Nursing Licensure by State

Nursing is a profession that requires licensure by state as a safeguard for public health. Every state, district and territory in the United States employs a Board of Nursing (BON), which establishes standards for safe nursing care and issues nursing licenses in accordance with the regulations defined in that region’s Nursing Practice Act (NPA) legislation. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), “What You Need to Know About Nursing Licensure and Boards of Nursing”, California, Georgia, Louisiana, and West Virginia each have two BONs: one for RNs and one for LPN/VNs. Nebraska also has a separate board for APRNs.

All of the BONs in the United States and its four territories comprise the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc., known as the NCSBN®. An independent, not-for-profit organization, the NCSBN allows these state nursing regulatory bodies to act and confer on matters of common interest. NCSBN also regulates the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), an interstate agreement that allows a nursing license by one NLC state to be legal for practice in other NLC states (unless otherwise restricted). Thirty-four states have enacted NLC.

Important Nursing Licensure Information

The first step toward earning a nursing license is to complete a nursing education program that meets a state’s nursing regulatory board’s standards of approval. The graduate would then apply and pay a fee to a state board of nursing to sit for the NCLEX®-RN or -PN exam. NCLEX is a national exam that can be taken in any state, regardless of where the candidate wants to practice, according to the NCSBN.

The licensure process does not stop with successful completion of the NCLEX exam, however. The board of nursing in the candidate’s desired state of practice must also consider evidence that the candidate meets the state’s NPA qualifications. For example, some states may require proof of good moral character, sound physical and mental health, proficiency in English, or no felony convictions.

Nursing License Requirements by State

NCSBN issues national, uniform requirements for licensure by exam or endorsement, renewals and reinstatement. These include proof of completion of an approved nursing education program, successful completion of the NCLEX exam, proficiency in English, and self-disclosure of misdemeanors, felonies and substance abuse.

However, each state’s Nursing Practice Act outlines its unique requirements. From state to state, license application fees, length of application process, renewal timelines and requirements, clinical hours served, continued education units (CEU), and temporary practice permits vary. There are even differences on whether a nursing education program has to be nationally accredited or only state board-approved.

Below is a list of all 50 States and some informations regarding the licensure and certification:

Nursing Licensure Compact

The Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) is a nationally recognized, multi-state agreement that allows nurses to use their license to practice not only in their home state, but in all 34 states that have enacted the compact. This interstate authorization to practice eliminates the time-consuming and costly burden of applying for licenses in individual states.

The compact is a benefit to traveling nurses, and those who want to volunteer or work during national epidemics and natural disasters. It also facilitates tele-nursing and online nursing education, both of which involve nurses caring for patients or teaching students who may not reside in the same state or be subject to the home state’s Nursing Practice Act. The NLC is beneficial to states as well because it unifies licensure requirements so that all nurses practicing within the compact states meet the standards of education and testing and safe practice advised by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN®).

Can I hold a nursing license in multiple states?

Nurses who declare their primary state of legal residence in a compact state are eligible for a multi-state license. If compact-state nurses want to practice in a non-compact state, they can apply for a single-state licensure by endorsement on the website of the nursing regulatory board of that state. Eligibility is limited to a single-state license valid only in that NLC state. A nurse residing in a non-compact state can hold unlimited single-state licenses but is not eligible for a multi-state license.

With the advent of tele-nursing, states may be hesitant to join the compact because they cannot monitor their respective legislated standards of nursing care when the patients and nurses are in different jurisdictions. Concern arises over nurses licensed in one state not knowing the nuances and discrepancies in other states’ NPA scopes of practice.

How do I transfer my nursing license to another state?

While a compact license is binding in any NLC state, nurses who want to change their primary state of residence from one compact state to another must apply for licensure by endorsement in the new state. Nurses can practice in the new state using the original multi-state license only until they obtain proper proof of residency, such as a driver’s license, in the new state, at which point a new home state compact license is issued.

A nurse moving from a non-compact state to a compact state may apply for licensure by endorsement on the new state’s nursing regulatory board’s website. A multi-state license may be issued if proper eligibility and residency requirements are met. The nurse’s original non-compact, single state license stays intact. Learn more about the different moving and licensing scenarios from the NCSBN.

This page was last updated on October 30, 2019. For up-to-date state licensure information for nursing please refer to your state’s board of licensure.