Canadian nurse working in the U.S.
Travel Nursing

7 Things Canadian Nurses Must Know to Work in the U.S.

You may have heard a lot about travel nursing in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Canadian nurse, you may be curious about the possibility of becoming an international travel nurse yourself. There are many benefits to coming from Canada to work as a travel nurse in the U.S. and many things to consider as you decide if this is something you might want to do.

There’s a wide range of travel nurse jobs currently available throughout the U.S. in many different nursing specialties, such as med surg and ICU nursing. Although the demand for travel nurses may not be as high as it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still evidence of the continued, ongoing need for travel nurses in America. Vivian’s recent survey of healthcare professionals found that 67% are planning to leave the healthcare field entirely. In addition, our survey finds that 44.4% of healthcare providers report that their place of employment is continuously “short-staffed.”

According to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), there’s no doubt the U.S. will soon face an even larger nursing shortage than it already has. The AACN cites the country’s growing aging population needing nursing care and nurses leaving due to high stress or reaching retirement age. Based on this information, there’s still a high need for travel nurses to fill essential gaps in the nursing workforce in the United States.

Why Canadian nurses come to the U.S. as international travel nurses

One of the first benefits that comes to mind is earning a significantly higher salary in a much shorter time. A quick search of the travel nurse jobs available on Vivian as of this article date shows there were over 50,000 new travel nurse jobs, paying an average of $2,584 United States dollars (USD) per week, with the highest pay listed at $7,590 USD per week.

Glassdoor estimates the average Canadian RN salary to be about $63,000 USD per year. With an average U.S. travel nursing pay of $2,584 per week, you’d earn about $33,592 in a 13-week travel assignment. When you do the math, you can see the potential to make more than half your yearly Canadian wages just by completing one 13-week travel assignment in the U.S.

Use Vivian’s salary tool to see the latest travel nurse salary estimates in the United States.

What are the benefits of travel nursing?

In addition to the appealing pay increase you could receive by coming to the U.S. as an international travel nurse, you could reap many other benefits. For example, you have the opportunity to cross some U.S. destinations off your bucket list and experience the variety of climates throughout the states.

Coming to work as a travel nurse in the United States also has the potential to bring you enormous career growth as a nurse. According to Newsweek’s 2022 World’s Best Hospitals rankings, the United States leads other countries worldwide with 33 hospitals in the top 150 on this list and dominating the top 3 slots. You could have the opportunity to work in many different facilities throughout the country, learn new nursing skills, be part of healthcare innovation, and positively impact many patients’ lives by filling critical staffing needs. 

Becoming an international travel nurse in the United States has numerous other benefits, which vary depending on the specific travel nurse staffing agency you choose to work with. Browse open travel nurse jobs to view information about the benefits offered with each job and by each staffing agency. Many offer health, dental, and vision benefits starting on day one, PTO accrual, paid sick time, guaranteed hours, and more. You also often receive a tax-free monetary stipend for your housing, or some agencies find and pay for housing for you.

Travel contracts are short-term, typically 8 to 13 weeks long, giving you the opportunity to experience new areas of the nursing field without making a long-term job commitment. This experience is a great way to discover which areas of nursing you love and areas you don’t particularly care for, all while furthering your professional and personal growth.

Things to consider before becoming an international travel nurse

Before coming from Canada to work as a nurse in the United States, consider the differences between the U.S. and Canadian healthcare systems. United States healthcare is primarily privately funded by insurance companies, while Canadian healthcare is mainly government funded. This difference may contribute to some variations between the two countries in how nursing care is provided.

You should also consider that while working as a travel nurse in a different country, you’ll be far away from home, friends and family. You may miss out on some holidays and special family events. It may also be a challenge working in a new hospital every few months, learning your way around the units, meeting new doctors and nurses, and getting re-oriented to another hospital’s charting system, equipment, and policies.

Once you’ve considered all these factors and decided you’re ready to start working as a travel nurse in the United States, you may wonder where to start. The process can be lengthy and complex, but the step-by-step guide below can help make things clearer.

Step 1: Meet the minimum requirements to work as a Canadian Travel Nurse in the United States

According to the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS), the minimum requirements to practice in the United States as a nurse educated in Canada include:

  • Graduation from an accredited nursing school
  • Currently licensed as a Registered Nurse in Canada
  • A minimum of 2 years of work experience as a Registered Nurse

Step 2: Take and pass the required nurse licensure exam, if you haven’t already

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is the standard nursing proficiency test used to obtain nurse licensure. Passing this exam is required to practice as a registered nurse in the U.S. If you haven’t yet taken and passed the NCLEX-RN examination, you must do this before proceeding any further.

According to the NCLEX website, the registration fee for people seeking US Licensure is $200 USD. You must allow yourself an appropriate amount of time to study and prepare for your exam. Once you’ve completed the exam, expect to receive your official test results in approximately 6 weeks.

Step 3: Obtain a passport

If you don’t already have a Passport, you must get one before coming to the U.S. According to the Government of Canada website, getting a passport can take up to 13 weeks, plus additional mail time. However, you can expedite the process by paying an additional fee and providing written proof that you absolutely need to expedite your passport process.

Step 4: Complete a VisaScreen®

A VisaScreen® is an in-depth screening of all your nursing education and credentials completed through CGFNS International. This screening is specifically for healthcare professionals, including registered nurses coming from other countries like Canada to work in the United States. Part of the requirements includes taking an English language proficiency test. However, you won’t need to complete this step if you completed your nursing education in English, using textbooks written in English. Those who completed their education in Quebec aren’t exempt and must take this test.

The application fee for a VisaScreen® is $665. Plan for this entire process to take approximately 3 to 6 months from start to finish. There’s an option for expedited VisaScreen® service, which costs an additional $595 and has a completion time of 5 days with express mail delivery of your IHCP certificate as proof of completing a VisaScreen®.

Step 5: Earn a nursing license in one of the 50 U.S. states.

Your next step is deciding which U.S. state you want to work in for your first nursing travel assignment.  Pick a state that doesn’t require a Social Security Number to obtain nurse licensure if you don’t already have your SSN. Each state has a Board of Nursing with a list of requirements to obtain nurse licensure. Obtaining a nursing license in any state includes fees and an associated wait time to process your nurse licensure application. Fees and wait times vary by state.

It’s important to be aware that as a Canadian nurse coming to the United States to work, you  must obtain a separate nursing license for each state you’ll be working in as a nurse. Once you’ve been working in the United States and want to obtain nurse licensure in states that require an SSN, contact the Social Security Administration to get more information on how to apply for one.

Step 6: Pick a travel nurse agency and get a job offer

Once you have an active nursing license in your state of choice, you’re ready to land your first travel contract. Start looking for open travel positions on Vivian or set up your account to receive job proposals matched to your needs. After receiving an official job offer, you need your employer to provide you with written documentation of this job offer to obtain a TN Visa and enter the United States to work. 

Per PassportUSA, this letter must include your job title, a description detailing your role at the job, pay information, and the amount of time requested for you to work in the U.S. You can request a maximum of 3 years access at a time.

Step 7: Obtain a TN Visa for entrance to the U.S.

The final step is to obtain your TN Visa for access into the United States. The TN Visa is the quickest, most straightforward way for Canadian healthcare professionals to enter the U.S. to work. TN stands for Trade NAFTA, an agreement that created a special economic and trade relationship between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Through this agreement, Canadian citizens in certain professions, such as registered nurses, can enter the country for work. Once obtained, TN status is valid for up to 3 years, but you can renew it indefinitely. There are two ways to obtain your TN Visa.

Per U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, if you choose to do this by mail or online, there’s a non-refundable filing fee of $460, and your employer must complete form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website currently lists a two-month processing time for an I-129 form for a TN Visa.

You also have the option to obtain your TN Visa directly at the U.S./Canadian border. Be sure to bring your Passport, proof of your U.S. State Nursing License, your IHCP certificate from your VisaScreen®, and the letter from your employer with your job offer details. It’s crucial to bring the original documents, as they won’t accept copies. This route costs about $56, and you wait several hours while an agent completes the process.

You’re now fully educated on all you need to land your first travel nurse job in the United States as an international travel nurse. Get ready to experience adventure, career growth, and hopefully, the growth of your bank account. Save this resource to refer to as a guide to help you throughout the lengthy process.

amym
Amy McCutcheon

Amy McCutcheon, RN BSN has worked on a surgical PCU/Telemetry unit for over 10 years, including a year and a half of COVID PCU/Telemetry nursing. She specifically enjoys visiting her unit's Monitor Room and learning how to read and interpret cardiac rhythm strips. Outside of work, Amy enjoys spending time with her two kids, writing, budgeting, fitness, and crafting.

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