How Much Do Travel Nurses Make? Top 5 Travel Nursing Salary Questions Answered
By: Debra Wood, RN
Travel nursing salaries – we all need them, but few are willing to talk about them.
In fact, a University College of London study found people were seven times more likely to talk to strangers about their sexual partners, sexually transmitted infections and marital infidelity than about how much they make.
But we have peeled the lid off travel nursing salaries and talked with Zachary C. Klemo, Director of Recruitment for AMN Healthcare, to answer the top five travel nurse salary questions.
Top 5 Travel Nursing Salary Questions Answered
1. How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?
The hiring hospital determines the travel nurses’ hourly rates. “There is a negotiated hourly rate between the hospital and travel company,” Klemo said.
That rate depends on supply and demand. For instance, pay rates over Thanksgiving through New Year’s holidays will be higher than in January when more nurses want to get back to work.
“It’s fluid as far as time of year, location, facility need and census,” Klemo said.
A travel nurses’ take-home income includes a taxable amount and a nontaxable amount, plus benefits.
2. What’s the Difference Between Taxable and Nontaxable Income?
The taxable amount is earned income. That amount may be less than a nurse made hourly in a permanent hospital position.
“[Earned income] is only one portion of the paycheck,” Klemo said.
The travel nurse’s salary’s nontaxable income comes from a stipend to cover housing and the per diem paid for meals and incidentals.
The recruiter and travel nurse negotiate the housing subsidy, when the nurse chooses not to stay at an AMN Healthcare furnished apartment. The subsidy amount is based on region and location.
[Related: Taxes for Travel Nurses: Making Filing Easier]
“The majority of our travelers don't take housing," Klemo said. “Most find they make more money taking the subsidy and finding an apartment on their own."
The meals and incidentals amount varies based on location and may range from $43 dollars per day in a state with a low cost of living to $50 dollars per day in a state with higher cost of living, such as New York or California. The amount is paid seven days per week while on assignment.
Klemo recommends researching the tax situation to stay well informed.
3. Do Certain Positions Pay More than Others?
A traveling nursing salary will vary by position. AMN Healthcare places nurses in a variety of travel nursing jobs, including home healthcare and case management.
“The more specialized the nurse, the higher the pay is,” Klemo said. “For every specialty out there, there is a travel job.”
However, higher rates for critical care is not a hard and fast rule. It all has to do with demand. During the spring, labor and delivery nurses and NICU nurses are in high demand. And during flu season, med-surg nurses may be in high demand. A hospital might be willing to pay more to avoid shutting down a unit.
“Hospitals know their censuses,” Klemo said. “It’s time of year and specific to the hospital.”
4. Do Certain Regions of the Country Pay More?
A traveling nurse’s salary will be more in high-demand regions of the country.
“It’s about supply and demand,” Klemo said. “If there is a sexy [locale], say San Diego or San Francisco or Hawaii, where everyone wants to go, those facilities understand they do not need to pay as much to entice a traveler to go there,” Klemo explained.
On the other hand, for “Buffalo in the winter or Sioux City, South Dakota, [hospitals] will offer a little more money to get travel nurses to look their way.”
Choice locations with a high pay rate are filled more quickly than a more challenging location.
5. Debunking Common Myths
One of the most common myths, Klemo said, was that the recruiters earn incentives for not paying the travel nurse the top dollar available. Klemo said that is a huge misconception.
“It is in the recruiters best interest to make the travel package as lucrative as possible, because they are working on an hourly salary,” Klemo said.
Another myth involves bill rates hospitals pay the travel company. The difference between what the hospital pays the company and the company pays the nurse covers a multitude of expenses, including recruiters, housing stipends and overhead. Travel companies are not making huge profits off of that, Klemo said.
Travel nurses make good money, but sometimes travel nurse salaries can be misstated.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Klemo said. “That is a good rule to live by.”
Klemo recommends traveling with a major, publically-traded company, where everything is “above board.” AMN follows all of the Internal Revenue Service rules.
A lack of benefits with travel nursing because it is temporary is another myth. AMN Healthcare pays for health, dental and vision insurance, a 401(k) retirement plan with a match after a certain number of hours and free continuing education.
“You can be a travel nurse 13 weeks at a time into the foreseeable future,” Klemo said. “It can be your ‘permanent’ job, because of how strong the market is. There is such a great need for nurses. You can find a travel job for the rest of your career.”
[Want to EARN more? Search high-paying travel nursing jobs with the top travel nurse companies.]