What is Travel Nursing, and How do You Become a Travel Nurse?

A travel nurse is a Registered Nurse (RN), hired on a contract basis to fill hospital or other medical facility staffing needs. These travel nursing assignments can be fairly close to home or take you to a wide variety of locations, both domestic and international. 

Why travel nursing? 

As a nurse, you have a specific skill set that may be in demand in regions other than your own. By becoming a travel nurse, you can travel, experiencing new places and new people, all while practicing your profession and advancing your career. These opportunities help you grow as a professional and provide exciting experiences all at the same time. Travel nursing also looks good on a resume, as travel nurses must adapt to new surroundings, new systems, and new people with every new assignment, showing your flexibility in your work environment. 

Perks of travel nursing

Travel nurses can experience many perks besides traveling. Many times, they experience higher pay than other RNs, with the addition of per diems or stipends and potential sign-on or completion bonuses. These “extras” are often non-taxable as well. 

Travel nursing opportunities also provide greater flexibility in work schedules. For example, after working on a typical 13-week assignment, you might decide to take a week or so off before accepting another assignment. This break between assignments is unique to travel nurses, as those who work consistently in the same hospital do not have this built-in luxury.

Requirements of travel nursing

Travel nurses are required to have an active RN license in the state in which they will be working. For example, you may consider Texas your home, and you have an active RN license there. But if you want to take a travel job in California, you are required to apply for an RN license in that state as well. 

To sign on with a travel staffing agency, travel nurses must have a minimum of 12 months of recent acute care clinical experiences. Travel nurses must also have certifications in Basic Life Support (BLS). If you want to work within a specific nursing specialty such as Labor & Delivery or critical care, you will need certifications in those areas as well.

How do I become a travel nurse? 

The first thing to do is to obtain any relevant licenses to practice. If you already live in a Nurse Licensing Compact (NLC) state, such as Texas, Florida, or Arizona, consider obtaining an NLC license. Having your NLC license allows you to work in any NLC state without obtaining a new license for that state. If you choose to work in a non-NLC state, you will need to obtain a license from that state. Most medical facilities will not pay for your licensing, so you should get the licenses you need upfront. 

Apply with the travel nurse agency with whom you want to work. Agencies work closely with medical facilities to help fill vacancies due to nurse shortages, leave requests, or other situations that leave the facility short-handed. A staffing agency will handle many if not all of the logistics of applying for and moving to various positions, including job postings, pay package information, tax information, housing needs, etc. When moving to a new region to work, it can be difficult to know where to begin sorting out your various needs; let an agency handle it for you. This allows you to focus on your resume, interviews, and any personal interests such as relationships that may be affected by your travel. Staffing agencies will also be able to help you obtain health insurance, dental insurance, and other insurance needs. 

Although a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is not required for travel nursing, many medical facilities would prefer BSN-trained nurses. Check the requirements for any facility you might be interested in before applying. Your travel staffing agency may be able to provide you with the correct travel nurse requirements

Do your research

As you explore the opportunities for travel nursing, do your research ahead of time. Get to know the cost of living, transportation needs, and other details about the region in which you’d like to work. Some travel nursing jobs may be available in other countries, so be aware of any language requirements or cultural differences. 

Decide what your priorities are for accepting positions. Are you more interested in location, or higher pay? Do you need a location where your pet or your family will be welcome? Are you an NLC licensed nurse and you’d prefer not to have to obtain a new license? Your staffing agency will be able to help you make the best decisions for your needs. 

Work with your travel nurse staffing agency to be informed about your taxes as a travel nurse. They can assist you with establishing your tax home, how to identify non-taxable income, and how to file when you’ve had multiple travel assignments in one year. One important thing to note: without establishing a tax home, you may be classified by the IRS as an itinerant worker, which means you would be liable for any income you earn, including stipends and per diems. Work with your travel staffing agency and/or other tax professionals to avoid this pitfall. 

Deciding to become a travel nurse can be an exciting and rewarding adventure, allowing you to work within your field of expertise and passion caring for others while experiencing the perks of traveling. Once you’ve gained your experience, gotten your license(s), and made your decision–off you go, to your next grand adventure! Contact Nurse First today to get connected to one of our Traveler Advocates. 

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