How to Become a Travel Nurse

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Updated November 9, 2022

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Find out what you need to know, including the steps to becoming a travel nurse; learn which nursing specialty areas pay the most, how to find a job, and more.
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Find out common answers to travel nurse questions such as what travel nurses do and how much they make. Explore how to become a travel nurse.

How Long to Become

2-4 years

Degree Required

ADN or BSN

Certification

Basic Life Support (BLS)
Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS)


What Is a Travel Nurse?

Travel nurses work around the country or the world, usually on a short-term basis. They can work in any type of healthcare setting, including hospitals, residential care settings, and private practices. Travel nurses might be generalists or specialists.

Find out how to become a travel nurse and learn about general requirements.

Steps to Becoming a Travel Nurse

The minimum travel nurse requirement is a registered nurse (RN) license, which requires at least an associate degree in nursing (ADN). But, most travel nurse staffing agencies and clients prefer nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Most employers also require certifications in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support. While generally not required for entry-level positions, other certifications are helpful for placement in specialized areas.

1. Earn a BSN Degree.

A BSN degree takes at least four years, though many schools have RN-to-BSN programs for nurses with an ADN. Students with a bachelor's in a field other than nursing can usually transfer some credits towards an accelerated BSN.

BSN programs require a high school diploma or GED certificate and at least some coursework in math, science, and chemistry. The GPA requirements for ADN programs are often lower than for BSN programs, so students who did not get strong grades in high school can improve their chances for a BSN program with better grades in an ADN program. Learn more about travel nurse schooling.

2. Pass the NCLEX Exam.

You need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to earn an RN license. This computer adaptive test takes up to six hours and covers nursing practice, conditions and treatments, how the healthcare system works, legal and ethical issues, and patient communication and education.

3. Obtain RN Licensure.

Some states participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact, meaning that a nursing license earned in one state is valid in others. Other states have their own requirements, so you may have to apply for licensure in multiple states. A travel nursing agency can assist you with this process. Board certifications are valid across states. Learn about travel nurse credentials.

4. Gain Nursing Experience.

Most travel nurses need RN experience, a minimum of one year.

5. Find a Travel Nurse Staffing Agency for Employment.

Travel nurse staffing agencies place travel nurses in positions, one of the main differences between travel nursing and temporary nursing work. Most schools will help connect graduates with travel nurse staffing agencies or you can look for travel nurse staffing agencies that are recruiting.

Travel nurses work in a variety of settings, wherever there are rising healthcare needs or a nursing shortage. They can work in clinics, hospitals, private practices, ambulatory surgical centers, and residential care settings. Travel nurses can also seek international nursing jobs. Read about working as a travel nurse.

Featured Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Travel Nurse Education

Different employers and positions have different travel nurse requirements. Generally, it takes at least two years to earn an ADN, the minimum requirement to become an RN.

ADN Degree

Most travel nurse positions require a BSN, but some nurses start with an ADN, which takes two years rather than four years for a BSN. Many BSN programs have RN-to-BSN bridge programs.

  • Admission Requirements

    ADN programs require a high school diploma or GED certificate, and many require passing grades in math and science programs, particularly biology and chemistry.

  • Program Curriculum

    The ADN curriculum includes nursing practice, the basics of evidence-based practice, administering tests and monitoring patients, and patient education and communication. It also includes clinical hours, developing skills in a healthcare setting.

  • Time to Complete

    Most students complete an ADN in two years. Students with Advanced Placement (AP) course credits or transferable college credits may complete the course sooner. Part-time students working full time may take longer.

  • Skills Learned

    Graduates of an ADN course can perform testing and monitoring, such as taking blood pressure and other vital signs; safely lift and move patients; communicate effectively with patients; understand the healthcare delivery system; and address legal and ethical aspects of nursing.

BSN Degree

All travel nurses must be licensed RNs by earning an undergraduate nursing degree, either a BSN or an ADN, and passing the NCLEX-RN examination. However, many employers require or strongly prefer a BSN.

  • Admission Requirements

    BSN programs usually require at least a 3.0 high school GPA and passing grades in math, science, and English. They also require recommendations from teachers or counselors

  • Program Curriculum

    The BSN curriculum includes prevention and health promotion;, evidence-based nursing practice; statistics/research methods; healthcare systems and management; community health; and communicating with and educating patients. It also includes clinical experience in healthcare settings.

  • Time to Complete

    Most BSN courses take four years. Students who attend part time can take longer, usually up to six years. Students with an ADN degree, transferable college credits, or AP passing scores can finish a BSN in 2-3 years.

  • Skills Learned

    BSN graduates can administer tests and monitor patient health, educate patients on health promotion, care for pediatric and adult patients, assist with surgeries and other medical procedures, and work as part of a healthcare team.

Choosing a Specialization

During their studies, nursing students choose a specialization that determines their elective courses and where they perform clinical rotations.

According to a 2019 travel nurse compensation report, travel nurses are most likely to specialize in:


Travel nurses can also specialize in particular populations (such as neonatal nursing, pediatrics, or geriatrics) or types of care, such as ambulatory care, obstetrics nursing, or infection control. Even where certifications are not required, having the relevant certification can help with travel nurse placements.

Travel Nurse Licensure and Certification

To become a travel nurse, you must complete a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited college or university. Although a BSN is not required, travel nurses should consider a four-year degree to compete in the job market.

Many employers require a BSN, particularly in specialty areas such as trauma units. Being an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) is not a requirement, but APRNs can expect higher pay and perks such as housing incentives as part of their travel nurse compensation.

After completing your ASN and BSN, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to be eligible for licensure in your state of residence. The NCLEX exam has 205 questions covering four nursing competency levels.

Based on how correctly students answer the NCLEX questions, they may only be required to answer the minimum number of questions. Each state may vary in its licensing requirements. So, check your state's requirements for getting and renewing your RN license.

After you obtain your RN license, you will need two years of clinical experience to qualify for most travel nursing jobs. There is no specific “travel nurse” certification, but you can become certified in various specialty areas, depending on which specialty you pursue as a travel nurse.

Working as a Travel Nurse

Because of the many nursing roles and specialties for travel nurses, extensive research is essential to the job search. Find out what types of travel nurse positions are available and where. Search for nursing specialties and geographic locations with high demand for nurses who travel.

Specialty areas with an increased need for travel nurses include the ICU (intensive care unit), pediatrics, the ER (emergency room), kidney dialysis, the NICU (newborn intensive care unit), and postpartum care (i.e., after childbirth). Hundreds of online staffing agencies specialize in travel nursing, but you'll need to differentiate which is the best fit for you.

The salary for travel nurses can vary depending on the nurse's specialty and geographic location. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average salary for RNs in the U.S. is $ 82,750 per year.

According to Indeed, the average travel nurse's salary in the U.S. is $2,046 per week with New York and San Diego as the top-paying cities. Indeed reports the highest paying specialty for travel nurses is hospice and palliative medicine.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Travel Nurse


How much does a traveling nurse make a month?

The average monthly traveling nurse salary is $7,919, according to Indeed. But, travel nurse salaries vary widely by credentials, experience, specialty, location, whether housing or a stipend is provided, and many other factors.

What does a travel nurse do?

Travel nurses perform any type of nursing function, either substituting for regular staff nurses or addressing short-term needs for additional staff, or both (as during COVID-19). They are more likely to work as floor nurses than administrators. Some primarily work in international travel nurse jobs, others across the country, and others within a particular region.

Do travel nurses get paid more?

In general, travel nurse salaries are higher than staff nurse salaries, though the pay differences vary based on location. Depending on benefits, food and housing expenses, the difference between travel nurse salaries and staff salaries may not be as significant as the gross pay difference.

How do I find a travel nurse staffing agency?

Travel nurse staffing agencies may recruit at nursing schools, through referrals, or through advertisements for specific positions or general placements. You can also look online for travel nurse staffing agencies or discover agencies through networking. Be sure to double check references and the agency's reputation.


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