this blog provides you with a better appreciation of the different certification options available to you.

Please feel free to e-mail with any questions at


I and my team are proud to deliver excellent training for students from every corner of the world. Being a relatively small school, we provide very high levels of training appropriate to the learning progress of each student. Our Balinese tutors are not only accomplished therapists themselves, but they are genuinely compassionate about providing the very best training to all students.

We strive to reply within 24 hours with detailed information specific to your inquiry. However, the sooner you give us detailed information about your objectives, the sooner we can lay out several viable options for your consideration.

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