How to Become a Travel Nurse
Becoming a travel nurse can be a bit more complicated than other nursing career pathways, even though travel nurse schooling and certification requirements aren't that different from those of RNs who don't travel. That's because travel nursing means you won't always be working in the same facility and may not perform the same kind of work at your destination.
Travel nursing can also impose some extra, ongoing logistical hurdles. For example, if you travel out of state, you may need to apply for licensure in your destination state or country, depending on where you travel. In other cases, certain jobs may require you to attain or renew certifications.
What Is a Travel Nurse?
A travel nurse is a nurse who works for a nurse staffing agency rather than working directly for a hospital, doctor's office, or other health care facility. Depending on your preferences and the available jobs, you might work locally, nationally, or even internationally.
What Does a Travel Nurse Do?
A travel nurse's responsibilities and role can vary from one job to the next. Travel nurses can be generalists or specialists. With the proper certifications and experience, you might be working in a neonatal unit on one job and filling in at an understaffed emergency department on the next. It's up to you, your recruiter, and what your life, skills, and professional interests allow.
What Are the Requirements for Travel Nursing?
The baseline steps to becoming a travel nurse are the same as those for other nursing career paths. Travel nurses must be registered nurses (RNs), which means completing a nurse training program, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and applying for licensure. In addition, most nurse staffing agencies require a minimum amount of clinical experience, so typically, you can't become a travel nurse right out of college. Expect to spend at least two years working as an RN before you start applying for travel nursing positions.
Personally, you'll need to be even more flexible than a standard RN – you'll be changing environments frequently. It's crucial to be able to adapt quickly. Travel nurses should have exceptional communication skills — even by nursing standards — to ensure that they can integrate into their changing work environments and quickly become a part of the team.
Travel Nursing Education Requirements
There isn't one specific degree you need to become a travel nurse – you can be a travel nurse with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). However, many agencies prefer candidates with a four-year degree, so a BSN might make it easier to get hired by an agency and find the jobs you want.
Travel Nurse License Requirements
All registered nurses must be licensed in the state where they practice. But things can be a bit trickier when it comes to travel nurse license requirements.
As a travel nurse, you'll apply for licensure in the state where you maintain your permanent residence. In many cases, you won't need to apply for separate licensure even if you go out of state on a travel nurse assignment. That's because of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), an agreement that allows licensed RNs to practice legally in other participating states. Currently, 39 states participate in, or are in the process of implementing the NLC.
Unfortunately for travel nurses, not all states are members of the compact. If your destination isn't a member of the NLC, you'll need to apply for state-specific licensure before you can start the job. Some states may also offer fast tracks to temporary licenses that can streamline the process of meeting travel nurse license requirements.
Travel Nurse Certifications
Travel nurses will need to maintain all the same commonly required certifications as other kinds of nurses, like Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS). Beyond that, there aren't any specific required travel nurse certifications. However, in-demand, nationally recognized certifications like Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) can make it easier to find and qualify for jobs through your agency.
Travel Nurse Salary and Career Prospects
Travel nurse salaries are as varied as travel nurses themselves. Because you may be working in different states and even perform different nursing duties from one job to the next, travel nurses see a wide range of salaries. In general, travel nurses make more than the average RN – estimates for 2022 are around $100,000 per year, compared to an average of $82,750 for RNs as a whole.
That number may not reflect your take-home pay or total compensation. Travel nurses often incur extra expenses like temporary housing for a job that's far away. Also, some agencies only offer benefits like health insurance while you're on assignment. If you take time off or work intermittently, you may need to pay for health insurance out of pocket. As a result, you might see less net pay than you expect.
Nursing as a career will always be in demand. Because travel nurses are often dispatched where there is a shortage of nurses or an exceptionally high need – such as after a natural disaster – skilled, flexible travel nurses may be able to find work even if there isn't high demand in the area where they live.