Travel Nurse FAQs
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
I've been a travel nurse for nearly 4 years now, and know a lot of the ins and outs. Here are some of the most common questions I get about travel nurses:
Q: How do I do my taxes??
A: This may be the most common travel nurse question. And, I have your answer. www.traveltax.com That's it. There you go. Memorize this website. Call them if you have questions. And let them do your taxes for you.
Q: What company should I travel with?
A: There are TONS of travel nurse agencies. But let me tell you, agency really doesn't matter. Sure, some have a bad rep (lookin' at you AMN), but your experience, good or bad, 99% of the time has to do with your recruiter. You could be with the best company and have a terrible time because you can never get ahold of your recruiter, and vice versa. Personally, I've had a few shitty recruiters, but then I found an amazing one, and I've stuck with him for over two years now. Right now I am with Summit Medstaff, and I also have had a good experience with Atlas Medstaff. I've had bad experiences with AMN and Maxim. I hear good things about Faststaff, Trustaff, and Medical Solutions, and mixed reviews on Aya.
Q: How does pay work?
A: So, you have two kinds of income as a traveler. Taxed pay (your hourly wage) and untaxed pay (your stipends). Your stipends are untaxed when you have to double your living expenses. This means that you are away from your tax home, and are paying to work in one place (i.e. you must be paying for a room where you're working) as well as maintaining a room/home at your tax home (i.e. your home base, where you vote, where you were working, or where you still maintain a PRN job at). *Please see www.traveltax.com on specifics about your tax home and how to maintain your tax home*. So if your tax home is in PA, and you're working in CA, you get untaxed stipends for housing, food, and incidentals. These stipends are determined by the government depending on the cost of living for that area. You can look these up by googling the GSA for that zip code. You're hourly wage is usually lower than average for a nurse, but should not be lower than $20 so you don't get flagged by the IRS. The hourly wage is lower, because you want to max out your untaxed income (stipends), since those are not taxed.
You can also take a local contract, where you're not far away enough from home that you need to duplicate your expenses (you can travel home after your shift without having to stay the night in the city you are working). With local contracts, you do not get any tax free money, and all of your income is taxed.
Also, fun fact about pay, most agencies pay you weekly, instead of every other week.
Q: Can I take a contract that's kinda far away from my house so I get the tax free stipends, but actually just commute home after my shift?
A: No! This is tax fraud :). You must duplicate your expenses to get the tax free stipends.
Q: Can I pay my parents "rent", and make that my tax home?
A: Technically. The rent you pay your parents must be fair market price for that area. So check out ads on Airbnb/craigslist to see how much renting a room is going for where your parents live. Print those out, and keep them for your records. Write up a lease of some sort with your parents, and pay them per the lease and keep records of all these payments. Your parents then have to claim this as income on their taxes. You also have to return to your tax home (your parents house in this case) for >30 days a year, to prove to the government you still live there.
Q: I have a home. Can I rent it out while I'm out traveling?
A: Sure, I don't see why not. Just don't forget to claim it as income on your taxes.
Q: I want to travel and not have a tax home. Is this possible?
A: Yes, but it's called something else, I can't remember what. You get taxed on everything I think. You're gonna have to google this one.
Q: How does health insurance work?
A: Most, if not all travel agencies offer some type of health insurance. Each agency is different in the type, price, and when it kicks in. Most agencies do offer "day one" insurance though, so your insurance kicks in on the first day of your contract. The insurance then usually ends the last day of the month of your last contract work day. For example, if your last day of your contract is Dec. 19th, you'll be insured through Dec. 31st, unless you start a new contract in-between then. Because I enjoy taking off 2-3 months at a time, this does not work for me. I have private insurance through BCBS, and it sucks and I really need to look at other options. When I finally do that, I'll update this section with hopefully more helpful information.
Q: How long are contracts? How long can I stay at one place?
A: Contracts are usually 13 weeks long, but there are both longer and shorter contracts out there. If you like the hospital you're at, and they like you, you may be asked to extend. Usually, the extension is another 13 weeks, but I've had no issues extending for shorter amounts of time.
You can stay in one geographical location (a normal commuters distance- i.e. you can't just go to the hospital across the street, or even to the next town if it is common that people from one town frequently commute to that town. Often referred to as the "50 mile rule" even though 50 miles is never said anywhere in the IRS rules) for no more than 12 months in a 24 month period. I'll say it again. You cannot stay in the same place for more than 12 months in a 24 month period.
Q: I really like the hospital I'm at. Can I go staff here?
A: Sure! But not right away. A lot of agencies and hospitals have rules about hiring travelers on as staff right after traveling there. Not only that, but it's a no-no per the IRS. If you go staff right after traveling at a hospital, or have gone staff without staying away from the area for 12 months in a 24 month period, the IRS has the right to back-tax you on all the tax-free money/stipends that you accumulating working in that area.
Q: How do I find a place to live while traveling?
A: Lots of options here. Google apartments in the area and call the apartment complexes, asking if they do short term leases. Try Airbnb. Hotels, like Extended Stay America, usually have deals for travel nurses. Craigslist. Furnished Finders- this one is especially nice, because it's a website for traveling healthcare workers and all the places here are furnished and offer short term leases.
Q: Can I travel with my husband? Pet? Kids?
A: Yeah, of course. I travel with my cat. Makes it a little tricky finding pet friendly housing, but it's not a big deal. Your husband can either chill and do nothing, or find temp work wherever you are. I don't know how to travel with kids, I don't have any, but I have a friend who does. She travels in an RV and homeschools her kids.
DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A TAX EXPERT OR A FINANCIAL EXPERT OR AN IRS EXPERT. MOST OF THIS ADVICE I PULLED OUT OF MY ASS.