Steps for Getting a Nursing License in Another State

Steps for Getting a Nursing License in Another State

April 2, 2024

Updated April 5, 2024

Nursing is considered the backbone of our complex healthcare system. To practice as a nurse, you need to be licensed in the state where you live and work. Every state, territory, and district in the United States employs its own Board of Nursing (BON) that establishes certain standards for nurses and issues licenses in accordance with the regulations defined by the Nursing Practice Act (NPA) in that area.

But what if you have a license in one state, territory, or district, and you wish to move to another? Does your license travel with you? If not, how do you apply for a new one? This information serves to answer your questions and relieve your worry as you prepare to transfer your license to further your nursing career.

When you first obtained your license to practice nursing, you had to first complete a nursing education program that met your home state’s standards of approval. You then paid a fee to take the NCLEX-RN or -PN exam.

To apply for a new license in a new state, you need to understand the new state’s requirements for licensure, license application fees, and other information that may be relevant before making your move.

While this process sounds complicated, there are certain states that have made moving and transferring your nursing license much easier.

Before moving to a new state, you are recommended to contact your home state’s nursing board. You should also determine if you are moving to a compact or non-compact state.

Let’s define those terms now.

Determine if You are Moving to a Compact or Non-Compact State

The terms you should become familiar with include PSOR or Primary State of Residence, Compact State, and Non-Compact State.

Your PSOR is your home state. This is the state you declare as your primary residence for legal purposes. Only one state can be identified as your PSOR, which can be verified using your driver’s license, federal income tax return, or voter registration.

What is a Compact State?

Compact states are states that have joined to legally permit nurses to obtain a multi-state license called a compact license. 

These states are included in the NLC (Nursing Licensure Compact). This is a multi-state agreement that lets nurses like you use their license to practice in their home state and in 34 other states that have enacted the compact. The purpose of the NLC is to make moving from state to state less cumbersome and saves you from having to apply for licenses in individual states.

The NLC benefits travel nurses, volunteers, and medical workers who may be needed during natural disasters and epidemics. The NLC also benefits the states that agree to the terms because it unifies the licensure requirements, allowing all nurses practicing in those states to meet the standards of education, testing, and safe practice as advised by the NCSBN (National Council of State Boards of Nursing).

Now, there is the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC), which is for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. All but two states, Nevada and Oregon, are without eNLC legislation, though some states have pending eNLC legislation.

What is a Non-Compact State?

A non-compact state, as you may have guessed, does not have an NLC agreement in place. There are currently 16 states that are non-compact states. There are, however, states with pending legislation to join the NLC. These include Alaska, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington.

States, territories, and districts with no legislation pending include American Samoa, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Mariana Islands, Nevada, and Oregon.

What Does it Mean to Apply by Endorsement?

Some states have endorsement requirements when applying for a new license in another state. Endorsement is the process of issuing a permanent license without further examination when that nurse is moving from another state or jurisdiction with its own licensing requirements. The applicant must meet the same standards as those set in the new state.

For most areas, the requirements include a graduation certificate or degree from an approved nursing program. You must also have passed the appropriate U.S. nursing exam and have worked in nursing or taken the US NCLEX exam within the previous four years prior to submitting your application.

You may not be eligible to apply for endorsement if you have previously held a nursing license in that state. If that’s the case, you will need to renew your current license or reactivate your old license instead of applying for a new one.

You may also be ineligible if you did not graduate from an approved nursing program, or if you attended one outside of a U.S. state, territory, or district.

Finally, you will not be approved for endorsement until you pass a national nursing licensing examination, such as the NCLEX.

A criminal background check will also be conducted in the new state to determine if you are eligible for licensure in that state.

Moving from a Non-Compact State to a Compact State

Registered nurses or licensed nurses are considered to have moved to a new state only if they plan on staying, meaning they’re not just working as travel nurses.

When moving from a state without an NLC agreement to a compact state, you will need to apply for licensure by endorsement in the new state. You can apply before or after making the move. Keep in mind that you won’t receive the license until you arrive and the state can verify your new location is your primary state of residence.  

When making this move, you aren’t transferring your license. Not technically. Your original license remains active and can remain that way for as long as you wish to renew it. If you do decide to keep your old state’s license, you should remember to keep up with your continuing education hours and practice the laws of your former state.

You can apply for the new state license by endorsement by visiting the website of the Board of Nursing (BON) of the new state. The BON website lists the requirements for transferring your license to that state, which is often as easy as applying and paying the applicable fees.

You can either submit your application through the website, which takes ten minutes or mail it, which takes a bit longer.

Moving from a Compact State to a Non-Compact State

Moving from an NLC state to one that doesn’t abide by the agreement will force you to apply for a new single-state license. You can apply before or after moving to the new state.

When you change your primary state of residence, the multi-state license you had will become a single-state license that’s tied to your primary residence. Once you receive your new multistate license, let the board of nursing in your previous state know of your new residence.

To make this process easy, begin applying for licensure in the non-compact state the moment you decide to move. Once your application is approved, your former compact license will be changed to a single-state license. That license is only valid in the new state.

Don’t forget to call and notify your former state’s board of nursing so they can deactivate your old license.

Moving from a Compact State to a Compact State

Changing your primary state of legal residence to a new NLC state means you need to apply for licensure by endorsement. You should do this the moment you complete the move without delay to avoid problems. That is because there is no grace period. Until you receive the new license, your former license will have to serve as your practice license until the new NLC home state license is issued. Your former license will then be deactivated once you are issued a new multistate license.

To make this process as easy as possible, apply for your new license at least two months prior to your move. You’ll want to make sure your fees are paid on time to eliminate delays, which could keep you from working in the new state. This would be frustrating if you already have a job lined up.

Once you make the move, notify the board of nursing in your former state that you have moved and give them your new address. You will also have to complete your primary state of residency declaration in the new state.

Keep in mind that you can practice using your former license for up to 30 or 90 days. Check your new state’s rules to determine the appropriate time frame.

Once everything is approved, you will receive your new compact state license in the mail. The moment that happens, your former license will be considered inactive.

Can You Hold a Nursing License in Multiple States?

If you declare your primary state of legal residence in a compact state, you are eligible to hold a multi-state license. If you currently have a compact state license and wish to practice in a non-compact state, you will have to apply for a single state license by endorsement on the website of the board of nursing in that state. You can only hold a single-state nursing license in that compact state. When residing in a non-compact state, you can hold unlimited single-state licenses, but you will not be eligible for a multi-state nursing license.

What if You Are Moving Your Nursing License from Another Country to a U.S. State?

If you are a travel nurse on a visa from another country, you will have to declare your country of origin or the compact state as your primary state of residence. If your original country is declared your primary state of residence, you may be eligible for a single state nursing license issued by the new compact state.

If you have a visa from another country that allows you to work in the United States but you’re not planning on moving permanently, you can’t obtain a compact license.

The Easy Way to Transfer Your Nursing License to Another State

If these steps seem confusing, they don’t have to be. One way to make the process of transferring your RN license to another state is to work with a reputable travel nursing agency like Prolink.

At Prolink, we give you access to a team of recruiters and placement experts who can help you figure out where you need to move and the requirements that make moving there easier for you and your family.

If you’re not sure where to begin, fill out our application. While we can’t apply for the new license on your behalf, we can give you the necessary guidance to help you along the path to multi-state or single-state licensure.

We can educate you on the most up-to-date information about state licensing, the timeframes you need to adhere to, and any recent changes as they apply to your situation. We may even be able to expedite the process of applying for the new license. That way, you can begin working right away the moment your move is complete. This is helpful for states that have lengthy licensing processes.

Start early, if you can, to avoid hang-ups when moving to a new state, whether that state is a compact or non-compact state. You can start right now by searching for Prolink nursing jobs and by talking to a recruiter about the states where you hope to work.

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