What is Travel Nursing? How to Travel the World as a Nurse

stethoscope and travel nurse items laid out on a table

Today I wanted to chat a little bit about travel nursing. I feel like the definition of a travel nurse has very different meanings to different people. When I personally talk about travel nursing I’m talking about travelling whilst working as a nurse, something I’ve been doing for the past two years. 

If you’ve been following my adventure for a while then you’ll know that I’ve been a nurse in the United Kingdom, Australia and I’m now nursing in New Zealand – what an adventure it has been so far. I thought I’d take this time to chat specifically about travel nursing, what to expect and a few tips on how to start looking into becoming a travel nurse (but honestly, that’s for a whole other post in itself so stay tuned)!

So, perhaps you’ve heard the term travel nurse thrown around but you actually have no idea what it means? Well, as I said before to me travel nursing is someone who travels whilst nursing at the same time. There are so many different ways of doing this from moving to a whole new country to travelling around your own country whilst taking on different nursing assignments/jobs.

Travel Nursing VS Agency Nursing – What’s the Difference? 

When you start to think about travel nursing don’t get too hung up on different terms/titles. 

As well as ‘travel nurse’ you’ll also hear other terms thrown around like agency nurse. From my experience over the last few years ‘travel nursing’ is a pretty American term. ‘Agency nurse’ seems to be more of an English term but both are used in Australia and New Zealand. They are basically the exact same thing. 

When deciding to become a travel nurse it usually means joining some form of nursing agency. A nursing agency is a business that employs nurses and sends them on assignments to places that require the specific skill set that the nurse has. Essentially a travel/agency nurse is usually someone who is part of an agency rather than someone who is employed by a hospital/part of a unit or team. 

Example: An ICU nurse with 4 years experience will most likely be sent on assignments involving, but not limited, to ICU. 

There’s a whole catalogue of different ways you can work for an agency but the most popular routes are:

  • Casually 
  • Full-Time/Part-Time 
  • Contracted 

I worked for the agency Health Care Australia in Australia (funnily enough) and had some of the best moments of my career to date. 

Different Types of Travel Nursing 

One aspect of travel that I’d like to make clear is that agency or travel nursing doesn’t always mean freedom. It all depends on what type of work you take on with the agency you join. 

Casual Nursing with an Agency 

This is the type of work where you will get the most freedom whilst travelling and working as a nurse. This is exactly what I did for a year in Australia. Without it, I wouldn’t have had the flexibility to live in two different states and take over 3 months off to travel. I got to choose my shifts and choose when I wanted time off which was perfect.

The agency took into account my skill set and experience and then placed me in hospital settings that matched those. I was sent a shift and then I could decide whether or not to accept that shift. There were no set hours that I was required to work and I could take time off whenever I wanted too. It was honestly the perfect way to keep nursing whilst living in Australia. I was able to take my life back into my own hands and keep myself well balanced.

Being able to maintain a healthier ‘work-life balance’ is one of the main reasons I’m a huge fan of casual nursing. 

However, as wonderful as that sounds there are some things to take into consideration when you decide to work on a casual basis. 

Hours are not guaranteed. Some weeks I’d have plenty of shifts and others not so many. There’s often no sick, maternity or holiday pay. If these things are important to you it’s a good idea to keep them in mind before taking casual nursing full time. Of course, it all depends on the agency you work for as some do offer sick pay/holiday pay/maternity pay incentives so just do the research beforehand. 

Full-Time Nursing with An Agency 

Some agencies also take on nurses full time meaning they have to give you full-time hours. This essentially means that you get first dibs on the shifts that are available before the casual nurses. Every agency is different but some may require that you must accept the shifts they offer without question if you’re working on a full-time basis. If you do work for an agency full-time they often will send you where the work. This means you can be at a different hospital on a different ward every shift which can be challenging mentally – again another story for a whole new post so make sure you’re following along. 

Short or Long Term Contracts via An Agency 

Sometimes agencies will offer short or long term contracts within a certain hospital or care setting. For example, a children’s ward in Sydney may be looking for a nurse for a block of 14 weeks. If they are having trouble hiring someone they often reach out to agencies to see if they have any nurses who would be interested in filling in this assignment. 

I’ve never taken such an assignment so I can’t comment too much but I would think you have to see out the assignment until the end once a contract is signed. You can definitely take these if you usually work casually too. 

In the United States, some nurses become travel nurses full time and are sent all over the country on assignments. I’ve met nurses online who literally move from state to state in the US as a travel nurse. I think this is a brilliant way to see a country and keep your nursing career firmly intact.

If you’re a nurse in the USA considering travel nursing then you have to follow Kylee from Passports and Preemies! 

Other Ways to Nurse Whilst Travelling 

You don’t have to join a nursing agency to travel and nurse it’s just a very popular route especially casually because of the freedom. But, in some countries agency nursing just isn’t very popular. 

Take New Zealand for example, they do have nursing agencies but the hospitals don’t use unless they really have to. This means work could be a little sparse which is a big risk in a new country. 

Always do your research first, phone the agencies and ask them how the work is where you want to go. Due to the lack of agency nursing in New Zealand, I worked a permanent contract again whilst living in Wellington.

Once you’re a registered nurse in the country you want to travel to you can apply for any job you want as long as you meet the criteria they’re asking for. 

Hospital Bank/Pool

Most hospitals around the world have their own ‘pool’ or ‘bank’ of staff. This is similar to agency nursing but you’re employed by the hospital or care setting. When a unit in the hospital it short-staffed they send you there. This is a great way to still work casually if a hospital doesn’t really use an agency. Hospitals will often prefer to use their own pool or bank because agency nurses come at a higher rate!

Permanent Contracts 

Agency nursing or casual nursing really isn’t for some people and that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean you can’t travel and nurse!

Reach out to hospitals you think you’d like to work at and chat with the manager about what options you may have. Most big hospitals will have someone who dedicates their time to helping and giving information to overseas nurses. 

I’m a huge advocate for both travelling and nursing, I think it’s pretty amazing if you can do both! I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to travel to both New Zealand and Australia whilst keeping my career firmly intact. I might not be as far along in my career in terms of ‘progression’ as some of my peers that I went to school with but nursing around the world has added so much value to my career! 

If you’re thinking about becoming a travel nurse in Australia or New Zealand then don’t hesitate to send me an email with any questions you might have! Even if you have any questions about nursing in the UK feel free to ask me. I obviously trained in the UK so don’t have any experience in applying for registration as an overseas nurse but I can definitely point you in the direction of some people who have! 

I hope some of you have found this post useful and possibly even inspired you to take a look into becoming a travel nurse. Either way, make sure you’re following me along on Instagram and subscribe to Alicia Overseas in the side-bar. I have some very exciting posts all-around travel nursing coming up! If you did enjoy this post I would love it if you could share it with your friends!

Are you thinking about travelling the world as a nurse but unsure how to do it? Well in this post I'm busting the myths about the term 'travel nurse' and going into details on how you could travel the world whilst being a nurse! #nursing #travelnursing #registerednurse #nursingaustralia #nurseabroad
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Happy Travels and Happy Nursing, 



Alicia is a travel obsessed Registered Nurse who is on a mission to help other unfulfilled nurses reconnect with their purpose, passion and joy for life. Alicia has suffered from countless bouts of burnout in her nursing career and now wants to help other nurses too. Alicia is a huge advocate for travel and travel makes up a huge part of her life and this blog! Join her on her adventures nursing around the world and helping others to live a happier more positive life.

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