What is a Travel Nurse? What They Do and How to Get Started (2023)

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • Staffing shortages at hospitals across the country have led to an increased need for travel nurses.
  • A travel nurse accepts work on a temporary, contractual basis, traveling to a location with a shortage or need.
  • Travel nurse contracts generally run 13 weeks, but that varies depending on the details of the contract organization and need.
  • Travel nurse agencies often connect nurses with assignments and arrange travel and housing.

The healthcare industry has undergone many dramatic changes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these has been a widely reported nurse shortage that has affected hospitals, clinics and other medical institutions around the world.

While the shortage poses challenges to healthcare providers and patients, it also presents opportunities. Specifically, nurses willing to go where their work is needed can explore travel nursing opportunities. Their effort and expertise have never been more valuable, especially to understaffed hospitals.

Though once a relatively uncommon nursing practice focus, travel nursing has quickly expanded in the healthcare industry. Accordingly, this article will cover what a travel nurse is, why nurses are increasingly considering travel nursing and how to get started as a travel nurse.

What is travel nursing?

In terms of the work, a travel nurse is not so different from other nurses. They often provide the same level of treatment, administer the same medicine, and devote the same effort that patients need to heal as their core staff counterparts. However, the responsibilities they are given may depend on experience, tenure, education, skills, the hospital where they work and need.

The main difference is in terms of employment: A travel nurse accepts work on a temporary, contractual basis, traveling to a destination based on need. Instead of devoting their time to one hospital where they may work for years, travel nurses move around. What is a Travel Nurse? What They Do and How to Get Started (3)Their assignments generally last 13 weeks but can depend on a variety of factors, including organization, need and the details of their contract.

Travel nurses often work with travel nursing agencies to find new assignments, work out travel and housing reimbursement, and handle the logistics that make travel nursing possible. Through these agencies, nurses correspond with travel nurse recruiters, who act as liaisons between nurses and healthcare facilities.

How does the process work? Here’s a basic rundown:

1. A healthcare facility reaches out to a number of travel nurse agencies to fill a nurse role, usually for a certain specialty.

2. Acting on behalf of the travel nurse agency, the travel nurse recruiter reaches out to nurses who fulfill the requirements of the role.

3. The nurses who are on file with the agency review the role, the pay, the time requirement, the location and related details.

4. If a nurse accepts the role, they can sign a contract with the facility and work with the agency to arrange travel and other logistics.

Since several nurses may be contacted about a single opportunity, these positions generally fill up on a first-come, first-served basis. For those willing to jump on the opportunity, however, this can place them in a new position quickly. They will have to meet the certification and licensure requirements of the state in which they choose to work before starting the role.

(Video) Travel Nursing 101 : How To Get Started? Housing, PAY & More

Why is travel nursing important?

To provide quality patient care, hospitals must maintain a certain number of staff in relation to the number of patients they treat. This ratio is essential for making sure hospitals are not understaffed. During normal circumstances, when healthcare facilities have a predictable number of patients they expect to serve, they can hire the required number of permanent staff to meet this ratio. A rural hospital usually serves fewer patients than a hospital in a major city, and therefore needs fewer nurses on the payroll.

Unfortunately, when there’s a massive influx of patients, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, and nurses are distributed unevenly across a geographical area, this ratio may not be met. That rural hospital will need to bring on more staff, which is where travel nurses come in.

This might make you think that travel nurses are needed to treat COVID-19 patients, but that’s actually not the case. The pandemic has put strain on several aspects of healthcare delivery. From the intensive care unit to pediatric, neonatal and geriatric departments, travel nurses are needed to fill the gap.

How to become a travel nurse

To become a travel nurse, you must be a registered nurse (RN). If you need additional information on how to become an RN, read about the topic on our blog, but you must meet general requirements to work in the nursing profession. These requirements include obtaining at least a diploma from an approved nursing program, passing the NCLEX exam and receiving licensure in the state in which they work. Some employers may prefer registered nurses to have an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

After you have become an RN, you will need to gain nursing experience on the job. Generally speaking, travel nurses needat least one and sometimes two years of experienceworking in a healthcare setting before taking on travel assignments. (More specialized roles, such as in the ICU or in labor delivery, may require more experience.) They will also need to meet the licensure and certification requirements of the location of their assignment.

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Why work as a travel nurse?

Here are a few reasons why many nurses decide to hit the travel circuit:


Travel nurses have a broad view of the opportunities available to them. In turn, they can decide where and how they want to work. If the hours demanded by an assignment are too much, they can pass on that assignment. For those who want to try living in a new place, they can find work that takes them there.

Plus, with the contracts being relatively short, nurses who are unhappy with an assignment can rest assured that they’ll be done sooner rather than later.


Nurses have always been crucial to patient health, and that is doubly true during a health emergency. The demand for nurses means the risks of accepting a travel assignment can seem minimal. When they complete a travel nursing gig and are ready for a full-time position, nurses can feel confident one will be waiting for them.


The increased demand for travel nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic was reflected in an increase in pay. Of course, this trend was impacted by demand and may not be reflected case by case, but generally speaking, travel nurses may have leverage when it comes to negotiating their pay and benefits.

In addition, travel assignments put nurses into a variety of situations. This gives them the opportunity to learn new skills and bolster their resumé and their value over time.

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How much do travel nurses make?

Travel nurse pay varies significantly and depends on a number of factors, including the state in which nurses work, demand, skills, education, certifications, and experience.

Pay was also highly inflated by demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Vivian Health, a healthcare hiring marketplace, the average weekly salary in December 2019, before the pandemic, was about $1,800. Pay peaked during the pandemic, and currently, in May 2022, is about $3,100 per week. It remains to be seen how the nursing shortage and ripple effects of the pandemic will continue to impact weekly earnings.

How do travel nurses get paid?

Permanent, on-staff nurses in medical facilities can expect a set salary and benefits that are usually based on their education and work experience. They can usually expect that pay to increase by a predictable metric over time.

Due to the sudden explosion in travel nursing, however, travel nurse payment is a bit more complicated.

Travel nurses typically agree to a pay package that includes their hourly pay, housing stipends, per diems and travel reimbursement, along with their benefits.

The main chunk of a travel nurse’s payment is their hourly pay, which is taxed according to the location where they work. This pay will fluctuate depending on location, how specialized their work is and the timing of their shift. A travel nurse working in a high-demand location and performing specialized nursing on night shifts can generally expect more in pay than nurses in other situations.

In addition to their hourly pay, travel nurses typically receive stipends to cover their expenses, such as housing, travel and meals. Travel nurses may also receive benefits like tuition reimbursement, loan forgiveness and paid association memberships.

How does travel nurse housing work?

When a nurse decides to hit the road, they have two main options when it comes to housing: They can use a travel nursing agency, or they can find housing themselves.

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With the first option, nurses don’t have to worry about arranging their lodgings and all the headaches that come with it. Agencies will take the travel stipend provided in the payment package and house nurses in properties leased specifically for their client travel nurses. Though it can be logistically easier, this is usually the more expensive option.

For this reason, many travel nurses decide to take their housing stipend and secure their own housing. This gives them more flexibility than the agency option but will require legwork on the part of the nurse. If they find housing below their stipend allocation, or if they decide to stay with friends or family for free, they can often keep what’s left over.

Depending on the requirements and restrictions of the housing, travel nurses may bring their family and pets with them. That can help make the transition to a new locale a bit easier and difficult work more enriching.

What is a Travel Nurse? What They Do and How to Get Started (7)

Travel nursing FAQs

How are travel nurses paid?

Whether travel nurses are paid as employees or independent contractors depends on the entity for whom they work. Those who work through an agency are usually paid as W-2 employees of the agency, which will be the entity that withholds their taxes. Some travel nurses may work as independent contractors and receive a 1099 form instead of a W-2. In that case, the nurse is responsible for paying all appropriate taxes.

Can travel nurses work internationally?

In general, so long as the nurse has the required education, training, and licensure and/or certification by the country/locality where they seek to work, nurses may be able to practice in other countries.

Do travel nurses get health benefits?

Many travel nurses are eligible for health benefits through their travel nurse agency. Others receive benefits from their assigned healthcare facility, or they may receive a stipend to purchase coverage.

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How do you get started in travel nursing? ›

Steps to become a travel nurse:
  1. Understand the role of a travel nurse.
  2. Earn your ASN/ADN or BSN degree.
  3. Pass the NCLEX and become an RN.
  4. Gain experience.
  5. Get licensed.
  6. Find a travel nurse staffing agency and apply.
  7. Start your career.

What exactly does a travel nurse do? ›

When healthcare organizations face staffing shortages, they call on travel nurses. What is a travel nurse? As skilled professionals, travel nurses take temporary nursing positions in high-need areas. They jump into hospitals, clinics, and other facilities, giving patients across the country quality care.

What are 5 tasks as a travel nurse? ›

Responsibilities are the same as a traditional RN such as: administer care, medications, and vaccines to patients of all ages; communicate with physicians and other healthcare professionals; collaborate to create a plan of patient care; create and contribute to medical records; respond to patient inquiries and concerns ...

What kind of experience do you need to be a travel nurse? ›

Most travel nurse agencies want nurses to have at least 1-2 years of experience before your first travel nurse assignment. Length of experience varies from facility to facility, but the consensus is typically around 2 years.

What you need to know before becoming a travel nurse? ›

Hospitals require travel nurses to have an ADN or BSN degree from an accredited university. Both degrees come with pros and cons and differ slightly when it comes to how long it takes to earn, the curriculum, NCLEX pass rates, and earning potential. A BSN typically takes four years to achieve.

How long does it take to get started with travel nursing? ›

Depending on the season, the demand for your specialty, the location and your readiness to travel, the process can take as little as one to five weeks.

How long does it take to start travel nursing? ›

How Long Does It Take to Become A Travel Nurse? It can take two to four years for full-time students to earn an ADN or BSN. Most travel nursing agencies also want their applicants to have at least one year of work experience before offering a contract.

Do travel nurses pay for flights? ›

As a travel nurse, would I need to pay for my travel and housing? Travel is always complimentary before and after a completed assignment. Not only are they paid for, they're arranged for you too. All you have to do is pack and fly.

What do travel nurses do all day? ›

On a typical day as a travel nurse, you might do things such as conduct physical exams to assess a patient's condition, listen to patients and care for their needs, provide counseling to patients, and coordinate with healthcare providers.

Is travel nursing hard? ›

Travel Nursing is one of the most rewarding experiences, but it also comes with hard work, long hours, flexibility, and the ability to adapt quickly to a lot of things.

How do travel nurses get assignments? ›

Travel nurses are hired through agencies that contract with the hospital, and these agencies organize many of the details for traveling nurses.

What benefits do traveling nurses get? ›

Travel nurses receive benefit packages that may include competitive pay, healthcare, dental, and life insurance, free housing or tax-free housing stipends, travel and license reimbursement, and access to a travel recruiter to find their assignments and support them throughout their contracts.

How long are travel nurse contracts? ›

How Long Are Travel Nursing Assignments? The standard travel nurse assignment is 13 weeks. However, contracts can range from as little as 2 to 26 weeks depending on the travel nursing agency and facilities. Many travel nurses choose to extend their contracts beyond the initial 13 weeks.

How do travel nurses make so much money? ›

So, why do travel nurses get paid more? It's because they fill short-term needs, accept assignments in areas with severe nursing shortages, receive extra compensation for their flexibility and work in hard-to fill specialties.

How often do travel nurses travel? ›

The average travel nursing assignment is 13 weeks long. That means a travel nurse working regularly could expect to move four times in a year (52 weeks in a year/13 = 4). But of course, 13 weeks is just the average. Some travel nursing assignments can be up to 26 weeks, and others can be as short as four weeks.

What GPA do you need to be a travel nurse? ›

Travel Nurse Requirements: Education

Most college programs require a 2.5 G.P.A. to be considered for enrollment for nursing positions post graduation.

What hard skills do you need to be a travel nurse? ›

What Skills Does a Travel Nurse Need?
  • Emotional intelligence. Travel nurses have to be able to give bad news to people, and help them cope.
  • Critical thinking. Nurses of all kinds deal with complex problems and need to find solutions.
  • Flexibility. ...
  • Adaptability. ...
  • Strong communication skills. ...
  • Love of traveling.

How hard is it to get your first travel nurse assignment? ›

Typically, it's not hard to find travel nursing jobs. You may not get your first assignment choice, but there are always plenty of other options available. To make it easier during your job search, apply for several assignments and obtain your compact state nursing license if you haven't already done so.

Do travel nurses make their schedule? ›

Like other healthcare professionals, travel nurses oftentimes have the opportunity to make their own schedule, as long as it fills the needs of unit or hospital staffing shortages. However, you may have to take a weekend or Sunday shift a time or two.

Will travel nursing always pay well? ›

Under normal circumstances, many travel nurses have the potential to earn over $3,000 per week. Travel nurses can bring in over $50 per hour, plus company-paid housing accommodations. Making it entirely possible for travel nurses to make well over $100K per year.

What months are best for travel nursing? ›

January tends to have more travel assignment start dates than any other month. This is partly due to employers coming into the start of the year with fresh budgets, along with the known tendency for patients to push doctors' visits and elective surgeries until after the holidays.

Do travel nurses pay for their own hotels? ›

Travel nurses sign contracts for a specific period, during which they work full time. Per diem, or per day, compensation packages often cover food, lodging and other living expenses, while a stipend mostly is for lodging.

What state pays the most for flight nurses? ›

The highest-paid flight nurses can be found in California while the lowest-paid flight nurses can be found in Alabama. Transport RNs in the Golden State average $122,190 a year, which is approximately twice as much as transport RNs in the Cotton State who make $61,050 a year.

Do travel nurses pay their own rent? ›

Most agencies offer travel nurses a housing stipend to cover their housing while on assignment. This is calculated as part of your compensation package. If you choose to take agency-provided housing, you won't get a housing stipend.

What does a travel nurse schedule look like? ›

Generally speaking, travel nurses will usually work a 40-hour workweek. The workweek will either be: Five 8-hour shifts. Four 10-hour shifts.

What do travel nurses do with their house? ›

Sometimes, the agency rents the housing. Other times, the travel nurse rents the property. Typically, this choice is left to the travel nurse. They can choose to have the company secure their housing or they can choose to secure it on their own.

Do travel nurses move a lot? ›

If you're considering a career as a travel nurse, you may move frequently, often several times a year. While some contracts may receive extensions, it's common for travel nurses to change locations as much as four times per year.

What is the negatives of being a travel nurse? ›

Although in some states you will be able to get a compact license, yet in others you will find obtaining your license can be challenging and timely. This can severely limit your choices in contracts. Having to have multiple licenses in order to practice is one of the biggest cons of being a travel nurse.

What is the hardest part of being a travel nurse? ›

Difficulty in Maintaining a Good Work-Life Balance

Being a traveling nurse often means sacrificing the stability and comforts of home while providing care in unfamiliar territory. Maintaining a good work-life balance can be difficult since you might be working long hours and taking on new challenges during each job.

Do travel nurses get bad assignments? ›

Seasoned travel nurses will likely recall bad experiences and stressful assignments that left them with burn out. If you find yourself in one of these situations, don't let it sour your experience with travel nursing — especially early in your career.

Do travel nurses go alone? ›

As a travel nurse, you get to design your career. That means you choose where to go, which assignments to take, and when you take time off between assignments. You can also choose whether to travel solo, with your family, or even with other travel nurses.

Can you bring your family as a travel nurse? ›

Can travel nurses have families? Yes. While there are certain factors to consider, travel nursing is not reserved for singles. Some nurses choose to be a travel nurse only during school break, while others have made a career out of travel nursing year-round with their families.

Can travel nurses go home? ›

Travel nursing assignments can be local to your home or far enough away from your permanent residence to be considered an unreasonable commuting distance.

What type of travel nurse makes the most money? ›

ICU nurses are the most in-demand and highest-paid travel nurse specialty for obvious reasons. They are highly trained in caring for the most critical patients—patients who are intubated, ventilated, on life-sustaining medication drips, or whose life hangs on by a thread.

Do travel nurses get retirement? ›

Depending on the travel nursing agency you choose, you may be offered a 401(k) as part of your benefits package. Did you know we offer a 401k? Learn more about our travel nurse benefits. A 401(k) is a retirement savings account that you can contribute to and may include employer contributions.

Where do travel nurses make the most money? ›

5 Highest Paying States for Travel Nurses in 2022
  1. 1. California. In 2022, it's no surprise that California is still the highest paying state for travel nurses. ...
  2. Hawaii. Hawaii may just be the dream destination! ...
  3. Massachusetts. ...
  4. Oregon. ...
  5. Alaska.

Can I work two jobs as a travel nurse? ›

The answer is simple: YES! Much like job searching for the traditional 9-to-5 desk job, there are so many benefits to working with multiple travel nurse agencies at a time. Not to mention, the rewards truly outweigh the risks... which, honestly, are pretty minimal at this point.

What does the IRS say about travel nursing? ›

As a traveling nurse you can claim tax deductions for expenses you incur while away on contract. The IRS bases your eligibility for stipends on a taxable home. A taxable home is the geographical location where workers earn a majority of their income, which may not be the same as their permanent home.

Can I stay in the same state as a travel nurse? ›

The answer: Absolutely!

Local travel nursing is possible, but there are some important things you need to know before you start. Keep reading to learn how to be a travel nurse in your own state, the benefits and drawbacks of hometown travel nursing, and more.

Is a travel nurse a stressful job? ›

However, travel nursing can also be a stressful profession. According to one study published in Nursing Research and Practice, 92% of nurses have moderate, high, or very high levels of work-related stress. Travel nurses also experience their own unique set of stressors on top of those suffered by regular nurses.

Do traveling nurses pay taxes? ›

Because travel nurses are paid a bit differently than staff nurses and local travelers, travel nurses file taxes a bit differently. This is because travel nurses are paid a base hourly rate, that is taxable, and a weekly travel stipend that is not taxable – both of which equal their total pay in a given contract.

Why do hospitals pay travel nurses? ›

Many nurses are continuing their education to become advanced practice nurses, leaving hospital units with fewer RNs. Some hospitals experience more difficulty recruiting new nurses, such as those in rural areas. Travel nurses will cover those shifts and deliver quality care.

Do travel nurses drive or fly? ›

Some travel nurses decide to drive to their travel nursing assignments and others choose to fly. So, either path you choose is completely fine — just fully consider your options, personal preferences, assignment location, family/pet situation, and any other factors that will lead you to the best choice for yourself.

Is travel nursing worth it now? ›

Ask any travel nurse is travel nursing worth it? They will likely tell you the money makes it worth it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a travel nurse was $73,300 per year, but there are opportunities to increase that figure just by knowing some insider tips and tricks.

Do travel nurses make 6 figures? ›

In addition to their base wage, travel nurses can also receive extra compensation that can include sign-on and referral bonuses as well as housing, expense, and meal stipends. For some travel nurses, it can even be possible to make six figures — or over $100K — as a travel nurse.

How hard is the Nclex exam? ›

NCLEX Pass Rates

The second-attempt pass rate for domestically-educated students taking the test was 45.56%. These results demonstrate that it is a pretty difficult test. The questions are designed to test your critical thinking, knowledge of the nursing process, and assessment skills.

What majors do travel nurses have? ›

To become a Traveling Nurse, either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required. It's also required to become licensed. This can be done by passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Am I experienced enough to travel nurse? ›

Most agencies would like you to have at least 2 years of experience as a staff nurse under your belt before taking a travel assignment. Other agencies will consider 1-2 years. Some healthcare facilities have certain requirements, especially for specialty units like the NICU or CICU.

Can you be a travel nurse in your first year? ›

Yes, travel nursing for recent nursing graduates is possible. In fact, there has never been a better time for early career nurses to try travel nursing! While you cannot travel until you reach one year within your specialty, you can apply with 6-9 months of experience.

Is it too late to become a travel nurse? ›

Travel Nursing Knows No Age Limits – Just because you're an older nurse doesn't mean you won't get anything less than what younger travel nurses experience. Regardless of your age, you'll still have the chance to explore a new city, help a new community of patients, meet new people, and grow in your career.

How long do travel nurses stay in one place? ›

The standard travel nurse assignment is 13 weeks. However, contracts can range from as little as 2 to 26 weeks depending on the travel nursing agency and facilities. Many travel nurses choose to extend their contracts beyond the initial 13 weeks.

How much do travel nurses make in Georgia? ›

What's the Salary for Travel Nursing Jobs in Georgia? Earn up to $3,080/week. Permanent, full-time RNs in Georgia average $1,353 in weekly earnings, which adds up to $70,335 annually. The number falls squarely in line with the pay scale for registered nurses nationwide.

Is it hard to get your first travel nurse assignment? ›

Typically, it's not hard to find travel nursing jobs. You may not get your first assignment choice, but there are always plenty of other options available. To make it easier during your job search, apply for several assignments and obtain your compact state nursing license if you haven't already done so.

Do travel nurses have to work all year? ›

While there is no hard-rule on how long a travel nurse can work in one place, the general rule of thumb is to never work in one place for more than 12 months in any rolling 24-month period.

How often do travel nurses leave? ›

The average travel nursing assignment is 13 weeks long. That means a travel nurse working regularly could expect to move four times in a year (52 weeks in a year/13 = 4).

What age are most travel nurses? ›

Traveling Nurse Age
Traveling Nurse YearsPercentages
40+ years59%
30-40 years28%
20-30 years14%
Sep 9, 2022

Do travel nurses choose their hours? ›

Every travel nursing job involves a contract. This agreement typically specifies the work schedule terms such as shift, shift length, assignment duration, and includes any time-off that has been mutually agreed upon by you and the healthcare facility.

Why is travel nurse salary so high? ›

The demand for nurses and other health care professionals skyrocketed during the pandemic, which led to a greater need for travel nurses. And that unprecedented demand also helped drive extremely high salaries for travel nurses.

Is travel nurse pay worth it? ›

Under normal circumstances, many travel nurses have the potential to earn over $3,000 per week. Travel nurses can bring in over $50 per hour, plus company-paid housing accommodations. Making it entirely possible for travel nurses to make well over $100K per year.


1. What they don't tell you about travel nursing. ( Watch this before starting travel nursing)
2. Backing Out of A Travel Nurse Contract - The fallout could HURT
(No Ordinary Path)
3. How I Became A Travel Nurse With No Experience | New Grad Travel Nurse
(Malika Manelva)
4. What I Wish I knew Before Starting Travel Nursing
(Travel Nurse Rich)
5. What Is Travel Nursing? | Is It Worth It
(The Nurse Nook)
6. How to Get Your Own Travel Nurse Contract
(Travel Nursepreneur)


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