Travel Nurse Insights: What Goes in To Pay Packages?

Travel Nurse Insights: What Goes in To Pay Packages?

June 15, 2022

You've probably heard that travel nursing pays well. But you should know that compensation for traveling nurses goes beyond mere salary. There is an entire payment package that includes benefits and perks that aren’t accessible to traditional staffing nurses.

If you are considering joining the ranks of travel nurses, you should know about these payment packages so you can negotiate your first contract with confidence. Here is all you need to know about traveling nursing, compensation, and the pay packages you'll get to enjoy as part of your rewarding career.

What is a Travel Nurse Pay Package?

As a traveling nurse, you get to traverse around the country, or even the world, helping patients of all types. That comes with a hefty salary, but that’s just the beginning.

A traveling nurse pay package can include:

  • Rate of pay
  • Bonuses
  • Stipend or agency lodging
  • Stipend for travel
  • Stipend for meals
  • Agency-provided or stipend medical insurance

If all of that sounds confusing, here are the details to help it make a bit more sense.

The Benefits of Travel Nursing Go Beyond Salary

When new employees are offered pay packages in any industry, they become fixated on a single number - the annual salary figure. Those five or six figures might symbolize a lot of things: the value of your labor, the type of lifestyle you can live, and the likelihood of achieving your long-term goals.

However, just knowing that number can be difficult.

You may overlook a subpar benefits package, no overtime pay, or no vacation days since a large income figure is so appealing.

Furthermore, a low compensation figure can make you overlook the genuine financial and lifestyle benefits of bonuses, tax-free money, and significant overtime.

In other words, a wage figure is seldom the whole picture. Focus on large picture accounting while calculating your travel nurse pay rate.

For example, a good question to ask yourself as a travel nurse is: How much money will I make from all sources for my work?

The answer to that question lies in the following calculations.

  • Rate of bill payment
  • Pay for overtime
  • Medical assistance is available
  • Payments of bonuses
  • Stipends for travel expenses
  • Stipends for housing
  • Reimbursement of license and certification fees

Another good question to ask is: What expenses will I have as a result of my job?

Common expenses for a travel nurse include:

If you want to read more facts about travel nursing, check out these FAQs from Prolink.

Rates Of Pay

The pay rate (sometimes known as the base rate) is the most discussed aspect of the pay package puzzle. Pay rates are listed in work advertisements, communications from your staffing agency, and articles about travel nurse salaries.

Simply explained, the pay rate is the hourly fee for a travel nurse's time that a staffing service charges. These rates may differ significantly from one facility to the next. Within the same hospital, a single agency may have distinct pay rates.

Some may even try to persuade you that the pay rate is the only factor to consider, but you know better.

Consider pay rates in the same manner that you might consider the cost of an airplane travel ticket. The price of a seat fluctuates due to a variety of variables, ranging from environmental influences to the natural ebb and flow of demand. Airline ticket costs are notoriously difficult to forecast with any level of accuracy. And two seats that are practically identical may have vastly different prices.

Pay rates for travel nurses are similar. The pay rate for travel nurses can be influenced by a variety of factors, including patient demand and a single staff member's lengthy maternity leave. It's difficult to generalize pay rates by area; one hospital might pay $44 per hour, while another in the same city would only pay $37. Even for occupations that are practically comparable, you may be offered substantially varied pay rates.

There are various types of pay rates for travel nurses, just as there are many different types of airline rates – from first-class and business class to coach plus and basic coach. Here are a few examples of travel nursing rates.

  • The most prevalent form of pay rate for travel nurses is standard. A hospital and a travel nursing staffing agency will agree on a specific rate for each specialty that the agency will cover.
  • Specialized prices are usually determined alongside ordinary rates and are approximately $2-$8/hour more. They honor medical specializations that a hospital regards as cutting-edge.
  • Negotiated pay rates are less widespread than the other pay structures. When a hospital is looking for a nurse with a specific set of talents or a lot of experience, they may be willing to pay a higher rate for services rendered.
  • Overtime rates are the hourly rates paid by hospitals to agency nurses for hours worked beyond the contracted hours.

Tax-Free Income

The next factor in the travel nurse pay package to consider is tax-free income. This is the gold mine of extra revenue that makes travel nursing a viable vocation. Tax-free income mostly takes the shape of temporary accommodation, meals, and incidentals. Understanding these elements can be complicated, requiring an understanding of tax codes and regulations.

Verify Your Tax-Free Eligibility

Tax-free income is available to all workers who travel for their occupations. That's why everyone, from receptionists to CEOs, gets reimbursed for business travel. These employees are usually taxed as permanent employees who travel for work.

Some nurses are like this. Assume a nurse has a permanent job with 5 days on and 6 off. If she works as a travel nurse during her vacation time, she will be eligible for tax-free stipends and reimbursements from her agency.

But most travel nurses don't have regular jobs. To get tax-free money from the IRS, you must be a temporary worker and have a permanent tax home.

Are You a Temporary Travel Nurse?

A temporary travel nurse cannot work in the same place for longer than a year. This applies to a single hospital as well as a single metro area. Any stipends or reimbursements earned from two travel nursing contracts in the same place for a period of 12 months or more will likely be considered permanent employment and taxed.

This is good news if you prefer to travel around a lot. Traveling as a nurse will make you more eligible for tax-free income and stipends as compared to nurses that stay in one location.

Set Up a Tax Home

You've heard about the need to have a tax home at some point in your travel nursing job. If you don’t know what a tax home is, it’s time to learn. Having a tax home is one of the best ways to protect your hard-earned income.

The IRS defines a taxpayer's “tax home” as your principal place of business. Rather than a specific address, it refers to the general urban or municipal region where you work.

For example, if you are a non-traveling nurse working full-time at a hospital in Michigan, you are not taxed at 12 Holland Avenue, which is presumed to be your home address. Instead, the tax home is the entire state of Michigan, where the hospital you work at is located.

You would be able to maintain a tax home if you regularly travel far enough away on business that it is reasonable to pay for overnight accommodations. That would qualify as being outside of your tax home.

If you can feasibly travel back and forth to your job and home on the same day, you would not be able to maintain a tax home.

You would have a tax home if you travel far enough away from your permanent address that it’s not reasonable to expect that you would make a commute each day. An example would be traveling out of state for a travel nursing job for a 13-week contract.

This is important because you can claim reimbursements for things like travel accommodations when you travel outside of your tax home, according to the IRS. If you’re unsure if you meet the qualifications for a tax home, speak to an IRS representative for clarification.

Look At Travel Nurse Reimbursements

The multiple tax-free reimbursements are part of what makes a travel nurse compensation package appealing. Tax-free stipends are used for temporary lodging, travel, meals, and incidentals.

Housing Stipends

Of course, you'll need a great place to stay when traveling as a nurse. You can either accept agency-provided accommodation or apply for a tax-free housing allowance. Your choice will be based on your priorities and taste. Forget about getting your own lease, paying a deposit, and dealing with a landlord. You'll get a fully furnished apartment for your gig You'll likely select the housing stipend if you desire more control over where you live and spend your off-duty time.


A hospital executive would never pay for their travel to a medical conference, and you should never pay for your flight, rental vehicle, or other transportation as a travel nurse. Your travel nurse agency will give you a tax-free travel stipend to help offset your travel expenses.

Allowances For Meals and Incidentals

You know that leisure travel is costly. Airports and airlines will always get you. Every motion you make while flying seems to add $10 or $20 to your bill.

While there are strategies to conserve money while traveling, some expenses are unavoidable. Fortunately, your travel nurse agency will cover your trip expenditures. Most agencies will supply you with a tax-free expense allowance to cover meals and incidentals, saving you time and effort in keeping complete travel expense logs.

Health Benefits

Medical benefits are another component of your travel nurse pay package. Similar to temporary housing, most travel nurses choose between two medical insurance options: agency-provided coverage or arranging their insurance with agency reimbursement.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when it comes to travel nurse payment packages. From your pay rate and travel reimbursements to attractive benefits and more, this rewarding career offers much more than an elevated salary.

Now that you can see the bigger picture, you have a major decision to make. Do you want to work as a travel nurse, where one of these payment packages could be yours with the right contract? 

If so, start applying for travel nurse jobs with Prolink. Our agency can help you get your career off the ground in many important ways. You'll be assigned a dedicated recruiter who can help you find the perfect job with exclusive job listings and first-in-line resume assistance. We can even help you obtain licensure in states where you wish to travel.

Get started now by taking a look a look at our Prolink travel nurse jobs.

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