Nurse Salaries 101: How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Travel nursing can come with many perks that make it an attractive option. Travel opportunities, the chance to expand and hone your skills—and potentially higher pay. Do travel nurses make more money? Many times, the answer is yes. So what does this higher nurse salary look like? What are some things to consider when deciding if, or where, to take a travel nurse position? Is it worth it? 

Average Travel Nurse Salary

Travel nurses often make higher salaries than their counterparts due to a variety of factors. Travel nurse jobs are often available because the medical facility has a significant need for staff. Therefore, they are willing to pay more to ensure their needs are met. According to a survey by Indeed, the average travel nurse salary for in 2021 is $109,096, while the average salary for a registered nurse is $75,330 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Your exact annual salary will depend on where you take a job (or jobs), what type of nursing position you take, and the length of your contract.

One such factor is how many jobs you take during the year. For example, if you accepted a job in New York State making $53.78 per hour, you would potentially stand to make approximately $8,884 for a month, plus overtime. But if you took a job in Atlanta, GA, your monthly salary would be approximately $7,084–a difference of $1,800. When choosing where to apply for and accept travel nursing positions, consider the hourly rate being offered and the general cost of living in each city.

Comparing Pay Packages

Hourly pay rates aren’t the only factor to consider. Each travel nurse agency will have its nurse salary based on the hospital in which the travel nurse will work. These pay packages typically include hourly wages, travel stipends, and potentially other benefits such as sign-on or completion bonuses. Stipends are classified as non-taxable reimbursements and are not considered income. For example: 

Taxable hourly base wage* $800

Weekly housing stipend $672

Weekly meals and incidental stipend $385

Weekly mileage stipend $500

Gross weekly compensation $2,357

Gross monthly compensation $10,213

*Based on a $20/hr wage, 40 hours/week, pre-taxed

When deciding to apply for or accept a travel position, consider the entire package, not simply the base wage. 

Location, location, location!

Where you accept a position can make a difference in pay. Of course, everyone always wants to live in Hawaii during the winter, but Hawaii often tops the list for traveling nurse salaries. But many other states offer competitive salaries as well. Currently, Los Angeles, New York City, Orlando, and even Omaha, Nebraska are among the top locations for traveling nurses. Some areas may be less attractive as travel destinations offer higher pay or other incentives to fulfill their staffing needs. Currently, the average hourly pay for travel nurses is $46.75. A travel nurse in Omaha, Nebraska, can make $51.63–above average pay!

When considering location, however, pay is not the only criteria. Consider the overall cost of living for the city in which you will be working, and if the base pay and various stipends are adequate for you to live and work in that city. Will your mileage stipend cover the gas prices in that area? Research the area beforehand so you have an idea of what it costs to live in that city or state. 

Consider the tax situation in that state as well. Does the state in which you will be working have a state income tax? If so, you may be liable for income taxes in that state in addition to any other tax burden you might have. Consult a tax professional or other nurses for information specific to that region.

Nursing Specialties

Medical facilities are often in need of nurses who are trained in specific nursing specialties and will often pay higher salaries for those positions. Current in-demand specialties include:

  • ICU
  • Critical care
  • ER
  • Labor and delivery
  • Dialysis
  • Neonatal 
  • Orthopedics

If you are already certified in these areas or are obtaining your certification, you can potentially negotiate for a higher rate of pay. Highlight your certifications and experience in these areas on your resume and applications. 

Working with a Staffing Agency

Although some hospitals may not require travel nurses to work at their facility through a travel nurse staffing agency, a large majority of them do. Working through a travel nurse staffing agency, going with an agency could take a lot of the guesswork out of the process for you. Agencies can often provide services for you and ensure that you have access to things such as insurance, tax information, and housing options. This may present a cost to you but could be profitable in the long run. 

Agencies can also provide you with job postings and placements, taking the stress off of you when moving from one travel job to another. 

Finally, if you have questions about whether or not a new position fits your financial needs, consider consulting with your financial advisor or a tax professional. Also, remember that your fellow nurses are great sources of information and will often give you insight not found in other places!

Travel nursing has many benefits, including gaining new experience in your field, learning new skills, expanding your resume, and advancing your career–not to mention getting to travel while doing all these things. Deciding to become a travel nurse can be a fulfilling–and potentially lucrative–career. Taking the time to research and negotiate a fair pay package can ensure that you thrive in your travel nursing adventure.

If you have any questions, contact us today and see how we can help.

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