Travel for Nurses: 10 essential things you need to know

Nursing is such a rewarding and altruistic career field. But not just a career field, it’s also a way of feeling and living. Throw in the option to intertwine nursing and travel and it’s an obvious win/win. Now, even win/win situations could require at the very least SOME planning, especially when it comes to travelling. And if you are travelling internationally, planning ahead is a must. So when it comes to international travel nursing, it would be best practice to plan ahead and make sure you are well aware of what to expect and how to plan for your trip. So what I have provided below are some helpful nuggets of info that will prove to be invaluable in preparation for your life as a travel nurse.

Do your homework

Every corner of the globe has its own customs and etiquette. What’s appropriate for one particular culture could be totally deplorable in another. Personal space is something that Americans view vastly different than the Chinese culture for example. We might throw our arm around an acquaintance or slap the back of someone after we tell a joke whereas this behavior could be seen as totally invasive if we were in China. Be diligent in studying up on the country or region you plan on starting your international travel nursing or domestic career in. This could mean the difference between making friends and getting the most out of your experience or spending it alienated from the culture as a whole. In essence…..don’t be weird.

Take care of the small things

The small things are just that….small. But they can have a huge impact and often go overlooked. Small things such as having a valid passport well within the time needed to travel to the country where you will be nursing. Be sure to fill out the emergency contact information portion of your passport too! Make sure you are well aware of embassy contact info and whom to contact in case of an emergency. Familiarize yourself with local laws, immunizations that you should get and parts of the city and country that are safe/unsafe for foreign travel. Beginning with these small tasks can go a long way in ensuring a safe experience while immersing yourself in international travel nursing.


Even though the United States is highly regarded in the health industry, if you decide that international travel nursing is the thing for you, you would still need to be vetted and your nursing credentials validated in the destination country you plan on practicing in. This process could take up to 6 months to complete but if you want to get an early start on it, you can skip your nursing staffing agency and go right to applying for licensure in the country that you have your heart set on starting your international travel nursing career. Not only will this save a ton of time, but it will also show your staffing agency HUGE initiative!

If you have an ACLS certificate or some other similar medical certificate, make sure you mention it to the agency. These might not be mandatory to be working as a nurse in the country you are traveling to, but they show the additional skills that you have and that might come in handy to your employer abroad.

Trial by Fire

There is a slight chance that you may go through an official orientation at the hospital you are assigned to but not likely. You might not even have time to get acclimated to the environment. It is most likely that you will be thrown to the wolves on your new assignment given the fact that in all likelihood the hospital has been short-staffed leading up to your arrival. There is also a good chance that you will have a higher than normal patient load and you will be expected to perform. Take it all in stride and as a learning experience. You can prove to yourself and others that you’re actually cut out for this line of work.

Two Year Minimum

International travel nursing might not be the move for you if you’re fresh out of nursing school. The two years’ experience minimum will give you a lot of know how and the ability to operate autonomously and more independently than if you were totally green. This is a definite nod to the above possibility that you will have little to no supervision or help and definitely no hand holding. The two years of experience will definitely prepare you for being on your own.

Check Yourself

You know yourself better than anyone. Do you have the right temperament for travel nursing…..honestly?? It’s a very rewarding experience and field to get into but there are some valleys to  go with those peaks. Flexibility is key and the ability to adjust quickly to disorganization and the unknown is paramount. More so, be a self-starter and at many times an optimist. Are you able to check the box for these characteristics? If so, you’ll go far.

Where my dogs at?

International travel nursing may test the boundaries of man’s best friendship. Housing that accepts pets does exist but it is definitely expensive and definitely not in an abundance once you find it. Be prepared to pick from a shorter list of pet friendly assignment locations. The bright side is, though, having your pet at your side will make the transition that much easier!

All About the Benjamins

Make sure that your savings account is healthy before you depart for your new unknown destination. Hey, one of the perks of international travel nursing is taking full advantage of whatever historical sights and exquisite cuisines are there. It would be rough to be in a city and not take full advantage of your time there. Not to mention there could be lag time in between contracts in your new country or any other unforeseen circumstance to create a gap between paychecks. You’ll need the nest egg to fall back on.

There’s no place like home

Contracts for travel nurses can last over 3 months, typically. Homesickness and loneliness can set in even with the most seasoned traveler. You’re moving to an entirely different surrounding and in a lot of cases, a completely different culture. You’ll miss friends, family and even your favorite burger spot from back home. The flip side of this is the potential comradery you’ll experience with newfound co-workers and there’s a good chance you’ll be so busy taking in the sights, working and assimilating into a new culture, you won’t have too much time to sulk.


While travel nursing assignments can be as short as 13 weeks, international  travel nursing assignments can be much longer. In Australia and Europe, your travel nursing assignment will be at least a year while an assignment in the Middle East can be in the vicinity of two years plus. Be well aware of what you are signing up for and what your bandwidth is when it comes to homesickness.

I hope that gives you at least an idea of how and what to prepare for as you consider the travel nurse industry. This is just the tip of the iceberg as travel nursing is not just embarking on a new job field but a complete lifestyle adjustment. Not without its pros, I assure you. Definitely take the time to further investigate the topics I’ve laid out above as well as any more. Best of luck!

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