How Does Travel Nursing Work? | Salary and FAQ

March 8, 2021

Travel nursing is a great way to advance your career and earn great pay while traveling the country. And, while providing excellent patient care won’t change, there are a lot differences between being a travel nurse versus a staff nurse. Below you can learn about the basics as we answer the most frequently asked questions about travel nursing.

Discover available travel nursing assignments in the area of your choice!

How does travel nursing work?

Travel nurses are hired to bridge staffing shortages, which may be caused by a lack of qualified nurses in the area, seasonal population increases, or an expected leave of absence like maternity leave. To find skilled nurses to fill these often short-term assignments, these facilities work with recruitment agencies.

Learn more about travel nurse companies.

Who can become a travel nurse?

Travel nurses are Registered Nurses with typically 12-18 months of hospital-based RN experience in their field. Depending on the specialty or the specific requirements of the facility, the required work experience may be longer. Travel nursing assignments are available for multiple specialities, but some specialties like ICU and Oncology are more in demand.

See other high-demand travel nurse specialties.

What is salary like as a travel nurse?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a Registered Nurse in 2018 was $71,730 per year, while travel nurses can make on average approximately $88,400 per year.

Total travel nurse compensation depends on multiple factors like your specialty, the contract details, and the location of the hospital. In general, travel nurses are often paid well, because they’re filling a high demand for nurses.

In addition to your hourly rate, you’ll often be eligible for medical and dental benefits, 401K, bonuses, and stipends for housing, meals, and travel expenses. Keep in mind, that when working as a travel nurse, you’re employed by the travel nursing agency and not the facility.

How long are travel nursing assignments?

The standard travel nursing assignment is 13 weeks, but anything between 8 and 26 weeks is common. Hospitals often offer to renew your contract, too — called extension assignments. Extension offers usually occur the last 3 to 5 weeks of your assignment, but if you’re interested in staying on longer, you should talk to your recruiter. You don’t have to wait to be approached by the facility.

Standard travel nurse hours are five 8s, four 10s, or three 12s, though this will vary by facility. Your shift and hours should be written in your contract.

Where can travel nurses go?

Travel nursing jobs are available across the country, but available assignment locations will depend on current staffing needs. Ultimately, you decide where you want to go — chances are if your dream location isn’t available now, it will be in the future.

Read more: Best Cities for Travel Nurse in 2019.

Also, to work as a travel nurse, you’ll need an RN license for that state. Ask your recruiter about Compact State licenses, which allow you to work in many states with one license.

Can I take a travel assignment close to my home?

A common myth is your assignment must be at least 50 miles away from your permanent residence — often called the “50-mile rule.” The truth is you can work a contract assignment at a hospital close to your home if you choose. If you do, though, you can’t collect the non-taxed housing stipend.

To collect the housing stipend, you must be duplicating expenses — rent or own a home in your home area AND rent a place in the area you’re working. Basically, you can’t work a contract and go home to your main residence at the end of your shift and receive a non-taxed stipend.

Discover available travel nursing assignments in the area of your choice!

Am I eligible for benefits like health insurance and vacation?

Most travel agencies offer medical and dental benefits as well as other benefits like a 401K — some even offer matching! To maintain health insurance, though, you cannot take off more than 30 days. If your plan is to take extended time off between assignments, it would be wise to get your own health insurance.

Also, most travel nurse companies do not offer paid time off (PTO) or short-term disability. You’ll need to get your own insurance policy if you’re concerned with the possibility of getting hurt and not being able to work.

Bottom line: In the world of travel nursing, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

Does the staffing agency pay for my living expenses?

There are two housing options as a travel nurse: agency-placed housing or taking a housing stipend.

If you choose agency-placed housing, the agency arranges your living situation, but it isn’t free. The housing fees come out of the bill rate and ultimately decrease your take-home pay. Housing is deducted from the travel nurse’s “cut” of the bill rate. Agencies will coordinate and set up housing, which is helpful if you’re new to travel nursing. However, if you want to bring home the most money, we recommend taking the stipend and finding your own housing.

Items like a television, washer and dryer, or a vacuum are often not included, but you have the option of renting these items from the company that furnished the apartment. Let your recruiter know what you’ll need, so they can help arrange the rentals.

If you opt for the housing stipend, then you’ll be responsible for finding your own housing as well as all of the living expenses.

See available housing listings by state.

Can I travel with my family and/or pets?

Yes! You can travel on assignment with your family and/or pets — though, housing may become a bit trickier. Most travel nurse companies provide a one bedroom apartment (some just a studio or an extended stay hotel), which probably isn’t doable for a family. To get housing with additional bedrooms and space, you may be required to pay for part of your housing (if using agency-placed housing). Or, you’ll have to find your own housing (using the housing stipend).

Read more: Tips on Travel Nursing with Children.

Let your recruiter know if you’d like to travel with your pet, so they can find pet-friendly housing. Keep in mind, that some housing has breed or weight restrictions, which can limit your options. You’ll also likely have to pay an additional security deposit.

Learn more about how to find travel nurse housing with your pets.

Can I travel with another travel nurse?

Yes! It’s not uncommon for RNs to select travel nursing assignments together. You can even request to work in the same hospital or city and to share an apartment or apartment complex. Traveling with another nurse gives you someone to explore with and often saves on costs. It’s also possible to travel nurse as a couple — learn how one couple does it and their advice for other nurse couples.

Will I get the worst assignments?

Many facilities tend to give travel nurses the “easier” patients and leave the sickest to the staff nurses, especially for acute patients. Why? It takes time for a charge nurse to get to know you and learn what you can handle. You’ll also usually be the first to float. If you dislike that, then you may not enjoy your assignment.

Read more: Are Travel Nurses Treated Unfairly?

If an assignment is cut short due to low census, do I get full pay?

No — typically you will not be paid if your assignment is cut short due to low patient counts. However, your recruiter will attempt to find you a replacement assignment quickly. Also, the number of shifts allowed to be canceled is written in your contract.

Is travel nursing good for career advancement?

Traveling as a nurse increases your skill level and makes you a more eligible candidate for future nursing jobs. Why?

  1. It exposes you to different regional nursing procedures and patient populations.
  2. You may have the opportunity to work in a wider variety of specialities.
  3. You have experience learning a new clinical environment quickly.

How long will there be demand for travel nurses?

As long as nursing shortages remain an issue, then there will be a high demand for travel nurses. Nurses comprise the largest section for the healthcare profession and continuing shortages are still a real problem. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that over 1 million nurses are required to meet the current need, and that employment opportunities for nurses are growing at a 15% rate through 2026 when compared to all other occupations (an average of 7% growth).

How do I become a travel nurse?

Fill out this short form and we’ll connect you with up to four travel nursing agencies. We work with the top staffing companies whose recruiters work hard to connect you with the best opportunities available.

Start your travel nursing adventure today!

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