10 Important Steps to Become a Travel Nurse

Written by Peter Jones

Want to be a nurse, but also want to travel? If you think that shorter term temporary jobs might be the best fit for your lifestyle and career, this might be a good field for you—and valuable work experience.

If you think being a travel nurse is for you, here are ten steps to breaking into travel nursing.

1. Get the education

Step one is getting the required education for the job. You’ll need a high school diploma or GED, plus completion of an accredited nursing program at the college level. In order to pass the required NCLEX exam, you’ll need at least an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an ASN, which you can get in 2-3 years. Though you might wish to bump it up to a full on Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN), which more and more hospitals will start to require. If you’re short on time or funds, start with an Associate’s and move on if you need a BSN further down your path.

2. Take the NCLEX

You’ll need to pass this exam before you proceed. This is required in order to qualify as an RN or licensed private nurse. The test is administered by the NCSBN.

3. Get experience

You’ll need hands-on nursing experience—usually a minimum of one year before a hospital will consider you for specialty jobs or assignments. That’s the bare minimum. Most places will ask for 2-3 years experience. Before choosing a specialty or a first job to acquire your much needed experience, consider the following most in demand specialties: ICU, ER, MS, MS/TELE, TELE, OR, L&D, PACU, CVICU, Cath Lab, PEDS, PICU, NICU, Case Management, SDU, PCU, CVOR, PostPartum, Mother Baby, and Home Health. And if you want to travel, consider moving to one of the 24 states that honor the Nurse Licensure Compact. This will make sure your license is valid in whichever state you’re sent to work in. 24 possibilities!

4. Figure out your tax situation

You’ll need to qualify for tax-free compensation by maintaining a legitimate tax home. Here are two valuable resources to help you learn just how to do that: Qualifying for Tax Free Stipends and Deductions As a Travel Nurse, and

Everything Travel Nurses Need to Know about Taxes, Stipends and Tax-Free Money. Remember, if you don’t qualify for tax-free compensation, you will be asked to pay income taxes on that money at the end of every year.

5. Figure out what you want

Figure out where you would (and wouldn’t) want to travel and which type of hospitals you’d most like to work in before you start applying. This will help you figure out which agencies to use to find your jobs.

6. Figure out how much you want to make

Different agencies offer different packages and perks. Figure out which matter most to you: housing, travel stipend, benefits, 401k, rental cars, etc. Also make sure you have a solid understanding of how travel nursing pay packages are structured, as it’s very different from traditional salaried compensation. Make a strategy for how to compare different pay packages before choosing. And make sure to do all this before you start applying.

7. Start looking for agencies

Once you know what you want, you’ll know which agencies can help you get it. There are services like Highway Hypodermics, or Travel Nursing Central that rate agencies’ success. You can also try a lead generator, a website that will connect you to “top agencies” by passing your information on to those agencies. But networking is also a good strategy. Ask your colleagues for referrals. And make sure to sign up for BluePipes, a professional networking site for healthcare pros. When you hear from an agency, make sure to ask the right questions about whether they can get you want you need before signing on.

8. Make your profile

Every hospital will require an extensive application submission from you and your agency. Use BluePipes to tailor and control your submission profile and spare yourself some redundant paperwork.

9. Get your papers together

You’ll need to make sure all of your certifications and qualifications are up to date and ready to be delivered to a new employer STAT. Agencies will often help coordinate this—plus medical records—but it’s always a good idea to have your own set ready to go at all times. Never lose out on a job because of paperwork.

10. Get hired

Finally it’s time to start submitting to jobs, preparing for interviews, signing contracts. Make sure to negotiate for what you need—and do some research into the peculiarities of travel healthcare compensation negotiation before you attempt this.

Once you get your first gig, you’re well on your way! Congratulations, you’re a travel nurse.

About the author

Peter Jones