Why the Average Travel Nurse Salary Will Surprise You

Why the Average Travel Nurse Salary Will Surprise You (In a Good Way)

For many healthcare professionals, gaining diverse experience and seeing the world are two important motivators to choose the traveling lifestyle.

There’s adventure in seeing new places and meeting new people, and many other benefits of being a travel nurse.

But, did you know that the average travel nurse salary is also a bonus for those willing to live life on the road?

On top of its flexibility and freedom of choice, a travel nurse salary is significantly higher than that of a regular, full-time nurse!

That’s right.

Regular Nurse vs Travel Nurse Salary | Why The Average Travel Nurse Salary Will Surprise You

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, regular licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses earn approximately $43,170 per year on average.

On the other hand, the salary of a travel nurse could reach as high as $103,893 a year according to Payscale.com.

But it’s not just the travel nurse salary base that makes the compensation so attractive. There are actually a lot of elements that go into the salary of a travel nurse.

Let’s take a closer look at 8 ways that contribute to the higher salary of travel nurses!


1. Higher Base Pay

Because travel nurses typically work on short assignments—lasting between four and 13 weeks—the average travel nurse salary base is usually higher than that of a full-time professional.

Note that the base pay of a nurse varies from state to state, as it usually corresponds with the regional cost of living.

At the same time, travel nurse salaries vary between healthcare institutions and location.

A private hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, will in all likelihood pay more than a state-run clinic in Charleston, West Virginia.

And a traveling nurse who spends most of his or her time in California can expect to earn almost double a nurse in Alabama. California is where there are ten locations for the highest paid nurses.

In addition, different specialties pay more than others. Check out Scrubs Magazine for the top paying nursing specialties.


2. Tax Free Stipends

As a travel nurse, you’ll receive substantial stipends to help diffuse the cost and burden of constantly relocating.

(You can also lessen your stress by using our travel nurse packing list for your next move.)

Housing, meals, and incidental stipends are part of the package. Incidentals include laundry, Wi-Fi use, etc.

Some travel nurse salary packages even include free, private, quality housing located conveniently near your assignment facility, so you don’t have to worry about finding a home each time you move.

And since these stipends don’t qualify as income, they aren’t taxed as part of the salary of a travel nurse. Even better, stipends aren’t performance or hours based, so you keep your stipend no matter what happens.

It’s important to understand that these stipends are nearly always a fixed sum.

In other words, you’re not expected to hand over your receipts to the staffing agency and wait to be reimbursed (though you should always keep your receipts for tax purposes).

If you can find less expensive housing and meals, as well as save on incidentals, whatever is left of the stipends is yours and adds on to your travel nurse salary!


average travel nurse salary reimbursements

3. Generous Reimbursements

In addition to stipends, you’ll also receive generous reimbursements for travel costs, as well as the costs of certifications, education, and licensing. You’ll need to be licensed in each state where you work.

(Look here for more information on state licensure for nurses.)

Travel costs covered:

  • airfare
  • train tickets
  • ferry costs
  • tolls
  • taxis
  • shuttles
  • gas
  • parking
  • luggage costs

Also covered:

  • books
  • courseware
  • trade literature
  • uniforms
  • any devices you need in order to study

In contrast, when you’re working as a regular nurse, you’ll have to pay for these yourself. This actually reduces the average salary of a nurse (even if they’re partially tax deductible).

And, in most cases, reimbursements do not create taxable income. However, we recommend talking with your accounting and learning the tax rules to avoid penalties. You can also check out this handy reimbursement guide from the Small Business Chronicle.

Reimbursements increase the average travel nurse salary, over a full time nurse, by quite a bit.


4. Healthcare and Retirement Benefits

Many healthcare professionals worry about how becoming a travel nurse will impact their insurance and 401K, since they’ll be moving from location to location.

However, it’s not the healthcare institution where you’ll be working that pays for your benefits: it’s the travel nurse agency.

Most agencies provide a range of options that cover individual and family medical, vision, and dental insurance at moderate cost to you that is automatically deducted from your travel nurse salary.


5. Tax Breaks

In order to qualify for some of the travel nurse tax deductions, you’ll need to have one permanent residence in your state of origin.

If you own your home, it makes the most sense financially to rent it out so you have some additional income and the home remains in good repair. This is a great way that many individuals supplement the average travel nurse salary.

And guess what? All of the costs associated with maintaining your home and renting it out are tax deductible—even if you hire a property manager or realtor to handle this for you!

Of course, you’ll have to declare any income you receive from rent and pay income taxes over it, but that’s income you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

SEE ALSO: Travel Nurse Tax Deductions: What You Need to Know Now


6. Bonuses

Everyone loves bonuses!

And when you’re a travel nurse, there are numerous ways to earn them.

Sign-on and completion bonuses can run as high as $10,000 per assignment, depending on your employer and position. In fact, hospitals in the Atlanta metro area tried supplementing their average travel nurse salary by offering signing bonuses upwards of $10,000-$20,000.

Just imagine getting that four times a year.

Plus, many travel nurse agencies offer referrals bonuses of approximately $500 for each person you refer to them and who accepts an assignment through them.

Recently, in Florida, thanks to their nursing shortage, that referral bonus jumped to $2,500 per successful nursing applicant!

So if you’re good at networking and can communicate your enthusiasm about being a travel nurse, your average travel nurse salary could be thousands of additional dollars a year just from referrals alone!


7. Rewards Programs

One of the awesome perks to being a travel nurse is that some travel staffing agencies offer rewards programs.

These programs are developed to say thank you to hard working and dedicated staff.

Rewards can include:

  • Fashion accessories
  • Technology items such as laptops and tablets
  • Gift cards
  • Sporting goods
  • Home and garden items
  • Cruises and vacation trips
  • And more.

The concept is simple—the more you work with the agency, the more points towards great prizes you can earn. From new technology to trips, there is typically something for everyone.

These gifts and prizes can motivate you to make the most out of every location you work in.


average travel nurse salary experience

8. Experience

Finally, you might be wondering how to get nursing experience in the best way? A traveling career is the perfect opportunity.

Traveling nurses demonstrate flexibility, cultural competency, independence, people skills, and more. All of which enhance your nursing resume to a high degree.

That means, if your ever decide to leave the travel nurse salary and lifestyle behind, you should have no problem gaining a high-paying regular nurse position at a local hospital or clinic near home.

Plus, you can’t put a price on the huge network of professionals you’ll have access to as a traveling nurse.

Every city, hospital, and industry you visit will grow your network of contacts, allowing you to easily reach out in the future for a recommendation.


Conclusion: The Average Travel Nurse Salary Has Big Benefits

Clearly, when you add up everything that goes into the average travel nurse salary:

  1. High base pay
  2. Tax-free stipends
  3. Generous reimbursements
  4. Healthcare and retirement benefits
  5. Tax breaks
  6. Bonuses
  7. Rewards programs
  8. Experience

There’s no doubt that becoming a travel nurse can be a smart financial choice.

However, it’s critical that you know precisely what part of your paycheck is base pay and what part consists of stipends, bonuses, and so on.

Have your agency representative walk you through all of this at the beginning of each assignment, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you’re not sure about something.

And remember: when April 15th rolls around, you’ll also need to find an accountant with proven experience in preparing tax returns for travel nurses, since you’ll have a lot of factors to consider in order to get the tax breaks you’re counting on.

(Tip: ask your agency if they can recommend someone.)

Whether it’s to see more or earn more, find out what your career can do when it travels!

What is most surprising to you, about the average travel nurse salary?

Share with us in the comments below!

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