How Long Does It Take To Become A Travel Nurse

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

Travel nursing is an excellent job if you know how long it takes to become a travel nurse. We all want to know what to expect when traveling around the country and working different shifts. What makes it difficult is that there are so many factors that go into becoming a travel nurse

Are you looking to become a travel nurse as a nursing assistant, LPN or RN? We ask that questions and provide answers to help you through the journey! Learn how many travel nurses there are, the training it takes and how long it takes. How much can you really make? Are travel nursing agencies reputable? What is travel nursing? There is definitely more to learn!

If you have decided to become a travel nurse, you are probably wondering how long it will take before you start seeing all that money and adventure that you have been promised. The truth is that it will probably take a while. Below is a quick breakdown of what to expect. These are just very general estimates, but they should give you an idea of what you can expect out of becoming a travel nurse.

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You will also discover related posts on how long does it take to be a travel nurse & how many years to be a travel nurse on infolearners

What Is Travel Nursing?

Traveling nurses temporarily provide medical assistance on short-term assignments that typically last between eight and 26 weeks, though most positions are offered for around 13 weeks. Nurses have the chance to choose where they want to be sent and in what specialty they’d like to work.

How to Become a Travel Nurse & More FAQs | Cross Country Nurses

Education – How to Become a Travel Nurse

Travel nurses must be registered nurses (RNs). This can be done in three different ways:
1. You can attend a nursing school based in a hospital. This pathway takes up to four years to complete.

2. An ADN, which takes around two years to complete. You can then study for a further one or two years to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

3. A BSN, which takes four years to complete.

Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN/ADN)

An Associate of Science in Nursing degree is typically a two-year degree that involves a combination of in-class instruction and clinical rotations. After earning an ASN/ADN degree, a nursing student can take the (NCLEX-RN).

ASN/ADN degrees are usually offered by community colleges and nursing schools. These programs help prospective nurses develop the technical skills required to perform the functions of a registered nurse. For the student who wishes to become a registered nurse quickly, the ASN/ADN degree is often the fastest and least expensive route. Some students who earn their ASN or ADN degree go on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at a later date.

Requirements to Become A Travel Nurse - NurseJournal.org

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is a four-year degree offered by colleges and universities. The BSN degree prepares registered nurses to assume both hands-on and leadership roles in healthcare facilities. Upon earning this degree, graduates also qualify to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

All nursing students must learn the required technical skills as well as the fundamentals of nursing theory and how to apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios. The core curriculum for BSN students includes pharmacology, microbiology, nutrition, public health, anatomy, pathophysiology, mental health, and other science-based courses. In these programs, registered nurses learn to care for patients of all ages.

BSN students are exposed to current research, and they learn how to think critically about new ideas. They are taught the value of continuing their education throughout their careers, including how to filter research results and how to analyze those results and apply them to the real-life scenarios they will encounter in the workplace.

Like ASN/ADN students, BSN students complete clinical rotations, during which they have the opportunity to observe nurses at work in actual healthcare settings. BSN students learn how to use new technologies and software, so they possess the necessary technical skills as soon as they begin their first job. By the time a BSN student graduates, he or she should have mastered all the fundamentals of nursing required to take the NCLEX-RN.

Apply to a Travel Nursing Agency

Travel nurses accept assignments from staffing agencies that serve healthcare facilities all over the country. These agencies have contractual relationships with hospitals, nursing homes, birthing facilities, doctors’ offices, and medical clinics in both urban and rural areas. Nurses who work with these staffing agencies can choose any type of facility, any population, and any area of the country in which they wish to work. Travel nurses can accept any assignment they are offered; conversely, if they wish, they also can turn down the offer. For an independent-minded nurse, travel nursing is an ideal occupation.

10 steps to become a travel nurse

Travel nurses are nurses who work temporary jobs commonly referred to as travel nursing assignments. Assignments are typically 13 weeks in length but can be longer or shorter. Travel nursing is a great way travel around the country while gaining valuable work experience. However, you should familiarize yourself with the advantages and disadvantages before deciding to undertake travel nursing. If you decide that it’s right for you, then you just need to know how to become a travel nurse. Here we’ll provide our 10 steps to becoming a travel nurse.

Step 1 To Become a Travel Nurse: Complete the Required Education

To become a Registered Nurse, you must first obtain a high school diploma or GED. Then, you must complete an accredited college nursing program. You can qualify to sit for the NCLEX  examination with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). These degrees are designed to be completed within 2 to 3 years.

However, many hospitals no longer accept ADN/ASN candidates for permanent registered nursing jobs. Instead, more and more hospitals are requiring a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN). Currently, it’s very rare for hospitals to require a BSN for assignments. But they may change to follow suit with their permanent job requirements.

Create your free Travel Nursing Resume on BluePipes!

You should consider this trend when deciding between ADN/ASN and BSN programs. Of course, you should also consider many other variables when making a choice about nursing degree programs. This article from Marian University provides some helpful insight for this decision.

Step 2: Pass The NCLEX Examination

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is developed and administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc (NCSBN). The exam must be passed in order to qualify to be licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (PN) in the United States.

Step 3: Obtain the Required Nursing Experience

Hospitals require a minimum of 1 year of recent nursing experience in the specialty applied for. Again, this is the minimum. However, when the labor market is slack, hospitals will require 2 or more years of recent nursing experience in the specialty applied for. When obtaining your nursing education and landing your first job, you should give careful consideration the specialty you choose. Below is a list of the most in demand specialties for travelers:

Discover why travel nurses are calling us their “secret weapon”.

ICU, ER, MS, MS/TELE, TELE, OR, L&D, PACU, CVICU, Cath Lab, PEDS, PICU, NICU, Case Management, SDU, PCU, CVOR, PostPartum, Mother Baby, Home Health

Finally, if you’re able to relocate for your first job (hey, you’re interested in “travel”, right?), then you may want to consider trying to land your first job in a Compact State if you don’t already reside in a Compact State. States that participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact recognize the state nursing licenses of all other participating states. There are currently 24 participating states. A compact license provides an advantage in the travel job market because hospitals require verification of a valid state nursing license for the hospital’s state before they’ll accept candidates for consideration. So a Compact Nursing License creates immediate opportunity in 24 states!

Step 4: Determine How You’re Going to Maintain a Tax Home

Travel nursing pay packages almost always include some form of tax-free compensation. In fact, you will be hard pressed to find a company that will agree to provide a pay package that is all-taxable. The catch to tax-free money is that you must qualify to receive it. If you don’t qualify, then you will need to declare all tax-free compensation on your annual tax return and pay income taxes on it.

In order to qualify for the tax-free reimbursements that travel nursing agencies pay, you must maintain a legitimate tax-home. This is definitely doable, so don’t let this discourage you. We have you covered! Here are some links where you will find everything you need to know:

Qualifying for Tax Free Stipends and Deductions As a Travel Nurse : This is part 1 of a 4 part series on why you need to maintain a tax home and how to do it.

Everything Travel Nurses Need to Know about Taxes, Stipends and Tax-Free Money : This is a category of articles devoted to the topic. It has tons of useful information.

Step 5: Determine What You Want Out of It

You should decide what you want out of travel nursing prior to beginning your search for agencies. This is because different agencies offer different options. We’re referring specifically to where you want to travel and what types of hospitals you want to work in. Free: The Ultimate Agency Management System for Travel Nurses, Therapists and Techs.

Step 6: Determine What You Want Out of Your Travel Nursing Pay Package

Again, you should decide what you want out of your pay package prior to your search for agencies. Again, different agencies will offer different pay arrangements and benefits. These can include housing, travel stipends, medical benefits, 401Ks, rental cars, and more.

The easiest way to manage your travel nursing career.

It’s important to note that travel nursing pay packages are very different than the pay packages for permanent jobs. In fact, the pay packages tend to confuse almost everyone. Therefore, it’s important to have a solid understanding of pay packages before you get started. Don’t worry, we have you covered with over 60 articles on the subject. Here are few links to get you started:

Compensation Video : This video is the perfect place to start. It provides a basic breakdown of how travel nursing pay packages work.

Pay Package Comparison Strategy : Comparing pay packages is one of the most confusing things travelers will have to do. This 3 part series of articles provides the context and detailed examples you’ll need to be a pro.

Sample Breakdown of a Pay Package : This article provides some perspective from the agency’s side of the equation. You may know more than your recruiter after reading this!

Step 7: Begin Vetting Travel Nursing Agencies

Once you determine what you want out of travel nursing, you’re ready to find agencies that can deliver. There are several approaches to finding travel nursing agencies. Here are a few of the more popular approaches.

  1. Refer to rating services : There are a number of rating services where travelers rate the agencies they have worked with. The two most popular are Highway Hypodermics and Travel Nursing Central.
  2. Use a “Lead Generator” : Lead Generators are websites that offer to “connect you with the top agencies”. Essentially, these websites collect your contact information and basic information about your career and then sell it to agencies. The agencies will then contact you. 
  3. Colleague referral : If you know someone who has done some travel nursing, then it’s a great idea to see if they can refer you to agencies and recruiters that they had good experiences with.
  4. Join BluePipes : BluePipes is a professional networking website for healthcare professionals. It has tons of great tools that will simplify your travel healthcare career. You can connect with agencies and recruiters on the site.

Finally, when speaking with agencies you’ll also need to vet them in an effort to make sure they can deliver on your expectations. Do they have assignments in the locations you want to go? Do they offer the compensation variables that are important to you? Getting these questions answered up front will save you a ton of time and trouble. In the end, you’ll select several agencies to work with, and then build on that moving forward.

Step 8: Complete Your Travel Nursing Submission Profile

It’s standard practice for hospitals to require an agency to submit an application, a skills checklist, and clinical references in order for the hospital to even consider the agency’s candidate. These documents are commonly referred to as a candidate’s submission profile. Every agency you work with will want you to fill out their submission profile documents. This can turn into a paperwork nightmare for you. Instead, you can become a member on BluePipes where you can control your own submission profile, reduce your paperwork burden, and land the travel jobs you most desire.

Step 9 To Become a Travel Nurse: Get Your Documentation Together

Ideally, you should start thinking about your paperwork well in advance of actually getting it all together. This is particularly true for licenses and certifications. Hospitals expect candidates to have all the required licenses and certifications at the outset. In other words, it’s common for hospitals to consider only candidates who currently have the licenses and certifications required by the hospital.

Medical records are a different matter. Many medical records must have been recently obtained in order to qualify. While it’s true that agencies will often coordinate and cover the cost of medical records, it’s in the travelers best interest to maintain their own set of documents. Doing so helps them land travel jobs more quickly which is very important to landing the most desired jobs in the volatile travel nursing job market.

Step 10 To Become a Travel Nurse: Secure an Assignment

At this point, you’re ready to start having your profile submitted for jobs. We’ve covered this process in great detail and offered some strategies in previous blog posts. This process should include a travel nursing job interview and signing a contract.

When it comes to the contract, it’s important to note that the compensation and terms of the contract are negotiable. Negotiating the complex pay package and contract terms can be difficult. We have you covered with our free eBook on travel healthcare compensation negotiation. You can pick up a copy here to help you negotiate a great deal. At that point, you’re on way to an exciting career as a travel nurse!

How to Become a Travel Nurse

So, you want to be a travel nurse? Well, we certainly understand why. There are many benefits to packing your bags and hitting the road. Travel nursing allows nurses to explore new cities, gain experience in new care settings and hospitals, and typically pays more than staff nursing jobs. 

Travel nursing can also help to stave off nurse burnout, allow you more flexibility in your time off, and even give you a sense of confidence and independence that you might not have experienced in your professional career. 

However, even with these clear benefits, it can be still intimidating knowing where and how to begin your travel nursing adventure. We recently held an event entitled, “So You Want to Be a Travel Nurse?,” where we had three experienced travel nurses to cover all of the topics you need to know to get started.

Travel Nursing Defined

Travel nurses are registered nurses who work short term (contract) roles at hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities around the world to supplement permanent staff. They help to fill gaps during shortages, increases in patient population, or technology upgrades and changes.

How Does the Process Work?

Travel Nurses are primarily contracted through travel nursing agencies or job marketplaces that place them at facilities for a specified length of time. 

Here’s what the process looks like:

  1. Nurse contacts (or is contacted by) agency
  2. Agency finds suitable position for their specialties and unique experience
  3. Agency submits nurse to facility 
  4. Nurse interviews and (hopefully) gets the role 
  5. Nurse signs contract 
  6. Nurse onboards and starts the assignment! 

(Note: the agency is the employer, not the facility.)

How Does Travel Nurse Pay Work?

Since travel nurses are expected to (duh!) travel for these short-term contracts, travel nursing pay packages include both taxable and non-taxable income (in the form of stipends and reimbursements) to cover housing, meals, and incidentals. 

A travel nurse salary breakdown is typically as follows:

  • Hourly rate
  • Housing stipend or agency-provided housing
  • Meals and incidentals

(Note: you must maintain a tax home in another location to qualify for nontaxable stipends.)

Pros and Cons of Travel Nursing

Some benefits of travel nursing include:

  • Flexibility 
  • Increased pay
  • Your choice (when, where, how)
  • New city and new people
  • Learning opportunities
  • Freedom

Some drawbacks or challenges of travel nursing include:

  • No definite timelines or availability
  • Frequent moving
  • Being away from family and friends
  • Instability 
  • Social, emotional, and logistical challenges 

Before Choosing a Travel Nursing Assignment

There are some typical travel nursing licensure requirements that you must meet.

To get started you must:

  • Have a nursing degree: ADN or BSN degree
  • Currently have an active nursing license (of course, passing the NCLEX)
  • Have at least 1 year of bedside nursing experience (particularly in the specialty you’re looking to travel within)

You also need to choose your destination. You may make this decision based on distance or location, pay, or taxes.

Lastly, you’ll need to keep in mind the duration of your travels. Some contracts are four weeks, but most are thirteen weeks long. There are also extensions and cancellations as well as various types of contracts – rapid, crisis, strike, and more.

Documents and Certifications

Nursing Certifications

  • Copies of nursing license(s)
  • BLS certification
  • Specialty certifications (ACLS, PALS, TNCC, etc.) 

Health Documents

  • Flu shot 
  • Immunizations/titers/TB test
  • Recent physical
  • Respirator fit test

Two References

  • AKA someone who likes you
  • At least one from Nursing Manager
  • Charge Nurse or above (no Doctors, NPs, PAs, or front-desk friends)

Other Things to Think About

Don’t forget about your preparation for taking a travel contract:

  • Are you driving or flying? 
  • Are you packing up your belongings and/or leaving stuff in storage? 
  • Do you need a car?
  • Is your current home life/lifestyle conducive to traveling for extended periods?
  • Do you live an adaptable lifestyle?
  • Are you open or interested in dating/meeting new people in a new place?

And the list goes on!

san francisco city scape how to become a travel nurse


Choosing a Travel Nursing Agency

The next big step is choosing a travel nursing agency

If you’re looking at traditional agencies:

  • Don’t put all your apples in one basket
  • Check overall reputation: reviews, Facebook groups, forums
  • Check overall pay
  • Confirm housing options or stipend
  • Confirm reimbursements 
  • Vet onboarding Experience
  • Benefits (401K, first-day insurance, etc?) 

A little bit on recruiters:

  • Your recruiter can be important than the agency itself
  • Check the word-of-mouth (friends/coworkers are best) 
  • Remember: recruiters may be nice, but they’re not your friend, and they make money off of you!

A good recruiter:

  • Listens
  • Is responsive
  • Is knowledgeable but honest
  • Has YOUR best interest in mind
  • Helps you protect your license

A bad recruiter:

  • Submits you to a job without your explicit permission
  • Refuses to put things in writing 
  • Guilt-trips you
  • Is unresponsive
  • Makes you feel pressured, hurried, or unsupported

And, of course, a little bit on Trusted (and the way we do things)…

We’re nurses first.

  • No recruiters, instead we have Nurse Advocates (and awesome Care Team!) 
  • Built to empower nurses
  • Your goals are aligned with our goals and vice versa

You have control.

  • YOU set your job preferences
  • YOU browse jobs with complete pay breakdown and job details
  • YOU request interviews with one click
  • WE don’t call and harass you incessantly

And, well, better pay 😉 

Travel Nursing: The Application Process

First, you need to find the right role. 

  • Right experience, right specialty 
  • Protect your license 
  • Network = Net Worth

Then, you need to complete all the requirements/documentation for said role.

  • Those documents we talked about above
  • Skills checklists
  • Knowledge exams (med tests, etc.)

Finally, have your recruiter or Nurse Advocate submit you to the facility.

Then come…

Travel Nursing Interviews

Sometimes there won’t actually be an interview (often seen with emergency-need roles).

Other times, the interview will be pre-recorded.

  • Oftentimes, you’ll receive an automated interview with questions sent to you
  • You’ll record your response
  • Interviewing facilities should send you the questions beforehand or tell you how to prepare

And very often, there will be a phone interview.

  • Most common type of interview
  • Usually a Nurse Manager
  • Usually fairly informal but be prepared to answer clinical questions related to your specialty (ex. Pediatric ER Manager: “Name the ESI, priorities, and anticipated care for a neonate with a 102 fever arriving POV to the ER)

Travel Nursing Contract Basics

There are a lot of nuances here, so we strongly recommend you check out the actual event recording to learn all about them, but we’ll break down the basics very simply below.

iphone hovering in front of paperwork with sticker saying sign here how to become a travel nurse


Offer vs. Contract vs. Confirmation

  • What are the differences? Know them!

Assignment Details

  • Shift (day, night, etc.)
  • Hours
  • Location

Slices of Pie

  • Rates
  • Reimbursements
  • Costs
  • Negotiating (is that even an option?)

Penalties 

  • Cancellation
  • Missed hours

Non-compete Clause

  • What is this? (Know if your facility has one or not.)

Policies

  • GHR
  • Sick time

Amendments

  • Why?
  • When?

Cancellation Considerations

  • Future opportunities
  • Cost
  • Transparency (from both parties)

Extensions

  • What are they and when to take them?
  • Bonuses?
  • Rate increases? 

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