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How To Become A Travel Nurse

The travel nursing profession gives qualified nurses a chance to explore the country (and the world) while earning a very handsome salary.

Unsurprisingly, it's a sought-after profession, and there are many students of healthcare keen to learn how to become a travel nurse.

If you're one of them, the following guide will give you the information you need.

What is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses are skilled practitioners hired to work in healthcare facilities all over the world.

They fill nursing shortages in a range of settings, including private practices, hospitals, and residential care, and they typically work for a few months at a time.

How to Become a Travel Nurse

To become a travel nurse, you must have a Registered Nurse (RN) license, a requirement you can meet by obtaining an associate degree in nursing (ADN). To get the best opportunities and the highest salaries, you should seek to attain a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Other basic certifications may also be required, including Basic Life Support. However, these are generally not required for entry level positions and the necessary qualifications will depend on the specific assignment.

To give you the best chance of succeeding as a travel nurse, follow these steps:

Step One: Get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree

A BSN takes approximately 4 years to complete, but you can fast-track it if you already have an ADN or a degree in another field of study. To apply for the BSN, you must have a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of at least 3.

You must have also completed coursework in a range of other subjects, including chemistry, biology, anatomy, organic chemistry, physiology, and microbiology.

If you do not these requirements, you can always apply for an ADN first, as the requirements are not as strict.

What Happens During an ADN?

An ADN takes around 2 years to complete, half the time it takes to finish a BSN. As noted above, the requirements are not as strict.

Many travel nursing positions will require a BSN, but you can still do a lot with an ADN and it can also be used to progress toward a BSN.

  • What You Need: A high school diploma or GED with passing grades in math, biology, and chemistry.
  • What It Involves: An ADN will guide you through the basics of nursing, including tests, monitoring, and patient support. It will also show you how to operate within a healthcare facility and how to understand and utilize healthcare research.
  • How Long it Takes: Although most ADN programs take 2 years to complete, you can expedite the process if you have applicable course credits.

What Happens During a BSN?

A BSN will open many more doors for you as a travel nurse and is the preferred qualification for most assignments.

  • What You Need: You will typically need at least a 3.0 GPA to apply for a BSN, and there are also requirements regarding passing grades and teacher recommendations.
  • What it Involves: The BSN teaches nurses a wealth of skills, including those related to the management of healthcare systems, patient care, testing and diagnosis, surgical assistance, and how to work as part of a team.
  • How Long it Takes: A full-time BSN course will take around 4 years to complete. If you study part-time, it may take up to 6 years. You can shorten the study time if you have an ADN or transferrable credits.

Step Two: Pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) Exam

The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) Exam was developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and must be completed before acquiring a nursing license.

Most nursing graduates take the test within a month of graduating. It takes around 6 hours to complete and it covers many aspects of nursing, including those related to legal issues, ethics, patient care, and healthcare systems.

Step Three: Obtain Your Registered Nurse (RN) License

You must be licensed within the state in which you operate. Thanks to the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), it's possible to have one license that applies across many states. However, this is not valid throughout the United States and only 38 jurisdictions have agreed to NLC legislation.

The following list covers all of the jurisdictions impacted by multi-state licensing as of 2022:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Guam (Pending implementation in 2022)
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio (The implementation date is set for January 2023)
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania (The law passed in July 2021 but the implementation date has yet to be set)
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont (Implementation begins on Feb. 1, 2022)
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

For states not covered by the NLC, check the local licensing requirements. Travel nurse agencies can assist you with this and should be able to answer any questions you have about the NLC.

Step Four: Gain Some Nursing Experience

A travel nursing agency typically requires at least 1 year of experience before they will work with you. It's a challenging career, and while they know you have the necessary qualifications, they also want to know that you can put them to use in a practical setting.

You will also learn a lot during your first year, and that will prepare you for everything that follows.

Step Five: Find a Suitable Travel Nurse Agency

Travel nursing agencies will find placements for you throughout the United States. They are your link to healthcare facilities nationwide and even worldwide, and a good agency will ensure you have plenty of work, benefits, and assistance.

How Do I Find a Travel Nurse Staffing Agency?

Many schools connect their students with travel nurse agencies, but you can also look for one in your own time.

Look around for regional and national travel nursing agencies and ask your fellow travel nurses for their recommendations.

Step Six: Start Working as a Travel Nurse

Once you complete the steps above, you are ready to start working as a travel nurse! You can travel and accept travel nurse assignments and gradually earn more experience, improve your craft, and work your way toward bigger pay rates, better bonuses, and more favorable opportunities.

It can be a stressful and demanding profession. You'll always be on the move and may spend long periods of time away from your family and friends. However, the travel nurse salary is one of the highest in the profession and a registered nurse working as a travel nurse should earn more than an RN in a permanent position.

Are Travel Nurses in Demand?

Travel nurses are very much in demand right now, and that demand is expected to grow. Some states will likely have more registered nurses than they need in the coming years and decades, but others are expected to suffer from serious shortages.

The two tables below will give you an idea of why travel nursing is such an important profession. The first highlights how many registered nurses (RNs) there are in the US right now. The second predicts how many there will be in 2030 and how this will compare to the anticipated demand.

Of course, these figures account for RNs and not travel nurses in particular, but travel nurses do the jobs of RNs, and the fewer RNs there are, the more opportunities there will be for experienced and qualified travel nurses.

The Number of Registered Nurses in the United States

StateNumber of Registered Nurses
New Hampshire24,527
New Jersey136,228
New Mexico29,494
New York380,246
North Carolina143,230
North Dakota16,239
Rhode Island25,376
South Carolina71,379
South Dakota18,812
West Virginia33,719

The Predicted Supply/Demand of Registered Nurses in 2030

StateProjected Supply of RNs IN 2030Projected Demand for RNs IN 2030Percentage of Supply
Colorado72,50063,200+ 14.7%
Connecticut43,50040,000+ 8.8%
Delaware14,00012,800+ 9.4%
Florida293,700240,000+ 22.4%
Hawaii19,80016,500+ 20%
Idaho18,90015,300+ 23.5%
Illinois143,000139,400+ 2.6%
Indiana89,30075,300+ 18.6%
Louisiana52,00049,700+ 4.6%
Maryland86,00073,900+ 16.4%
Massachusetts91,30089,300+ 2.2%
Michigan110,500104,400+ 5.8%
Minnesota71,80068,700+ 4.5%
Mississippi42,50035,300+ 20.4%
Missouri89,90073,200+ 22.8%
Montana12,30012,100+ 1.7%
Nebraska24,70021,200+ 16.5%
New Hampshire21,30020,200+5.4%
New Jersey90,800102,200-11.2%
New Mexico31,30021,600+ 44.9%
New York213,400195,200+9.3%
North Carolina135,100118,600+ 13.9%
North Dakota9,9009,200+ 7.6%
Ohio181,900132,800+ 37%
Oklahoma46,10040,600+ 13.5%
Oregon41,10038,600+ 6.5%
Rhode Island15,00012,500+ 20%
South Carolina52,10062, 500-16.6%
South Dakota11,70013,600-14%
Tennessee90,60082,200+ 10.2%
Utah33,50029,400+ 13.9%
Vermont9,3006,800+ 36.8%
Virginia109,20086,500+ 26.2%
Washington DC8,8002,300+282.6%
Washington85,30079,100+ 7.8%
West Virginia25,20020,800+ 21.2%
Wisconsin78,20072,000+ 8.6%
Wyoming8,3005,500+ 50.9%

Where Do Travel Nurses Specialize?

As a travel nurse, you can choose to work in a variety of specializations, including the following:

Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

The ICU is a very popular choice among travel nurses. It requires a Certification in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and is a very sought-after profession, especially in the age of COVID.

It's a very challenging role, but one that can also be rewarding and should provide the travel nurse with an abundance of opportunities.

Emergency Room

ER nurses are very good in a crisis and know how to deal with sick, injured, scared, and angry patients. They act quickly and don't mind working in a very fast-paced and high-stress environment.

Labor and Delivery

These nurses work in the delivery room and care for both the baby and the mother. Labor and Delivery nurses are required to have a little more experienced and there are a number of related certifications that may be needed, including Basic Life Support (BLS).

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

A rewarding but challenging specialism that provides care for sick newborns. It includes careful monitoring and assessments, as well as feeding and administering medications.


Telemetry focuses on the technological side of the job and requires nurses who are proficient in a range of different equipment, including those designed to diagnose, test, and monitor patients.

Progressive Care Unit (PCU)

Nurses working in the PCU deal with patients that need a high level of care but no longer require the services of the ICU. Many of the tasks performed by nurses in this sector are similar to the ones performed by nurses in the ICU.


The Medical-Surgical sector is the largest nursing specialty in the United States. Nurses in this profession are tasked with managing patients who have a range of surgical and non-surgical issues.

Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU)

Nurses in the PACU support patients coming off the effects of anesthesia. These patients will be drowsy and as they have just undergone surgery, they may have a range of problems that need to be addressed, making this a demanding role that requires a lot of different skills and considerations.

FAQs About Travel Nursing

Want to know how much a travel nurse makes, why the profession is so popular, and what kind of issues they face? Check out the following FAQs.

How Much Does A Traveling Nurse Make In The US?

The median pay for a registered nurse is $75,330 a year according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It depends on their qualifications, experience, and location, with the average salaries in some states may pay 50% more than others.

Generally, the more experienced and qualified you are, the greater your salary will become.

How Much Does A Traveling Nurse Make Internationally?

There are nursing shortages all over the world, so travel nurses don't need to limit themselves to the United States.

As with domestic travel nurses, the salary will depend on a number of factors, including the nurse's experience and their chosen location.

International travel nurses are also given a chance to see the world, which is one of the main reasons they become a travel nurse in the first place.

How Many Years Does It Take To Become A Traveling Nurse?

It depends on whether you're studying full-time or part-time and whether you're opting for an ADN or a BSN. However, it will take you anywhere from 2 to 6 years, with full-time study finishing within 2 to 4 hours.

Can Travel Nurses Bring Their Spouse and/or Pets?

Yes, you can take your spouse, pets, and children with you on travel nursing assignments.

If you're traveling with your family, you should prepare as early as possible, ensuring you're not disrupting their schedules and will have everything they need for the duration of the assignment.

Do Travel Nurses Get Paid More?

Yes, travel nurses usually get paid more than permanent nurses in similar positions. They are expected to travel to new areas and work for short periods of time, so they have a lot of expenses and lack the job security usually provided to full-time healthcare professionals.

What Education Is Needed To Become A Travel Nurse?

At a very basic level, you need a high school diploma or GED. From there, you must study for either an ADN or BSN, the latter of which is the preferable option.

You can learn more about becoming a travel nurse in the guide above.

What Are The Tax Considerations For Travel Nurses?

As a travel nurse, you may want to look into establishing a tax home, as it could help you with your tax obligations. You will also need to pay taxes in all of the states you work.

Your travel nurse agency can answer any questions you have regarding tax homes, but if you want an easy life and don't have a head for numbers, consider hiring a professional to do your taxes for you.

Is Travel Nursing Stressful?

Tax nursing can be a very stressful profession. Nursing in general is one of the most demanding professions in the world, but when you add regular travel to the mix, it can make for a challenging vocation.

Although travel nurses deal with a lot of stress and are constantly away from their loved ones, it's a high-paying profession that encourages domestic and international travel. It means you're getting paid more than your colleagues in permanent positions and you're seeing many different towns, cities, and countries in the process.

find nursing schools near you

find nursing schools near you