Travel nursing contract negotiation

Travel Nursing Contract Negotiation

In travel nursing, contract negotiation is important, as it will determine the amount you get paid. Fight for yourself in these contract negotiations. You know your self-worth.

The goal you should have in mind is a win-win situation for both the recruiter and you. 

The Most Important Part of Travel Nursing

Nursing recruiters want to make a good commission, as the travel company has metrics in place to help them maintain their profit margins. But you’ll have some wiggle room.

It depends on the situation. For example, see if they can provide higher compensation for a crisis assignment. 


How is your money made in travel nursing? 

So business is transacted between the hospital and the travel agency. All your compensation, benefits, and reimbursements will come from the Bill Rate.

The bill rate is the amount the hospital pays the travel agency based on the hours worked by each contracted nurse.

Pay example

Bill Rate: $100/hr

Nurse pay rate: $50/hr (company profit 50%)

This is generally corporately mandated and covers such things as the company executives, employee salary/benefits, and a defined profit margin that the company specifies.

Let’s break down the components of the travel nursing contract negotiation:  


6 Components of Travel Nurse Contract Negotiations

We are rating these from the highest in importance to the lowest. Each plays a role in creating the best contract for you: 

  • Salary
  • Stipends
  • Housing 
  • Overtime
  • Travel Reimbursement
  • Licensing Reimbursement


Everyone should have a number in mind for this when negotiating, even in sales. This will also affect how much you’ll be taxed. We know Uncle Sam loves our money.

You should care less about reimbursements for travel and a higher hourly rate. You can generally cover extra costs from your weekly net pay and year-end tax benefits.

Ask your recruiter for the lowest base pay possible, as this will be the taxed portion of your pay. 


Stipends (Tax-free)

This is the untaxed part of your pay, and it is where the money is made. Stipends are broken down into money for housing and food, known as a “per diem”.

Since you are an employee working for a short time in another location for the company, tax-free benefits are given to you as compensation. 

The IRS has developed an allowable per diem amount for each area of the country. This is the maximum allowable for meals, lodging, and expenses. For more information, visit the GSA



Most of your stipends will be spent on housing. There are two ways to figure out the housing situation regarding travel nursing. The company can provide housing for you, they might take your stipend, or you can receive your stipend and arrange housing on your own.

We prefer to find housing ourselves. If you can manage the extra responsibility, you may be able to make more money at the end of your contract by pocketing that extra housing money. 

Sometimes, this is a huge deciding factor. If you want to be close to the ocean or a particular neighborhood, you might want to consider whether good housing is available in the contract location. 



How important this is will depend on the lifestyle you choose as a travel nurse. If you just want to work your 36 hours and enjoy exploring your world, overtime won’t matter much.

If you want to return to school and need some extra cash, this is an important negotiating point. From a business standpoint, any hours worked over and above the signed contract are simply a benefit (revenue) for the travel nurse agency.

The standard overtime offered by some companies is time and half of your hourly rate. Try to negotiate a higher overtime rate. If they don’t give in, remind them that working overtime benefits you and the travel company. 


Travel Reimbursement

The entire trip to your travel nursing contract will not be covered. If you do receive travel reimbursement, it will be a non-taxable income.

I prefer not to have a travel reimbursement and just negotiate higher pay/stipends, as that will generate more money over the course of 13 weeks(+).

The most common form is typically a flat-rate reimbursement involving travel to and from your contract. This can range anywhere from $250-500. 


Licensing Reimbursement

If you applied for a multi-license to travel to multiple locations, your agency would offer to pay those costs. Depending on the state, some costs can be costly. Ask your agency to reimburse you for all costs regarding licensing. 


The Decision-Making Process

You must understand your travel nursing contract. Remember, this is only a temporary job, so if you don’t think like things mid-contract, in 13 weeks, you can renegotiate.

Is this contract everything you wanted? Write down a list of pros and cons and make your decision. You might feel immense pressure – but with any big life event, change feels uncomfortable at first. 

Review the written contract carefully, and ask your recruiter for any contracts they might have. If you voiced concerns verbally and agreed to them, ensure they’re outlined in the contract.

Once you sign the contract, there’s no going back. You will be held accountable to the terms of the contract. No matter how small the issue, if it’s something important to you, ensure it’s written into the contract. 


A checklist of items to review before signing your travel nursing contract:

  • Contract start and end dates
  • Shift/unit
  • An hourly base rate, holiday pay, overtime rates
  • Guaranteed hours (36,48)
  • Stipends (per diem)
  • Cancellation allowed by the hospital 
  • Penalties for call-offs (sickness)
  • On-call requirements
  • Travel reimbursement
  • Floating policy
  • Requested days off

Once the contract is negotiated and everything looks good, you can sign and begin your travel nursing experience. Best of luck!


Looking for more nursing and travel nursing information? Check out these helpful links!

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