Breaking Down the Cost of Healthcare Travel

March 11, 2021


Fusion Medical Staffing


When you're thinking about becoming a healthcare traveler, there’s a lot of questions that come to mind about the cost. From pay package options to license reimbursements to how much you’ll take home at the end of the day, the unknowns can add up. That’s why transparency is important when it comes to starting out as a traveler or searching for your next assignment. Let's break down the cost of healthcare travel. 


Breaking Down the Cost of Healthcare Travel


Types of pay packages

Regardless of if you're a travel nurse or allied health traveler, all traveling healthcare professional pay packages start with the bill rate, which is the hourly rate that a staffing agency charges the facility. Bill rates vary depending on the facility and contract type and can also change depending on the market. Bill rates can be high when the demand for travelers is high.

Next, a pay package entails the number of contracted hours per week and how many weeks in the contract. While most travel assignments are around 13 weeks, different contracts have different time variables, like weekly hours between 35-40 hours or more. This is important because agencies bill facilities by the hour, meaning that things like stipends are more costly per hour on shorter contracts than on longer ones.

Flex pay packages give you the opportunity to mix and match your pay package components, like non-taxable stipends (healthcare and retirement), and reimbursements for licenses. The benefit of flex pay is that you can lower your hourly taxable base rate and increase your non-taxable earnings by adding on benefits. This is also called “wage re-characterization.”

The pay structure for traveling healthcare professionals

As you’re getting started on a new travel assignment, you’ve worked your full week, you're turning your timecard to get paid that following Friday — you are paid a week behind. It’s important to prepare for this lag in cash influx, because it can be essentially two to three weeks without pay. That can become a big deal if you aren’t expecting that cash flow to slow while you have bills and payments to make.

Related: 6 Money-Saving Tips for Travel Nurses and Allied Health Professionals

Evaluating your finances helps you prepare ahead of time. Factor in the initial cost as you're starting licensing and verification in new states, the housing fees, and the timing of your initial pay. Those are the top costs that will affect how you function when you take a travel assignment.

Per diem, stipends, and reimbursements

Traveling across the country is not cheap — there might be hotel costs, gas costs, and anything you might want to do for entertainment on your way there. If you’re a traveling healthcare professional, there are some tax-deductible expenses and non-taxable reimbursements.

The most frequent type of expenses are meals, housing, incidentals (transportation fare, parking, etc.), and travel reimbursements which cover your expenses to and from each assignment location. Non-taxable reimbursements include licensing and health insurance. Keep in mind, if you want to take an assignment across the country, your travel reimbursement might not cover the entire cost.

Another thing to factor in is your housing costs in relation to your pay and what you'll be taking home. Whether you're setting up your own housing or using a housing stipend, there are deposits, fees and allocations that you'll want to remember.

Your pay rate will be a blended rate, combining your hourly taxable wage with your non-taxable reimbursements, which will give you a higher hourly rate. It’s calculated by parsing out any non-taxable reimbursements into an hourly rate, then adding it to your taxable rate — your base rate. Voila!

Getting reimbursed for licensing costs

For whichever travel assignment you choose, you’ll be in touch with a medical staffing company and a recruiter, who will help you with things like licensing cost and any certificate you need in order to land your next contract. If you need a license for a different state, you’ll have an upfront cost of the license and verifications that go along with it. Send any verification, application, and anything else needed via overnight mail. This way, it gets there in one day, it is trackable, and the receipts will be available so you can be reimbursed on your first check.

Overtime pay

Some travel contracts will offer you overtime during your travel assignment. This, by law, must be paid time and a half of your taxable rate. If you consider working overtime on your assignment, you can try to negotiate a higher taxable rate with lower non-taxed reimbursements and stipends to get the most value in the long run.



When it comes to the money you’re earning, there are many factors involved. Top of mind: the facility dictates the pay rate. They determine what they pay their temp staff, and that can change at any time.

Communication is key, though. Ultimately, it’s your pay package, so if there's something that you're not comfortable with or you have questions about, your Fusion Medical Staffing recruiter is able to move things around and also educate you on what's within rules and guidelines.