Where you can go, how to prepare, and what you can earn as an international travel nurse.

nurse examines children outdoors under palm tree
nurse examines children outdoors under palm tree

If you’re looking to mix your love of healthcare with your sense of adventure, consider a career as a travel nurse abroad. Along with roles across the United States, you may find opportunities for international travel nursing jobs in destinations such as Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.

A career in overseas nursing can come with a lot of questions, from where you can go to how much money you can make. Use this guide as a starting point to get the answers you need to these questions and more.

How International Travel Nursing Works

As with travel nursing in the U.S., international nursing jobs are typically found through agencies within their home countries. You must first be licensed to work as a nurse in the U.S. Then you must meet any requirements in the country or countries in which you’d like to work. Each country will have its own guidelines, so it’s up to you to do the research.

Where Are Travel Nurses Needed Overseas?

You can find opportunities for travel nursing abroad in destinations across the world. Some of the areas with the highest need for nurses include Australia, New Zealand, China, and the Middle East. Areas prone to high rates of disease and natural disasters may also have a demand for rapid response nurses who can provide critical care in the aftermath of these events.

It’s important to note, however, that it’s not common to find an agency that will send you to a country where you don’t speak the language. You’ll be expected to have at least a working knowledge of the local language before you’ll be considered for a nursing role in a foreign country.

COVID-19 and International Travel Nursing

The borders of most international countries are currently closed to American citizens due to the spread of COVID-19. However, COVID-19 has also increased the need for nurses in many countries.

Healthcare workers, including nurses, are generally exempt from border closures. You’ll likely need to be tested for COVID-19 and have proof of a negative result before you can enter a country. You might also need to be quarantined for two to four weeks when you first arrive, delaying when you can start your assignment. Your travel nurse agency can help you figure out what extra steps you need to take. 

What Kind of Jobs Are Available?

Jobs for travel nurses are available in a wide variety of areas. You’ll find patient populations ranging from the very young to the very old, and any number of conditions or diseases. You may find yourself working in a range of medical settings, from low-income clinics to state-of-the-art facilities.

International travel nursing is common. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, “one in every eight nurses practices in a country other than the one where they were born or trained.” This is largely due to nursing shortages around the world. While you might have a heard a lot about the nursing shortage in the United States, there are areas around the globe facing even greater shortages.

A recent report by the WHO and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) found that despite recent increases in trained nurses there is still a large need: There are just under 28 million nurses worldwide, the report states. Between 2013 and 2018, nursing numbers increased by 4.7 million, but this still leaves a global shortfall of 5.9 million. The greatest gaps are found in countries in Africa; Southeast Asia and Eastern Mediterranean regions; and some parts of Latin America, according to the report.

You can tailor your job more specifically by earning a specialty certification. In-demand specialties include emergency room, medical-surgical, pediatric nursing, intensive care, anesthesia, and labor and delivery. You can gain these credentials through organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, though you may need to gain additional certification in the country where you work.

How Long Are the Assignments?

While travel nursing assignments in the U.S. typically last between eight and 26 weeks, nursing jobs abroad are often longer. You’ll likely work for at least a year in destinations like Australia and Europe, while it’s common to commit to at least two years while working in the Middle East.

If you’re curious about international travel nursing but not ready to make a long commitment, there are numerous volunteer opportunities. Non-profit and charity organizations all over the country have opportunities for nurses to volunteer overseas. These trips generally last anywhere from three to six weeks. While you won’t earn a salary for this work, it can be a great way to make a difference while seeing if international travel nursing is a good fit for you.

Who Handles Travel Arrangements and Expenses?

Within the U.S., travel arrangements and expenses for travel nurses are typically handled by your agency. However, every agency works differently, so it’s important to ask questions to understand exactly how they operate. Like in the U.S., an international travel nurse agency may handle setting up your travel and housing, or it may provide you with stipends to do so on your own.

Benefits of International Travel Nursing

nurse examines smiling child on sandy beach

Not only does international travel nursing allow you to experience other cultures in new parts of the world, it can expand your own skills as a nurse as well. You’ll likely be exposed to different types of medical procedures and learn how to better communicate with a variety of patients. You’ll get to expand your own abilities while also lending your talents to a likely underserved area.

After completing an assignment, you also have the option to take time off. Some agencies allow you to take as much time off between assignments as you choose, while others put a cap on the number of days you can take in a row. However, taking an extended amount of time off could affect any benefits you might have, so make sure you fully understand the way your agency works.

The nonprofit National Association of Travel Healthcare Organizations (NATHO) touts international travel nursing’s flexibility and potential for cultural enrichment as invaluable benefits. A travel healthcare professional gets to see many different places around the world while earning a significant income. Plus, the travel nurse gets to decide the distance and time frame of each assignment.

Perks of Working as an International Travel Nurse

  • Housing stipends
  • Covered travel expenses
  • Stipends for food and other living expenses
  • The opportunity to experience life in a new country
  • Exposure to new medical technique and ideas
  • The chance to expand your communication and language skills
  • The opportunity to experience diverse cultures

How Much Do International Travel Nurses Make?

Most countries around the world pay nurses significantly less than you’ll find for travel nursing jobs across the United States, although your pay will vary depending on your location and specialty. But even in places where compensation doesn’t reach U.S. salary levels, there are other benefits that can make overseas nursing a rewarding job in many ways. For example, some countries in need of travel nurses have a lower cost of living. You’ll be paying less for things like housing, food, taxes, and utilities, so your paycheck might go a lot further than it would in the U.S.

You might expect to earn more if you specialize in high-paying areas such as cardiac catheterization, oncology, anesthesia, and pediatric and neonatal intensive care.

Where Will I Make the Most Money?

There are some locations that are known to pay more than others. Outside the U.S. and Canada, Europe is where you’re likely to make the highest salary. According to Word Atlas, you’ll make the most in these European countries:

  • Denmark
  • Luxembourg
  • Ireland
  • Norway
  • The Netherlands

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t earn an impressive salary in other countries. For example, while your salary in the Middle East might look lower on paper than back home in America, you won’t pay taxes on the income you make there. If you also have basics like housing and food covered, you could be looking at high take-home pay.

How Do Compensation and Benefits Work Overseas?

Compensation and benefits work differently depending on your city, your country, and your agency. The only way to know exactly how your package will break down is to ask the agency for which you work.

Usually, you’ll receive an hourly wage that might seem somewhat low, but your pay is supplemented with additional benefits. Most agencies provide furnished housing for the duration of your contract, along with stipends for meals and additional travel. Your agency might also offer medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as paid time off, reimbursement for licensing, and end-of-assignment bonuses.

What Are the Educational Requirements for International Travel Nurses?

You’ll generally be able to find international assignments as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), but it will depend on the location you’re hoping to work in. No matter what, your license will need to be in good standing and your degree will need to be from an accredited school. You’ll need to meet the requirements of licensing in the country you’re assigned to. Your first step will be to earn a degree and a nursing license.

Licensing and Certification Requirements

Following successful completion of your program, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in order to apply for a nursing license in the U.S. The NCLEX has different exam versions for different nurse license levels. Both RNs and LPNs need to take and pass NCLEX in order to be licensed. APRNs will need to take the certification exam for their specific specialty. Your program can guide you to the exam you need.

After that, you’ll also need to secure any additional credentials that your travel country requires if you’re planning to pursue travel nursing positions abroad. This could mean simply taking a test, gaining certification, or completing an entirely new program. You might also need to take a test proving you can speak in the primary language of that country. Keep in mind that this also applies to English-speaking countries like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Even if English is your native language, you’ll need to take the English language tests required of all international work visa applications.

You’ll then need to make sure you have a passport, a visa, a work permit, and any sponsorship that’s necessary. Each country will also have their own list of other documentation you need to present, such as your birth certificate, immunization records, and professional references. Plus, some countries will ask to see your transcripts to verify your education against their standards. The full process can sometimes take a year to complete and may also be expensive depending on additional requirements.

Finding Overseas Nursing Jobs

Travel nursing jobs are typically found through an agency. Different agencies work with different locations and specialties, so it’s recommended to work with multiple agencies to find an assignment that meets your needs. Some agencies already have contracts to place nurses in overseas roles. This can be really helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed about the testing, licensing, and other potential international travel requirements. Make sure you understand any possible drawbacks to working with the agency, such as the percentage of your pay that might go back to it.

Questions to Ask Your Agency

When researching agencies and contracts, ask questions such as:

  • What locations do you serve?
  • How is your pay package structured?
  • What do you provide in terms of health insurance?
  • Do you provide free housing or a housing stipend?
  • Do you offer paid time off?
  • Are there any signing incentives or end-of-assignment bonuses?
  • How much time can I take off between assignments?

Jobs Through the Department of Defense

There’s another option if you’re not comfortable finding international travel nursing jobs yourself or working with an agency. The United States Department of Defense has international jobs for nurses. You’ll still need to meet requirements to practice in the country you’re assigned to, but you’ll have a lot of guidance through the process. You’ll need to apply for an open job listing to start. If you’re selected, the Department of Defense will make sure you have everything you need to take on your overseas role. There aren’t always overseas jobs available, but if you’re interested in this route, it’s worth looking at available listings. You can set job alerts to be notified of new international postings.

Living Abroad as a Travel Nurse

person wearing mask sits alone in airport

Travel nursing abroad can be an incredibly exciting but also overwhelming experience. It can be tough to know exactly what to expect and being far away from family and friends can sometimes lead to feeling homesick.

If this is something you’re worried about, there are ways to make the transition easier. You might be able to bring along a significant other, but this will vary depending on your contract and housing situation. Another option is to buddy up with a friend who’s also a travel nurse. You can work with the same agencies and try to secure assignments in the same locations at the same time.

You might also be able to bring along a pet, but keep in mind that each country has its own rules for bringing in animals. You’ll likely need to get an import permit and have a health assessment performed by a vet. Pets may or may not need to be quarantined for a period of time upon arrival in the country.

Partnering with a fellow international travel nurse can help combat feelings of homesickness.

When packing to head abroad, keep things as simple as possible. Furniture and other household items will likely be provided by your agency, so often clothing and personal care items are all that you need.

When it’s time to start your assignment, don’t wait until the last minute to arrive. Give yourself time to settle into your apartment, get a rental car if needed, and get familiar with the city. Allow plenty of time to shop for any necessary items and figure out your daily commute.

It’s also a good idea to arrange a visit to the medical facility before your start date. Talk to your manager, get a tour of the unit, and ask any questions related to orientation or the day-to-day duties you’ll be tackling.

Pack light. Most agencies will provide furniture and other household items.

Once you start, you might have a day or two to familiarize yourself with the procedures and protocols of the unit, but you’re likely to be expected to jump right in. Take the initiative and ask questions whenever needed. If you have the experience and certifications to back up your skills, you should be able to walk in confident that you can work under pressure and with any patient.

Finally, international travel nursing is a great opportunity to learn the trade and explore the world, so take it all in.

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