Travel Nurse Pay: Know What To Expect


You may have heard a lot of buzz about potential travel nurse pay, but how much can you really make? There are a lot of factors that can affect travel nurse income opportunities. From location to specialty to local tax laws, it’s best to do a little research. Here are some basics that help you see what you can really make as a travel nurse.

Basic Factors That Can Affect Your Earnings

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly salary for a registered nurse in 2018 was $71,730. Keep in mind, though, that salaries vary across the country. In states like Hawaii and California, a registered nurse can make as much as $100,000 a year. In addition to regional salary differences, flexibility can also impact your earnings.

Unexpected staff departures or regional emergencies can create a pressing need for medical facilities. They need to fill open positions quickly and you can benefit from this urgency. When you take on a last-minute posting, you could see a significant increase in compensation compared to other available positions. Your flexibility and the states and regions you’re willing to travel to can help you maximize your earning potential.

Specialty Travel Nurse Pay

Your specialty area can also affect your income. There are higher demands for certain nursing specialties. For example, if you are a certified nursing anesthetist, you’re a member of a group that has been growing steadily in demand. This is a specialty that may enable you to earn upwards of $100,000 yearly. Other specialty areas, such as certified dialysis nurses, certified legal nurse consultants and nurse case managers can also take advantage of higher rates of travel pay due to demand.

Travel Nurse Agency Bonuses

Travel nurse agencies may offer bonuses in addition to hourly rates. You may receive a travel incentive or a retention bonus if you rebook assignments with the agency. An extension bonus may also be offered as an incentive to stay at an assigned facility for a longer period of time than originally agreed to.

Tax-Free Compensation

Agencies may provide a number of ways you can add tax-free compensation to your hourly rate. Because your earnings can be a combination of taxable hourly pay and non-taxable compensation, it’s not always a fair comparison to judge what a travel nurse earns against the income of a locally residing permanent employee. Say that your hourly rate for working at your assigned facility as a travel nurse is $25. That doesn’t sound like much compared to what a permanently employed nurse makes, but if you add another $25 or $40 per hour of non-taxable income to that, it starts to sound a lot better.

Tax Home

To be eligible for all of the non-taxable forms of compensation, you need to have an established tax home. This is your home base and the address from which you conduct all your personal business. You need to reside there for about three to four months each year to avoid paying taxes on some of the income a travel nurse agency pays you on top of your hourly rate. You’ll also need to be sure to not take on travel assignments in the same metro area that accumulate more than 12 months of work in any 24-month period. This can get somewhat complicated, and you would do well to seek the advice of a professional tax advisor to be sure you’re making the best of your circumstances and assignment choices.

Travel Nurse Expenses

Many of the non-taxable income types that agencies offer are designed to cover the additional costs of transportation, lodging and food. Lodging could be your biggest expense. If you book an extended stay hotel, a one-bedroom apartment can cost upwards of $1,500 a month. Lodging costs across the U.S. also vary drastically. Major cities such as New York and Los Angeles could incur three times the lodging costs compared to less densely populated areas in states such as Montana or Wyoming.

Some agencies may reimburse you for the required out-of-state certification fees. Don’t count, however, on all agencies providing reimbursements for the wide variety of costs you can incur during assignments. Do some research and learn what each agency provides before you take on any assignments.

The Big Picture

You can do well working as a travel nurse, especially if you enjoy learning firsthand what it’s like to live and work in different parts of the country. Be sure, however, to learn about the cost of living at the assignment’s location and consult an in-depth review of the agency you intend to work through. With a little advance homework, you can help ensure that your assignments will be personally rewarding while also providing the travel pay you’re hoping for.

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