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Travel Nursing in California

California is one of the best locations for travel nurses and for good reason. The state boasts numerous land formations (beaches, mountains, deserts, and top-notch national parks), cities, and 10 percent of the nation’s population. If there are people, they’ll need nurses. And speaking of nurse to patient ratio, California just happens to have one of the strictest ratios in the country, which means a manageable workload and a ton of travel nursing jobs.

Still all nursing jobs aren’t equal and there’s a difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco—just ask residents of these cities, and they’ll tell you—so we’ll break down California by region. But first, let’s cover one thing in which Northern and Southern California agree.

Have license will travel

You’ll have to apply for your nursing license from California’s Board of Registered Nursing ( They have various fees that they breakdown in depth on their fees chart:

But most nurses will pay the processing fees: $100 for an application, $50 for a temporary license, and $49 for fingerprints. That’s a cool $199, but there may be other fees associated with your specialty, so you may want to check out their chart.

You’ll also need the following documents for a temporary license:

  • Completed Application
  • 2×2 photo
  • Verification of current active license
  • Completed fingerprint card

Pay Rates between Northern and Southern California

It’s no secret. There’s a big difference in travel nurse pay rates between Northern and Southern California. You’ve probably heard that pay rates in Southern California are lower than pay rates in Northern California. That’s true for the most part. San Diego and the greater Los Angeles areas pay their travel nurses a low rate, and some of the bay area pays their travel nurses a higher rate, but there are exceptions.

West Hills Hospital in West Hills and Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks pay much higher than the Southern California average, while Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children’s in Palo Alto pay much lower than the Northern California average. You’ll have to test the waters to see which locations pay the best and be a little flexible as to where you’re willing to work. I’d love to work in San Diego, but so would a lot of others and as a result, those hospitals can get away with not paying as much.

Cost of Living

The problem you run into with Northern and Southern California is the high cost of living, so you might be best looking at California’s Central Valley. Ranging from Bakersfield to Stockton, and just including Sacramento, you’ll find a relatively lower cost of living and higher than average pay rates. You can even find travel jobs that guarantee plenty of work hours per week, which is always a plus.

But there’s a reason travel nurses don’t flock to Central Valley as much as they do to Northern and Southern California. It’s mostly farmland and a little bland, but Fresno isn’t too far from Yosemite—that’s one of those top-notch national parks we told you about—and you can purchase locally grown produce. I love the sound of that.

Then you have Sacramento. Thank goodness for the state’s capital. It marries the lower cost of living with a lively city and all the things that come with city life: nightlife, culture, and fantastic restaurants. You’re also not that far from outdoor activities like Lake Tahoe and it’s close to wine country. Who wants to take a tour of Napa Valley?

There’s plenty of California to explore. If you’re a little flexible with where you want to go, you’ll find the perfect fit for you.


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