How Do Travel Nurses Find Housing? Agency vs. Stipend
For many travel nurses, housing is one of the most important pieces of the pay package, but can also be one of the most challenging aspects of being a traveler. It provides this exciting, yet terrifying adventure of finding a new home while having to sign a contract sight unseen most of the time.
Housing has certainly become a deal breaker for us — we won’t sign a contract until we know 100% what we’re getting into for housing.
Housing can make or break an assignment. Whether you’re a first-timer or a traveler who has been doing it for years, you’ll want to feel settled and comfortable in your new home. With the transitions between new jobs and new friend groups, having a safe and comfortable place to come home to is one of the highest priorities in a new contract.
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Travel Nurse Housing Options
Travel nurse housing is available in two options:
- Agency-placed housing – Your staffing agency makes housing arrangements for you.
- Stipend pay – You receive a stipend and make your own housing arrangements.
I have used both options depending on the assignment. I know several travelers who only take agency-provided housing — it’s simple and one less thing to worry about. I also know travel nurses who take the stipend and either find their own housing or travel in an RV. One option isn’t necessarily better than the other. It really depends on what will work best for you.
Typically, the more stress-free option for finding housing would be to allow the agency to provide it for you. Most agencies have an internal housing department that finds a place for a short-term lease (often they have long leases that they rotate travelers in and out). The agency also rents your furniture package, pays your utilities, and can even get you housewares like linens and dishes (typically, for an extra fee).
I’ve also heard of some agencies paying for cable and internet, though that’s not common. Often, they will set you up at an extended-stay hotel that has all of those amenities already provided.
Usually, agencies send you two to three housing options to choose from (if available and if you ask), but ultimately, they’re going to place you where is most convenient for them (typically what is currently available and the cheapest). You can request what you want, but there is no guarantee you will get it. Agencies often have access to discounts that are inaccessible to travel nurses.
Benefits of agency-placed housing
- The simplicity of it. If you aren’t super-concerned about housing or are new to traveling, it’s definitely the easier way to do things. You don’t have to worry about security deposits, arranging utilities, etc.
- The availability of housing. It may be difficult to find housing in smaller cities with limited housing options on your own.
- Better prices on housing. Agency-placed housing may offer you better housing options than what you can afford with the housing stipend. For example, finding a furnished, short-term lease that includes utilities during the holidays in a safe neighborhood in Manhattan for $1,600 per month will be tough.
- Better treatment. Landlords and property managers may be more attentive and helpful when they’re trying to please a large corporate staffing agency with the potential for a long-term contract versus an individual needing only a three-month lease.
- No money up-front. You don’t have to come up with money out of pocket for the lease, deposits, etc.
- Safeguard for cancellations. You eliminate a potentially expensive problem if your assignment gets canceled before your lease is up.
Understanding travel nurse contracts and the way a company pays travel nurses is the first step in deciding which route to go. Some companies pay nurses an extremely low hourly rate (as low as $20/hr), but that is the only money that is taxable.
The additional money falls into the housing and cost of living stipends, which are not taxed. Some agencies will look at the housing stipends and spend all of it, or the large majority while booking your agency-provided housing. Then, you are left with a small amount of money earned while at work. However, if you can find cheaper housing on your own, you can pocket the rest of what is left over from the stipend.
When you choose stipend pay, you’re responsible for finding, booking, and paying for all of your own housing and the expenses that go along with it. The actual dollar amount will differ based on the location and your specific contract, but it is typically adjusted based on the cost of living in that region. The travel company will provide you with either a weekly or monthly total for the specific stipend.
The best way to go about this is to find a fully furnished place that will include utilities, cable, and internet. These types of rentals often include all housewares and basic furniture, so all you have to bring are personal items.
Other travel nurses rent a standard apartment or house and then rent, bring, or buy furniture and set up utilities, etc. on their own as if they were a long-term renter. While even more adventurous travel nurses live in an RV or try van-life and rent a spot in a campground or RV park, the location is not likely to be right in the heart of a city.
Even though the stipend may sound like a lot, finding a decent, inexpensive three-month rental isn’t easy — often places charge a premium for short-term leases (sometimes double or triple the normal rent).
One of the other biggest challenges is trusting that the house/apartment will fit your needs without seeing it in person first. A lot of single travelers will rent rooms in houses, but that also provides a risk since you don’t have the opportunity to meet your roommates ahead of time. At a minimum, we recommend doing a video call with the landlord to meet them and view the property. Also, look for reviews from other nurses on Furnished Finder or Airbnb for the unit.
Benefits of stipend pay (and finding your own housing)
- You have control of where you live. Travel nursing for us is all about immersing ourselves in new cities. Everyone values different things in their home, and it is very nice having the option to prioritize what is most important to you. For some people, location is everything. Others want a place that looks nice and trendy, and they don’t mind a short commute. Using the stipend provided by the company allows for total control of where you live.
- You have control over how you want to live. Everyone has different preferences for which housing amenities they find the most important. For example, having a washer & dryer in the unit is important to many travel nurses, and most agencies don’t include that as part of their standard housing package. Sometimes the housing they find does include it, but oftentimes it doesn’t and you either have to pay extra for it or use laundromats. Some nurses may be comfortable splitting housing with roommates to save money, while others may want an entire place to themselves. Someone may find it important to be able to walk to attractions while others may just want something pet-friendly for their furry family members.
- You can make money off of the housing stipends. Some travel nurses find cheap housing and pocket the excess stipend money. Taking your own furniture or buying used items can save money too. Travel nursing in pairs can make you the most money — one of you can take agency-placed housing and the other the stipend and split it, or you both take the stipend and find a place together for cheaper rent. Sometimes, nurses are even able to find staff at the hospital to stay with for very reasonable rent.
- You have extra time to get settled. When taking agency-placed housing, you’re typically allotted two days to move in before your start date and two days following the last day of your contract. The flexibility to set your own move-in and move-out dates is nice and allows for additional time to travel or explore more of the area surrounding your contract dates.
Does the agency pay for 100% of my housing?
If you take agency-provided housing and don’t ask for any upgrades, then yes. If you take the housing stipend and find something within that budget, then the answer is also yes. But if you want upgrades like two bedrooms, a vacuum, or a washer/dryer in the unit, you’ll have to pay extra. Likewise, if you can’t find what you want for the stipend amount, you may have to pay a little out of pocket.
Most agencies pay for utilities (gas, electricity, water) up to a certain point. With private housing, many landlords also include utilities (gas, electric, water, and internet) in the rent since it’s considered a “short-term rental”. Cable (and sometimes internet) may be at your own expense, although some companies do pay for that as well. As mentioned before, a lot of company housing involves extended-stay hotels, and therefore everything is covered.
Once you have an address (either agency-placed or arranged by you), contact the property manager or landlord and ask who the providers in the area are. Then compare pricing and schedule set up for your move-in day — you typically have to be present for the installation. Make sure whatever you sign up for doesn’t require a long-term contract. This often works in your favor, because cable companies generally offer promotional freebies for the first three months. Since contracts are generally three months, you’ll get a premium service at a base-level price. The benefit of finding a fully furnished apartment is that almost all of them include wifi with the cost of rent.
For most agency-provided housing, furnished means they’ll provide the following:
– Bedroom: Queen-size bed, one nightstand, one dresser, and a lamp
– Dining room: Small kitchen table with four chairs
– Living room: Couch, chair, an end table, coffee table, a lamp, and a TV stand
Dishes, linens, a TV, bedding, and a vacuum are considered extra and will cost more. A washer/dryer and even a microwave are not necessarily standard all the time either. You can negotiate some of these items. Oftentimes, nurses tend to travel with most of these “extras,” but other travelers I know buy them cheap each assignment, so they have less to move with.
For private housing, it’s best to confirm what exactly is included in the listing. Many properties listed on Furnished Finder or Airbnb provide similar amenities and supplies that you could expect at a short-term vacation rental. However, doing a video walk-through or seeing a full listing of what’s included will better help you prepare.
Your options for finding housing are nearly endless. Just make sure you thoroughly vet the place and area before signing a lease — a great money saver isn’t worth it if it’s a risk to your safety. Travel nurse housing sites have become very popular as this profession has been highlighted over the past two years.
A few ways to consider when finding your own housing:
1. Furnished Finder specializes in housing for travel nurses. With no booking fees for the traveler and background-checked property owners, this company was built from the ground up with the travel nurse in mind. This has quickly become one of the most popular ways to find housing, and you can even get reviews from previous tenants.
2. Facebook There are many groups on Facebook that can be extremely helpful with housing, especially local groups. Some sites will have homes listed for rent, and others have travelers’ feedback about certain places. This can be a great platform to find answers to simple questions as well, such as “what part of town do you recommend living in,” or “does anyone want to split housing in ‘x’ while we work.”
3. Traditional house-hunting sites like forrent.com and apartments.com
4. Vacation rental websites like Airbnb.com, VRBO.com, and homeaway.com
5. Temporary housing sites like sublet.com
6. Non-traditional housing options like couchsurfing.com or houseboat rentals (search by the city for best results)
7. Extended stay hotels like Candlewood, Extended Stay America, Residence Inn, etc. Be sure to ask for Healthcare worker discounts.
8. Craigslist – Although it has a bad reputation for scammers (and yes, they definitely exist), some of the cheapest housing options can be found on craigslist. A tip is to post your own ad that you are searching for furnished housing, and more people might reach out with options.
9. Stay with a friend or family member (maybe even for free!)
Most staffing agencies will give you two to three options to choose from if you ask — and if they have more than one available. You’ll get the spiel though that even if you put in a request it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed.
In my experience, most agencies aren’t typically overly accommodating when it comes to housing. If housing is important to you, it’s important to know what your deal breakers are and be upfront with your recruiter about that from the start. Even then, you may still end up being disappointed. But, contracts are short, and the housing is temporary.
The amount a company will pay you for your housing stipend is completely dependent on where you are traveling to. The GSA sets housing stipends, and they vary based on the city and state. For instance, the total amount a company will pay per week in Mississippi is vastly different than in San Francisco. Mississippi might be around $300 per week, but San Francisco would be more around $1000 per week. Your recruiter can give you an idea of how much you would make based on the locations you are looking at traveling.
The amount of the housing stipend is determined on the contract, the city, and how the particular agency breaks down its pay package. So, you may get a different amount for each travel nursing assignment.
This is dependent on what you want. Some short-term assignments like strikes do require you to room with a fellow nurse or take less pay to get a private room. Though, you should know this before you apply to the assignment. If you prefer to live alone, travel agencies can accommodate that, or you simply find housing yourself.
Yes! The options will be more limited, and you might have to pay more, but it is definitely possible. It’s something you’ll need to discuss with your recruiter from the start. They’ll have to find pet-friendly housing, and you’ll likely have to pay a pet deposit or pet rent.
Unfortunately, this does happen. Immediately contact your recruiter and in most cases, they’ll fix the problem if it’s truly unacceptable. I know a travel nurse who realized her housing was next door to a methadone clinic. When she contacted her agency, they moved her and the other travel nurses to a safer neighborhood. On the flip side, if you get there and the housing is more run-down than you’d prefer, they may not do anything. This is why I recommend you do your due diligence before you leave for an assignment — it’ll limit housing surprises!
It can be any of the above or even potentially a hotel. If your assignment is in a large city, then you’ll likely be housed in an apartment community. But in smaller towns where options are much more limited, there’s more variety in where you may get placed.
Contact your staffing agency and the landlord immediately. Once the sewage backed up in the house the agency rented us. We contacted our recruiter and the landlord, and someone was sent out that day to take care of the problem. The agency also offered to put us up in a hotel overnight if it wasn’t cleaned up by then — luckily it was. Usually, issues are more minor than this if they happen at all.
This is going to be on a case-by-case basis. If your agency is locked into a lease they can’t get out of, then you’re going to get some resistance. If the housing is truly unacceptable though, they should right the situation. But, if it’s just because you changed your mind, you might have some issues changing housing options last minute.
The big risk with taking the housing stipend is the chance your contract is canceled. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest risks associated with travel nursing. In my personal experience, I have found most of my own places to live, and I know that the relationship that I have built with my landlords would have been crucial in this scenario. Although it never happened, I would imagine that most of them would have had me pay a few additional weeks’ rent, but then would have returned the rest of the money. However, if you have signed an agreement, not all landlords will take pity on your circumstances. Check the lease or agreement ahead of time and ask for something like this to be added in, if possible.
Sit down and write out what your priorities are. If ease and safety are high on your list, I would recommend going with company housing. But if potentially saving a bit of money and having a choice in where you stay seems more appealing, then venture down the path of taking the stipend.
I would always recommend Facetiming with potential roommates or landlords while shopping from afar. This gives you an opportunity to meet them and get a read on their personalities, and ask to see the current condition of the room you might be staying in. Ask a lot of questions and ensure that they are knowledgeable about the house and that it feels like a safe contract to enter into.
Personally, I have only taken company-provided housing for short, crisis contracts. These have been wonderful since finding housing on your own for three weeks can be difficult, and quite expensive. The ease of taking company housing was absolutely worth it for the short contracts. Overall, trust your gut. If something feels suspicious, it probably is.