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The ABCs of traveling for a locum tenens

Locum tenens travel

Locums is a great way for physicians, NPs, and PAs to earn extra income, have more flexibility and control of their schedule, and experience working in many different clinical settings. It’s also a great opportunity to see the world — whether it’s rural South Dakota, sunny San Diego, or even New Zealand.

Once you have decided to accept a locums assignment, that’s when the fun — and a bit of work — begins. The amount of work depends primarily on whether you’re working with a good locums staffing agency or going it solo. If you decide this will be a lone endeavor, you and Google will most likely get to know each other pretty well. But if you decide to “stay in the friend zone” with Google, locums agencies can make the logistics of locum tenens travel a breeze. That way all you’ll have to browse for is “where to find the best turnips in the county.”

So, how do I get there?

Once you and your agency have found your ideal assignment, this is where the legwork begins — but not your legwork. At this point, your rep will pull on their leg warmers and tie their running shoes. If your assignment requires flying, they’ll work on securing a flight that accommodates your schedule. The best part? In most cases, you have no out-of-pocket costs. However, if you decide to upgrade or make in-flight purchases, you’re typically responsible for those costs.

In some cases you may decide it’s easier or more convenient to drive your own car to the assignment. In that case, you can usually get reimbursed for the miles you travel at the IRS standard mileage rate.

The logistics of rewards programs

You may wonder: I have frequent flyer miles, and want to collect the points I earn. How will that work? Here’s the lowdown:

  1. Most staffing agencies will allow you to manage your own rewards and collect reward points for any airline, car rental, and hotel program you belong to.
  2. If the agency is booking your travel, be sure to provide them with the account numbers so they can be added to the reservation.

Can I book my own flight?

If you prefer to book your flight, most agencies will reimburse you for the cost — unless you feel the itch to fly first class and sip on some champagne, in which case the agency will only reimburse for reasonable and customary costs.

Other add-ons will be your responsibility to pay for, such as seat upgrades, in-flight services and meals, and alcoholic beverages — and let’s be honest, these things make being stuck in a flying tin can more enjoyable. But, as we all know, they’re no longer free. However, there’s something to note: as a 1099 independent contractor, some of these things may be tax deductible. Consult with your tax advisor to learn more.

What about my family?

Many doctors like to bring their families along and make the trip a working family vacation. Staffing agencies will often help with the travel arrangements for family members too. However, you are usually required to pay for the cost of their airfare. If you plan to use frequent flyer miles to cover the cost, it’s likely you’ll have to arrange that yourself.

Window or aisle?

Remember, your rep is working to ensure you have the best flight experience they can get you. While you won’t be on the line with an airline representative, you need to let them know what your preferences are, such as:

  1. Window or aisle – or middle seat
  2. What time of day you prefer to travel
  3. What your airline reward numbers are
  4. Any other special requirements

The staffing agency will probably give you multiple travel options to choose from, and once your flight is booked, you’ll receive a confirmation letter or email spelling out all the details.

Driving on assignment

Whether you’re driving to an assignment or just need to get around town once you are there, there are considerations to keep in mind when using a rental car.

Car rentals are usually paid for by the staffing agency. They may pay the car rental agency directly, or you may need to pay yourself and get reimbursed. Car rental insurance is usually paid for as well. If you choose to upgrade your vehicle, the staffing agency may only pay or reimburse for the cost of the standard rental while you’re responsible for the difference.

Bonus: If you bring your family along, there is usually no additional charge to share the car with your family.

Tolls, parking, and fuel

Where there is travel, there is cost. When you’re driving on an assignment, you’ll encounter parking fees, toll roads, fuel costs, and insurance. You’re probably wondering if the agency will cover the cost, or if you’ll need to be reimbursed. Short answer? Yes…to both.

If you’re driving — whether it be your car or a rental — you’ll usually be reimbursed for:

  1. Parking fees
  2. Tolls
  3. Fuel costs (rental cars only)
  4. Mileage (for your own car, at IRS mileage reimbursement rate)

Never forget to save your receipts.

Personal use

If you choose to rent a car, there are some rules for personal use that usually apply:

  1. Staffing agency-provided rental cars are intended for use while on assignment and reasonable personal use when you’re not at work.
  2. If you plan to arrive early for your assignment or are staying longer for vacation or other personal activities, you should return the rental car and rent another on your own or make arrangements with the agency to pay the difference.

Insurance considerations and risks

Whether the staffing agency pays for the rental car or you get your own, it’s best to get insurance. Some agencies even carry secondary policies that cover the deductible, but certain activities can negate your insurance coverage:

  1. Driving the car to another country such as Canada or Mexico
  2. Driving with an invalid driver’s license
  3. Driving under the influence
  4. Using the vehicle for an unintended purpose such as driving on an unpaved road

You may board now

Working with a staffing agency can make your travel to, from, and during your assignment run smoother and simpler than if you were left to your own devices. Don’t ever hesitate to ask your agency’s provider representatives to clarify anything that may be unclear. Their goal is to make your locum tenens travel experience as simple, painless, and comfortable for you — and your family — as possible. Finally, remember that these are general guidelines for locum tenens travel and every agency will have their own policies and procedures for handling locum tenens travel. Bon voyage!

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