Travelling as a nurse: Don’t be afraid to follow your heart!
Have you ever imagined yourself travelling the world as a nurse and experiencing healthcare abroad? I have, but I never thought I could make it work until I set my mind to it and gave it a try. And guess what? It’s the best decision I have ever made!
If you're here, you're probably wondering, "Can travel nurses travel internationally?" The short answer is yes but not in the way you're used to working. While you might be able to find a program or two that sets you up with travel nursing overseas jobs and helps you get established as a international registered nurse, that's not the only way I've done it.
As a nurse registered in my home country, The Netherlands, I've been able to use that training and certificate to find nursing jobs around the world. Some jobs have been paid, others have been volunteer gigs, but all have brought me to incredible places and given me valuable experience, both in life and in the field.
Here are 6 big travel nurse tips that are sure to help you find your next nursing job abroad.
1. Start off with a volunteer role
I have always wondered what healthcare abroad would be like so I decided to go for it.
My first step was to volunteer as a nurse abroad, so I started my search on the internet to find the right organization and hospital to volunteer for.
After a while of searching I found this organization that I could volunteer for in Ghana so I decided to sign up for it and start the journey. After that I signed up for another volunteering project in Thailand and currently I’m working as a nurse in Aruba.
While I've been asked countless times, "Can you be a travel nurse in Europe?" my expertise lies in Asia and the Caribbean. While I do think international travel nursing in Europe is a viable path, I do know there would be a lot more red tape and hurdles to jump over to find jobs country to country.
If you're a veterinary nurse, read more here about finding jobs in that specific field.
2. Know the requirements to get hired abroad
- You need to have your nursing degree and usually they are happy if you have at least 2 years of experience as a nurse.
- Make sure you have the right visa before starting your job/volunteering position. Usually the organization or healthcare organization can help you with it.
- You need to be open minded and flexible
- You should not be afraid to live in a new environment and adapt to a new culture.
- Try learning the local language so you’ll be able to communicate with your patients and colleagues. They really appreciate it if you make this effort and you will get a better experience.
3. Know what opportunities you have as an international travel nurse
*Use specific companies to browse job openings
You can try to find a company that wants to send you abroad as a nurse.
In my home country, the Netherlands, there are many companies that offer you jobs abroad (Healthz, TMI, BKV) and I’m sure, with a little research, you’ll find organizations like this supporting your home country. I chose to use Healthz and would highly recommend them. They are very well organized and personal when you're in contact with them.
*Look for organizations to volunteer
You can try to look for an organization to volunteer for. But be aware: many organizations ask a lot of money for you to volunteer for them. But don’t worry, there are more options for you.
*Get quick experience with Workaway, Worldpackers or Hovos
Are you looking for a cheaper option? You could volunteer with Workaway or Worldpackers. Or check the website, Hovos to see if there are hosts offering what you are looking for. They usually provide you accommodation and sometimes also food. There are not so many hosts offering a medical position though but you might find yourself lucky to do so.
*Visit a hospital abroad & offer your experience
If any of this sounds too difficult to you or you cannot find what you are looking for, you might try your luck just to visit a hospital abroad and ask if they can show you around to get a bit of an impression.
In the past, I’ve walked inside of hospitals and asked at the front desk of the main entrance if it would be possible to have a look around.
Of course you have to introduce yourself to them and tell them what you are looking for. One time in Sri Lanka I was lucky enough to meet a local that could bring me to the hospital to introduce me and ask them to show me around. I think that’s the best way of talking yourself into a hospital. I was able to then market myself as a valuable volunteer for them.
I did this a few times while travelling in South East Asia and got warmly welcomed each time. I’m not sure if you can try it anywhere else in the world, but in Asia, I know from experience it's fine. They even quickly offered me an unpaid job and accommodation if I wanted to stay!
4. Know the benefits of being a travel nurse abroad
- A lot of experience! Besides that, it also looks good on your resume.
- A great adventure! Not only while working, but mostly also in your free time. You can explore the country and the local way of life.
- A local experience! I think that’s the best travel experience you can get to live the local life and learn about their culture and way of life.
- New friendships! During my time working abroad I’ve made some beautiful friendships that have lasted even after I’ve returned home.
5. Learn from my experience abroad
*As a travel nurse in Ghana
My first time as a nurse abroad was in Ghana, where I volunteered for a hospital for 1 month. At first it was a big culture shock and a completely different way of working than in our western world, but if you stay open minded and are willing to adapt to their way of working, I’m sure you’ll have a great experience!
*As a travel nurse in Thailand
After that, as I mentioned before, I started volunteering in Thailand for 2 months, where I was very warmly welcomed by all of the nurses and rotated shifts in each ward of the hospital. They adopted me into their big nurses family, taught me a lot about Thailand and their culture, and up till now I have so many (nurses) friends around that village that I visit every year and of course I also visit the hospital while I’m there. I even started learning their language because it feels like my second home now.
Want to know more about my story and why I quit my job to travel the world? Read about it here.
*As a travel nurse in Aruba
Currently I am working as a nurse in Aruba for 3 months, sounds good right? Living on a tropical island and getting paid for it?! I wonder what will be my next destination…?
6. Understand the differences between being a nurse abroad vs. in your home country
The biggest difference is the language and the way of working.
The patients that you take care of are mainly the same as in my home country, and so are their diagnoses and typically their treatments. But you have to go “ back in time” with the medical supplies and sometimes have to be very creative with the supplies that you have got.
In Ghana, for example, there was a lack of bandages and when I was taking care of my patients wound, I found out that we were out of bandages and I couldn’t take care of the wound properly anymore. At that moment you feel so lucky that you are originally working in a western world, where you have all the supplies you need (and waste a lot of them!).
“The purpose of life is to live it, taste experience and to reach out with no fear”