Travel Nursing | Average Salary + Benefits 2021

July 7, 2021

If you’re looking to become a travel nurse, you probably have many factors driving your decision, from a desire to help people, expand your skills, or to simply take on a new adventure. But no matter what your motivation for becoming a travel nurse, your total compensation will vary from that of a staff nurse.

There are a lot of different factors with travel nursing that affect your salary and overall pay like length of contract and your specialty. Because there are so many different factors, there is a lot of conflicting information about a travel nurse’s salary. We’ve broken things down to make it easy for you to get the facts, including what an average travel nurse salary is and how much you can expect to make as a travel nurse.

See available high-paying travel nurse opportunities.

Travel nurse salary

A good starting place to base your travel nursing salary on is the average median salary figure for a Registered Nurses in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a Registered Nurse as of 2018 was $71,730 per year. However, because of the in-demand and transient nature of the job of a travel nurse, travel nurses can expect to make, in general, more than the average staff nurse.

For example, one survey of nurses who had found travel nursing positions using a popular employment site found that the average weekly wage of a travel nurse is $1,698 per week, which is approximately $88,400 per year. Keep in mind, though, that many travel nurses work different travel positions over the course of the year, so that figure can fluctuate based on the job’s conditions, any overtime, and the flexibility of the nurse’s schedule. Your nursing speciality can also affect your total compensation as some hospitals may pay a premium for specific high-demand specialities.

Other travel nurse compensation factors

A travel nurse can expect some additional compensation that a staff nurse might not have access to. For example, many travel nurses earn sign-on bonuses when signing with a travel staffing agency, get referrals if they bring other nurses onto the agency to work, and receive housing and meal allotments.

A typical travel nursing position includes a compensation package for the nurse, which lists the base salary, as well as additional stipends, bonuses, and payments the nurse will receive for a total value that can be considerably higher than a staff nurse. That compensation may include:

  • Housing, meal, and incidental stipends, which could cover a majority of your bills.
  • Travel expense reimbursement for getting to your new nursing assignment.
  • Reimbursement for things like your scrubs, books, or nursing supplies.
  • Bonuses (signing, referral, stay-on, or longevity).
  • Health insurance, including dental, vision, and medical.
  • 401(k) benefits or other retirement options.
  • Life insurance options.

In some cases, your stipends as a travel nurse will be just that — a stipend, which means that you receive it no matter what. So, if you’re able to find cheaper housing, or decide to make a diet of Ramen noodles your mainstay, you have the potential to pocket the extra money as well. Most of the time, these stipends are non-taxable, which means you don’t have to report them as additional income come April. You can also get tax breaks for maintaining your full-time home, which equates to extra money in your pocket overall too.

See available high-paying travel nurse opportunities.

Highest paying cities for travel nursing in 2021

Some of the highest-paying cities in the country for travel nursing include the “big” cities that might pop up in your mind immediately, such as Seattle and Oakland. According to ZipRecruiter, the top 10 highest-paid cities for travel nursing in the U.S. are:

1. San Jose, CA | Annual salary: $120,229
2. Oakland, CA | Annual salary: $118,971
3. Tanaina, AK | Annual salary: $118,482
4. Wasilla, AK | Annual salary: $118,480
5. Wummersville, WV | Annual salary: $118,276
6. Hayward, CA | Annual salary: $116,479
7. Jackson, WY | Annual salary: $116,354
8. Norwalk, CT | Annual salary: $116,047
9. Seattle, WA | Annual salary: $115,676
10. Vallejo, CA | Annual salary: $115,648

Read more: The Best Cities for Travel Nurses in 2021

How you can make more money as a travel nurse

In addition to choosing an assignment in a high-paying location and signing with a travel agency that offers competitive rates and extra-compensation packages, there are other ways that you can earn even higher pay. For example, you could take any of the following strategies to earn an even higher travel nursing salary:

  • Get additional training for an in-demand specialty. Typically, you will be responsible for any costs incurred for adding specialty credentials and you won’t be reimbursed directly from the travel nursing agency.
  • Sign up for rapid response posting. This is when a travel nursing agency will post a position that requires a very fast turnaround to begin work, similar to being “on-call” at a staffing position.
  • Work in less popular places. A lot of travel nurses like to travel to the beach in summer, but there are other areas that need help and facilities are often willing to incentivize.
  • Consider working in a strike zone. It may not be a popular choice, but hospitals that are in the middle of a strike need staffing agencies to temporarily fill nursing positions, carrying a higher wage potential for you.

Travel nurse salary examples

Your total travel nurse salary will include your base pay as a nurse (the hourly wage you receive for actually working as a nurse) as well as any additional stipend pay, which may be broken down hourly, daily, weekly, or even monthly for a grand total of a “blended” pay.

As an example of how the blended pay might look, you can consider the following breakdown:

Travel Nurse Blended Pay Example for 3 Month Contract

Meals: $250/wk for 13 weeks $3,250
Housing: $2,000/mo for 3 months $6,000
Travel: $500 (one time) $500
Stipend total: $9,750
Stipend pay per hour: $20.83*
Total blended hourly rate: $40.83**

*Divide stipend total by hours worked (468 hours).
**Add $20 base pay.

The specific compensation that you’ll receive as a travel nurse will be unique to you and will vary from contract to contract. If you have any questions regarding the pay for your contract, then ask your recruiter — you should have a complete understanding of your compensation before committing to a contract.

See available high-paying travel nurse opportunities.

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