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Can I take a local travel contract as a travel therapist? This is a common question among traveling therapists and nurses. The travel lifestyle is amazing; you can explore the country and see new places. However, sometimes you just want to be at home. Maybe it is the holiday season, or you want to be close to your family. There are many reasons to want to work at home. If you live in an area that has a need for temporary staffing, there may be opportunities to work a contract in your local area.
Believe me, I understand wanting to work at home. I actually have worked a bunch of local contracts, and am about to work another one in a couple of weeks. Working and living at home can be a nice break from the crazy travel lifestyle. It can also be a way to establish and maintain connections in your local therapy world.
To be brief, YES, you absolutely can work a local contract through a travel agency. It is essentially the same 13-week agreement as a travel job, except you are not traveling to the job. In this post, I’ll explain how a local contract is different from a traditional travel contract and some things to consider.
You Won’t Receive Tax-Free Money
While you are traveling away from home, you receive a tax-free stipend to cover housing, meals, and travel incidentals. YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE TAX-FREE MONEY AS A LOCAL TRAVELER. If you are living at home, you are not traveling. This should seem simple. One of the stipulations to qualify for tax-free stipends is that you need to be far enough away from your established home that you need to pay for a second temporary home in order to work at the job. To read more about the requirements for tax-free stipends please read this page: travel tax info for travelers.
From my research, agencies pay for local contracts differently. Some will still pay you a “stipend” but it will be taxed. Others will pay out a flat hourly rate, e.g. $40/hour. Bottom line is that you will be taxed on your full income. Thus, expect to take home somewhere around 15-20% less than if you were receiving a tax-free stipend. However, you will not have to duplicate expenses or have travel expenses. Therefore, you may find yourself actually coming out ahead, money-wise, on a local contract, pending what your typical housing costs are.
WARNING: Beware of any company who tells you that you can work “x number of miles away from home” and still qualify for tax-free stipends. To qualify for tax-free stipends, you need to have an established tax home and work far enough away from it that you need a secondary residence. I’ve heard agencies advertise to travelers that you can live at home and receive a tax-free stipend if you commute 50 miles to a job. This is a myth. Tax experts agree that this would not hold up if you were ever audited. See Travel Tax for more info.
You Can Get Benefits
As I mentioned above, a local contract is essentially the same as a travel contract, minus the tax-free money. Thus, you can get the usual benefits that your agency would provide, such as health insurance.
Health insurance has actually been a big driving factor in my own decisions to take local contracts. In the past, I had options to work PRN locally or take a contract. While PRN may pay more hourly, it does not come with benefits or guaranteed hours. Several times, I chose to work a local contract versus strictly per-diem because I wanted the guarantee of hours and the health insurance.
You Can Work Per Diem and Maintain Community Ties
When I took local contracts, I also often worked at my regular per-diem jobs on top of the contract. This helped me sustain my relationships with my per-diem jobs by working some weeknights and weekends. If you know that you want to go home to work full-time eventually, it helps to have the therapists in your neighborhood remember who you are and want to work with you. Doing regular local contracts and/or per-diem can help with your reputation in your local therapist community. Having those local therapists as a reference could also help you if you end up taking a job at home in the future.
Yes, I know that I can be a little work crazy and I would often work 60+ hours a week when I was at home over the years. I also made a ton of money at the end of the month when I was working locally because I did pick up a lot of per-diem hours.
To conclude, YES, you can totally work at home and take a local contract. NO, you will not receive any tax-free money or living stipends for it. Your pay will be fully taxed, so expect to make less than if you were on the road. However, you have the benefits of living in your own home and not having to duplicate expenses. You also can maintain those community ties in the therapy world and with your own family and friends.
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