How Much Do Travel Nurses Earn?

How do a Travel Nurse salaries compare with the salaries of staff nurses in the United States? You’ll be happy to know that most Travel Nurses earn higher pay since they are in high demand than their full-time, staff nurse counterparts.

Let’s Dig-In: Travel Nurse Salaries, Benefits & More

The future for Registered Nurses continues to look bright after graduating from nursing schools and is projected to grow 15 percent from 2018 to 2026, exceeding the average for all occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of a Registered Nurse (RN) is approximately $70,000 per year.

On the other hand, Travel Compensation packages tend to be significantly higher than those associated with staff nurse positions and salary estimates reach as high as $107,161 a year according to Payscale.com. In addition to these high paying salaries, which can edge into six figures, travelers receive perks and some paid expenses including Housing Stipends, Day 1 Premium Healthcare, PTO, Guaranteed Stipends, Extra Hours Bonuses, and 401K Retirement benefits.

Travel Nurse Compensation Packages Can Exceed $107K!

Yes, Travel Nurses can make more money and get paid more, however, the better news is that it’s not just compensation that makes travel so attractive. Travel Nurses have the opportunity to increase their earnings in a short time with bonuses, extra shift compensation, and comprehensive benefits.

Travel Nurse compensation is enhanced by Stability Healthcare incentives and benefits:

  • Day 1 Premium Insurance
  • $15,000 Company-Paid Life/ADD Insurance
  • PTO for All Travelers
  • Travel Reimbursement
  • Extra Hours Bonus
  • Referral Bonuses
  • Guaranteed Stipend
  • Paid Compliance Costs
  • 401K Plan

Travel Nurse don’t have to give up benefits when traveling with Stability. Stability Benefits!

Travel Nurse Salary

As we have mentioned before in this article, your salary will, on average, be higher than that of nurses in a regular staffing position. Still, you need to account for the place and also some factors where you will be working and your own experience before taking on a job.

NOTE: The information in the following paragraphs applies to the experience of travel nurses working within the U.S. Different factors will determine your exact salary for each assignment, including which state you’re working. However, some generalities will give you an accurate idea of how much money you will make.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Under normal circumstances in many states, a travel nurse with experience in a specific field of specialization can earn up to $75,000 working 40 hour weeks, including a one-week paid vacation every 3-6 months. Lowballing, it’s safe to say that you can earn around $55,000 travel nursing salary for a year.

Still, a travel nurse working for a private company can see a better salary than those who work for a hospital because companies are usually willing to pay more to agencies in order to get the perfect fit for a travel nurses job position.

Differences Between Travel Nurse Pay And Staff Nurse Pay

Travel nurses are known to earn considerably more than their permanent counterparts in similar positions. While it is hard to point out every specific factor, the data from PayScale and Indeed shows that travel nurses make roughly 15%-20% more than regular RNs. This is based on an average pay of $29.33 per hour for staff nurses compared to $33.84 for travel nurses. You can also receive it as a stipend or per diem.

What Impacts Your Pay As A Travel Nurse?

Another point we have made throughout this article is that many factors directly impact your salary as a travel nurse. The following are the most common factors for pay variation:

Location

The influence that location has on your salary as a travel nurse cannot be overstated. Simply put, the cost of living in the area, the regional trends, and the average pay for your nursing position in the state will all directly influence your pay rates.

For example, Southern states usually have lower living costs than other regions, so their pay is, in turn, lower. Others such as Hawaii and Florida, which are considered tourist destinations, may also offer lower rates.

Speciality

As with regular nurses, your specialty will impact your pay. Non-specialty nurses are paid lower than specialists on average. Not only that, but specialty nurses with specific skills are more sought after and have the ability to pivot their contracts for more lucrative salaries and opportunities.

Shift

You will eventually realize that night shift assignments are prevalent for travel nurses. The upside is that hospitals will offer higher rates for night shift assignments, so being flexible about the night shift is vital if you want to make the most money out of your time there. Still, remember that your ability to care for a patient properly is what matters the most, so if the night shift is not for you, no amount of money will change your attitude!

Type Of Contract

Your contract establishes the obligations and responsibilities you will be taking care of as part of your assignment, aside from functioning as a tax document, defining wages, benefits, reimbursements, stipends, and more.

The most common types of contract for travel nurses are standard and crisis. The standard contract will offer you the typical wages and benefits that most other assignments have, all within your specific timeframes.

On the other hand, a crisis contract is offered when a healthcare provider’s need for extra help is both urgent and handsomely paid due to a catastrophic event or epidemic. As you might imagine, the COVID-19 pandemic created very lucrative opportunities for travel nurses through crisis contracts.

Working Overtime

For a travel nurse and registered nurses, overtime is an excellent way of transforming an already excellent pay rate into a proverbial goldmine. It is particularly attractive for nurses that won’t receive tax-free stipends as part of their assignment. Remember that overtime should be 1.5x what your base wages are at the very least. Remember to check your contract regarding overtime work.

Travel Nursing Stipends

“Stipend” is a word that you will hear a lot as a travel nurse. In simple terms, a stipend is a sum of money given to travel nurses to pay for housing while on an assignment. The reality of housing stipends, however, is more complicated than this definition. If you want to understand them fully, you need to understand GSA per diem rates.

Let’s take it from the top. The GSA is the General Services Administration is the body that oversees how the federal government does business. One of their responsibilities is determining the “per diem rates,” meaning the maximum allowance for lodging, meals, and incidental expenses provided to federal employees traveling on job assignments. Does this mean travel nurses are federal employees? No, it’s just that the IRS uses the same rates set by the GSA and applies them to private citizens who travel away from their tax home to work.

In other words, the GSA per diem rates are the same used to calculate the per diem (tax-free money) given to travel nurses with their pay. Also, since 2018, deductions or write-offs are no longer an option for travel nurses on travel-related expenses. The only way to recuperate this money is through reimbursement from your employer.

Travel Nursing Stipends vs. Per Diem

By definition, a stipend is a fixed amount of money paid as a salary or allowance while on a job assignment. It is more commonly used in the context of travel nursing jobs to avoid confusion with the regular healthcare industry’s use of per diem.

It’s also important to note that agencies typically pay stipends weekly, biweekly, and even monthly in lump sums.

Average Housing Stipends For Travel Nurses

It might be frustrating to learn that there is no “true average” housing stipend for travel nurses. This lack of an actual average is because housing costs vary significantly across the country. Travel nurse agencies arrange their stipends very differently from one assignment to another, even offering different stipend amounts for the same cities. These factors make it virtually impossible to calculate an average stipend amount that applies to all nurses across the board.

Understanding Taxes As A Travel Nurse

The United States classifies nurses as non-exempt employees, meaning they must pay income and Medicare taxes on all their wages. On the other hand, the IRS states that there are no minimum or maximum hours that a nurse must work to be considered a full-time employee.

Tax Homes For Travel Nurses

It is crucial to start by clarifying that a tax home is NOT the same as your legal residence address. A tax home is the geographical location where you work, not necessarily the area where you primarily work. Defined by the IRS, your regular area of business, regardless of where your residence is located. The tax home includes the entire city where your work is located.

Setting up a tax home might or might not be the best move for you as a travel nurse. Mostly, it depends on whether the choice is evident if you qualify or not qualify for one. The best course of action is to ask your colleagues, recruiter, or agency for advice or even get counseling from a travel nurse tax professional.

Tax Advantages Of Travel Nurses

Travel nurses enjoy a handful of significant tax advantages, mainly in the form of stipends and reimbursements. While stipends are a set sum of money given to you by your employer or agency, reimbursement is a business-related expense that you pay for out of pocket and that your employer will pay you back for.
In order to make sure that you are eligible for reimbursement, make sure that you save all receipts whenever you incur business expenses and include them in your expense reports.

Handling Tax Audits

The overall chances of any single person being audited are generally low, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. You should always document your every financial transaction, keeping track of every proof that you maintain a permanent home on top of your assignment housing, and therefore are covering double the living expenses. Keep documents on the following:

  • Receipts for rental cars, flights, or public transportation to and from assignments
  • Mileage logs to and from your assignments
  • Copies of your assignment contracts
  • Gas, electric and cable bills
  • Mortgage or rent payments

What Assignments Pay The Most Money As A Travel Nurse?

Even though travel nurses make more money than their staffing nurse counterparts, there are still a few assignments that will pay even more on top of that, but they come with a few caveats. They are:

Rapid Response And Crisis Assignments

Some of the highest rates in the industry come from rapid-response and “crisis” assignments. These are binding contracts that require nurses to arrive within two weeks to their new job, are usually shorter than a general assignment, and sometimes originate from extreme circumstances such as in response to natural disasters or epidemics.

Union Strikes

A strike occurs when a labor contract between a hospital and the union representing its workers is broken or up for renewal. When the two sides do not agree on an acceptable compromise, the workforce represented by the union will cease laboring until an agreement is reached.

This situation generates a need for nurses and other healthcare professionals since patients still need care through the strike and hospitals will usually hire travel nurses to cover this temporary need. Due to the urgency, this type of assignment will pay handsomely, much more than a regular assignment, and might even have added benefits.

Tips To Make More Money During An Assignment

1. Picking Up Extra Shifts

Once again, the opportunity to work extra shifts (including the night shift) should be on the radar of any travel nurse who wants to make extra money on top of their regular wages. You should expect some extra shifts along the way will greatly help your travel nursing salary. Particularly enterprising nurses might even want to work with local agencies for per diem shifts when on leave from their regular assignments.

2. Becoming More Specialized

It’s easy to imagine that having a higher degree of specialization will positively impact your pay. A non-specialized nurse, such as those in general care, is typically paid lower than specialized nurses. However, remember that hospitals don’t usually train their travel nurse staff, so your specialty should be acquired on your own time.

3. Take Extensions

When a travel nurse’s assignment is over, they might choose to extend it past the initial length and stay longer at that facility. That is, of course, if the hospital still has a nurse shortage that they need to cover. These extensions have benefits of their own, and some nurses would argue that staying for longer at an assignment is much easier than restarting the process of finding a new one.

4. Apply For The Best Paying States In the US. For Travel Nurses

Going back to the factors that impact your salary as a travel nurse, location is key. Why? Because pay rates per week or bi-weekly almost always reflect the cost of living in the area, on top of regional trends for your position.

The following states were the highest paying destinations for travel nurses in 2020:

  • California
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Illinois
  • Oregon
  • Missouri
  • Washington
  • Georgia

Travel Nurse Salary FAQ

Like most other industries, compensation varies based on location. The two primary factors determining the compensation of a Travel Nurse in a given city are supply and demand. Additionally, while the average travel nurse salary in California or New York might be higher than those in Arizona or Texas, part of this is to offset the higher cost of living. The average salary for Nurses in the West was $105,000 with the Northeast coming in at $87,000. When looking at your compensation in a particular location, it’s important to weigh cost-of-living with opportunity, competition, and work environment.

There are many reasons why nurses travel. In addition to adventure and flexibility, gaining the ability to make more money as opposed to a typical full-time staff position. While it is true most travel assignments provide higher than full-time/staff assignments, the real determining factor regarding pay is decided by how much you want to make. Take advantage of your new location and everything it has to offer, but making your assignment a priority is a true difference. Here are ways to earn more:
  • Extra Hours Bonus
  • Referral Bonuses
  • Work Holidays
  • Sign Up for Additional Shifts
  • Travel to Places with High Demand
  • Take Charge
  • Work Night Shift
  • 26+ Week Contracts
  • Find Your Own Housing

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