Use this comprehensive Q&A guide to find answers to the most frequently asked questions about travel nursing.
What are travel nurses?
Travel nurses are contracted, temporary workers that are used to supplement staffing in healthcare facilities across the country. Most travel nurses work full time, and the contracts have traditionally lasted 13 weeks (although, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen much shorter contracts for the crisis). Hospitals, long term care facilities, home health systems, clinics, and many other sites hire travelers to help them cover their schedules.
How do I start travel nursing?
Travel nursing requires at least one year of paid clinical experience (requirements may change with different facilities) as a nurse. There are tons of options for finding jobs once you have your experience. For a one-stop-shop go to Vivian.com and browse jobs from hundreds of agencies with only one profile. Click “I’m interested” on job posts to start chats with recruiters from the agencies that have posted the jobs. Getting started is easier than you may think. Check out our guide to applying for your first travel nursing job and reference our article with tips to help you choose an agency, recruiter and how to write an amazing travel nurse resume.
How far in advance should I start the application process to be a travel nurse?
If you know you are ready to travel, or will be soon, we recommend you fill out an application so that you are prepared to seize the right opportunity. Traditionally, most nurses start looking 2-6 weeks before they want to start their assignment. During the COVID-19 pandemic it was most common to find a job 1-2 weeks before the start date due to the critical nature of the needs.
What is a travel nurse recruiter?
A recruiter works for a travel nursing agency and is your personal contact before and during your contract. Recruiters submit you to the hospital for approval and arrange interviews prior to starting. During your assignment, recruiters usually check in and make sure everything is going ok and provide any assistance needed if you are having issues at a facility. They are also responsible for letting you know if the hospital wants to extend your contract.
What do I ask a travel nurse recruiter?
There are so many questions to ask your recruiter throughout the whole process of finding and signing a contract. The most important questions about a job are pay, hours required, shift, and duration of contract. But, you should also ask a recruiter about benefits associated with the agency, and any clauses that exist in case of contract cancellation. Read Vivian’s post on 10 questions to ask your travel nurse recruiter for info.
Can I negotiate with my travel nurse recruiter for pay?
Yes! Depending on the contract, there may be some room to advocate for yourself. Nurses can use Vivian to browse rates in their selected area and compare contracts across different agencies. You can use this information as leverage in your negotiations.
Can I be a travel nurse as a new grad?
Unfortunately, no. Most facilities require at least one year of experience, most prefer two, especially for a high acuity specialty. As a travel nurse you are expected to hit the ground running, sometimes after only 4-8 hours of orientation on the unit. Most new grads do not have the experience necessary to be successful for a travel nurse assignment.
Do I have to be a nurse to travel?
No. Vivian supports all types of traveling healthcare workers. Allied health providers such as respiratory therapists, ultrasound techs, CT/MRI techs, PTs and OTs, SLPs, and many more can find travel jobs via Vivian.
Why should I become a travel nurse?
There are so many perks to travel nursing! Great pay, the freedom to choose when you work and when you don’t, exploring cool new locations, gaining new professional experiences are just a few of the reasons why you should become a travel nurse. You can read all the awesome reasons why I became a travel nurse and see the benefits for yourself.
What type of experience do I need to be a travel nurse?
At least one year of recent experience (within the last 6-12 months, depending on facility) in the specialty that you are applying for, preferably in a hospital/acute care setting is required. 2+ years experience is preferred.
What states can I travel to as a travel nurse?
Any state in which you are licensed. You can also apply for a license in other states, or travel to other ‘compact’ states if you hold a compact license. Some states have fast licensing, others take months. See Vivian’s guide to preparing for licensure and info on compact states article for more detail. For more information regarding licensing in other states, please visit: https://www.ncsbn.org/nurse-licensure-compact.htm
Where do most travel nurses go?
There is no one set place that is most popular among travel nurses. Historically, many travel nurses have gone to work in California because of their awesome patient ratio laws and decent pay scale, but that is balanced by a high cost of living. Many travel nurses are looking for the highest paying jobs, and location can vary greatly. A smart travel nurse looks at the compensation and compares it to cost of living to make the most fiscally responsible decision.
How long does a travel nurse stay in one place?
Typically, assignments are 13 weeks. However, shorter and longer assignments may also be available. The COVID pandemic has presented travel nurses with options for shorter term assignments for crisis areas.
Is travel nursing a career?
Yes! A lot of travel nurses travel for years before going back to a permanent staff position, and some just keep traveling. You gain so much experience as a traveler and it’s a great way to see all of the country. Read more about developing your travel nursing career.
Can you cancel a travel nurse contract?
That depends on your contract. You want to try to avoid cancellations unless there is a personal emergency or if you truly feel your license is in danger. Some contracts have no penalty if you give two weeks notice, and some require complete fulfillment of the contract, or else you may have to pay a hefty fee or be blacklisted by the agency and healthcare system. If you are struggling at your assignment, reach out to your manager and recruiter to discuss options. Try your absolute best to NOT cancel a contract with little to no notice.
Why are travel nurses needed?
All nurses can relate to the short staffing issues that plague the industry. All specialties and types of facilities are suffering from this problem. Travel nurses help fill these staffing holes while managers recruit and train permanent staff. Travel nurses are also used to help cover maternity leaves or be an extra set of hands during an EHR (electronic health record) conversion. Additionally many hospitals and healthcare systems rely on local agency staff (a form of travel nursing) to help complete their schedules.
Where are travel nurses needed?
Everywhere! Places with higher needs will pay a bit more, and some of the less popular rural areas have higher rates. Before the pandemic, California was always hiring, paid great, and had safe staffing ratio laws that protect all nurses working in the state – but, again the cost of living can cut into your salary. Choose your top five locations and determine how much money you need to make and check out the jobs waiting for you to apply.
How does a travel nurse get paid?
Travel nurses who claim a permanent tax home have a ‘blended rate’. This rate includes tax-free stipends and a taxable hourly wage (often seems low, but the stipends make the pay much higher). Travel nurses who do not claim a permanent tax home can still take travel contracts and will have a rate similar to that of a blended rate, only all of their wages will be fully taxed. See our Travel Nurse Pay Breakdown article for a full explanation.
How often do travel nurses get paid?
Travel nurses are usually paid weekly by their agencies.
How much do travel nurses make?
This can vary greatly, but the average income of a travel nurse (including the stipends) is $80k-$90K per year. Prior to COVID, a travel nursing contract typically paid $1200-$2200 per week, gross income. During COVID, travel nurses saw those rates go as high as $11,000 per week for a 60-72 hour workweek in a crisis location.
Travel nurses who take the tax free stipends will report a much lower number on their tax returns due to a low taxable hourly wage. Factors like facility, agency, specialty, and local demand for nurses will affect the pay rates for travel nurses. Check out our salary guide to find out more on “How much do travel nurses make?”
What is a bill rate?
Bill rates are the amount charged by the agency to the facility per nurse. The bill rate is then split into nurse pay package, agency fees, and costs associated with orientation. It is the total amount of money an agency receives for providing a nurse.
Do travel nurses make more?
Most travel nurses will make more money than they would as a staff nurse, with or without a duplication of expenses (having a permanent tax home). This will always depend on the cost of benefits and pay for specific travel nurse assignments.
What do travel nurse recruiters make?
Reporting of this figure varies from $50K-$85K per year. Agency and years of experience can have an impact on a recruiter’s salary. Read our bill rates and managed service provider article for more info on how agencies and recruiters make their money.
What are travel nurse stipends?
Stipends is another word for “reimbursements”- except they are paid up front each week in travel nurses’ paychecks. In travel staffing industries, the term is often used to describe tax free pay for meals/incidentals and housing. In a travel pay package, a portion of your pay is taxable and another portion is the tax-free stipends. In order to be considered a traveler, you generally must travel at least 50 miles from your tax home, but this can vary between facilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw much higher hourly wage rates and lower stipends than traditional travel contracts. That is because an agency can only pay so much in stipends, according to the GSA rates for per diem work. This number is determined by the government and agencies can’t go over the maximum recommended amount without raising some red flags.
Are travel nurse stipends taxable?
No, the stipends are not taxed if you can claim a permanent tax home, duplicate expenses, and qualify for stipends. There is a lot of information to take in about travel nurse taxes. Read our article to get a better understanding about travel nurse taxes.
How do travel nurses file taxes?
You do NOT need a tax preparer to file your travel nurse taxes if you were able to file your own taxes prior to becoming a travel nurse. You will need to file in all of the states that you’ve worked in throughout the year, but it’s the same process as filing in your home state. Your stipends are already deducted so there is no need to itemize expenses that fall under the housing or per diem categories. Although, you should save receipts for these things in case you are ever audited. Read more about understanding your travel nurse taxes.
What do travel nurses do for health insurance?
Most agencies provide some form of health insurance. Few agencies will have it for ‘free’, but many have reasonable costs for a single person. Other options include state marketplaces, or 3rd party insurance merchants like ehealthinsurance.com.
Check out our article about travel nursing and health insurance for the most up to date info, and ask your recruiter about options for health insurance during and between your contracts.
Can travel nurses deduct mileage?
No. Because you are receiving tax free stipends for housing and per diem expenses, you may not deduct mileage. If you are taking a fully taxable wage and traveling over 50 miles to your place of work, you may be able to deduct mileage but cannot also legally take the stipends.
Can I travel and work PRN?
Yes! As long as it doesn’t conflict with your contract schedule or decrease your performance.
Can travel nurses work part time?
Most travel nurse contracts are full time (36-40 hours). If you want to work part time, it would be best to look at local agency per diem contracts. It doesn’t have to be ‘local’ to your permanent tax home. Many large cities and healthcare systems have managed service providers that staff a huge local float pool for hospitals to utilize. But, because travel nurses are utilized to fill desperate staffing needs, part time employment does not usually make sense for the facility.
Can travel nurses work overtime?
Depends on the facility. I have never had a problem working OT as a travel nurse. But, the facility where I worked as staff did NOT allow travelers to work OT, as they claimed it was too much of an expense for the unit. Your OT rate will vary greatly between agencies and hospitals. Some agencies only pay overtime based on your hourly taxable wage (which will be low if you are taking stipends), so your rate may only be something like $30/hour for OT. You can try to negotiate for more- or pick up a per diem job on the side.
Additionally, some of the COVID contracts and current crisis response assignments are contracting nurses to automatically work 48-60 hours per week- therefore making the pay packages look more attractive.
Can travel nurses work close to home?
Most facilities require that you work at least 50 miles from your permanent tax home. Some facilities have even longer distance requirements. I had a travel nurse job in Massachusetts that required my permanent tax home to be at least 180 miles from the facility. Check with your recruiter to be sure. If your home is inside the mileage radius, you can still work as a traveler but your wages will be fully taxed and you will not be eligible for tax-free stipends.
Do travel nursing contracts include housing?
All agencies are different. Some agencies provide housing and others throw the housing stipend back into your pay, allowing you to choose and pay for your own housing. If you take agency provided housing, be aware that your pay check will be a lot less than what you were initially quoted. The initial pay package quotes are gross income that includes stipends and hourly wages. Most agencies will only pay you an hourly wage and per diem stipends if you opt for them to find you housing. Read about travel nurse housing options.
How do travel nurses find housing?
Many agencies will offer to provide housing, but this could mean your stipends take a huge hit and your take home pay will suffer. I find that it is more economical to find your own housing, even if it means a bit more legwork. There are tons of sites and resources for finding housing. Furnishedfinder.com is a popular site with travel nurses and seems to have better fees and cancellation policies than Airbnb. There are also tons of Facebook groups dedicated to short term furnished housing and travel nursing housing in cities across the country. Vivian has a whole post devoted to tips and tricks to find travel nursing housing.
Can travel nurses have pets?
Absolutely! I personally travel with a cat (and a roommate!). If you are taking agency provided housing you will need to check in advance if they allow pets and if there are any breed restrictions. If you are finding your own housing, simply look for apartments and rooms that allow pets. It is becoming more common for people to allow pets as they realize a lot of nurses want to travel with their fur babies! Most places will require a pet deposit which may or may not be refundable.
There are also pet-sitting, or pet-walking services, like Rover, that travelers utilize when they are in cities away from their homes.
Can travel nurses bring their families with them?
Yes. Many travel nurses travel with their partners and children. It helps to have a partner that can work remotely or work seasonal jobs in various locations. When children turn school aged this can be tough. This can be made easier by taking longer contracts or extending assignments, or homeschooling your children.
Can a travel nurse stay as permanent staff after completing a contract?
You can stay as permanent staff as long as you don’t have a limiting agreement with your agency. Some agencies still have clauses that state you cannot take a permanent staff job in the area within a certain number of weeks or months after completion of an assignment. I know many nurses who have signed on as staff after a contract because they loved the people and the location. You will no longer receive stipends and you must change your permanent tax residence once you sign on as permanent staff.
How does Vivian work?
Vivian is not a travel nurse agency, but a marketplace for healthcare professionals to browse jobs with pay transparency. To check out available positions, click “Browse Jobs” on our site. There are filters on the left side of the page for specialty, location, pay, contract length, etc. If you are interested in a job click “I’m interested” and that will generate a chat with the recruiter/agency assigned to the post. They should be able to answer any questions you have about the job and start the application process if you are ready.
What is the Vivian ‘universal profile’?
Usually when looking for a travel nurse job, nurses have to fill out applications with all of the different agencies they are interested in to be able to see their jobs. With our universal profile, you are able to view thousands of jobs with just one application. Travel nurses can see jobs from hundreds of agencies with transparent pay rates posted.
If you decide to apply well in advance of when you’d like to travel, Vivian will keep your information on file and stay in touch until you are ready. Check out tips on keeping your travel nurse documents organized.
Does Vivian offer working VISA assistance?
Unfortunately, no. Because we at Vivian are never the employer (we are a job marketplace for healthcare professionals to browse with pay transparency, not an agency) we are not in a position to be able to provide assistance with working VISAs.
Can travel nurses file unemployment?
Yes, but you must meet the unemployment requirements in your permanent tax home state. Additionally, if you have been receiving tax-free stipends your unemployment will be calculated on your taxable hourly wage, which is often quite low in travel nurse assignments. Be prepared for lower-than-expected benefits.
Can travel nurses have tattoos?
Most facilities still have a ‘no visible piercings or tattoo’ clause in their dress code policy. That being said, every day I see both staff nurses and travel nurses with very clearly visible tattoos and piercings. Most facilities seem to tolerate them if they are not offensive and if the piercings are subtle (like a single nose ring). But, it will come down to unit culture and policy as to whether or not it will be accepted.
Can travel nurses work internationally?
The short answer is, yes absolutely! If you are not fluent in another language (and you will have to take a fluency exam if you claim to be), your options are limited to English speaking countries. Countries such as the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand, and Australia are popular with international travel nurses. Only certain travel nursing agencies have the capabilities to help place you in an assignment like this. The contracts tend to be a year or more and require a lot of paperwork and patience. You can also check usajobs.gov for nursing jobs abroad with the military.
Do travel nurses need U.S. experience?
Yes, most travel jobs will only hire nurses with recent U.S. based clinical experience. Some Canadian trained nurses have been able to find travel jobs within the U.S. if they were practicing in a similarly structured environment.
Disclaimer: Everything above is general advice. Policies and benefits will vary from employer to employer. Please consult an accountant if you have specific questions about your taxes.