Traveling Nurse Requirements: How to Get Started

Whether you’re a nurse now or you’re setting your sights on a nursing license so you can become a travel nurse, getting started can seem daunting! Take a breath and settle in—we’re here to help you learn about traveling nurse requirements so you can get yourself on the road.   

How to Be A Travel Nurse: Your License

Your license is your key to nursing—traveling or not. Travel nurses can have an RN or LPN. 

To get your license, you’ll first need to go through nursing school. Heads up though—nursing school can be brutal. Nursing school ranges from 2-4 years, depending on whether you’re planning on an RN or going for a BSN (bachelor’s of science in nursing). But once you’re actually done with school and graduated, you’re not done. You’ll need to take your NCLEX exam. Most people take a month or two after graduation for studying for the NCLEX, though some dive right in after graduation. About 86% of all test takers pass on their first try

After you pass your NCLEX, you’ll need to understand your license. Some licenses are limited and only valid in the state they were granted. But, if you’re lucky enough to have a license from a compact state, you have greater freedom in assignment choices. A compact state is a state that has an agreement with others to accept a nursing license. It means you’ll have a lot more opportunities, for instance, if you have a license in Georgia and want to take a travel assignment in New Jersey, New Jersey will accept that Georgia license and you’re cleared to work in New Jersey. It’s a huge benefit, especially for travel nurses. While it might seem smart to automatically apply for a license in a state that recognizes the nursing compact, you actually do need to be a resident of that state to begin with.   

What if you’re not in a state that recognizes the nursing compact or you want to go to a state that’s not a part of the compact? You’ll need to contact the board of nursing for the state you want to travel to and apply for a nursing license in that state. Heads up though, it can take weeks to get a license in another state so if you’re considering going somewhere new, make sure to do a little bit of research first. Not sure where to start? Triage’s list of nurse licensure applications and fees by state can help.  

How Long Does it Take to Become a Traveling Nurse?

As much as nurses would like, they can’t just dive into traveling. But how long does it take to become a travel nurse? The short answer is at least two years. You will need at least two years of current, bedside experience in order to find a contract with Triage (and most other travel nurse agencies). This is because travel nurse requirements mean you need to be able to dive right into your new unit without a lot of orientation or hand holding. Do you remember how long it took you to fully acclimate to your first unit? Now, consider doing that a day or even just a few hours.  

Baby nurses who want to travel immediately after passing the NCLEX risk their license. You’ve worked hard for that, don’t put it in jeopardy. For this reason, it’s also difficult to switch to a completely new specialty, even if you’re an experienced nurse. If you want to switch specialties and aren’t interested in going back to a staff job, consider picking up a per-diem shift. You may have to show consistent work in that unit, but this will get you closer to traveling with a new specialty. 

The same thing happens if you take more than a few months off work or haven’t worked bedside in a while. Pick up a PRN job to gain the necessary experience and then you will have an easier time becoming a travel nurse with a new specialty. 

How to Be a Traveling Nurse: Find a Recruiter You Click With

Find yourself a great recruiter. A good recruiter is one who understands that an assignment needs to fit what you’re looking for, not the other way around. So if you’re looking for an assignment in a warm weather climate, the recruiter shouldn’t be sending you assignments in the northeast in the winter.   

  • Be on the lookout for these traits that make a great recruiter:  
  • Listens more than they talk  
  • Cares about your wants and needs  
  • Honest to a fault, no B.S.
  • Transparent about how pay works  

If you don’t click with the first recruiter you connect with, but you like everything else about the agency, you can always change. Just send a note to your recruiter’s manager or call into the main number and you’ll be connected with a new recruiter. Recruiters understand that not all relationships are a good fit.  

How to Become a Traveling Nurse: Decide Where You Want to Go

The next step is the fun one—deciding where you want to go. Do you have a specific request, down to the hospital and unit you want to work in? If so, understand that your assignment might take longer to come up with such specific travel nurse requirements.  

Are you looking for a big city, a small town or anything in between? Warm climate or cold? These are all questions to ask yourself before you chat with your recruiter. 

Some travelers create a bucket list of all the places they want to see and experience. If you’re just traveling, this is a great idea, but remember to be flexible with your first assignment. The first travel nurse job is the hardest to snag, so if you remain flexible with your requirements, you’ll be more likely to get a good assignment right off the bat. Once you have one job under your belt, you may be able to get a job without even going through a stressful interview.   

How to Become a Travel Nurse: Consider Your Pay

If you’re thinking about taking the travel plunge, search the Triage job board and then connect with a recruiter who can make your travel transition a smooth one. It’s true that travel nurses make more money than staff nurses and with good reason. A travel nurse is moving to a new location every 13 weeks, on average. This means every four months, there’s a new place to learn, new people to meet and new patients to treat.  

Additionally, travel nurses receive a stipend for their housing and meals. The government acknowledges that travelers are often maintaining two homes—one in their home location and one in their temporary location—and allows a travel nurse agency to provide a tax-free stipend to take away some of the financial burden. These rates are often set by the government and may even vary depending on the season. After all, a warm weather location full of snowbirds will be more expensive in the winters than in the summer and your stipend will often reflect that difference.  

Becoming a Travel Nurse: Landing that First Gig

Now, you’re finally ready to land that first gig. You and your recruiter will work together to find an assignment you want and submit your application. Some jobs can have as many as 20 applicants in the first few minutes, which is why it’s so important to have that profile completely filled out. Depending on the facility or the department, you may have either an interview or receive an auto offer. Both have their distinct benefits.  

With an interview, you’ll be able to ask any questions about the unit: including how many patients are typical, what shift you’d work and any other pertinent information. Remember though, you’re still competing for this job with plenty of others so you’ll want to position yourself and your experience in the best light—this is the time to brag on yourself!  

If the position uses an auto offer, your profile is everything. The hiring manager at the facility will take a look through everything in your profile and decide if they want to hire you without ever speaking to you. It’s fast—sometimes auto offers come in extremely quickly. The one downside is that you won’t be able to ask any questions about the unit or the facility, however you should be able to filter any questions through your recruiter.  

Once you have an offer, you’ll need to sign a contract. If you need something specific, such as block scheduling, specific days off or want to work all nights, make sure it’s in your contract, especially if you had an auto offer and never talked to someone at the facility.  

How to Travel as a Nurse: Compliance

Okay! Contract’s signed and you’re ready to move. Whoa, wait. Next is the compliance process. Your agency will have a compliance department who will make sure you’re all set for your assignment. Some things you may have to complete are: a drug test, a physical, provide vaccination records, background check forms, N95 mask fit test and maybe even a photo for your employee badge.  

When you’re going through the compliance process, your compliance agent will walk you through the process. Some things, like the drug test, need to be done during a specific time frame so it’s vital that you work with your compliance agent to get them done in the proper time frame. One thing to know, especially if you’re on your first travel nurse assignment—you should not have any out of pocket expenses for your compliance visits, especially the drug test or physical screening. You may have to pay for a flu shot if the facility requires it, but your agency should reimburse you if you do have a copay. 

Becoming a Travel Nurse: Moving

Once compliance is done, you’re ready to move! Experienced travel nurses know that they shouldn’t start to move unless they’ve received their First Day Instructions. Receiving your FDIs is kind of like being “cleared to close” when you’re buying a house. It means that all the paperwork is done and you are ready to just show up and start working. If you arrive before receiving your FDIs, you may be stuck in a new town, waiting for your assignment to start, so check with your recruiter if it’s the Friday before your assignment starts and you don’t have them.  

What do you think about becoming a travel nurse? Whether you’re new to traveling or you’re an experienced medical traveler, there’s room for you at Triage. Our recruiters take a no BS approach and never tell you a line, just to get you to sign on the dotted line.  

If you’re looking for travel nurse jobs, look no further than our job board. We have thousands of jobs available with pay estimates listed on most of them. Filter our jobs by location if you know where you want to go, or highest paying if you’re happy to chase that dough.