How to Maximize Earnings as a Travel Nurse

How to Make the Most Money as a Travel Nurse


What does a Travel Nurse do?

Travel nurses are registered nurses who take on temporary positions in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities around the world. They assist in filling the gap of nursing shortages in different regions, this is the reason why a travel nurse’s average salary is relatively high.

Considering the current situation, more nurses are looking into travel nursing to provide help where it is needed, such as New York. They can expect to receive pay packages that are much higher than average at the moment. Nonetheless, there are still various factors that must be considered when determining your travel nurse salary. The following information will provide you with the necessary knowledge to understand pay as a travel nurse.

How to Pursue a Career as a Travel Nurse

To be considered for a role as a travel nurse, certain qualifications are necessary, such as being a registered nurse with a valid license, and having a minimum of 2 years of nursing experience. Usually, no additional certifications or credentials are required, beyond those that are specific to your nursing specialty.

What is The Typical Earning Potential for Travel Nurses? 

Normally, travel nurses have the opportunity to earn over $3,000 per week. They can earn more than $50 per hour, along with company-provided housing benefits. It is quite possible for travel nurses to earn more than $100,000 per year.

What are The Key Differences in Pay Between Travel Nurses and Staff Nurses? 

Typically, staff nurses in a hospital receive a fixed salary based on their education and experience, with the potential for incremental pay increases at predetermined intervals. 

In contrast, travel nurse pay is complex, and can be more nuanced. Standard pay packages typically include a combination of different elements, such as hourly pay, housing allowances that are not subject to taxes, per diems that are not subject to taxes, travel reimbursements, and more.

What Elements Affect The Pay of a Travel Nurse? 

Along with situations like the current crisis, various other factors can affect the pay a travel nurse can expect to receive. These factors include:

1. Location 


The location of the assignment significantly affects the pay of a travel nurse. Typically, pay rates are correlated with the cost of living in the area and regional trends. 

- Which states offer the highest pay for travel nurses? Historically, the states that offer the highest pay for travel nurses include California, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington, and New York.

- Southern states usually have lower living costs, which results in lower pay for travel nurses. 

- Destination locations, such as Hawaii and Florida, may offer lower pay, but during rapid-response assignments this may not always be the case. 

- The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in pay for travel nurses with high-demand areas paying over $10,000 per week.

2. Specialty 

A travel nurse's specialty also plays a role in determining their pay. Generally, nurses with more general specialties, such as medical/surgical and psychiatric, are paid a lower rate than nurses with specialized skills. Furthermore, nurses with highly sought-after specialties and credentials have a greater potential to earn higher pay with more opportunities.

3. Shift 

It is common for travel nursing assignments to include more night shifts. The good news is that many hospitals offer higher pay rates for their night shift assignments. To maximize earning potential, flexibility is essential. However, it is important to keep in mind that if night shifts do not suit you, it is not worth sacrificing your safety, well-being, or professional license for more pay. If you perform better and provide better patient care during daytime shifts, it is best to stick to them. Your patients will appreciate it.

Tips for Maximizing Earnings as a Travel Nurse 


Though the above-mentioned factors do play a role in determining travel nurse pay, the following types of assignments usually pay exceptionally well, regardless of location, specialty, or shift.

If you want to make the most money as a travel nurse, focus on pursuing the following types of assignments: 

1. Rapid Response and Emergency Assignments 

These assignments offer some of the highest pay in the travel nursing industry due to their urgent nature. As the name suggests, these assignments require nurses to start work quickly - usually within 2 weeks. Nurses working on these assignments may have limited options when it comes to location. These assignments are also typically shorter than the standard 13-week assignment. Therefore, if you are ready and willing to work, you can start right away in areas that need you the most.

Typically, the hospital is not facing a critical situation, such as a natural or man-made disaster. However, in some cases it could be. For example, one agency was able to send nurses within 48 hours to provide support to hospitals treating patients in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Most frequently, facilities in need of rapid response solutions include those managing unexpected increases in patient census, opening new units, emergency responses, and implementing electronic medical record upgrades. Some facilities may also use short-term assignments to manage patient care during staff shortages.

Rapid response assignments may be appealing to hospitals because they do not require the 13-week commitment that many other travel companies do, this enables agencies offering these types of assignments to offer a greater variety of shorter and higher-paying assignments. Therefore, it can be a great option for those looking for assignments that better fit their lifestyle.

What is the trade-off? As previously mentioned, rapid response assignments require a quick turnaround. Therefore, it is essential that nurses have their paperwork in order to qualify for these high-paying assignments. Credentials, tests, licenses, and other documents should be submitted to the agency as soon as possible.

We contacted travel nursing agencies to obtain further information about their rapid-response assignments. They stated that many agencies provide assistance for nurses to obtain licenses and certifications, including paying for new state licenses for nurses who complete an assignment with the agency in that state.

Agencies also offer the option of covering housing costs if the nurse chooses to stay in one of their designated hotels. Alternatively, travel nursing agencies typically provide a housing stipend to cover the cost of the nurse obtaining their own housing during the assignment. In addition, they also cover the travel expenses incurred by the nurse at the beginning and end of the assignment.

The duration of rapid-response assignments can vary from 36 to 48 hours per week, with higher pay rates for those working 48 hours, especially when overtime pay is taken into consideration.

2. Bonuses 

While looking for assignments, you may come across positions that offer "bonuses." It's important to understand the distinction between these bonuses so you can use them to your advantage.

• Hospital vs Agency Bonuses: 

- Hospital bonuses are typically paid separately from the hourly pay rate and offered as a completion bonus, meaning they are not paid until after the assignment is completed. These bonuses usually range from $250 to $5,000.

- Agency bonuses can be taken out of the hourly pay rate and will affect your overall pay. This may not be a negative, particularly if you prefer to receive a large sum of money in one lump sum. 

How can you tell the difference between hospital and agency bonuses? To begin with, you can ask your recruiter where the bonus is coming from - hospital or agency.

• Retention Bonus 

Some agencies offer bonuses to nurses who continue to work with the agency for multiple assignments. This is known as a retention bonus, and each agency has its own set of requirements. These bonuses usually range from $100 to $2,000 or more.

• Referral Bonus 

A referral bonus is a fee that the agency pays to travel nurses who refer other nurses to work for the agency. These funds typically come from a separate budget set aside for referral fees and should not impact the travel nurse's pay package.

Referral bonuses generally range from $500 to $4,000 per referred nurse. Some of the top agencies in the industry offer generous referral bonuses to nurses when the nurse they referred completes an assignment.

3. Strikes 

Strikes happen when the negotiation or renewal of labor contract or agreement between a hospital and a union fails. If both parties cannot reach an agreement, the union may strike.

However, patients still require care during this time. Hospitals will typically hire travel nurses to fill the temporary need. Due to the pressing nature of strikes, travel nurses who work during strikes tend to earn more than during typical travel nurse assignments.

Ways to Find the Highest Paying Travel Nurse Assignments 


One way is to reach out to recruiters and inquire about their highest-paying assignments. Be transparent with them about your financial motivations, and let them know that you are only interested in assignments that pay a certain amount or more. The best recruiters will be straightforward about pay and will offer you their best pay packages from the start.

Another way to maximize your earning potential as a travel nurse is to work with agencies that have a reputation for paying high rates and specialize in rapid-response and strike nursing. These agencies are paid higher rates by hospitals to provide highly skilled staff on a short-term basis, and these rates are passed on to their travel nurses.

11 Tips for Travel Nurses (From a Travel Nurse Recruiter!)

1. Crisis Assignments and Pandemic Nursing 

The demand for travel nurses is high during the pandemic, and taking on a crisis contract in an area experiencing a COVID-19 spike can result in higher pay. However, it's important to weigh the pros and cons and make sure your agency offers sick leave if you contract COVID-19.

2. Securing Your Own Housing 

We recommend taking the housing stipend and finding your own housing. This gives you the freedom to choose your price point and the level of comfort you desire. Agencies may provide housing in more expensive options to maintain their reputation, and corporate leases with higher costs. Some agencies may provide free housing if you stay in one of their preferred hotels, but most agencies do not cover this cost outright and instead assist you with setting it up.

3. Be Adaptable 

If you are motivated by earning more money, being adaptable is essential. Sometimes the highest paying assignments pay more because they may not be the most ideal. They may be located in less desirable areas or have less desirable shifts, such as overnight or variable shifts. Though this is not always the case, overnight, variable and weekend shifts may come with higher pay or shift differentials.

4. Collaborate with Agencies Known for High Pay and Transparency 

Each agency operates differently and structures their pay packages differently. Transparency is crucial. The most reliable agencies will publicly display their compensation packages and clearly state take-home pay. This transparency allows nurses to quickly determine if the position is right for them without having to go through the negotiating or research process.

Additionally, industry jargon and terms like "blended rates" can be confusing. Negotiations can further complicate things and cause mistrust between nurses and recruiters. That's why working with agencies that do not allow for negotiations can be the best option. They typically offer the best rate from the start and leave no room for negotiations. It is important to consider, if negotiations are possible, why wasn't the best rate offered from the beginning.

5. Keep your Profile Up-to-date 

High-paying travel nursing assignments are in high demand and competition is fierce. The reality is, agencies cannot simply submit you for a job just because you want to be considered. They need to showcase your skills to the hospital through your paperwork, often referred to as your "profile" - resume, references, skills checklists, licenses, etc.

Having well-organized paperwork that can be easily submitted to a new agency increases the chances of landing high-paying assignments. The faster you get your paperwork to your recruiter, the sooner they can submit you for a high-paying job.

A side note, many nurse managers hire travel nurses on a "first come, first served" basis. This is because the agency has already vetted you, and the hospital does not need to do additional research to determine your qualifications. The hospital needs your skills to fill a temporary staffing need. By treating every high-paying job with urgency, your chances of getting the job will increase. It is recommended to keep your paperwork up-to-date and store it online using a cloud-based service like Dropbox or Google Drive. This way, it will be easy to share your paperwork folder with your recruiter.

Additionally, if you do not have a scanner, you can download a scanning app. It works just as well and eliminates the need to carry a bulky machine. Many agencies are becoming tech-savvy and are developing mobile apps that allow nurses to upload documents directly to their profile, which can be stored and updated when the app notifies.

6. Work with Multiple Agencies 

Not every agency will have assignments available in every location across the US. Additionally, some hospitals pay each agency at a different rate, and local agencies may have better relationships with the hospitals in their area. It's a good idea to work with multiple agencies to increase your opportunities.

A word of caution, when working with multiple recruiters, be honest with them about your relationships with other agencies. Don't "pit" them against each other and maintain communication with them, even if you don't choose their assignment at this time. There is a likelihood they will want to work with you again in the future. You may also make a new friend.

7. Maintain Multiple State Licenses 

Many hospitals will only consider your application if you have an active license to practice nursing in their state. To increase your chances of getting higher-paying assignments, maintain active licenses in multiple states.

For example, rates in northern states tend to be higher during the winter months, so having a license in Massachusetts can be very beneficial. If you want to work in a certain state, you must have a license.

If you don't already have a license in the state where you want to work, apply for one as soon as possible. Some states have a quick turnaround for licensure, taking just 48 hours, while others like California can take up to 6 months to process. Some agencies may offer assistance or reimbursement for licensing fees, so it's worth checking with them.

8. Working Agency Per Diem and Picking Up Extra Shifts Can be an Effective Way to Increase your Earnings as a Travel Nurse 

Agency per diem shifts are temporary and often fill a need for an unexpected absence or a vacancy. They are usually a one-day assignment and can be scheduled for days, evenings, or nights.

These shifts typically pay more than regular agency assignments, and may be a good option for travel nurses who want to earn additional income or gain more experience in a particular specialty or setting. By volunteering to work extra shifts, you can demonstrate your flexibility and reliability, which can lead to more high-paying assignments and increase your earning potential in the long run.

9. Talk to Your Recruiter

Recruiters are the bridge between you and the most well-paying travel nursing opportunities. It is essential to speak with them regarding your compensation requirements. Want a high-paying assignment? Ask for it. Want a sign-on or completion bonus? Inquire about it. Can't accept a salary below a certain level? Let them know. Keep in mind, if you don't speak up, you won't receive any benefits.

10. Inquire about Sign-On, Completion, and Retention Bonuses

Some travel nursing companies may offer bonuses, which can be paid out on the first day of your assignment, when you finish the assignment, or for working multiple assignments with the agency. Don't hesitate to ask about these bonuses.

11. Refer your Friends to Travel Nursing Agencies

In the travel nursing industry, referrals are highly valued. Nurses tend to trust the opinions of their friends who have worked with a particular agency, rather than advertisements or recruiters. As a result, agencies offer referral bonuses to nurses who refer their friends. The amount of these referral fees can vary, but some agencies pay as much as $4,000 per referred nurse.

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