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A Short Guide To Multi-State RN Licensing

October 28, 2016

If you are inquiring about travel nursing one question that might come to mind is “how in the world am I supposed to become licensed in all these different states?” It’s hard enough to remember to maintain your current license.

The good news is that the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) is doing everything in its power improve the delivery of healthcare across the nation by making it possible for nurses to travel across state lines in order to fill positions in areas of high demand; the bad news is that not all states are participating.

Discover new travel assignments here.

Breaking down the Compact License

The NCSBN created the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) which allows nurses to hold one multistate license (compact license) and practice in additional participating states without having to pay additional licensing fees.

There are currently 25 states that are participating in the NLC, as shown here. In order to be eligible for a compact license a nurse must:

  • Not have any restrictions or disciplinary actions against his/her license
  • Have his/her primary residence in a state which participates in the NLC
  • Meet the continuing education requirements of their primary compact state license
  • Renew their primary license and pay licensing fees when due

This can be confusing so let me provide some examples:

Example #1: If a nurse has acquired their licensure by examination (passed the NCLEX) in the state of Colorado and wishes to take a travel assignment in Arizona, which according to the list noted above, participates in the National Licensure Compact (NLC), then there is no need to obtain an additional license or pay any fees. Your employer will be able to obtain your current licensing information off a national database known as Nursys, but you will still be required to complete a criminal background check.

Example #2: If a nurse has their primary residence and licensure in the State of Kentucky, which participates in the NLC and wishes to take a travel assignment in Vermont, which does not participate in the NLC, then this nurse must either obtain a licensure by endorsement (temporary license) or an additional permanent license specifically for that state before starting his/her assignment.

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Utilizing temporary licenses


In the traveling as well as the strike nursing world, you will often hear many travel agencies refer to some states as “walkthrough states.” This term refers to states that issue licensure by endorsement or “temporary licenses.” These types of licenses are mainly used for people who are looking to move to another state, already have a job and are waiting for their permanent licensing application to go through.

These licenses are typically good for 30 days to 6 months. The traveling world has been utilizing these types of licenses for travel nurses so they can fill high demand positions on short notice. You can usually only obtain one temporary license so if you plan on staying at an assignment for longer than 6 months and you hold a license by endorsement, you will have to apply for a permanent license in that state. If you know you want to travel to a specific state, then it is best to visit their state board of nursing website or ask your recruiter specifically about licensing in that state.

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Fees and requirements

The licensing fees and requirements for licensure by endorsement and permanent licensing are quite similar. Obtaining these types of licenses usually require:

  • A licensing fee that ranges from $100 to $400. If you want to maintain a license in a particular state for an extended period of time, then you must pay the licensing fees with each renewal. This can become expensive if you hold multiple state licenses.
  • A criminal background check and fingerprinting in most cases
  • No disciplinary actions or encumbrances against your primary license
  • You must maintain the continuing education requirements for each permanent state license that you hold
  • Some states require 2 letters of reference and proof of work history when applying for licensure by endorsement
  • Photocopy of driver’s license and social security card

Example: If a nurse who holds a primary nursing license in Montana wishes to travel to California, neither of which participate in the NLC, he/she must apply for a permanent license in California by filling out an application, paying the licensing fees, and obtaining a background check and fingerprinting (this process can take 2 weeks to 1 month).

If this nurse wishes to renew his/her California nursing license after 2 years, then he/she must complete the required 30 hours of continuing education and pay the renewal fees. Technically this nurse should maintain his/her Montana nursing license since this is her primary place of residence, meaning he/she must also pay the renewal fees and complete any continuing education for Montana as well.

Speak to a staffing agent about new travel assignments today.

Use your resources to navigate through the world of licensing

Overall, having a compact nursing license makes life in the traveling world a little easier and a lot cheaper. I’m sure recruiters prefer nurses with compact licenses because it makes their life easier, but I don’t think it makes a difference in the hiring process; travel nursing agencies need all the help they can get. Most recruiters are very knowledgeable and have ways to expedite the licensing process.

Like I have said before, planning is key when it comes to travel nursing. If you know where you want to go and you really want to go there, the tedious process of applying for licensing becomes very minute when it comes to the bigger picture.

Get started on your Travel Nursing Adventure today. 

By Crystal Gustafson, RN

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Crystal Gustafson is a Critical Care Registered Nurse who spent time as a travel nurse in various states including Arizona, Texas, Florida and California. She has recently accepted a system wide float pool position with Exempla Healthcare System in her hometown of Denver, Colorado and also has blog about prevention and education in healthcare. You can learn more about Crystal on her blog at