Complete Guide to Travel Nursing

Travel nurses are registered nurses who fill short term positions where hospitals and clinics are unable to hire locally. Unlike full-time staff nurses, travel nurses are often employed by staffing agencies and not the hospital or facility where they work.

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Leaving a full-time nursing position to become a travel nurse is a big decision. But for the right person, travel nursing can be a rewarding career choice. As a travel nurse, you will serve communities who need you. Professionally, travel nursing can help you advance your career and increase your salary. And on a personal level, travel nursing offers the opportunity to explore the world and make lifelong friends.

This guide will include everything you need to become a travel nurse, including finding a job and finding housing. Take a deep breath, read on, and get ready for a life changing adventure.

Travel nurses are registered nurses who fill short term positions where hospitals and clinics are unable to hire locally. Unlike full-time staff nurses, travel nurses are often employed by staffing agencies and not the hospital or facility where they work. Assignments are typically 13 weeks long, but they can vary in length. Some could be as short as four weeks or as long as 26 weeks. Depending on a nurse’s performance and the facility’s needs, travel nurses can also sign on for another assignment. The need for travel nursing comes from a nationwide nursing shortage. The shortage stems from numerous reasons, including an education bottleneck, retiring nurses and an aging patient population. Not all states are equally impacted, however. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, California and Texas will be short 44,500 and 15,900 nurses respectively by 2030. Florida and Ohio, on the other hand, will have nursing surpluses.

How do you become a travel nurse?

Your path to becoming a travel nurse depends on where you are in your nursing career. If you're already working, congrats! It will be easy to find a travel nursing assignment. If you're at the beginning of your nursing career, don't fret. The path might be long, but it's straight forward.

Nursing degree and License

To become a travel nurse, you first need a nursing degree. Although some positions allow for Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degrees or Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN), most prefer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.Once you have a nursing degree, you need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX-RN exam is the nationwide licensing exam for both Canada and the United States. When you take the exam, you must apply for licensing with the state where you live or where you want to work.

Work Experience

In addition to getting your degree and your license, you will need experience to become a travel nurse. Most travel nurse positions require at least one year of experience in the specialty applied for. ICU, ER and Labor & Delivery are some specialties that are frequently in demand. However, it’s best to speak with your recruiter to determine what positions are available and a good fit.

State License

Before taking a travel nursing assignment outside of the state where you’re licensed, you want to make sure you can work in that state. In the U.S., nurse licensing is regulated at the state level. Depending on where you’re licensed and where you’re traveling, you may need to apply for a new license.Thankfully, most states in the U.S. are a part of Nurse Licensure Compact. States that are a part of the Nurse Licensure Compact have reciprocal licensing. Texas and New Mexico, for example, are both part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. Therefore, if you are licensed in Texas, you can also work in Mexico. In all, there are 34 states in the Nurse Licensure Compact.

How do you become a travel nurse?

Before taking a travel nursing assignment outside of the state where you’re licensed, you want to make sure you can work in that state. In the U.S., nurse licensing is regulated at the state level. Depending on where you’re licensed and where you’re traveling, you may need to apply for a new license.Thankfully, most states in the U.S. are a part of Nurse Licensure Compact. States that are a part of the Nurse Licensure Compact have reciprocal licensing. Texas and New Mexico, for example, are both part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. Therefore, if you are licensed in Texas, you can also work in New Mexico. In all, there are 34 states in the Nurse Licensure Compact.

Unfortunately, if you travel to state that's not in the Nurse Licensure Compact, you will need to get relicensed. The process for each state is different, but your recruiter can help you through the process.

Note: With the COVID-19 pandemic, most states have relaxed their licensing requirements. Speak with a recruiter to see if you can work in a state other than your own.

How much do you make as a travel nurse?

The average hourly rate for travel nurses is $38.83 per hour. However, your total compensation will depend on other factors in addition to the hourly rate. Much of your compensation will depend on the number of hours you’re contracted to work and your reimbursements such as your travel reimbursement and licensing reimbursement.

How do travel nurses find housing?

Your housing options will differ depending on the staffing agency that you work with. There are two main options: agency provided housing or a housing stipend.

Agency provided housing

Pros:

  • You save time by not having to search for housing
  • Monthly payments, credit checks and other logistics are taken care of by the staffing agency

Cons

  • You have less control over where you live

Your housing options will differ depending on the staffing agency that you work with. There are two main options: agency provided housing or a housing stipend.

Housing stipend

Pros:

  • You have complete control over your housing choices
  • If you have money left over, you might be able to keep the difference

Cons

  • Finding housing can be time consuming and difficult
  • All credit checks are in your name

Final thoughts on travel nursing

As a travel nurse, you can dictate your salary and choose where you live. You will also meet interesting people and serve communities who desperately need you. Finding the right assignment can seem like an overwhelming task, but with the right recruiter and staffing agency, it can be a pleasant experience.