There are many decisions to make when starting a new travel nurse assignment — How much does it pay? Where do I get to travel? How many pairs of shoes should I bring? And, of course, should I take agency-placed housing or take the housing stipend and find my own?
Regardless of your travel intentions — making extra money or exploring a new city — where you live while working is a big deal. The decision to take agency-placed housing or finding your own is no exception. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and many travel nurses will tell you that your housing situation can make or break your travel nursing experience.
Are you hoping to make extra money? Or, is exploring a new location more important? If you’re looking to make as much money as possible, then it may be wisest to find your own housing and take advantage of the non-taxable stipend.
You’ll need to find housing that’s less expensive than your housing stipend, though. In some cities, this may be easier than others. You may need to be flexible with what amenities are deal breakers (washer/dryer, gym, pool, etc.), whether or not you’re willing to live with a roommate, or what area within the city you’d like to live.
By being flexible and focusing on overall costs, some travel nurses can actually make money from their stipend. The trade-off, though, is more work and upfront costs, plus potentially more compromise. For those travel nurses where money is secondary, then agency-placed housing may save you time and effort.
Read more: Housing for Traveling Nurses
To take the housing stipend and find your own housing, you’ll be required to come up with a security deposit, plus first month’s rent (some places require last month’s rent upfront too). If you don’t have enough funds to cover these upfront costs, then it may not be a feasible option for you.
Also, if you have bad credit, then you may not qualify for certain housing opportunities, or be able to rent furniture or get internet access. In that case, agency-placed housing may be your best option.
If you find your own housing, then you’re on the hook if anything adverse happens — either at the apartment or with your lease.
For example: Two nurses, one who found their own housing and one who took agency-placed housing, experience a bed bug infestation. Nurse #1 (who found her own housing) has to call the landlord to get an exterminator and potential arrange for other living arrangements. Nurse #2 (who took agency-placed housing) has to notify her staffing agency’s housing coordinator who will take care of everything for her.
In another scenario, these same two nurses have their contracts cancelled early for low census. Nurse #1 has to terminate a short-term lease and potentially pay fees, while Nurse #2 just has to decide on their next assignment.
If you choose agency-placed housing you’ll likely not have much choice in where you live. If you want to be downtown, but your staffing agency has a place in the suburbs, then that’s what you get.
Finding your own housing gives you the freedom to choose where you live as well as what amenities and price best suit your lifestyle.
Read more: Best Cities for Travel Nurses
Whether or not to take agency-placed housing versus finding your own ultimately depends on your preferences and goals for travel nursing. If you’re flexible about housing arrangements and have your finances in a good place, then finding your own housing may be the way to go. But, if you’re new to travel nursing or don’t want the work of finding a place on your own in a new city, then agency-placed housing is probably for you.
And, remember, if you aren’t happy with your living arrangements, then like most everything else in travel nursing — it’s only temporary.
Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has a blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog.