Emily Bryant MSN, RN
Emily Bryant MSN, RN
March 1, 2023 - 7 min read

How to Get a Nursing License in Another State While Traveling

Working as a nurse requires a lot of preparation prior to even receiving your license. There are two ways to get your RN nursing license:

  1. Going to an accelerated 1-3 year program for your associate degree
  2. Attending a four-year program to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing

Once you graduate from these programs, you must take and pass the NCLEX RN exam. One thing to consider while in nursing school is which state you would like to have your first nursing license in – the state in which you register to take your NCLEX will be the state you are licensed in.

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Which License Do I Need To Become a Travel Nurse?

One of the great things about being a travel nurse is that it doesn’t require any different licensing or certifications than what the position would normally require. For example, if you are looking at taking a travel contract as an ER nurse in Washington, you would need a Washington license and any mandatory certification the job requires (ex: TNCC, ACLS, PALS, ect.).

This does, however, does mean that you will need to apply for different state licenses as you move around the country. Generally, the other requirements are just maintaining certifications that you already have.

What Are Compact States for Nursing?

To help streamline the process for nurses and make it easier to transition between multiple states, the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) was developed. This has since transitioned to the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) in 2018 which includes 35 states.

The eNLC describes this process as “allowing a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/VN) to possess a multistate license, which permits practice in both the home state and other compact states while maintaining a primary state of residence unless the nurse is under disciple.”

If you maintain a primary state of residence in a state that participates in the eNLC, it grants you reciprocity to practice in all other eNLC states without having to apply for a new license. This can remove steps, time, as well as anxiety for travelers as they think about moving from state to state.

In order to qualify for this benefit, your primary state of residence must participate in the eNLC. For example, if you are registered to vote and your driver’s license is registered in Washington State (not an eNLC), but you apply for a license in Colorado (eNLC), the Colorado license will not grant you reciprocity for other states because your primary state does not participate in the eNLC.

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List of Compact Nursing States

In total, 37 of the 50 states in the United States are part of the eNLC states. Here is the full list of compact states:

  1. Alabam
  2. Arizona
  3. Arkansas
  4. Colorado
  5. Delaware
  6. Florida
  7. Georgia
  8. Idaho
  9. Indiana
  10. Iowa
  11. Kansas
  12. Kentucky
  13. Louisiana
  14. Maine
  15. Maryland
  16. Mississippi
  17. Missouri
  18. Montana
  19. Nebraska
  20. New Hampshire
  21. New Jersey
  22. New Mexico
  23. North Carolina
  24. North Dakota
  25. Ohio
  26. Oklahoma
  27. Pennsylvania (still awaiting implementation)
  28. South Carolina
  29. South Dakota
  30. Tennessee
  31. Texas
  32. Utah
  33. Vermont
  34. Virginia
  35. West Virginia
  36. Wisconsin
  37. Wyoming

How to Get a Nursing License in a Compact State

If you are looking to travel or work in a compact state and currently have a compact license, the process is incredibly easy.

  1. If you are working through a travel agency, they should already have your original license information, so there should be no further steps.
  2. If you are planning on applying to a job on your own, you will just need to submit your primary state license in place of that given state’s license.
  3. If you do not have a compact license already and are applying to work in one, you would need to apply for that state license as described below.

How to Get a Nursing License in a Non-Compact State

If, however, you do not have a compact license or you are applying for a state that is not part of the compact, the process becomes more in-depth. Every state has different rules and regulations surrounding its licensing qualifications.

  1. So, the first step is to research the state’s website. This is typically a site that will end with .gov as it is a government-run organization. This website will now be your primary source to ensure that you are sending all of the required documents in, to ensure you can be licensed as soon as possible.
  2. Once you have found this page, you should try and find the list of all of the requirements needed so you can prioritize which ones to do first. If you have already taken the NCLEX exam, you will be applying for a “License by Endorsement.” Again, states can all vary in terms of what they require, but the large majority of them all require these basic items:
  • Application Form – this is a fairly general form asking basic information about your name, address, social security number, criminal history, and questions regarding suspensions on your license, if you have any. These can be forms that are completed online or ones that you print off and mail in with a packet.
  • Government Issued ID – Either a photocopy or attachment of a front and back photo of a driver’s license, passport, or social security card.
  • Fingerprinting and Background Check – This is a very standard request from each state, and you must complete it every time you apply for another state, they don’t cross over from one to another. Some states require that you get the fingerprinting done through Fieldprints, in which case you find your nearest vendor and complete it with them. If the state only requires the government fingerprint card that you can get filled out at a local police station or private party.
  • License Verification – Most states are now requiring verification from all other states that you are licensed through. This process is very easy and requires a few clicks through Nursys.com.
  • Transcripts – Some states still require transcripts sent directly from your college or university.
  • Pay the Fee – States have a mandatory application fee that generally runs between $150-$300. It can either be a check mailed in or by credit/debit card if they have an online application.

Some states have the licensure process more streamlined than others, and some states’ Board of Registered Nurses are faster at processing requests. Due to the sheer volume of nurses in the state of California, it can take upwards of 6 months after filling out the paperwork to receive your license. Having a California license can also slow down the process of getting any other state licenses. Since states require verification of licensure from all other states, California has been known to take a longer time to verify.

Pennsylvania can also require a bit more leg work to verify a license through, so make sure you are applying with a bit of wiggle room if you have had a license in Pennsylvania just to ensure you can be licensed in time.

Some travel companies have certain privileges with different states. For example, “Travel Nurse Company A” can help you expedite a license in Washington State if you are going to be taking a contract with them there. It is worth asking recruiters if they can help with any of the licensure processes, as they might have some additional benefits to offer you. Also, keep track of all of your receipts for everything included in the licensure process, as most travel companies will fully reimburse you if you end up working a contract in that state. Plus, it’s good to have for your taxes.

How Do Compact States Affect Travel Nurses?

With the expansion of the eNLC, compact licenses have made a huge difference for travel nurses. If a nurse has a primary state of residence in a state that participates in the eNLC, it allows them to search for contracts in 36 additional states with no extra fees, wait time, or hassle of applying for another license.

This is a great option for first-time travel nurses, as it gives them thousands of available jobs to search through without the added pressure of having to decide on a state prior to getting a contract. Compact states have made traveling so easy and accessible for those who have access to it, and it takes so much of the waiting and pre-work out of deciding on contracts.

Compact State Nursing License FAQ

Once you get a license in a compact state, does that allow you to have reciprocity in all other eNLC states?

A nurse must be able to prove residency in a state to be able to qualify for a compact license. Just getting licensed in a compact state does not qualify you for all compact states. You must have a primary residency in a compact state first.

How do you maintain your compact license while traveling?

You must maintain legal residency in your primary state of residency for your compact license to remain valid.

Do the compact licenses only work when you physically travel to those states, or does it also work when you work remotely in a state?

Nurses in eNLC states with multistate licenses are able to practice via telenursing in all eNLC states.

Can educators utilize a compact license as well?

Nurse educators in eNLC states with multistate licenses are able to teach via distance education in all eNLC states.

What is the benefit of keeping a compact license up when you no longer have plans to do traditional travel contracts?

The eNLC allows nurses to quickly and easily respond to provide nursing services during disasters in other eNLC states.

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