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10 Tips for Nurses Interested in International Travel Nursing

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated August 29, 2022
    International travel nursing offers you the chance to globe-trot while getting paid. These 10 tips can help you navigate travel issues that may arise.
    Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

    Disclaimer: With the current COVID-19 pandemic, international travel restrictions vary by country and are subject to change. Check with the government of interest before pursuing international travel.

    Do you dream of traveling the world and getting paid to do it? International travel nursing may be the answer. The nursing shortage has created job openings in many countries worldwide, including the U.S. Staffing burnout and retiring staff are just two factors fueling the global shortage.

    In response, hospitals and facilities are offering higher salaries and bonuses to bring in new nurses. International travel nurses can find employment in nearly every country they’ve dreamed of traveling. But, before packing a bag and jumping on a plane, let’s answer some common questions that nurses have when they consider travel nursing.

    10 Things to Know as an International Travel Nurse

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses. Nurses interested in international travel nursing jobs can find opportunities in Latin America, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the European Union. The WHO identified Africa, the Middle Eastern region, and Southeast Asia as having the most significant gaps in nursing care.

    Here are 10 tips that will increase the chances you’ll have a smooth trip.

    dots-vertical1. Save Money Before You Leave

    An international travel nurse salary can pay well. However, it would help if you started with an emergency fund set aside for when life doesn’t go the way you’ve planned. This reduces your exposure to financial risks if something happens at home while you’re away or traveling, or if you find yourself unable to work for a short time. It’s always prudent to have at least three months of living expenses saved.

    dots-vertical2. You May Need an International Nursing License

    To work as an international nurse, you will need documentation necessary for the country where you are traveling. In some cases, the hospital that hires you or the international travel nursing agency will help you with the requirement.

    In countries where there is a licensing body that registers nurses, you are required to have a license or registration for that country. For example, in the United Kingdom (U.K.), an overseas nurse must have a license through the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

    The process can take several weeks to several months, depending on the licensing board and country. This is not as common in developing nations. Examples of international licensing boards include:

    • Nursing and Midwifery Council of the U.K.
    • Irish Nursing Board
    • Nursing Council of New Zealand
    • Australian Nursing Council
    • South African Nursing Council

    No matter the requirements for the country you are traveling to, your U.S. nursing license must be in good standing and your degree must be from an accredited school.

    dots-vertical3. Familiarize Yourself With the Nearest U.S. Embassy

    While traveling overseas, it is a good idea to become familiar with the location of the nearest U.S. Embassy. It is the mission of each embassy to serve and protect its citizens. Most embassies are located in the capital city but have branches in other cities, known as consulates.

    dots-vertical4. Familiarize Yourself With the Laws

    Although many major crimes are the same country to country, others are not. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the laws of the country where you will be staying, as well as the laws that govern your travel plans. For example, the U.S. government maintains a website to apply for a passport or visa and learn more about international travel.

    dots-vertical5. Stay Up to Date With Recommended Immunizations

    When you travel internationally, there may be vaccines you’ll need for traveling that differ from the place you plan to live. It’s essential to get the immunizations at least one month before you travel.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends speaking with your primary care physician well before your travel plans, as you may need several weeks to get all the recommended doses of vaccinations. Your primary care doctor may not stock the necessary vaccines, so more time will be needed to order the medication. For example, if the country you’re visiting requires a yellow fever vaccine, you may have to travel some distance from where you live to get it, and it must be given at least 10 days before you leave the country.

    dots-vertical6. Pick Your Destination Wisely

    If this is your first international travel assignment, it’s wise to choose a country where the transition may be easy. For example, Canada is geographically closer to the U.S., and most speak English. Similarly, there is a lower language barrier in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K.

    However, it’s important to recognize the slight differences between the English spoken in the U.S. versus other countries. While working in healthcare, you must have a good grasp of the language. For this reason, even when working in another English-speaking country, you may be required to take a language test.

    dots-vertical7. Consider an International Driver’s License

    If you’re planning to rent a car while you’re traveling, it may be wise to get an international driver’s permit (IDP) before leaving the U.S. This is also called an international driver’s license. It is a valid form of identification in over 150 countries and can be used with your U.S. driver’s license.

    Many countries require an IDP to legally drive, but others require a license issued from their country. You are eligible for an IDP if you’re a permanent U.S. resident at least 18 years of age and older with a valid driver’s license. The Automobile Association of America and the American Automobile Touring Alliance are the only two organizations that issue an IDP.

    dots-vertical8. Travel Agencies Are Helpful but Aren’t a Requirement

    If this is your first international travel nursing assignment, it can be helpful to work with some of the best travel nursing agencies. They can assist you with your contract, find a place to live, communicate the licensing requirements for your country, and prepare you for any language tests or other documents needed to practice nursing. While they can be helpful, once you have traveled and are familiar with the process, you can independently find your own travel assignment if you wish.

    dots-vertical9. Some Countries Pay More Than Others

    Just as travel nurses make more money in different areas of the U.S., international assignments pay more than others. For example, some of the European countries that pay the highest global travel nursing salaries include Denmark, Ireland, Norway, and Luxembourg.

    However, these areas also have some of the highest living expenses. Nurses can find other high-paying international nursing positions in the Middle East, Canada, and the Virgin Islands.

    The specifics of the benefits and travel allowances vary from assignment to assignment. Still, most international travel nurses have a package similar to those found in the U.S. These can include allowances for housing, food, travel, health insurance, and licensing fees.

    dots-vertical10. Expect Learning Barriers Wherever You Travel

    Traveling to an English-speaking country for your first assignment can help you transition to international travel nursing. You may be fluent in another language, but you’ll find that even when your destination country speaks English, the names of medications can be different and the medical jargon may also be different.

    For example, in the U.S. acetaminophen is called Tylenol, but in the U.K. it’s called paracetamol. It’s crucial that you know the different names of drugs in your specialty and the different nursing terms and medical jargon.

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