Travel Nurse Salary Guide | 2022
What Is a Travel Nurse?
Travel nurses are registered nurses that work short-term contracts to fill the needs of hospitals, clinics, long-term facilities, and other healthcare institutions. Travel nurses can help when there are nursing shortages. However, it is not always a long-term solution.
Travel nursing is very enticing to those who want increased flexibility within the nursing sector that traditional bedside nursing might not offer.
How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?
Travel nurse salaries vary depending on the location and specialty. Most recently travel nurses have seen a decline in salaries as compared to several years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased wages for travel nurses, and many left the bedside in order to travel the country but also cash in on the big paychecks. While now the salaries are not as large for contracts, there are still a plethora of contracts available at a competitive wage across the country.
ZipRecruiter.com reports the national average for travel nurses is $118,400 per year. The highest-paying states are New York, California, and Idaho while the lowest reported salaries are in Louisiana and North Carolina. Even though North Carolina has the lowest travel nurse salary, the annual travel nurse salary is still more than the $77,600 national average for staff nurses according to the BLS.
Travel Nurse Salary by State
Salaries and stipends vary by state, as do housing and cost of living. Here’s a breakdown of travel nurse salaries and hourly wage for all fifty states, going from highest to lowest.
|State||Annual Travel |
Wages for travel nurses involve more than a straight hourly rate. Travel nurses can receive non-taxed stipends for housing and living expenses, and those stipends are paid on top of your hourly rate. Other benefits may include, depending on the staffing agency:
- Medical, dental, and vision insurance
- 401K investment options
- Sign-on, completion, and referral bonuses
- Free continuing education courses
- License Reimbursement
- Weekly/Bi-weekly Pay
- Tax Advantage Plan
- Life Insurance
- Liability Insurance, Disability Insurance, and Worker’s Compensation
- 24/7 Support
It’s important to remember that travel nurses are paid (and taxed) differently than staff nurses. Travel nurses are paid through agencies, not the hospital, so you have to look at your total pay. This includes your hourly base pay + your non-taxable stipends, which is what things like housing and meals are considered.
What Does a Travel Nurse Package Include?
Travel nurse packages will vary depending on the company as well as the individual. For example, one travel nurse may take a housing stipend while another might take the company-provided houses. These small differences are important to remember when investigating travel nurse contracts and also speaking to your peers. Furthermore, some travel nurse companies will have exclusive contracts with healthcare institutions, and packages will look different based on the exclusivity.
There are three major components to all pay packages:
- Taxable hourly pay
- Housing Stipend
- Meal and Incidentals Stipend
Taxable Hourly Rate
The hourly pay is the dollar per-hour amount for each hour worked. It is the taxable portion of the pay package, which is important to remember. The actual amount you are paid will vary depending on the agency. Travel nurse agencies will want to pay you the least amount possible in order to make packages look the most attractive to travel nurses. The larger the hourly wage, the more taxes are taken out and as a result less weekly income.
Housing, Meal, and Incidental Stipends
This portion of the pay package is tax-exempt since non-taxable money is not considered income. This is the most alluring part of a travel nurse pay package and where travel nurses will make the most money. This money is directly determined by the travel nurse company.
These stipends will also vary depending if you decide to take housing provided by the company or find your own. If you decide to take company-provided housing then you would not receive a housing stipend. Many travel nurses decide to take the housing stipend and then find their own living arrangements. This can help nurses take home extra non-taxable pay. But be careful, it also can be harmful.
For example, if the housing stipend is $1,200 and you find an apartment for $1,000 then you will get to keep the extra $200. Unfortunately, if housing is more than the housing stipend provided by the company then you are responsible for the difference.
Pro tip: Look at housing costs before signing your contract!
As an example, a standard total pay package could look something like this:
*Assumes $20 per hour at 40 hours per week, minus taxes
Understanding Your “Tax Home”
In order to qualify for these non-taxable stipends or reimbursements, one must maintain what the IRS calls a “tax home.” A tax home is your place of residence that you maintain and pay for (either by rent or mortgage) while you are out on your travel assignment. Ideally, the IRS would like a travel nurse to take an assignment somewhere and then return to their tax home where they maintain a PRN or full-time nursing job.
Travel nurses that have a tax home will need to maintain proof of this. It’s important to keep all receipts that prove you are paying to maintain your primary residence (e.g., house sitters, utilities, home maintenance expenses).
Per IRS Publication 463, three factors are used to determine if a location/residence qualifies as a tax home. These are:
- You perform part of your business in the area of your main home and use that home for lodging while doing business in the area.
- You have living expenses at your main home that you duplicate because your business requires you to be away from that home.
- You have not abandoned the area in which both your historical place of lodging and your claimed main home are located; you have a member(s) of your family living at your main home; or you often use that home for lodging.
Most travel nursing agencies will have you sign a form stating that you do have a tax home. If you do not have a residence that you are planning on maintaining when you are traveling, you will be referred to as an itinerant worker. As an itinerant worker, you will be required to pay taxes on all income earned including stipends and reimbursements. When applying with different travel agencies, make sure they are aware of your itinerant status. You can get more information about tax homes here.
Itinerant status is not ideal and will cause a big difference in take-home pay. It can be confusing to navigate the difference between tax home and itinerant status. Speaking to a financial planner and/or accountant specializing in travel nurse pay is helpful. As a best practice, travel nurses are encouraged to return to their permanent residence between contracts.
What Factors Affect Travel Nursing Pay?
There are numerous factors that can affect travel nursing pay. Some will be in your control and others will not. These include
The specific location of the assignment most heavily influences travel nurse pay. Simply put, pay rates often reflect the cost of living in the area and also regional trends. Historically speaking, the highest-paying states for travel nurses include California, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington, and New York.
Southern states, like Mississippi and Alabama, typically have lower living costs and in turn, lower travel nurse pay. Destination locations, like Hawaii, typically do not have the most desirable pay packages because the locations are highly sought after. Companies know that there are many travel nurses who are excited about the surf and sand of Hawaii, so pay packages are reflective of that.
The travel nurse’s specialty also impacts pay. Medical surgical nurses, long-term care nurses, and clinic nurses will see significantly lower rates than other specialties, but this is generally the case even for staff nurses. Increased certifications, credentials, and skills will command higher pay.
Historically speaking, the top-paying travel nurse specialties are:
- Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
- Labor & Delivery
- Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
- Operating Room (OR)
- Post-anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)
Night shift assignments are generally more prevalent in the world of travel nursing. The increased need and the less desirable shift means that many hospitals offer higher rates for their night shift assignments. If you want to make the most money as a travel nurse, flexibility is key.