Travel nursing attracts licensed professional nurses or RNs for a variety of reasons. Some wish to see the world, others are eager to gain experiences offered in different hospitals. Some travel nurses are lured by the promise of some of the highest travel nurse pay rates. Regardless of the motivation, no nurse wants to lose money while traveling—even if the views are amazing. Anyone considering the travel nurse life will want to weigh travel nursing pay packages against an area’s cost of living and average living expenses to better the chances of financial success. Below we outline what to consider for your travel nurse destination and how average living expenses are an important consideration. Then, we review the 5 most expensive travel nurse states to live in (and some of them are high paying states).
What to Consider for Your Travel Nurse Destination
When searching for new travel nursing job opportunities, it's important to consider several factors in choosing your destination. While accepting travel nursing job opportunities in states offering some of the highest travel RN weekly pay rates or highest paying salaries across the country, don't be fooled by this. High paying states or paying high salaries don't always mean high pay packages when you account for the cost of housing and living expenses. As a travel nurse, you'll need to account for your entire travel nurse pay package, including hourly rate, stipends, benefits, travel reimbursements, etc.
When looking at travel nursing job opportunities, keep in mind what your goal is. Is it to save as much money as possible, gain experience, or maybe travel the country? If your main goal is to save money, start your destination search by looking for low cost of living states. Estimate your housing and living expenses and then factor in your base salary. Does your travel nurse salary more than cover your living expenses? Again, don't be fooled that high paying states or paying high salaries equal saving more money.
Also, it's important to consider the stipends that you receive in your travel nurse pay packages. Oftentimes, travel nursing agencies offer travel nurses housing options. The two options are usually housing offered through the travel nursing agency (corporate housing) or receiving a housing stipend. If you receive a housing stipend, you will need to locate and secure your own housing. If the cost of housing is less than your stipend, then you get to keep the remaining stipend amount. On the other hand, it's important to research your housing options and talk to your recruiter when looking at travel nursing job opportunities and especially before signing your contract. Sometimes travel nurses find that when they estimate their housing costs, the agency provided housing leads to more money savings.
How Important is the Cost of Living
As a travel nurse, when searching for new travel nursing job opportunities it's important to research the cost of living ahead of time. The cost of living varies from state to state and also fluctuates depending on the current economy. Many travel nursing job openings may look appealing due to paying high salaries. However, you need to consider your entire travel nurse pay package. Just because an assignment has one of the highest travel nurse pay rates doesn't mean that your income after expenses will be high. High paying states oftentimes have a higher cost of living, thus why their pay is higher.
Expensive Travel Nurse States
CNBC used the Council for Community and Economic Research’s 2016 annual average Cost of Living Index to compile a list of the most expensive states. The list was made using common grocery costs, energy bills, doctor visits, and home prices. Not overly scientific, this list gives a good indication of where a travel nurse might have more money going out. Then comes variation in pay for travel nurses. It gets tricky. Compensation packages are multi-factorial, and are difficult to compare apples to apples. Regardless, read on to prepare yourself for travel nursing jobs with hospitals in the five most expensive states for travel nurses, based on the cost of living.
The fifth-most-expensive state in the country to live in is also America’s northernmost. Due to a lack of farms, most food consumed by Alaskans must be produced elsewhere and shipped into the frigid state, leading to far more expensive products than in the breadbasket states. Lack of daylight during certain times of the year and icy weather drive up energy prices. Medical professionals are few and far between, so a routine doctor’s visit can be pricey as well. However, the shortage of medical professionals and licensed professional nurses in the state has increased the number of available travel nursing job opportunities and may improve your salary as a travel nurse. In fact, the median salary for Alaskan nurses is more than $84,000—fourth-highest in the country. It might be expensive to stay warm, but can you really put a price tag on seeing the Aurora Borealis?
On the opposite side of the country, and back in the contiguous 48, Massachusetts is the fourth-most-expensive state in which to live. Notably, it’s more expensive to heat your home in Massachusetts than in Alaska (seriously). A doctor’s visit is considerably cheaper, though. Rent in major Massachusetts cities is absurdly high, but nurses in Massachusetts have the fifth-highest salary in the United States on the list of high paying states, at $84,410. With some of the best hospitals in the country, it might be worth the high cost of living to gain experience in such incredible institutions.
With a range of climates and natural phenomena to behold, it’s easy to understand why California is an in-demand travel nurse destination with many travel nursing job openings year-round. Additionally, it’s the highest-paying state in the country, with a median salary in the six-figure range. Housing costs are astronomical (the average home price is over a million dollars), but fresh produce is more reasonable than in other states.
2) New York
New York makes our list of high paying states and boasts many job opportunities. However, the disparity between the cost of living and median RN salary is the greatest for the state of New York. It’s the second-most-expensive state to live in and boasts just the seventh-highest median RN salary, at just over $80,000. It’s important to note that there is a huge difference between the cost of living in Manhattan and upstate New York, however.
Similar to California, the allure of Hawaii to travel nurses likely outweighs its significant cost of living. Fortunately, Hawaii is the second-highest-paying state for nurses with a median RN salary over $90,000. Almost all goods must be shipped into the state and energy costs are astronomical—more than $400 per month in energy costs alone. However, as a travel nurse, you do get to offset the cost of a months-long vacation in Hawaii by working a few days a week.
Cost of living can vary widely within a state—a destination shouldn’t be written off because of expensive living costs. Conversely, don’t be drawn in by big numbers on your contract. Prior to signing, consult your recruiter on how you will be able to maximize your take-home pay as a travel nurse. You can breathe easy knowing you will have fewer monetary surprises when you arrive in a new city and can focus on caring for patients and enjoying your temporary home.
When looking for travel nurse job opportunities in high paying states, it's important to consider the cost of housing and living expenses. Also, as you'll see from our list of expensive travel nursing states, many of these are not part of the nurse licensure compact agreement. Since they aren't part of the nurse licensure compact, you'll need ample time to apply for a state nursing license and pay for the licensing costs upfront.
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