Hi everyone, I've been a registered nurse in the float pool for about a year and half and have been really thinking about becoming a travel nurse. So far I have only been talking to some of the travel nurses that I have worked with, noting that there are so many different companies. If you are a travel nurse or you know anything about the field, I'd love to have some input about your company; good or bad. How does housing and food stiphens differ, and any other benefits or downsides there may be to the company you work with. Always appreciate the conversation and thankyou in advance in responding.
My best advice is to be diligent in your research. Make sure you understand whatever pay packages you are presented with from several angles and not just your recruiter's perspective. In a way, travel nursing makes you a bit of a free agent because you have a whole lot of choices, generally speaking as opposed to staff nursing jobs, terms, pay, etc. A lot of shady companies are going to want to "hold your hand" through the process so that they can direct you exactly where they want you to be, for their best benefit. The trick is to know enough about the industry to be able to create a business relationship with your agency that maximizes MUTUAL benefit.
Recruiter here. I've listed my advice and thoughts on starting traveling below.
1) Company - This is going to vary based on what you are wanting out of your travel assignment since there are over 150+ travel companies out there. Certain companies are going to provide certain benefits such as a 401k, license reimbursement, certification reimbursement, high-end insurance plans, car rentals, etc. The most important thing to note is that everything that is provided to you as a traveler comes directly from your bill rate and the reality is that nothing is free. Companies can work from 20-45% margins based on the ones you end up working with so it would be in your best interest to work with multiple agencies to have different options to choose from based on your needs at the time. The other thing to note about companies is that certain ones are going to hold specific contracts that other companies may not have access too so if you are wanting to travel to certain areas the more companies you work with the better chance you have of going to a specific location of your choosing.
2) Housing - Companies are going to offer two different options when it comes to housing a stipend or agency provided housing. The stipend is going to be a tax free amount that the traveler receives weekly and you are responsible for securing your own housing. Stipends are going to be your bread and butter as a traveler as this is where a majority of your money comes from. I would check the GSA website to take a glance at what the max amount of stipends you can receive is based on location/time. In general a traveler is going to want their stipends maxed to maximize their tax-free money. The other option is if the agency or facility provides you housing they will not provide you a housing stipend and instead pay for your housing for the entirety of your assignment. The important thing to note here is to make sure how much the company is taking out of your pay package to pay for your housing and what type of housing they are placing you in. I've heard horror stories of travelers being placed in cheap motels and the company taking 2000/month from their pay package.
3) Food Stipends - This term can be referred as food stipends, per diems, meals/incidentals, tax advantage, etc. However a recruiter or company presents you this term it's going to be the same thing. It is a tax free amount of money you receive to pay for meals and other incidentals while traveling. Once again I would glance at the GSA website to see what you are allowed to receive based on the area you are working. This is the second big portion of where your money comes from as a traveler and you want to ensure you are getting a fair amount in your stipends here to make an assignment lucrative.
4) Pay Packages - Pay packages are going to be presented to you as a receive you are going to get taxed on per hour that you work and the amount of stipends that you either receive per hour or per week. There will also be an OT rate that you will be quoted and with certain companies it is only going to be 1.5x of your taxable rate. The rule of thumb most travelers abide by is to not take any contract that offers lower then 20/hr taxable to avoid issues from the IRS which would make your OT rate around 30/hr in most situations. You should have a decent amount of OT rate and not accept a low OT rate such as 30/hr. This is where negotiating comes into play because a lot of the bigger agencies are going to have their recruiters try to have you take the lowest pay package possible because they will receive a higher amount of commission. The bill rate of your contract will generally NEVER change so be weary of companies who quote you low and then make something up and saying they are able to provide you a higher pay package now. Also never allow yourself to be submitted to assignment before agreeing on a pay package of a contract so you have something concrete.
Best of luck to you!