What is Travel Nursing? - How to Become a Travel Nurse & Salary (2023)

What Is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses are RNs from various clinical backgrounds who work for independent staffing agencies. They are assigned to different care areas on a temporary basis to fill in short-term employment gaps.

Travel nursing is a specialty that took root when the field of nursing faced a nationwide shortage. Hospitals, clinics, and other care areas had unfilled positions, yet had patients needing care. To try and attract nurses to the open positions, employers offered higher pay, housing, and covered the cost of relocating.

Due to these shortages, health care facilities have vacancies that need to be filled—and travel nurses are often the ones to fill open positions. Not only do travel nurses work in health care in any state in the country, but they also work outside of the United States as international travel nurses. The adventure and excitement of new opportunities, along with higher-than-average pay, are facets of travel nursing that many RNs find attractive.

Why Are Travel Nurses Important?

Travel nurses are an important part of the health care team because they help bridge the gap between supply and demand in the field of nursing. Mandatory nurse-patient ratios have led to increased patient safety and lower patient mortality. While this is a positive finding, and more and more states are passing legislation to implement staffing ratios, there are not enough nurses to fill the openings. Travel nurses assigned those open positions help to increase patient safety and improve patient outcomes.

Additionally, nurses from different educational backgrounds, care areas, and geographic locations bring a great deal to the practice of nursing. Sharing ideas and practices not only benefits patients, but also other nurses.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

A travel nurse should have the following characteristics to excel in the role:

  • Enjoys experiencing new cities, towns, and organizations
  • Enjoys freedom. Travel nurses choose when and where they work, and choose their duration of employment
  • Enjoys flexibility. Travel nurses create their schedules, benefits packages, and income based on which agency they choose to work
  • Thrives on challenges. Moving to different states or overseas and being “the new nurse” repeatedly is challenging. Learning new organizational systems and workflows is particularly challenging
  • Loves learning new things. Each assignment takes travel nurses to new health care facilities, some with higher levels of technology or different standards of practice. Each experience helps nurses build upon their knowledge base

Additionally, travel nurses should have supportive families and friends. It's difficult to either pack up and move an entire family or leave your family and friends behind. The flip side to this is that new relationships are formed in each new location.

What Are the Educational Requirements for Travel Nurses?

Those interested in the specialty of travel nursing should first pursue a nursing degree through a two or four-year university. Obtaining an associate's degree (ADN) or bachelor's degree (BSN) in nursing is required. A BSN is not required to be a travel nurse, but some health care facilities only hire BSN-prepared nurses. The staffing agency in which the nurse is employed should match the nurse appropriately based on educational requirements.

After completion of an accredited nursing program, successful completion of the NCLEX-RN is required for licensure.

Most travel nurse agencies require a minimum of one year of hands-on experience in the chosen specialty of nursing. Additionally, some agencies will only hire BSN-prepared RNs. International travel nurses should speak the language of the country they are to practice in, as communication is an important part of effective healthcare delivery. Nurses are encouraged to research agencies when considering travel nursing.

Are Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?

No additional exams are required for travel nursing. Based on the specialty, certification(s) may be required. Examples include:

  • Medical/Surgical Nursing
    • Basic Life Support (BLS)
    • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) may be required
    • Stroke care certification
    • Telemetry certification
  • Intensive Care (ICU) Nursing
    • Basic Life Support (BLS)
    • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)
    • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
    • Critical care nursing (adults, pediatric, neonatal)
  • Women's Health/Labor and Delivery Nursing
    • Basic Life Support (BLS)
    • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) may be required
    • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) may be required
    • Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) certification
  • Emergency Room Nursing
    • Basic Life Support (BLS)
    • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)
    • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
    • Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)
    • Trauma Nurse Core Course (TNCC) certification

Additional specific requirements may be necessary for international travel nurses. These include:

  • Acquiring a passport and work visa (usually handled by the agency)
  • Additional immunizations
  • Learning a new language
  • Learning about diseases unique to the area

Travel Nurse FAQs

Housing is one of the most significant concerns for a travel nurse. There are a few options available, and it depends on the travel nurse agency/company regarding how accommodations are set up. Some companies provide housing (i.e., apartment, duplex, etc.). Some companies offer a housing stipend, or a fixed amount of money each month to apply towards housing.

First, nurses need to be aware of where their “tax home” is, as stipends are tax-free if working away from the tax home. Having a tax home is necessary to receive tax-free housing. A "tax home" is defined as the general vicinity of an individual's primary place of work (regardless of where the primary residence is). Generally, the IRS considers someone traveling away from home (i.e., their "tax home") if it exceeds one workday.

Different travel nurse agencies offer different stipends - it’s important to research what the living expenses are in a specific area to ensure housing is adequately covered. The General Services Administration (GSA) lists the maximum daily amount for lodging, meals, and incidentals with regards to travel expenses. The key word is MAXIMUM. It's not required that a company pay employees the listed stipend. In fact, some travel nurse agencies offer higher hourly wages instead of housing stipends. Additionally, the GSA rates are based on short-term travel - usually less than a month. Travel nurse contracts can last three months or more.

Those interested in travel nursing may have questions about licensing; specifically, how are licenses recognized if practicing in another state.

Depending on the state, new licensure is not necessary. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) developed the Nurse Licensure Compact which is an agreement between specific states to recognize nursing licenses without having to apply separately for licensure in another state. In other words, a nurse living in a "compact state" (one which is part of this agreement) can practice in another compact state without having to obtain additional licenses. There are now uniform licensure requirements that must be met when seeking a multistate license under the compact agreement. States that participate in the compact agreement can be found on the NCSBN website.

If not part of the compact agreement, some states allow nurses to obtain temporary licenses by endorsement. These are valid for specific lengths of time, so nurses must visit each state’s Board of Nursing website to determine specific temporary license requirements. If extending the assignment past the temporary license time frame, nurses must apply for a permanent license. Permanent licenses are also required for states that don't grant licensure by endorsement and don't participate in the NLC.

(Video) How To Become a Travel Nurse- YOUR GUIDE TO THE ENTIRE PROCESS- Housing, Recruiters, Much More!
(Video) Travel Nursing | Travel Nurse Job Overview & Salary

What Does a Domestic or International Travel Nurse Do?

Travel nurses have a broad range of responsibilities and duties, and specific tasks depend on the specialty in which the nurse is trained. General nursing responsibilities and duties include:

  • Using the nursing process of assessing, diagnosing, planning, implementing, and evaluating to care for patients in a variety of healthcare settings
  • Administering medications, and fluids, assisting with activities of daily living and patient mobility
  • Reviewing and interpreting diagnostic tests such as lab work and imaging
  • Provide monitoring and oversight in all aspects of patient care
  • Collaborating with physicians in developing a plan of care
  • Assessing the psychosocial needs of patients and families
  • Recognizing and intervening in clinically unstable patients
  • Providing resources for patients and referring as necessary
  • Educating patients and families in all areas of healthcare maintenance and prevention
  • Working in assignments anywhere from eight to thirteen weeks (on average) in the U.S., one to two years if outside the U.S.
  • Learning various patient care systems/documentation
  • Providing immediate medical care and aid for large populations during times of war or disaster

Domestic and international travel nurses also have different characteristics specific to their roles.

Domestic Travel Nurses

  • Work within the U.S.
  • Typically work assignments that range from eight to thirteen weeks
  • Can respond to areas of the U.S that experience natural disasters or disease outbreaks

International Travel Nurses

International travel nurses should have excellent communication skills, should be open to new experiences and challenges, and should have a strong desire to learn. These nurses are responsible for performing a wide array of duties. As stated previously, the tasks an international nurse will have to perform depend entirely upon their medical specialty. Some of the more general or everyday tasks that international travel nurses will perform include administering medication, wound care, and providing emergency medical services and care. Since there are often nursing shortages in many of the regions that international nurses travel to, another general role of these nurses is to educate family members and caretakers about the appropriate patient and medical care. In summary, international travel nurses:

  • Work outside the U.S.
  • Typically work assignments that range from one to two years
  • Respond to areas that experience natural disasters or disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa
  • Provide medical care and aid to underserved, rural, and remote populations
  • Usually, must wait for document processing before traveling

Travel Nurse Working Conditions

As with any career, there are positive and negative aspects to working as a travel nurse. Nurses can suffer from stress as they may carry a heavy patient load and have many critical decisions to make. Additionally, travel nurses may suffer from feelings of isolation since they tend to relocate often. Having a strong sense of independence and a support system available, even remotely, can help.

Additionally, nurses may work in high-risk areas that may expose them to workplace violence, blood-borne pathogens, and chemicals. Travel nurses must always familiarize themselves with and adhere to safety standards set by the organization.

(Video) How To Become a Travel Nurse

International travel nurses can face different challenges. Travel nurses must be familiar with the country's laws, and geographic-specific diseases, and always keep their overall safety as a priority.

Despite these considerations, travel nursing can be immensely rewarding. Many organizations and staff nurses appreciate the help travel nurses offer. Travel nurses help relieve staff nurses from burnout, as can happen when working short-staffed.

International travel nurses are also highly appreciated. They provide medical care and assistance to many patients in remote settings who otherwise would have no access to healthcare. They help with relief efforts in war zones or after disaster events, which can be both rewarding and enriching.

Travel Nurse Salary and Employment

According to the American Nurses Association, as of 2015 fourteen states had mandatory nurse-patient ratios. Nurses are pushing for federal legislation supporting safe staffing and because of this, if more states pass safe-staffing laws, nurses will be in even more demand. Travel nurses will help mend the current and projected nursing shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 16% overall growth for nurses until 2024, which is much faster-than-average growth for all occupations.

RELATED:RN License Transfer and NLC Guide

Travel nursing has many incentives for nurses regarding pay and benefits including:

  • Travel reimbursement
  • Free housing
  • Bonuses
  • Medical, dental, and vision coverage
  • Retirement plans
  • Assistance in obtaining passports/work visas
  • Choice of location
  • Selection of hours/shifts worked
  • Competitive pay
  • Higher-than-average pay for RNs

According to Indeed, the average yearly salary for a travel nurse is $75,109. However, since pay is competitive in travel nursing, some companies are offering salaries of around $100,00 annually for domestic travel nurses.

International travel nurses tend to have lower salaries than domestic, except for assignments in some middle eastern countries. This is because, for the most part, nurses tend to make less outside of the U.S.

Salary is dependent on the agency, and nurses should research each company to find the right salary and benefits that best fit their needs.

(Video) TRAVEL NURSE | SALARY | FULL INFORMATION | #travelnurse | #nurseinfo | #canestar | #nursesalary |

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What do you need to become a traveling nurse? ›

To become a Traveling Nurse, either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required. It's also required to become licensed. This can be done by passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Is it hard to be a travel nurse? ›

Travel Nursing is one of the most rewarding experiences, but it also comes with hard work, long hours, flexibility, and the ability to adapt quickly to a lot of things. Everyone responds differently, and oftentimes it's just an adjustment that you get used to after the first or few assignments.

What type of travel nurse gets paid the most? ›

ICU nurses are the most in-demand and highest-paid travel nurse specialty for obvious reasons. They are highly trained in caring for the most critical patients—patients who are intubated, ventilated, on life-sustaining medication drips, or whose life hangs on by a thread.

What a travel nurse does? ›

As skilled professionals, travel nurses take temporary nursing positions in high-need areas. They jump into hospitals, clinics, and other facilities, giving patients across the country quality care. The COVID-19 pandemic created a nationwide staffing crisis and, as a result, a surge in demand for travel nurses.

Do travel nurses pay for their stay? ›

Many travel nursing companies advertise that they provide free housing. However, the housing isn't actually free. It does of course cost money. In fact, companies will pay that money to the travel nurse if the travel nurse chooses not to take the company's housing.

Do travel nurses travel for free? ›

Yes! Free. This is one of the biggest travel nursing benefits. A traveler can choose from the free, furnished housing arranged by their staffing agency or take the housing stipend to find their own place.

How many years does it take to be a travel nurse? ›

How Long Does It Take to Become A Travel Nurse? It can take two to four years for full-time students to earn an ADN or BSN. Most travel nursing agencies also want their applicants to have at least one year of work experience before offering a contract.

How long do you stay as a travel nurse? ›

Contract Duration

On average, travel nurse assignments are pre-agreed for the duration of 13 weeks. However, there are shorter-term contracts of eight weeks, and some that have stretch out to 26 weeks and longer.

Can travel nurses bring their families? ›

Can travel nurses have families? Yes. While there are certain factors to consider, travel nursing is not reserved for singles. Some nurses choose to be a travel nurse only during school break, while others have made a career out of travel nursing year-round with their families.

How often are travel nurses home? ›

The average travel nursing assignment is 13 weeks long. That means a travel nurse working regularly could expect to move four times in a year (52 weeks in a year/13 = 4). But of course, 13 weeks is just the average. Some travel nursing assignments can be up to 26 weeks, and others can be as short as four weeks.

Do travel nurses get benefits? ›

The benefits that come with a travel nursing career are extensive, including competitive salaries, free housing, and large bonuses.

What is the most needed travel nurse job? ›

6 Top Travel Nurse Specialties
  • Emergency Room (ER) Travel Nurses. One type of travel nurse specialty that is always in high demand is emergency nursing. ...
  • Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Travel Nurses. ...
  • Progressive Care Unit (PCU) Travel Nurses. ...
  • Telemetry Travel Nurses. ...
  • Labor and Delivery (L&D) Travel Nurses. ...
  • Pediatric Travel Nurses.
21 Sept 2022

Can a travel nurse stay in one place? ›

A travel nurse may stay in one state for as long as they like. However, for tax purposes, they will want to move to different locations in order to avoid spending more than 12 months in the same location in any consecutive 24-month period.

Do travel nurses actually travel? ›

It's important to remember that travel nursing isn't a regular vacation. You're actually moving to another location for work. The typical contract is 3 months. It can make you feel like you've literally moved away from home.

Do travel nurses fly? ›

Travel nurses are not trained to work on an aircraft. They also may not have the emergency medical services training that a flight nurse has. Depending on the job requirements, some travel nurses may be LPNs or allied health professionals.

Do travel nurses pay for their own housing? ›

Do Travel Nurses Get Free Housing? Technically, no. You can either choose between agency-provided housing or a travel nurse housing stipend. Either way, you're paying for housing.

Who pays a traveling nurse? ›

It's important to note, that it's the agency that sets the travel nurses' pay rate - the nurse's pay is a percentage of the actual bill rate that the hospital pays the travel nursing agency. For example, a hospital may be paying the agency $100/hr. for one travel nurse, but the nurse doesn't earn that full amount.

Can I stay in a hotel as a travel nurse? ›

Most adults do not like the feeling of “living out of a suitcase.” However, with the prevalence of traveling nurses opting to stay in hotels, these lodgings are becoming more extended-stay friendly. Similar to apartments, you have lots of different types of room options when booking an extended stay hotel.

How long do travel nurses stay away from home? ›

The most common arrangement is a 13-week contract, typically with housing assistance. However, there are certainly shorter and longer contract nurse jobs, and you may take contracts of different lengths throughout your career as a travel nurse. The length of a contract could influence your choice of assignment.

Do travel nurses have to pay for flight? ›

As a travel nurse, would I need to pay for my travel and housing? Travel is always complimentary before and after a completed assignment. Not only are they paid for, they're arranged for you too. All you have to do is pack and fly.

Can you work full-time and be a travel nurse? ›

Yes, travel nurses can work part-time. While most travel nurses work full-time, part-time travel nursing is possible. Part-time travel nursing is a flexible choice that allows a nurse to have a change of pace from the typical 13-week contract.

What is the fastest way to become a travel nurse? ›

Steps to become a travel nurse:
  1. Understand the role of a travel nurse.
  2. Earn your ASN/ADN or BSN degree.
  3. Pass the NCLEX and become an RN.
  4. Gain experience.
  5. Get licensed.
  6. Find a travel nurse staffing agency and apply.
  7. Start your career.

Can I be a travel nurse with 1 year experience? ›

The short answer is yes; you can be a travel nurse with one year of experience in several healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, nursing schools, or other healthcare departments. Many travel nursing companies will require at least one year of experience in order to work with them.

How many months can a travel nurse work? ›

Typical travel RN work assignments are approximately three months long. Travel NPs have the three-month contract option too; however, their assignments can also be much shorter or much longer.

How many days a week do a travel nurse work? ›

Your schedule as a travel nurse is similar to that of a perm nurse. You will typically work anywhere between 3-4 days of mostly 12-hour shifts. The typical schedule is made that way to help avoid any nurse burnout.

Do travel nurses make their schedule? ›

The hospital or facility allows some flexibility with scheduling, and travelers can make requests that they will try to accommodate. The hospital or facility will honor schedule requests, as long as they're made well in advance, ideally upon submission and before an offer is extended.

What a travel nurse should not do? ›

Avoid These 10 First-Time Travel Nurse Mistakes:
  • Being Too Narrow-minded. ...
  • Just Skimming Your Contract. ...
  • Bringing Way Too Much Stuff. ...
  • Being Unprepared. ...
  • Not Asking Enough Questions. ...
  • Joining the Hospital Drama Club. ...
  • Acting Like a Know-it-all. ...
  • Acting like a Temporary Nurse.
18 May 2020

Can you stay close to home as a travel nurse? ›

It can be done, but there are some trade-offs. The first thing you should know is that some healthcare facilities have internal rules that prevent hiring local travel nurses. In many cases, the hospital may have a requirement that all travelers have a permanent home base over 50 miles from the facility.

Can a spouse go with a travel nurse? ›

The great beauty of travel nursing is that it allows both travel nurses and their spouses or partners to take part in the flexibility of travel, too!

Do travel nurses have a home? ›

Travel nurses usually have a permanent residence that they maintain and pay rent/mortgage on. At the same time, when they work away from home, they'll also need to pay for their accommodation in that new location, whether it be a motel, an AirBnB, or even an RV!

Where do travel nurses normally stay? ›

Traveling nurses can find housing in a number of ways, including: Utilizing a travel nurse housing website. Choosing to live in travel nurse agency housing. Getting temporary, furnished housing such as an Airbnb or extended-stay hotel, or.

How does travel nursing pay work? ›

Unlike regular staff nurses, travel nurses are paid a “total pay package” that includes an hourly base wage pay plus additional monetary incentives that include things like sign-on or referral bonuses, travel reimbursements and stipends for housing, food, mileage, or job-related expenses.

What state pays the most for travel nurses? ›

Travel Nurse Salary Idaho

As the number one highest paying state for travel nurses, Idaho is the way to go if salary is your top priority.

Do travel nurses work long hours? ›

Many travel nurses choose to work 48 hours per week contracts, which then guarantees overtime pay.

What is the lowest salary for a travel nurse? ›

However, recently-licensed travel nurses tend to earn a much lower starting salary of $37.71 while their more experienced counterparts earn an average of $82.06.

What is the highest paid travel job? ›

High-paying travel jobs to consider
  1. Airline pilot. National average salary: $44,761 per year. ...
  2. Hotel manager. National average salary: $51,151 per year. ...
  3. Infection preventionist. National average salary: $70,568 per year. ...
  4. Geologist. ...
  5. Executive recruiter. ...
  6. Marine biologist. ...
  7. Senior auditor. ...
  8. Marine engineer.

What is a travel nurse called? ›

The term “travel nurse” most commonly refers to Registered Nurses (RN). However, it could also refer to Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN/LVN) or Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA). Some people use it to refer to Nurse Practitioners (NP), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA).

How many times can you call in as a travel nurse? ›

For example, you may call-off 3 times in a 13 week period due to illness. While those may be the only 3 sick calls you have all year, it may look as though you call in sick all the time to the hospital.

What do travel nurses do with their houses? ›

Sometimes, the agency rents the housing. Other times, the travel nurse rents the property. Typically, this choice is left to the travel nurse. They can choose to have the company secure their housing or they can choose to secure it on their own.

How long does it take to become a traveling nurse? ›

To become a travel nurse, you must complete a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited college or university. Although a BSN is not required, travel nurses should consider a four-year degree to compete in the job market.

How much does a traveling nurse make? ›

Travel nurse salary

To calculate a travel nurse's compensation, you'll need to base the salary off the average median income of a registered nurse in the U.S. In many scenarios, travel nurses can earn about $3,000 weekly. They can charge as high as $50 per hour in addition to the hospital-paid housing benefits.

Do travel nurses make 10k a week? ›

Under normal circumstances, many travel nurses have the potential to earn over $3,000 per week. Travel nurses can bring in over $50 per hour, plus company-paid housing accommodations. Making it entirely possible for travel nurses to make well over $100K per year.

How long do Traveling nurses usually stay in one place? ›

A travel nurse assignment can be as short as two weeks, but 6, 8, or 13-week positions are the most common.

How long do travel nurses stay travel nurses? ›

Contract Duration

On average, travel nurse assignments are pre-agreed for the duration of 13 weeks. However, there are shorter-term contracts of eight weeks, and some that have stretch out to 26 weeks and longer.

Which state pays the most for travel nurses? ›

6. Travel Nurse Salary Idaho. As the number one highest paying state for travel nurses, Idaho is the way to go if salary is your top priority. The average base salary in Idaho is: $151,203/year.

Why are travel nurses paid so much? ›

So, why do travel nurses get paid more? It's because they fill short-term needs, accept assignments in areas with severe nursing shortages, receive extra compensation for their flexibility and work in hard-to fill specialties.

How often do traveling nurses work? ›

Many travel nurses choose to work 48 hours per week contracts, which then guarantees overtime pay.

Are traveling nurses still in demand? ›

Travel nurse demand is now falling, with data from staffing firm Aya Healthcare showing demand dropped 42 percent from January to July of this year. And with a drop in demand comes falling pay, though travel rates still remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.


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