By Chaunie Brusie
Travel nursing holds a lot of appeal for many people interested in the healthcare field because it offers perks like the chance to visit new places, competitive pay, and career flexibility. It’s also the perfect opportunity to gain valuable skills, get out of your comfort zone, and of course, make a difference in the lives of your patients.
But what exactly does it take to become a travel nurse?
Learn more about travel nurse requirements to see if this career choice might be right for you.
Your immediate vision of being a travel nurse may be traveling to exotic destinations, but that’s not necessarily true. Being a travel nurse simply means that you are employed by an independent nursing staffing agency instead of a by a single hospital. That means that you could travel as far as a different country, or you could work at your local hospital in need of temporary nurses. The choice is up to you on when and where you work, but travel nursing doesn’t necessarily mean faraway travel.
The very basic requirement to become a travel nurse is to have an active RN license. Nurses who have completed a diploma program, are a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and those who hold an Associates or Bachelor’s degree in nursing are all eligible to become a travel nurse. In general, travel nurses are usually RNs instead of LPNs, although that can vary based on the exact location and staffing needs of the assignment.
Pro tip: A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is not a formal requirement to become a travel nurse, but some hospitals and facilities may prefer to hire BSN-prepared nurses. If you have a specific facility in mind, you may want to check their official requirements before signing on with the staffing agency.
If you will be working domestically within the United States, you may also need to get additional licensure in the state that you will be working as a travel nurse. If you obtained your original nursing license in a Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) state, such as Florida, Texas, or Arizona, and you will be working in a fellow NLC state, you have what’s called a compact license. This means your nurse license is good in all NLC states, so there is no need to seek additional licensure. If the state you received your original nursing license in is not a compact license state or the state you will be working in isn’t, you will need to get an additional applicable state license; the staffing agency you are working with will be able to help you procure it.
Along with a nursing license in the appropriate state, you will need the basic certifications of Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) to sign on with a travel nursing agency. If you know you plan on specializing in a specific unit, you may also want to be sure that you have credentials in that specialty; for instance, a CCRN certification for critical care, or NRP for labor and delivery and postpartum care. Most travel nursing agencies require nurses to obtain and maintain all of their certifications at their own expense, so it’s to your advantage to do some research ahead of time and make sure you’re as prepared as possible to enter into your specialty field choice.
Travel nursing recruitment often focuses on the benefits and perks, such as housing stipends or sign-on bonuses, but it’s also important not to overlook the tax implications that come with travel nursing. In order to become a travel nurse, you will need to have what’s called a “tax home” in the eyes of the IRS. That simply means you have to prove that you have a full-time residence when you’re not working as a travel nurse.
If you don’t have a full-time residence that you maintain and pay for when you’re not working as a travel nurse, don’t worry — you can still work, but you will have a tax status as an itinerant worker, which means you have to pay taxes on all of your income, including any stipends or reimbursements. For non-itinerant nurses who do have a tax home, your base wage pay is taxable income, while all “extras,” including meals, housing allotments, or travel reimbursement is non-taxable.
That means that you will save on paying taxes on that income, but it also means that your adjusted income will not be as high in the eyes of say, a loan officer or for Social Security purposes. If you anticipate needing a loan soon, or are approaching retirement, it may be more advantageous to you to have a higher taxable income reflected on your paycheck.
Read More: Comprehensive Guide to Travel Nurse Taxes
In general, most nursing staffing agencies require nurses to have at least one year, but often two, of bedside experience before signing them; if you will be working a specialized unit, such as labor and delivery or ICU, the agency may require more time before you can work as a travel nurse in that field.
For nurses with a compact license, maintaining your license as a travel nurse is no different than meeting the requirements of the home state that you received your original license in. Once you renew your home state license, your license for the new location is considered updated too.
If you had to obtain an additional state license, however, you will have to renew your home state license (if you want to keep it, that is) and meet the requirements for license renewal in the state you are working in as well. Certain states, such as Florida and Washington, also require all nurses to obtain Continued Education Units (CEUs) in the specific areas of pain management and HIV awareness, so you will need to make sure you fulfill the CEUs for your home state and/or work state as well.
In general, while it’s also good to prepare yourself as much as possible, becoming a travel nurse can be a straightforward process. Once you’re a nurse with an active license, have at least one to two years of bedside experience under your belt, and are ready to take on the challenge of a new location and work environment, you can take on the adventure of being a travel nurse.
If you’re interested in becoming a travel nurse, you can take the next step by learning more about travel nursing here.
Chaunie Brusie is a Registered Nurse, journalist, and busy mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Real Simple, and more.
She’s also a published author and the founder of the Stay Strong Mom Project, which donates money to mothers struggling to pay their medical bills following a loss or miscarriage. Find her at chauniebrusie.com.