Housing for Traveling Nurses
By Kelli Leach
For many travel nurses, housing is one of the most important pieces of the pay package. For me and my husband, it’s the first thing we want details on before we decide to apply for a position. (My husband is a travel nurse, and I’m along for the adventure!).
Housing has certainly become a dealbreaker for us — we won’t sign a contract until we know 100% what we’re getting into for housing. On the flip side, I know some travelers are less concerned as long as the money is good and they have a place to sleep at night.
From our experience, your housing can make or break an assignment. We have seen many travelers decide they dislike travel nursing primarily because they hated the living situation. Even with as much time you’ll spend exploring and sight-seeing in your new city, you’ll want to feel settled and comfortable in your new home. It’s normal — both for first-timers and travelers who have been doing it for years.
Travel Nurse Housing Options
Travel nurse housing is available in two options:
- Agency-placed housing — your staffing agency arranges housing for you.
- Stipend pay — you receive a stipend and make your own housing arrangements.
We’ve 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. Though, I also know travel nurses that only 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.
The most common option for travel nurses is to allow your agency to find you housing. 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.
I recommend all first-time travel nurses take agency-placed housing for their first assignment. Let the agency deal with housing, while you figure out everything else. Once you’re a seasoned traveler, you’ll have a better idea of what works best for you.
Most assignments are booked within one to two weeks sometimes even one to two days before your start date. 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 (aka currently available and the cheapest). You can request what you want, but there is no guarantee you will get it.
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. This can happen — try finding a furnished, short-term lease that includes utilities during the holidays in a safe neighborhood of Manhattan for $1600 per month.
- Better treatment. Landlords and property managers may be more attentive and helpful when they’re trying to please a large corporate staffing agency with 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 the potentially expensive problem if your assignment gets canceled before your lease is up.
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 you’re traveling and the specific contract. You’ll be quoted a monthly rate (around 30-31 days), but it’s paid out on a weekly basis on your paycheck.
We usually find a vacation-type rental that is completely furnished and includes utilities, cable, and internet. These types of rentals often include all housewares too, so we just need to pack our clothes. Other travel nurses rent a standard apartment or house and then rent, bring, or buy furniture, setup utilities, etc. on their own. While even more adventurous travel nurses travel in an RV and rent a spot in an RV park with hookups (this is likely not right in the city action).
The main challenge with taking stipend pay is finding housing within the budget that’s allotted. To make the stipend option work for us we often have to roll our travel allowance and/or any bonuses into housing. 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). And, that’s just rent. You’ll still need to pay for utilities and furnishings (if applicable).
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 into new cites. Our favorite memories came from housing we found on our own. We lived beachfront in Hermosa Beach, CA; in the Gaslamp District in Downtown San Diego; and in a converted Candy Factory Loft near the Riverwalk in San Antonio, TX — trust me, your agency-placed housing won’t be that cool. More often than not, you’ll be placed in a bit dated, cookie-cutter apartment community.
- You have control of how you want to live. For example, having a washer & dryer in unit is important to us. Most agencies don’t include that as part of their standard housing package (sometimes the housing they find does include it, but often times it doesn’t and you either have to pay extra for it or use laundromats). We also prefer two-bedroom apartments because we often have company (and now we have a baby). An agency is usually going to place you in a one bedroom or a studio in some cases. If you want a larger place, then you’ll have to pay extra (sometimes a lot extra).
- 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 what you need used 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.
- 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. That’s usually enough, but we like to have a few days before the start date to check out our new city, find the hospital, go grocery shopping, etc. And, at the end of an assignment, we’re usually hightailing it to our next assignment or back home. The flexibility to set your own move in and out dates is nice.
Does the agency pay for 100% of my housing?
It depends. 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, a washer/dryer in unit, etc., 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.
Will the agency pay for gas, electric, water, cable, etc?
Most pay for utilities (gas, electric, water) up to a certain limit — we’ve never had an issue going over this limit. Cable and internet are usually your own expense, although some companies do pay for that as well.
How do I set up cable/internet?
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 installation. Make sure whatever you sign up for doesn’t require a long-term contract. This often works ou 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.
Will my housing be furnished (kitchen supplies, TV, bedding, etc.)?
For most agencies, furnished means that they’ll provide the following:
- Bedroom: Queen-size bed, one night stand, 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. We 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.
If I take the stipend, what is the best way to find my own housing?
Your options are 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.
A few ways to consider when finding your own housing:
- Traditional house hunting sites like forrent.com and apartments.com.
- Vacation rental websites like VRBO.com and homeaway.com.
- Temporary housing sites like sublet.com and airbnb.com.
- Non-traditional housing options like couchsurfing.org or houseboat rentals (Google by city for best results).
- Extended stay hotels like Candlewood, Extended Stay America, Residence Inn, etc.
- Hire a realtor to help you locate a place.
- Stay with a friend or family member (maybe even for free!)
If the agency arranges my housing, do I have a say in where I stay?
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, contract’s are short and the housing temporary.
How is the housing stipend amount determined?
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.
Will I have a roommate?
Usually, no. 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.
Can I bring a pet?
Yes! 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.
Read more: Travel Nurse Housing With Your Pet
What if I get to my assignment and dislike my housing?
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 that 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!
Will my housing be a rental house, apartment, or facility-owned housing?
It can be any of the above and 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.
What if something breaks or malfunctions in my agency-placed housing?
Contact your staffing agency and the landlord immediately. Once the sewage backed up in the house that 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.
If I don’t like the housing arranged by my travel nurse company, can I refuse it and find my own place?
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.
What happens if your travel nursing contract is cancelled?
The big risk with taking the housing stipend is the chance your contract is cancelled. It wasn’t something we ever considered until Hurricane Sandy. We had a contract in NYC and wanted to live in a hip Manhattan neighborhood and truly feel like New Yorkers. Once Sandy hit, the hospital cancelled our contract and luckily the landlord backed out of lease the day before. I asked our recruiter what would have happened if we’d already paid for our housing before the contract cancellation. The response: It would have been our problem to deal with.
While they would have tried to find us another assignment in NYC, they can’t guarantee the same payment. If we had to take a lower pay rate with the same high rent, we couldn’t have afforded it. Now if we take the stipend, we try to find a landlord that will allow us an out in case of contract cancellation.
My last piece of advice
Know in advance what the housing situation is going to be. If you don’t like the options your agency sends over, then you should either find your own housing or decline the contract. Housing for a travel nurse is often the most stressful part of the entire process. Always be upfront about your housing concerns and expectations with your recruiter.
Also, do your due diligence in the planning stages — read property reviews, research your new city, ask questions, etc. If you do this, your travel nurse housing should be what you plan it to be.
Kelli Leach and her husband Skyler have been traveling since July 2010. Skyler is a CVICU RN and Kelli is a writer. They are from Missouri and had a baby boy in November 2013 so they are now a traveling family of 3! Connect with Kelli on Facebook.