Travel Nurse smiling in the hospital

Travel nursing is a booming profession in the healthcare industry. Travel nurses handle short-term assignments at various healthcare facilities to accommodate staff shortages. 

For instance, they assist in areas affected by disease outbreaks or disasters. They also step in during strikes and nursing shortages to fill the temporary vacancies.

As a travel nurse, you have the freedom to choose your specialty and where you prefer working. 

If you are passionate about exploring new areas and experiences and meeting new people, read on to discover how to start your career.

Recommended Reading - Everything you need to know about Travel Nurses

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Qualified Travel Nurse?

Travel nursing is an excellent opportunity to pursue your career while visiting different countries, states, and cities. Job opportunities can be semi-permanent and last for one year and above or temporary, staying for a few weeks or months. 

An RN license is the minimum requirement of a travel nurse, but most employers also require Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Basic Life Support certifications.

Attend Nursing School

Your travel nursing career starts with getting a US registered nurse (RN) license. Then, you can pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN).

However, it's essential to note that most employers prefer a BSN. 

It also gives you access to more employment opportunities, such as in Magnet-designated healthcare systems and level 1 trauma centers. Staffing companies will also match you with options based on the education requirements. 

Earning a BSN takes four years, but most institutions also have RN-to-BSN programs for nurses already with an ADN. In addition, you can enroll in an accelerated BSN program and transfer some credits if you have a bachelor's degree in another field.

BSN programs require a GED or high school diploma and some chemistry, science, and math coursework. 

However, ADN programs often have lower GPA requirements than BSN programs. Therefore, they give you a chance to pursue your dream career despite having a lower GPA. 

Study and Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you complete your bachelor’s associate degree in nursing, you qualify to sit for the National Council Licensure Exam NCLEX-RN exam. This exam takes approximately six hours and covers aspects such as:

  • Legal and ethical issues

  • Patient education and communication

  • Nursing practice

  • How the healthcare system functions

  • Conditions and treatments

Obtain a State Registered Nurse License

You'll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and fulfill your state's necessary board of nursing requirements to get your RN license. 

Some states are part of the Nurse Licensure Compact, so your RN license in one state will be valid in other participating states. However, different states have individual requirements so you may need a permit in every such state.

In some states, the licensing process can extend to months, and others require your physical presence.

There are a few "walk-through" states where you can get a temporary license from the state board in one day. Depending on the state, these licenses remain valid for 30 days and six months. 

Gain Clinical Experience

The most crucial aspect in your path to becoming a travel nurse is practical experience. Most hospitals, staffing companies, and travel agencies require at least two years' bedside experience in your specialty. 

For instance, your experience can be trauma, clinical nursing, surgical, critical care, neonatal, or pediatrics.

The main reason is that healthcare facilities and hospitals also need experienced nurses. Travel nurses get minimal orientation at a new assignment, so they should have the proper knowledge and skills to fit into any situation or facility. Without adequate experience, you may find these processes overwhelming.

As a travel nurse, your clinical background also determines the job opportunities you qualify for. More experience gives you a competitive edge, and you can leverage the period you're gaining experience to pursue more certifications. 

Although there are no particular certification requirements for travel nurses, advanced certification gives you a competitive edge. 

Most travel nurses pursue:

Other accredited certifications include:

Apply for a Compact Nursing License

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) is a consensus among twenty-five US states. The agreement allows a nursing license valid in one state to remain acceptable in the other NLC member states.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing monitors and updates the states that adopted the NLC. If your home state is part of the NLC, you can apply for the license at home.

However, if your home state is not part of the NLC, you’ll need to apply for a license in the state where you intend to practice.

Apply to Join a Travel Nurse Staffing Agency

With your education license and nursing experience at par, the next step is finding the right travel nurse staffing company or agency to work with. Staffing agencies vary in aspects such as:

  • Specific nursing specializations

  • Benefit packages

  • Specific geographic areas of operation

  • Healthcare networks

Essentially, the staffing company represents you, so ensure you confirm they have experience working with travel nurses in your specialty. Also, since you'll be working in multiple states, remember to ask about interstate licensure issues and how the company addresses the problems. 

If you have a particular area of interest, looking for staffing companies that partner with hospitals in your specialty is best. 

Travel nurse staffing agencies and companies look for qualities and skills such as:


Succeeding in your travel nurse career requires you to portray competence in your duties. You should be able to handle all procedures and tasks assigned to you quickly, efficiently, and under minimal supervision.


Travel nurses on a new assignment have minimal time to adjust to new environments and build new, effective work relationships.

Adapting swiftly to new environments, situations, protocols, and workflows is essential.

There are various ways to search for job opportunities, such as:


You can start by asking for recommendations from people you know. Find out details about agencies they previously worked with and compare various aspects to see what would work best for you.

Lead Generators 

Lead generation websites collect your details and data and sell the information to various staffing agencies. For example, the travel nursing agencies will contact you based on the details you submit on these websites.

Professional Networking Sites

Professional networking sites link you with other people in the field. It’s an effective way to access more referrals and discover agencies and employers looking for travel nurses.

For most people, job searches often get frustrating after several attempts. Luckily, there’s a simple and effective way to find work near your location.

ShiftMed gives you access to work opportunities in facilities near you. You have the freedom to select the shifts that work with your schedule and availability. The best part is that you can start working within 24 hours of signing up.

What is the Difference Between a Travel Nurse and a Registered Nurse?

A travel nurse career starts with becoming a registered nurse, so all travel nurses become registered nurses.

Registered nurses often work as staff nurses in various healthcare facilities. There are several differences between staff nurses and travel nurses, including:


If your goal is stable benefits, staff nursing positions are more suitable. Permanent, full-time jobs come with benefits such as paid time off, retirement plans, 401(K)s, and medical insurance.

Travel nurse staffing companies offer benefits such as:

  • Free accommodation

  • Travel reimbursement

  • Location choices

  • Bonuses

  • The ability to choose the hours and shifts to work

  • Medical, dental, and vision insurance

  • Competitive pay

  • Help to obtain travel documents and work visas

Commitment to One Facility

As a staff nurse, you often must commit to one healthcare employer. The permanency is beneficial, but there's little room for adventure.

Working as a travel nurse gives you more flexibility and the ability to determine where you prefer to work. However, the contracts are short-term, making it challenging to nurture relationships before moving to the following location. 


Most registered nurses prefer travel nursing for the higher income. Travel nurses earn significantly higher per hour, besides the accommodation and tax-free meal stipends.

Most staffing agencies provide medical, vision, and dental insurance. You may also receive end-of-assignment bonuses and reimbursement for licensing charges.

You can apply your negotiating skills to get a monthly housing allowance or free accommodation. These benefits are tax-free, so any excess amount from your stipend will not count as part of your income. 

Paid Time Off

Staff nurses work full-time and therefore get paid time off. In addition, they receive a regular paycheck during vacations, which is a great benefit.

You may not have paid time off as a travel nurse, but you can go on vacation without needing the employer's approval. 

You can choose to take as much time as necessary between assignments. You can afford a flexible lifestyle and time off work with a few months' work.

What Positions Can You Progress to From Being a Travel Nurse?

As a travel nurse, you have fantastic opportunities to advance your career. The position empowers you with the skills to work effectively in various facilities and environments worldwide.

This unique resume qualifies you for new nurse education, management, and health care organization opportunities. However, if your goal is a better paycheck and more responsibilities, it's best to consider pursuing higher education.

The nature of your job as a travel nurse can make it challenging to retain leadership positions. However, pursuing certification and training in other specialty areas will qualify you for such vacancies, should you wish to practice without much travel.

Do Your Travel Nurse Exam Qualifications Expire?

You must maintain your RN license to practice as a travel nurse. The renewal procedure is similar to the process if you have a compact permit. 

You’ll only have to fulfill the requirements in your home state. However, if you have multiple state licenses, ensure you confirm the renewal requirements.

Most certifications remain valid for three to five years, so ensure you confirm the validity of your current credentials.

How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

Travel nurses are among the highest-paid nurses, with an average annual salary of $87,958.51. However, the specific amount varies depending on location, staffing company or agency, and specialty.

Recommended Reading - How Much Do Travel Nurses Make?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Travel Nurse?

It takes about four to six years to become a practicing travel nurse. If you start your career with an ADN, you'll study for two years and gain practical experience to get your RN license.

If you take the BSN path, you'll study for about four years and then gain experience for two more years to get your license.

Recommended Reading - How Long Is Nursing School in The USA?

Are There Continuing Education (CE) Requirements for Travel Nurses?

Various states have different continuing education requirements for all registered nurses. You must fulfill the requirements in every state you have an active license.

Some states have mandatory courses such as Communicable Diseases, Child Abuse, and Bullying in the Workplace. HIV/AIDS education is compulsory in states such as Kentucky, Minnesota, and New York.

Other states such as Maryland, Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Indiana, and Colorado have no CE requirements.