How to Negotiate Your First (Or Next) Travel Contract

by | Jan 21, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

All too often when I am on contract, I hear travelers speak in very couched terms trying to gauge what type of pay other travelers are getting for doing the same job. I have been shocked to find that the pay disparity among travelers can be enormous.

I have created this guide in hopes that you will not be leaving hundreds of dollars weekly on the table. Take this information and make sure you are getting everything you want from your recruiter. Their pay is dependent on getting you a contract, just as yours is dependent on them finding you one.

Work together, but watch out for some of the pitfalls I talk about below.

Pay Package Breakdown

Tax Free– This is the bread and butter of travel nursing. You will receive a weekly stipend for housing and meals. This amount is untaxed income. There is no reason this shouldn’t be maxed out.

This is a hard number that is set by the government per county, so don’t let anybody screw you around on this.

Pro Tip: use gsa.gov/perdiem to make sure you are getting the maximum tax free stipend in your geographic area.

Hourly– The general rule I see travelers use is to get this number as low as possible, but not too low. A nurse making $15/hr is just begging the IRS to come pay you a visit. Twenty to twenty-five is reasonable, and obviously if your stipends are maxed out and the contract is high paying, this number has to go up.

Do not accept a “blended rate”. This is another way to confuse or misrepresent numbers. Get your hourly, overtime, and stipend all separate so you can calculate take home correctly.

Overtime/Holiday– If you plan on picking up extra shifts at your facility, definitely go over these numbers. Be careful about accepting the traditional time and a half for overtime. When your hourly is $20/hour, you aren’t gonna be pleased when you are making $35/hour on your 4th day of the work week.

I generally see overtime in the $60-80 range and will increase with higher hourly base pay.

Time Off

Time off should always be written into your contract. Do not let a recruiter tell you to get with the manager when you start. It won’t happen. If your exact days off are not written in your contract, you most likely won’t have them.

Guaranteed Hours

This section is short and sweet. Thirty-six hours guaranteed is an absolute must. Don’t ever sign a contract without this.

Canceled Shifts

This is an often overlooked clause in your contract, but can literally cost you thousands of dollars. Cancellation policies vary from agency to agency, but should be very clearly worded in your contract.

Three cancellations per thirteen weeks is a very workable agreement and hospitals will often be amenable to this. I have seen cancellation clauses up to one time per WEEK! That’s potentially a third of your gross contract pay.

Negotiate for a good cancellation policy and make sure if you ar canceled more than a few times per contract, you are being paid for it.


This has become standard and is something you should expect from your agency. Travel cost (a portion at least), compliance including the cost of your state license and recertification should all be reimbursed by your agency.

If your agency doesn’t reimburse, trust me there are plenty of agencies that do full reimbursement. Some agencies will even cover the cost of your scrubs and parking fees!

Recruiter Considerations


This will be different depending on who you are, but I generally don’t contact my recruiters often after signing. I am very involved with them when searching for a contract and negotiations, but after that they most likely won’t hear from me for the rest of the contract. Unless a major issue comes up at my hospital, I prefer to leave them alone.

I appreciate them checking in with me from time to time, but I wouldn’t be offended if they didn’t. The major thing I look for in a recruiter is transparency and availability.


Travel nurse recruiting at its core is a sales job, and with sales sometimes comes deception and shady tactics. This of course isn’t all recruiters, but its still wise to take a large dose of skepticism into negotiation. If I feel a recruiter is being dishonest with me or doesn’t offer their best rate from the start, I am moving on to another.


As I said earlier, I rarely need assistance from my recruiter after the contract is signed and I start. With that said, I want my recruiter to be available if I ever do have an issue. Recruiters know when they take the job that nurses work around the clock, 24/7/365. That means weekends, holidays, the whole nine.

Be sure that your recruiter is either personally available or gives you access to another person within the company that you can call at 3am when your facility is trying to give you a 4th vented patient.



Benefits and health insurance are extremely personalized depending on your life situation, but i’ll give some broad guidelines.

From what I have seen looking at the benefits package of several travel companies, they are largely mediocre coverage. It feels as if they really just serve as one more string to keep you tied to them for employee retention. I personally opted for 3rd party insurance.

This serves two purposes. I am not tied to any one travel agency or recruiter, and 3rd party insurance brokers can highly personalize your health insurance package to exactly what you need.

We personally use “The Tattooed Health Dude” Mike Kahler.

Work Conditions

This is more helpful in theory than in practice, you and your recruiter are at the mercy of how much the hospital wants to tell you about the true working conditions of said hospital. Try asking around in the facebook group, there will most likely be somebody who has worked at the facility before.

People tend to think that all hospitals generally follow the rules and required policies, but this is unfortunately not always the case. I have heard horror stories of nurses drowning in patient ratios double the legal limit with little to no oversight. Do your homework.

Missed Shift Penalty

Get clear wording on what happens if you miss a shift. There have been stories of nurses not only forfeiting that days pay, but OWING their agency additional money for missing a shift. Ask what happens to your stipend if you miss a day. Make sure the explanation matches the wording on your contract.

Read your Contract Thoroughly

This should go without saying, but doesn’t always happen. My agency has a simple, two-page contract in plain language stating what is expected of me and exactly what they are offering. This is something I have always appreciated, not the 30 page “used car sales” contract meant to exhaust and confuse you.

Have Multiple Agencies

Have a full profile, updated and ready to submit with at least 3 agencies. Yes, it’s a hassle, but absolutely necessary if you are looking for excellent pay and favorable terms. It would shock you how much wiggle room is in these contracts you are getting. Bid agencies against each other and let them compete.

Get your money!

Agency Housing

As you probably know, I live in an RV and cannot offer any opinion backed by experience. I can tell you in all the reading I’ve done on travel nursing pages, I have never seen anybody gushing about their immaculate agency-provided housing. I have, however, heard countless stories of absent maintenance crews, broken air conditioners, and bad parts of town.

I think the general consensus is that taking the stipend and finding your own housing will leave you happier in the end.

Final Thoughts

I may write a full post on this later, but want to mention it here. There are two marketing tactics that you should be aware of before your start looking for jobs/recruiters.

The first is reciprocity. This is where agencies will offer you freebies and lavish “signing gifts”. When somebody does a favor for us, we are wired with a strong urge to be reciprocal and return the favor.

This sounds harmless, but it’s a tactic to get you to sign and stay with a company for reasons other than service and pay. The same happens when you get a free trial to a software or even a free sample at the mall.

The second tactic is far more prevalent and that is scarcity. Believe me, you will hear lots of “This job will go fast!” and “This hospital needs an answer within the hour”.

This tactic is used to pressure you into signing the contract.

I’m not saying that they are being dishonest, but the truth is that there are PLENTY of jobs out there. You have one of the most in-demand skills in the American workforce and we are facing an unprecedented shortage of nurses. Trust me, the next job won’t be far behind.