What to know about Healthcare Traveler Pay: Salary, Structure, and Tax Filing

Published: April 13, 2023
A piggy bank next to a stethoscope

There are many reasons to become a healthcare traveler, but the potential for higher earnings is a popular one. However, travel nursing pay packages are complex. They incorporate many more uncommon variables than standard compensation packages — which may be why it’s rarely discussed.

We say “pshaw!” to that notion. Let’s dive in on what you should know as a new traveler wanting to make the most of your options.

Why do travel nurses tend to make more than staff nurses?

The honest answer is that travelers are paid more because they accept assignments in high-need areas. Healthcare facilities expect travel nurses to have the knowledge and skills to jump directly into their roles with minimal orientation and training. Travelers also have the willingness to move quickly after receiving a job offer when facilities need to fill positions as soon as possible. Combined with higher pay for more specialized roles, this results in generally higher income.

Furthermore, travel nurses are often willing to accept assignments in rural areas, many of which do not have enough nurses. According to the National Rural Health Association, remote areas need more help attracting young nurses.

What is a Bill Rate?

All travel nursing pay packages begin with the bill rate. The bill rate is the hourly rate that a hospital pays for each travel nurse. These rates affect the industry in a symbiotic nature. If a traveler calls in sick, the hospital doesn’t pay for those hours, which means the agency is also unpaid for those possible hours. Bill rates vary from hospital to hospital and contract to contract, determining how much money the healthcare staffing agency spends for a particular assignment.

There are a few categories of bill rates:

  • Standard
  • Specialty
  • Blended
  • Regular time/ overtime
  • On call
  • Call back
  • Holiday
  • Crisis

What is a stipend, and how does it work?

Oof. Buckle up because tax season can be bumpy for new (and, let’s be honest, experienced) travelers. However, there are a few ways to navigate the terrain. Travel nurse taxes are primarily challenging because tax amounts can differ depending on what state or states the traveler worked in that year.

Here are three key things to keep in mind when filing as a traveler:

  • Understand what is defined as a tax home and if you are eligible in the eyes of the IRS.
  • Keep all your documents organized digitally and physically.
  • Fully read (and keep) your contracts: Many answers can be found in your contracts. For tax purposes, make sure that the following are clearly stated:
  1. Start date
  2. End date
  3. Name of facility
  4. Complete address of the facility
  5. Taxable hourly rate
  6. Amounts of all tax-free stipends to be paid

What to consider about healthcare traveler pay packages

Pay packages vary greatly. However, some out-of-pocket expenses that travel nurses must be aware of that regular staff nurses don’t have to consider. Like any other profession, budgeting and preparing for the unknown is essential. When looking into pay packages, it’s crucial that travelers consider the whole thing and not just which one seemingly pays the most.

  • Most travel nurses pay for their certifications, such as BLS and ACLS
  • Commonly, orientation is not counted as billable hours for travelers in their contracts.
  • If you want to take an assignment nationwide, your travel reimbursement might not cover the entire cost.

Magnet Medical is here to help

It sounds like a lot, we know. Don’t be overwhelmed— you’re a healthcare traveler, remember? You’re curious, driven, and agile. And you have Magnet in your corner.


Magnet’s primary goal is to make the staffing process less stressful. We’ll do all we can to aid you with any questions you may have whenever you have them— except the taxes— we’ll leave that to the professionals.

Want to learn more about how Magnet can further your career as a healthcare traveler? Contact our team today.

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