How to Become an International Travel Nurse
Great pay, adventure, and boundless opportunities are just some reasons why nurses choose travel nursing. The job options are a good fit for nurses who love to travel, discover new places, and want to broaden their skill set.
Travel nurses help temporarily fill shortages. In the U.S., assignments may range from 13-26 weeks, but international assignments are often at least one year.
Travel nursing jobs within the U.S. are simple to arrange. However, there are a few added prerequisites for nurses who are interested in traveling internationally. On this page, discover how to become an international travel nurse, types of assignments available, and the required certifications.
International Travel Nurse Fast Facts
ADN, BSN, or MSN
Years to Become
Job Growth from 2020-2030
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
What Is an International Travel Nurse?
There is a global nursing shortage. Countries with shortages need to increase nurse graduates by an average of 8% annually. One out of every eight nurses works in a country where they were not born or trained. This is what international travel nursing looks like.
Typically, travel nursing is available domestically. But you can also choose to travel and work internationally. Nursing shortages have hit countries across the world and they require medical personnel to fill their needs. This offers travel nurses an opportunity to expand their skills and learn new medical techniques.
Many nursing specialties are needed. Some of the most sought-after nurses have experience in emergency rooms (ERs) as an ER nurse, intensive care, and cardiac care. Nurses with experience as a labor and delivery nurse and in neonatal nurse care are also desirable.
European countries offer some of the highest-paying jobs. Benefits can include a housing stipend, travel costs, and partially covering food and other living expenses. Nurses are needed for hospitals, doctors' offices, and outpatient care clinics.
Steps to Becoming an International Travel Nurse
Becoming an international travel nurse is much like working as a travel nurse domestically. However, there may be additional requirements depending on your destination.
A nurse must hold licensure from the state board of nursing which confers the registered nurse (RN) credential. To achieve this, nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN). Some states have additional requirements.
To start your journey as an international travel nurse, take the following steps.
1. Earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.
International travel nursing demands high-level nursing skills in your specialization. This starts with earning a four-year bachelor of science in nursing degree from an accredited school. A BSN degree improves patient care and prepares you for leadership and management positions. Nurses with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) may enroll in an RN-to-BSN degree bridge program to complete their BSN. If you are entering a BSN program with a bachelor's in another field, you may consider accelerated nursing programs.
2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
The NCLEX exam is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. It is a national exam accepted by all U.S states. The test demonstrates your clinical competency in nursing and must be submitted to the state to receive your license. To take the exam, you must hold either an ADN or BSN degree which can also help you develop a NCLEX study plan. You are tested on care management, pharmacology, and safety and infection control, among other areas. NCLEX practice questions are available through various study sites.
3. Gain experience.
To work and travel domestically, the best travel nursing agencies may want you to have at least one year of experience in your specialty. However, international travel nursing positions may require even more experience or nursing certifications. This depends on the country and the facility where you will be working.
4. Earn proper credentials.
Domestic travel nursing requires that you have a nursing license in the state where you will be working. However, your destination country will likely have a longer list of requirements. This can include a valid passport, visa to work in the country, and vaccinations needed before traveling. Some facilities may require special certifications. Others may require a language test to demonstrate proficiency before travel.
5. Find employment.
International travel nurses may work in hospitals, doctors' offices, or outpatient clinics. While it's not necessary to work with a travel nursing agency, it can help you look for work, finalize your contract, and move. It is important to note the length of your contract as you decide on your location. Domestic travel nurses usually work 13-26 weeks. International nurses may be offered one- or two-year contracts.
International Travel Nurse Schooling
As you consider your options as a travel nurse, it is helpful to know the educational and skill requirements you may need. Most organizations prefer a BSN degree.
To work internationally, you must have an undergraduate degree in nursing from a four-year program, such as an in-person or online BSN program. To move forward in your education and apply for a graduate-level program, students typically must hold a BSN.
- Admission requirements: Admission requirements vary among nursing programs, but you must have graduated from high school or hold a GED certificate. Candidates also submit an application with a personal statement for nursing school. Some schools have nursing prerequisites for the program. In some instances, the school may require an interview.
- Program curriculum: You will be expected to complete courses in nursing fundamentals, physiology, mental health, pharmacology, nurse leadership, and ethics. Programs also have required nursing clinicals that can vary among programs.
- Time to complete: A BSN program can be completed in four years if attending full time. If you are starting with an ADN degree, there are RN-to-BSN online bridge programs that can be completed more quickly while you are working.
- Skills learned: Expect to learn basic skills, such as how to take vital signs or make a bed with someone in it. Nurses also learn how to insert a catheter, start an intravenous line (IV), and manage wounds. More advanced skills, such as ventilator management, are learned as new nurses work in a field that requires that skill.
Choosing a Specialization
Whether choosing to work in a type of nursing specialization or advancing your career through a graduate program, nursing offers the opportunity to specialize. Nurses graduating from a BSN program can choose to become certified in a specialty, which demonstrates their advanced knowledge.
For example, nurses may choose to be certified as rehabilitation nurses, as a pain management nurse, or in cardiac care. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can choose to practice as a pediatric nurse practitioner, as an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, or in parent-infant care. From these larger specialties, they can subspecialize in geriatrics, respiratory nurse care, or metabolic conditions.
The specialty you choose will help determine the opportunities available for you as an international travel nurse.
International Travel Nurse Credentials
International travel nurses need a nursing license in the U.S. An APRN will be required to take the certification exam in their specialty. After these two requirements, you will need a passport, visa, work permit, and any sponsorship for your destination country.
Each country may have a list of documentation needed too. This can include professional references, birth certificates, immunization records, and proof that you can speak the language.
A certification is required for APRNs in their specialty field. For example, those who want to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP) must pass the FNP certification exam. This is a valid, reliable demonstration of your competency in the field. An RN may choose to have certifications that demonstrate advanced knowledge in rehabilitation nursing, pain management, or other specialty areas. Professional associations offer certifications that have specific requirements to maintain the credential.
Nursing requires state licensure that confers the credential of RN on the nursing candidate. To get the license, nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN. Additional requirements depend on the state, including background and fingerprint checks or school transcripts. Each state board of nursing has requirements to maintain licensure, including continuing education for nurses.
Working as an International Travel Nurse
Nursing gives you a unique opportunity to travel the world and work. The severe global nursing shortage has opened up opportunities for nurses who work in operating and emergency rooms, cardiac and neonatal units, and other specialties.
Countries with the highest salaries for travel nurses are Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the United States. However, they also have the highest cost of living. The average salary is $93,260 per year according to ZipRecruiter as of October 2021, or about $1,800 per week.
The simplest way to get into international travel nursing is to sign up with an agency that works with organizations across the world. They help refine your travel search based on your skills and past work experience. You might consider testing the waters as a travel nurse within the U.S. before exploring long-term contracts overseas.
Another option is working with the U.S. Department of Defense. It has international jobs for nurses. The Department of Defense works with you to ensure you have the necessary documentation to work overseas. You can receive job alerts to be notified of their international postings.
Nurses should have communication, conflict resolution, and team player skills. Without a strong command of the local language, it is impossible to be successful. The following are some common workplace settings for international travel nurses. It's important to note that your specializations and certifications will help determine the positions that may be available to you.
Organizations seek nurses who have specialty skills in the intensive care unit, emergency room, telemetry, or the operating room. These areas require critical thinking for nurses, initiative, and leadership.
Outpatient Care Clinics
In an outpatient setting, nurses must be proficient at triage, assessment, educating patients, starting IVs, and RN case management.
In a doctor's office, a nurse must have mastery of communication, assessment, medication administration, wound management, and minor medical procedures.
Becoming an International Travel Nurse: FAQs
Do travel nurses go internationally?
Travel nurses can choose to travel domestically or internationally. To travel and work overseas, you need a license and certification in your specialty, passport, and work visa. You may also need to take a language test to prove proficiency and provide reference letters. While domestic travel assignments can last up to 26 weeks, international ones can last up to two years.
How much do international travel nurses make?
Travel nurses are well paid to offset the stress of living and working away from home. Those who choose to travel internationally often make around $1,800 per week. Your compensation package includes an hourly salary, housing stipend, and travel expenses. It may also cover food and other living expenses.
How do I become an international nurse?
The first step is to earn your BSN from an accredited school. After graduation, you must pass the NCLEX-RN and apply for a license in your state. Most travel agencies want new nurses to have at least one year of bedside experience. Many recommend two years to gain proficiency in a specialty to practice internationally.
Once accepted by an agency, it can take up to one year to gather the necessary documents required by the country if you do not already have them. This can include a passport, work visa, recommendation letters, and testing in the language. Some countries may also require sponsorship.
Where is the best place to work as an international travel nurse?
International travel nursing is an opportunity to travel overseas while working. The best place depends on your goals. For example, Luxembourg is one of the highest-paying countries, but they also have a high cost of living. Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia do not require learning a new language. The Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, and Bolivia can offer a chance to make a real difference in people's lives.
Learn More About International Travel Nurses
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