Becoming an international travel nurse allows you to see the world while making a difference in healthcare abroad. As a nurse with a passion for travel and cross-cultural care, you can gain invaluable experience as you work in hospitals and clinics worldwide. This guide covers everything you need to know to launch your global nursing career.
Earn a Nursing Degree
The first step to becoming a travel nurse is completing either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at an accredited nursing program. While ADN programs focus specifically on nursing curriculum, BSN programs incorporate more liberal arts and leadership training.
Many international recruiters prefer candidates with a BSN, which signals advanced clinical knowledge and care management skills. However, talented ADN nurses can still find placements if they have specialized experience.
Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam
After earning your nursing degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to receive your Registered Nurse license. The NCLEX-RN tests your competency in patient care, pharmacology, prioritization, delegation, and other essential nursing practices. With diligent studying and test prep, you can pass the NCLEX-RN and take the next step towards international travel nursing.
Gain Clinical Experience
Most international recruiters require at least one year of bedside experience for travel nurse placements. Working as a staff nurse builds your clinical skills, time management abilities, and confidence communicating with patients and providers.
Consider specializing in a high-demand area like ICU, ER, labour and delivery, or OR nursing. If possible, obtain 2-3 years of experience at major medical centers that serve diverse patient populations. This shows your adaptability and readiness for overseas assignments.
Research Requirements for Desired Locations
Each country has unique visa, licensing, and healthcare requirements for international nurses. Research these early so you can properly prepare for your destination. For example, some countries require nurses to demonstrate language proficiency or pass additional exams to practice.
Others simplify the process through mutual recognition agreements with the United States. Identifying prerequisites well in advance prevents delays in clearing credentials.
Apply for a Passport and Visa
Allow several months to obtain your initial passport if you don’t already have one. Most countries require at least six months of validity remaining on your passport at the time of entry.
Additionally, research visa options like temporary work visas and working holiday visas. Your recruiter can advise you on the best visa strategy, but you must submit the application yourself. Having a valid passport and work visa in hand makes clearing immigration and starting your assignment abroad much smoother.
Meet with a travel medicine provider to receive recommended vaccinations based on your destination. For example, nurses traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa often receive yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, and rabies vaccinations.
Some countries even require proof of certain immunizations before entering the country or starting work. Getting vaccinated early on demonstrates preparedness for international travel nursing.
Work with a Staffing Agency
Partnering with an established travel nurse staffing agency simplifies the job search and hiring process when working abroad. Agencies have connections at hospitals worldwide, allowing you to see all available openings that match your skills and interests.
Reputable recruiters also handle credentialing, licensing, accommodations, travel, and salary negotiations on your behalf. They want to ensure you have an incredible experience overseas, Vet several agencies to find one that specializes in international placements and offers stellar customer service. Ask about destinations they staff, overseas hiring trends, and reviews from past travel nurses.
Complete a Domestic Travel Assignment
If this is your first time working as a travel nurse, consider completing a 13-week domestic contract before going abroad. Travel assignments test your flexibility and adaptability to new environments and processes.
Domestic contracts help build these skills while keeping you closer to home during your first assignment. Once you gain confidence as a traveler, look into overseas opportunities.
International travel nurses earn lucrative compensation packages, including stipends for housing, meals, and incidentals. However, it takes 1-2 pay cycles to receive your full reimbursements.
Prepare for initial expenses by saving enough to cover your first month’s housing, transportation, food, and other living necessities. This acts as a buffer until you start receiving your full salary and stipends.
Pack Essentials in Your Carry-On Bag
Lost luggage could delay your overseas assignment, so pack a few essentials in your carry-on bag. This includes an extra set of scrubs, toiletries, medications, phone charger, passport, visa, cash in the local currency, and copy of your contract.
Having these items with you ensures you can report to your unit as scheduled, even if your checked bags get misrouted. As the saying goes, “prepare for the worst and hope for the best!”
Qualities of a Successful International Travel Nurse
International travel nursing brings immense rewards, but also unique challenges. Nurses who thrive overseas exhibit:
Cultural Sensitivity: You care for patients from diverse backgrounds and respect cultural differences relating to healthcare. This creates trust and rapport with patients.
Adaptability: From advanced medical equipment to paper charting, you flexibly adjust your nursing practice to meet the facility’s needs and protocols
Collaboration: You build positive relationships with local staff to deliver coordinated care, learning from one another.
Problem-Solving: When issues arise with credentials, housing, or transportation, you remain solution-focused to resolve matters quickly.
Autonomy: You work independently and proactively manage your assignments while away from your usual support systems.
Stress Resilience: Facing heavy patient loads and language barriers, you actively practice self-care to prevent burnout. Cultivating these qualities helps you provide excellent nursing care and have a great personal experience overseas!
Pros and Cons of International Travel Nursing
If exploring the world as a nurse appeals to you, weigh the unique advantages and challenges of this path to make an informed career decision.
- Higher Salaries: International contracts offer salaries competitive with U.S. rates, but with lower tax rates in certain countries. Housing and cost-of-living stipends also bolster earnings.
- Travel Opportunities: Scheduling gaps between contracts allows adventures to remote destinations you might not visit otherwise.
- Culture Immersion: Total immersion in a foreign culture accelerates learning about different groups’ values, customs, and beliefs.
- Resume Building: International experience showcases your flexibility, clinical skills, and ability to succeed in diverse settings.
- Recruitment Incentives: Agencies offer generous sign-on bonuses, reimbursement for interview-related travel costs, and referral bonuses.
- Professional Growth: You rapidly gain clinical expertise by working with international medical teams and learning new technologies.
- Homesickness: The excitement of travel is countered by missing your loved ones and familiar surroundings. Frequent digital check-ins help ease this.
- Language Barriers: You must quickly learn basic phrases in your host country’s language to converse with patients. Locals generally appreciate the effort.
- Contract Length: International contracts usually last 6-12 months. This extended time away doesn’t suit every nurse’s lifestyle.
- Cultural Adjustment: Adapting to different cultural norms, etiquette, and daily conveniences has a learning curve. Observe locals to build context.
- Limited Possessions: Frequent moves mean you can’t accumulate much “stuff.” A minimalist mindset helps.
- Credential Delays: Obtaining licenses and visas is complicated. Start this early with your recruiter’s guidance to prevent assignment delays.
While international travel nursing stretches your comfort zone, nurses who embrace the journey find it incredibly rewarding. With informed expectations about benefits and obstacles, you can decide if working abroad suits you.
Getting Started with International Travel Nursing
If you’re ready to take the leap into international nursing opportunities, follow these steps:
1. Research requirements for desired destination countries. Identify any prerequisites for licensure, visas, exams, vaccinations, etc.
2. Assess your qualifications and clinical experience. Do they fulfill the destination country’s expectations for international nurses? If not, gain additional experience before applying.
3. Enroll with a travel nursing agency specializing in international placements. Ask about open positions, credentialing support, salary/benefits, and previous nurses’ experiences.
4. Once offered an assignment, begin visa application process. This can take weeks to months depending on the country.
5. Obtain necessary vaccinations. Schedule appointments to complete your immunization series for your destination country.
6. Book travel and temporary housing. Your agency will guide you through booking details. Arrive at least several days before your start date.
7. Immerse yourself in the culture! Keep an open mind, regularly practice key phrases in the native language, and connect with fellow nurses and locals.
8. Consider extending or renewing your contract. Give yourself time to weigh the pros and cons before committing to another contract term. With the right mindset and preparation, you will change lives through nursing overseas. Bon voyage!
Frequently Asked Questions
What countries currently need international nurses?
Some of the most in-demand destinations for international nurses based on pressing healthcare needs include Australia, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Caribbean islands like Jamaica and the Bahamas.
What clinical specialties are most in demand abroad?
Emergency, critical care, operating room, and labour and delivery nurses are recruited most aggressively for overseas contracts. Specialized nurses help lead quality improvement initiatives to elevate care standards.
What languages are useful for international nurses?
Fluency in English serves you well in top destinations for travel nurses like Australia, Singapore, India, the Philippines, and the Middle East. Learning Spanish opens additional opportunities throughout Central and South America.
Can I work as an international nurse as a new grad?
Most recruiters only accept nurses with at least 1-2 years of experience for overseas roles. New grads should gain experience locally then revisit international options later in their careers.
How much do international travel nurses earn?
Including salary, overtime, differentials, and stipends, nurses can earn $75,000-$150,000+ per year on international contracts. This exceeds typical staff nurse salaries back home.
Who pays for travel and housing as an international nurse?
Reputable agencies provide generous stipends covering housing, travel reimbursement to/from your assignment, meals, incidentals, and more. Read contracts closely so no surprise costs arise.