Travel Nurse Agencies Guide: How To Choose The Right One

So, you’ve decided you want to leave your permanent position and explore the lifestyle of travel nursing. Congratulations! Now you need to consider how to choose a travel nurse agency that can help get you the position you want.

Becoming a travel nurse is stressful enough as it is. However, choosing from the huge number of travel nurse agencies can be quite overwhelming.

Luckily, we’re here to help you pick the right one. You’ll also learn what a travel nurse agency does and how they work.

What Are Travel Nurse Agencies?

Travel nurse agencies are staffing companies connecting nurses and other medical professionals to open positions that need to be filled quickly.

They can help you:

  • Become a per diem nurse and work a local gig at your leisure
  • Find an extended local contract
  • Secure a travel contract

Local contracts are the same as travel contracts except they are close to your home. This means you won’t qualify for travel expense reimbursement or stipends.

Most agencies fill positions that are within the hospital setting. However, sometimes positions can be in a clinic or other ambulatory care center.

Qualified candidates (like you) connect with an agency and go over:

  • Qualifications
  • Specialties
  • Location desires

The agency will provide you with a recruiter. This person will be your main point of contact and help find you the perfect gig.

The agency will be your employer, not the facility where you work.

Travel Nurse Agencies

Popular travel nurse agencies include:

How To Apply To Travel Nurse Agencies

You can seek out agencies online and apply.

Know that you’ll be bombarded with emails and phone calls, so be ready!

Compare Different Agencies

It is wise to choose two agencies so that you can compare the two and make an educated decision right away.

Be sure to search where the agencies are located. With a local office, you may be able to utilize the physical location to submit paperwork or do fit testing.

For example, Gifted Healthcare has an office in Tulsa. This makes it convenient for local nurses to stop by and submit or fulfill testing. This can be helpful if you don’t have a permanent local hospital where you would normally do it.

Travel Nurse Agencies Benefits

Travel nurse agencies are just like any employer, and most offer basic benefits to their employees.

Since it is normal for agencies to pay weekly, your benefits will be deducted weekly. Travel nurse agencies usually offer coverage for:

  • Health
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Life
  • Accidents
  • Long-term illness

You won’t find many who offer a generous PTO benefit. However, more and more agencies are starting to offer some PTO instead of opting out altogether.

They usually offer some sort of travel reimbursement and referral bonuses.

Please be aware, some of these benefits come at a cost that is typically more significant than at your full-time permanent job.

However, also keep in mind that you’ll be making considerably more money than you would in a permanent position.

Travel Nurse Agency Benefits Example

Here is an example of a travel nurse agency benefits package:

  • Health insurance is typically $50-65/week for a single person, $165/week for a couple, and $300/week for a family of 3
    • PTO can vary from 0 hours per paycheck to 2 hours per check
    • Dental insurance ranges from $15-45/week, depending on your elections and dependents
    • Long-term care insurance ranges from $10-25/week
    • Travel reimbursement gives you anywhere from $100-500 after travel is complete

Use Caution When Researching Benefits

Use caution when researching benefits from agencies.

It is very common for sites to use verbiage such as “day one benefits.” While it is true, it does not mean you’ll have full access to every single benefit.

For example, Travel Nurses Across America (TNAA) states that they offer day one paid sick leave.

This is a true statement. However, you need to understand that you begin accruing sick leave on day one, like you would with any other job.

You won’t have a full day or week of sick leave available on your first day. You accrue it as you work.

How Much Do Travel Nurse Agencies’ Benefits Cost?

It is difficult to find out the exact cost of benefits without fully applying to one of these agencies.

Don’t be afraid to ask travel nurses what benefits their company offers and how much they cost.

Most travelers will be happy to share that with you. They may even offer to refer you to their agency (did I mention referral bonuses?).

Some nurses choose not to receive benefits from their agency. Instead, they choose a third party to provide insurance. Meanwhile, they seek financial guidance from advisors or investment firms.

Both are easy to do and only require a simple phone call.

What Are Travel Nurse Agency Stipends?

Stipends are tax-free reimbursements for food and housing costs that you accrue while being on a temporary assignment away from your tax home.

You’ll only qualify for these if you live within the acceptable distance from your travel assignment compared to your permanent home or tax home.

Travel nursing salary rate will be in the range of typically hourly pay. However, when you add in stipends after taxes are deducted, your weekly pay increases dramatically.

Each geographic area has limits on stipends that are regulated by the government (U.S. General Service Administration or GSA).

In general, the stipends increase in areas where cost of living is higher, and decrease where they are lower, but this is not always tried and true. In my experience, you can still receive generous stipends even in areas of lower cost of living.

Travel Nurse Agency Stipend Example

For example, in Oklahoma City you can receive $168/day for lodging and food.

In comparison, in Fresno, California you qualify for $179/day according to GAS website.

Your stipend will vary between agencies. Some will not offer the full GSA amount as those are maximums.

If a recruiter tells you that they are offering you the full amount, you can head on over the to GAS website and check for yourself.

Do All Travel Nurses Get A Housing Stipend?

Sometimes an agency will offer to provide housing for you in lieu of paying a housing stipend.

The benefit to this is a higher taxable base salary with secured housing. The downside would be less control over your living arrangements and money. You’d be paying more in taxes since your taxable rate is higher.

Before agreeing to either a housing stipend or agency-provided housing, first look at the area where you’ll be working. Do a search for extended-stay hotels and Airbnb’s for your proposed travel dates.

Should You Opt For A Housing Stipend?

If you are confident in securing a place, then opt to receive the stipend. However, if rooms are limited in your area, then it may be wiser to allow the agency to secure the housing for you.

You won’t have much say in where it is, and it will likely be an extended-stay hotel. However, you will be confident that you’ll have a roof over your head.

In the end, it’s entirely up to you. You need to decide what you really want out of the travel experience.

Consider the following questions to help you figure out what you want. Do you want to:

  • See a variety of destinations and try living in a certain area before relocating permanently?
  • Make more money by living in a more cost-effective housing option?
  • Live luxuriously while still earning money?
  • Meet new people?
  • Get away from home?

Think deeply about these things to help guide your choices.

What Is A Recruiter?

Recruiters work for the travel nurse agency. They are hired to find candidates, negotiate compensation, and ensure candidate compliance.

Occasionally, recruiters are ex-nurses who have stepped away from the bedside. Most the time your recruiter will not have any medical field experience.

Your recruiter is your lifeline. They will answer or get clarification for you regarding your assignment. If you have problems arise with your assignment, you will talk to your recruiter.

Do All Travel Nursing Agencies Provide You A Designated Recruiter?

Some companies do not have a designated recruiter for you. Trusted Health is one example. While you will have a team working on your file, there is not a single designated person. It’s a generalized team.

The benefit is that they aren’t paying out bonuses to a recruiter, so you get paid a little more.

The downside is that there isn’t a specific person on your case advocating for you.

If you’re new to traveling or need a lot of assistance, then you would be better suited with a company that is more hands-on.

Which Travel Nursing Agency Is Right For Me?

Now that you have a good understanding of what travel nurse agencies offer, how they work, and what to expect, it’s time for you to get out there and apply!

Try a couple of the ones listed in this post. They have really great reputations, but don’t limit yourself!

If a friend is referring their agency to you and you want to try it, then go for it. Review their websites and read the reviews. Check out how many jobs they are posting.

Making a decision begins with applying. Try applying to two agencies, and talk with both of them. Go with the one that is:

  • Patient
  • Giving you good information
  • Helping you
  • Giving you an overall sense of peace

Please don’t be afraid to change your mind later or request changes. You are your biggest advocate!


With the overwhelming number of travel nurse agencies, it can be hard to choose the right one for you.

However, by following the advice in this article, you should have an easier time navigating the process.

Remember, don’t settle for less and believe in your strengths.

Ready to become a travel nurse? Then start traveling today!

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