Travel Nursing Benefits | Health Insurance & 401(k)
Travel nursing has a lot of inherent perks: professional experience, adventure and travel, flexibility, new friends, and a higher pay rate. But what about traditional benefits? Staff nurses typically receive retirement accounts, paid sick leave, and health benefits.
But when you’re a travel nurse, you can still get many of the same benefits. Here’s what you need to know.
Travel Nurse Benefits: What You Get
The exact travel nursing benefits you’ll receive will depend on the travel nursing agency that you work with. This is why it’s a good idea to shop around before committing to an agency so you can be sure you’re getting the pay package and benefits you need. Plus, you can negotiate for benefits, which is easier to do when you are considering multiple travel nurse jobs or if if you work in a high-demand specialty.
Some travel nurses may not need health insurance, but for others, health insurance is a necessity. Be sure to tell your recruiter what you’re looking for. Compare benefit packages from staffing agencies so you can see what’s available and choose the best one for you and your nursing career.
Your compensation package may include benefits like:
- Health insurance
- Dental insurance
- Vision insurance
- 401(k) with matching contributions
- Paid sick leave
- COBRA (extended insurance coverage for when your assignment ends)
- Disability insurance
- Life insurance
- Wellness benefits, such as gym memberships and mental health resources
- Professional liability insurance
- Malpractice insurance
- Worker’s compensation
- Health Saving Account (HSA)
- Housing stipend
- Travel reimbursement
- Licensure reimbursement
- Signing or completion bonuses
- Referral bonuses
Like health insurance, any other benefits you get as a travel nurse will also end when your contract ends. (Although, as with health insurance, you may get access to purchase “extenders” if you sign on with another contract with that agency.)
Travel Nursing Benefits: How They Work
Benefits like health insurance will work differently depending on the specifics of your travel nursing agency and contract.
Some travel nurse agencies will require you to work a specified amount of time, like a month, before your benefits kick in. Others will offer coverage from the first day you sign on.
You should be sure to review your contract and ask any question so you know exactly how your benefits — especially your health insurance — function ahead of starting your new assignment in a new city.
Here are some of the ways you to access benefits as a traveling nurse:
Often, travel nurses receive health coverage through the travel nursing agency itself.
In this case, any insurance you have attached to your contract will only last as long as your assignment does. For the period when you’re between nursing positions, many agencies also offer extended coverage or a form of COBRA so you have health insurance after and between assignments. In most cases, providing you have another contract with them, your rates for the coverage will be deducted from your next assignment’s payroll.
An advantage of committing to one agency while traveling is that you can purchase insurance extenders or take advantage of their “bridge” program to keep your insurance between assignments. You may also be able to roll over other parts of your benefits package, like paid sick leave or HSA balances, by sticking with the same agency.
However, if you stick with one agency just for insurance, you may also lose the opportunity to comparison shop. Ultimately, it comes down to your individual priorities.
Keep in mind, if for some reason, your contract gets canceled, your insurance is also canceled. It’s good to have a backup plan to avoid any gaps in coverage.
You can also always purchase your own insurance and benefits outside of your agency’s offerings through a private insurance company or through the Healthcare.gov marketplace.
Private insurance has plenty of benefits. You’ll have consistent coverage regardless of whether you’re on assignment. Particularly if you have a specific medical condition, a private insurance plan will give you the security of knowing it will be covered. This option may also keep your cost down, since your deductible and any progress towards meeting it, will restart just one per year, rather than each time you start with a new agency plan.
Private insurance is available for more than just health insurance too. You can get private life insurance or private disability insurance.
But while private insurance is often more convenient, it’s also likely to be more expensive than what’s offered through your travel nursing compensation package. This is because the agency is an employer, so they are able to secure more affordable rates to offer to a pool of employees, just like any other workplace.
It’s also important to keep in mind that if you purchase a private health insurance plan, there’s a chance you may not have coverage in every state so if you plan on traveling all over the country for work, you’ll want to ensure you have coverage wherever you are.
If you decide to get private health insurance or if you have coverage through your partner, you can decline any insurance or benefits that you do not want when you take your travel nursing job. You may even be able to negotiate for a higher wage or additional stipends instead. Some nurses may also evaluate the cost-benefit of using those higher wages to put towards the cost of a more ideal private plan for year-round coverage as well.
Travel Nursing & Retirement Benefits
Whether you’re an RN just starting out or someone who has been on the travel nurse circuit for years, retirement investing is always a good idea.
The hard part about 401(k) accounts for travel nurses is that they are employer-specific. If you switch agencies over the years, you’ll end up with a lot of different 401(k) accounts.
It’s possible to combine your investments or to keep managing the separate accounts but you could also consider opening your own IRA account to contribute to on your own. You won’t have the benefit of an employer match but unless you plan on sticking with one agency for a very long period of time, the contributions aren’t likely to be that significant. (Some agencies even have fine print that they won’t match until you’re “vested,” which can take several years.) With your own IRA account, you can keep just one account and manage the contributions on your own to meet your own needs.
Travel Nursing Benefits
Many aspiring travel nurses stay in staff positions because they are afraid they’ll lose their benefits. But if you’re considering traveling, don’t let this common myth deter you. You can get benefits — like health insurance — when you’re on a travel nursing assignment.
With travel nursing benefits, there is no “one size fits all.” That’s the beauty of travel nursing! It’s a flexible career path that allows you to customize your work and compensation and even your location. Start reaping the benefits of travel nursing today!