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International Travel Nursing: How to Work Abroad as a Nurse

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 22, 2024
A nurse smiling and holding a tablet in a medical facility.

International Travel Nursing: How to Work Abroad as a Nurse                                                

Offering care that improves patient outcomes is a global health care goal, but it can be difficult to achieve. A worldwide nursing shortage has left care facilities in need of skilled, qualified nurses who can help them meet their goals. The shortage provides unique opportunities for those interested in travel nursing to take their expertise abroad.

International travel nursing provides advanced professional nurses the ability to deliver care where it’s most needed around the globe. It also enables them to see the world, a view that can make the role even more satisfying. Those interested in the role should be prepared to add a few extra steps to their advanced nursing journey.

The International Demand for Nurses 

The nursing shortage is a growing issue across the globe. Domestically, the supply of registered nurses (RNs) dropped by more than 100,000 in 2021, according to a Health Affairs study. This represented the largest drop in the field in four decades. 

The shortage also carries a global impact. In 2020 — the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — the World Health Organization (WHO) set the estimated need for nurses around the globe at 7.07 million. One year later, data gathered by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) suggested that this need would climb to almost 13 million worldwide by 2030. 

The shortage correlates with poor economic development. According to an ICN policy brief, 89% of nursing shortages are generated from low-income and low- to middle-income countries. The brief also noted the impact of an aging nursing workforce relating to the shortage, as 1 in 6 nurses worldwide is projected to retire by 2030.

The data represents not only the global need but also potentially abundant opportunities for those seeking to advance their careers as travel nurses. A qualified nurse with the right credentials can also pursue a role in international travel nursing and deliver holistic patient care to places in the world where their services are needed.

An international travel nurse can help ease the stress of long-term nursing shortages, but they can also travel to places that need nurses due to sudden or unexpected circumstances, such as a disease outbreak or a natural disaster. Exposure to different countries and cultures can help these nurses enhance their skill sets in unique ways, such as learning about a new medical technique or picking up a new language. 

Additionally, international travel nurses get to see the world through their work. This can make the job personally enriching for individuals interested in exploring the globe and experiencing different cultures, customs, and traditions.

Several other benefits are associated with international travel nursing. These additional benefits include gaining hands-on experience with treating issues uncommon in the U.S., gaining exposure to different work environments and treatment strategies, and gaining exposure to patients with diverse cultural backgrounds. 

Becoming an international travel nurse isn’t for everyone. The role requires flexibility and a willingness to adjust to the differences that may exist within different countries, such as unfamiliar facilities or societal health care norms. For some, these differences may make the role uniquely enticing and an ideal career choice.

How to Work Abroad as a Nurse 

Becoming an international travel nurse is a complex process. The journey involves several steps typically associated with becoming a nursing professional. It also involves unique steps designed to allow nurses to be eligible and fully prepared to travel abroad and provide nursing services. Those interested in the career must fully understand how to work abroad as a nurse before embarking on this journey, as failure to do so may disrupt the process.

Step 1: Earn a Nursing Degree           

As is the case with any advanced nursing career, the first step to becoming an international travel nurse is to earn a nursing degree. This allows nurses to develop the foundational knowledge and skills needed to perform the essential patient care tasks that they may face while working abroad.

While earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the educational benchmark for an international travel nurse, earning an advanced nursing degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can further fortify a nurse’s acumen. This may make them even better prepared for the unique challenges of international travel nursing. 

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam            

Individuals with a nursing degree must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) before they’re allowed to practice nursing as an RN. The exam is intended to ensure that nurses are fully prepared to put their knowledge into practice in a real-world environment. In addition to this exam, nurses may need to meet the requirements of the state where they intend to work.

Step 3: Gain Experience           

RNs must typically have at least two years of clinical experience before they can become an international travel nurse. The experience allows nurses to not only develop their skills individually or with nursing mentors but also pursue a specialty within the nursing field, which is usually required for the profession. Common specialties include pediatric nursing, surgical nursing, intensive care nursing, and emergency room nursing.

Step 4: Obtain Additional Credentials            

International travel nurses often must carry credentials beyond licensing that can transfer from state to state. The credentials can include a valid passport, a work visa, up-to-date vaccinations, and a language test. Nurses need to double-check the requirements of any prospective country before pursuing nursing opportunities there.

Tips for Prospective Travel Nurses 

Finding work in international travel nursing can be a daunting task. Fortunately, plenty of tips and resources are available to make the process easier for nurses to navigate.

Using an International Nursing Recruiting Agency         

Travel nurse agencies are staffing organizations designed to connect travel nurses with international employment opportunities. The opportunities are based on experience and whether credentials align with a country’s guidelines, among other key metrics. Several agencies may also require candidates to have a minimal understanding of the assigned country’s language.

Some agencies may provide free housing for the duration of the assignment. Other agencies may provide a stipend to cover travel and housing costs for the opportunity. Typically, assignments last between two and six months.

An individual can connect with an international nursing recruiting agency in several ways, including the following:

  • Lead websites. Lead websites enable nurses to provide key professional and contact information to various nursing agencies at once.
  • Rating services. Rating services provide feedback from peers in the field regarding their agency experiences, giving deeper insight into an organization’s operations.
  • Networking websites. Networking websites allow nurses to directly connect with agencies. This can lead to referrals or connections to agency recruiters.
  • Peer referral. Peer referral requires nurses to correspond with networked colleagues to ask them directly about their agency experiences.

Tips for Success      

Before using a staffing agency to land an international travel nursing position, individuals must be aware of a few things to make the process efficient. These will not only streamline the potential opportunities but also allow them to confirm whether the opportunity is an ideal fit for them.

  • Ensure proper licensing. Nurses should double-check that their licensing and credentials satisfy the country offering the position. These opportunities are only available for nurses with the correct credentials.
  • Learn the requirements. In addition to having travel documents, such as passports and visas, some countries may require other documents for travel nurses. These can include birth certificates, work permits, and professional sponsorships. Some jobs may also require certification in a nursing specialty.
  • Understand logistics and budgeting. Nurses should be aware of assignment length to properly plan for consistent work opportunities while minimizing lengthy unemployment gaps. They must also analyze the economics of each assignment to ensure that the salary is satisfactory, that they’re properly prepared for taxes and exchange rates, and that they can comfortably handle expenses like housing and food.
  • Weigh the pros and cons. Examine the advantages of each potential opportunity and weigh them against the potential challenges. If the challenges outweigh the advantages, it may be wise to pass on the opportunity.
  • Explore multiple opportunities. Seeking details on a wide range of potential travel jobs can allow nurses to find a travel role that best suits their knowledge and skills. It can also prevent individuals from merely settling for pursuing the first ill-fitting role or two they encounter.

Resources 

Here are some resources for prospective travel nurses.            

  • Health Carousel: This travel nurse job board provides a host of tips for first-time travel nurses. The tips highlight assignment preparation and strategies to succeed within the new work environment. 
  • Verywell Health: This medical website provides a curated resource list for the top travel nursing services as of 2023. The list is based on metrics such as best track record, best benefits, best job board, and so forth.
  • LeaderStat: This health care job site provides a checklist covering documentation commonly associated with travel nursing. It also highlights other requirements that may be associated with certain assignments, such as physical exams.
  • CollectivCare: This travel nurse-focused website features resources for mobile apps designed to help travel nurses stay organized and efficient while abroad. The apps can also help travel nurses integrate with new surroundings both foreign and domestic.
  • Travel Nursing Central: This travel nurse review website has a list of foreign nursing boards that can provide further information on travel nurse requirements by country. It also provides tips on travel nurse preparation and cultural traditions.

Deliver Care Around the World

International travel nursing provides professionals with unique opportunities to explore the world, learn new care techniques, and expand their knowledge. More importantly, the work of these nursing professionals makes the delivery of quality patient care possible. This level of care can have a positive impact on other people’s lives, making the role of the international travel nurse one of the most satisfying professions the health care field has to offer.

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