Travel Nursing Pay: What to Expect

Travel nursing pay is a main topic of discussion in most conversations during my time as a recruiter.  I used to ask "are you money motivated" in regards to why they wanted to look at assignments.  I quickly realized EVERYONE answers the question the same way.  "Yes!  I am money motivated!"  I completely agree, if you're going to work a 12 hour shift and go through what travel nurses go through, you SHOULD be expecting great pay to compensate for it.

3 Main Factors That Affect Travel Nursing Pay

Some agencies you will have to negotiate to be paid higher travel nursing pay than what is initially offered.  Some agencies take different approach and will offer what they can out of the gate.

Different states have different costs of living and pay for nurses.  Knowing what to expect in what areas will help narrow your search and land the assignment and pay you're looking for.

The main factors affecting Travel Nursing Pay from assignment to assignment are: Location, Specialty and Facility Urgency.  These factors affect how much money you'll make and we'll go through exactly how here.


Location - Travel Nurse Pay By State

Location refers to the state you are looking at assignments in.  As many Travel Nurses know, California you can commonly see high pay packages around and well over $2,000 Net Weekly Pay.

Different states have different amounts of pay for nurses. A nurse in Mississippi will make much less than a nurse in California.

Here is a list of cities averaging the highest amount of Travel Nurse Salary:

San Jose, CA - Travel Nurse Salary $104,359
New York City, NY - Travel Nurse Salary $101,466
Seattle, WA - Travel Nurse Salary $100,426
Boston, MA - Travel Nurse Salary $100,201
Washington, DC - Travel Nurse Salary $98,348
Los Angeles, CA - Travel Nurse Salary $97,798
Florida, NY - Travel Nurse Salary $97,642
Anchorage, AK - Travel Nurse Salary $97,138
Chicago, IL - Travel Nurse Salary $95,010
Minneapolis, MN - Travel Nurse Salary $94,744


Specialty - All Travel Nurse Pay is Not Created Equal

The next most important factor to Travel Nurse Pay is Specialty.  Certain nursing specialties have a lower supply of nurses which in turns mean they will offer a higher Bill Rate to bring in that nurse.  This equates to higher pay packages for those nurses.  Also, working in a higher acuity setting typically means the facility will offer a higher bill rate.  For example, a facility will offer a higher bill rate for an ICU Travel Nurse compared to a Telemetry Travel Nurse assignment. listed out the highest paying ultra-specialized Travel Jobs.  The Top 5 were...

Cardiac Catheterization Lab - "Typical Pay Rate: Agency-employed RNs can expect ~$68/hour"

Cardiovascular Operating Room (CVOR) - "Typical Pay Rate: Agency-employed CVOR RNs can expect ~$65/hour"

Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) - "Typical Pay Rate: Agency-employed PICU RNs can expect a pay rate of ~$62/hr"

Neonatal ICU (NICU/Level 3) - "Typical Pay Rate: Agency-employed CVICU RNs can expect a pay rate of ~$53/hour"

Oncology - "Typical Pay Rate: Agency-employed NICU III nurses can expect a pay rate of ~$52/hour"


High pay is great, but the number of these positions are few in number.  Below are the Nursing Specialties that have the highest demand, meaning you'll have more positions in more areas to select from.

  1. Emergency Room
  2. Medical Surgical/Telemetry
  3. Women’s Health (NICU/MBPP/L&D)
  4. Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
  5. Operating Room (OR)
  6. Cardiovascular Operating Room (CVOR)
  7. Long Term Acute Care (LTAC)
  8. Psychiatric

Facility Urgency - Compensation For Hustle

Rapid Response and Critical Rates

If a facility is in desperate need of a traveler quickly, at times they will offer a Rapid Response increase to the pay package.  Be aware that when this takes place, you will see an increase in pay BUT you will notice the start date for assignment has a very quick turn around.  Getting compliant for the facility will need to be done quickly.  I only recommend attempting these assignments if you are a veteran traveler or have recently completed an assignment with that agency.  A Critical Rate increase is offered when a facility is in need of multiple travelers.  Of course, taking an assignment like this can mean you are heading to a facility that is very short handed.

The Ultimate Pay Package Breakdown

Now that we have an understanding the factors in a "Pay Package".  Let's discuss what the heck a Pay Package really is...

Pay Package:

Your Pay Package is what the agency will send you to explain what your weekly pay is for the particular assignment you are looking at.  There are 3 major components to a pay package. The Hourly Pay which is taxed and 2 tax exempt stipends which you will notice is the majority of your way.

Hourly Pay

The first component of your Pay Package is Hourly Pay.  Hourly pay is the taxed portion of a pay package.  Different agencies will have minimum hourly amounts.  Ultimately your hourly rate is the part that will have a portion taken out for taxes.



$20.00/Hr x 36 hour contract = $720.00

with an estimated tax rate of 20%..

$720.00 - $144 (Taxes) = $576.00


Stipends are the tax exempt portion and they depend on the GSA's (General Service Administration) maximum amounts for the particular county the assignment is in.  The agency can only pay as much that is allowed so the rest of your weekly amount has to be portioned into these 2 stipends.

Lets say your Stipends for an assignment in Los Angeles are:

Housing: $1,000/Week

Meals & Inc: $250/Week

In total...

$720 + $1000 (housing) + $250 (Meals) =

$1970 Gross Weekly Pay

Subtract 20% Hypothetical Tax Rate for the $20/HR Base Wage and you get...

$1,826 Net Weekly Pay

Benefits can vary by agency.  401k plan with an employer match, reimbursements, and coverage details are all perks you should inform yourself on up front before you sign anything.

Benefits with travel nursing are commonly marketed in creative ways.  Knowing when your benefits start or when you are vested in certain programs are things new travel nurses don't consider.  Being educated and asking the right questions will help you understand what you Benefits are.

Join the Travel Nursing Direct Community

Travel Nurses TEACH Their Young

Our community of Pre-Nursing, Current RNs, Travel RNs and Post Graduate Nurses is here to help share their knowledge and experience with you. Learn about Travel Nursing, Find an assignment, or Figure it YOUR next step:

WordPress Video Lightbox
Close Bitnami banner