Getting paid: the ins and outs of a travel nurse pay package.

How much will really end up in your pay packet?

When you start out as a travel nurse, figuring out how your expenses are calculated can seem really complex. Our handy guide to how travel stipends work and how to assess different packages will help you understand the real value of your offer and the pros and cons of different options.

What does it all mean?

Don’t panic when you see an hourly rate on your pay statement that looks significantly lower than the amount your recruiter told you! It’s good news, not bad. Travel nurses are eligible for considerable tax benefits (your country needs you!). Check out this basic example of a typical travel nurse pay statement to see what the different terms mean and how it all works.

Item nameWhat it meansExample
GuaranteedThis is the number of hours that the facility has guaranteed to you.40 hours a week
Variable hourlyThis is the amount your contract shows. It’s the total of all the different amounts that make up your payment.$58.50 per hour
Taxable hourlyThis is your taxable income, the amount of your contracted rate minus the non-taxable items.$20 per hour
Housing per DiemThis is technically a reimbursement of your housing costs and is therefore not taxed.$1057 per week
Meal per DiemAlso a reimbursement and therefore not liable for tax, this time for your food.$483 per week

This is how it breaks down:

Salary partCalculationTotal
Taxed Weekly Income40 hours @ $20$800
Untaxed Weekly Income$1057 + $483$1540
Variable Hourly Rate$1197/40 hours$58.50
Weekly Gross Income$1540 + $800$2340

Packages vary and you may well have other tax-free stipend allowances, it depends on the state and the hospital.

How to calculate your wage

The formula to calculate what you will actually take home is straightforward.

For your taxable income just multiply your taxable hourly rate by your hours worked.

Then add together your housing and meal stipend, plus any other allowances like travel or medical benefits that your contract specifies.

Your first pay packet will also include reimbursements of initial expenses – read this article to find out more about that.

Of course, how much you are taxed depends on the State and your individual circumstances – your Wayward recruiter can point you at resources to get an accurate assessment on that.

But this calculation will allow you to work out your budget for housing, travel and meals so that you can go ahead and look for your accommodation.


What are guaranteed hours?

Guaranteed hours are hours that the facility pledges to pay you in all cases except for

    1. Calling off sick
    2. Holiday weeks
    3. Voluntary time off

The guarantee is in place as an insurance policy for the traveler. After all, you don’t want to travel across the country to work only to find that the facility never had you work any hours or laid you on or off at will. It wouldn’t make any financial sense for you to take the risk. So if the facility has low census (not many patients) and needs to cancel some shifts for their workers, if they cancel you as one of our contractors, you would still get paid the number of hour you’re guaranteed.


Dana is working at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in the PICU as a travel RN and has a guaranteed 36 hours per week. If the PICU calls her to let her know they’re cancelling one of her 12 hour shifts in the coming week due to low census (typically, facilities will prioritise their perm workers’ hours), then Dana will only work 24 hours in the coming week but she will be paid for 36.

Every offer is different

Different employers offer different kinds of packages – it’s important to understand how your travel nursing pay is broken down so that you can make an accurate assessment of the value of any individual offer.

Your Wayward recruiter will go through everything with you and make sure that all elements of your final remuneration are completely transparent so that you can make a clear decision.

You may also like to check out this very detailed post which outlines a pay packet case study using a very extensive range of possible stipends, allowances and deductions.

As always, if you are in any doubt about any aspect of your pay, whether before you start or during an assignment, please reach out to your Wayward recruiter. We are here to help you.

Arrange a chat with a Wayward recruiter

We’ll help you to create a personal plan for success as a travel nurse, and make sure you know exactly what you can expect from us and when. Arrange a chat with one of our travel nursing experts to discuss your individual situation today: