How to Get Licensed in Nursing Compact States 2023

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Written by Kathleen Walder Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Larry DeHoyos, CPCS, PESC Director of Credentialing, IntelyCare
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One way to grow your career as a nursing professional? Expand your boundaries, rather literally. As long as you meet minimum requirements and have an active and unencumbered license, you can pursue additional licenses in other states. One way to do this is by getting licensed to work in nursing compact states.

We’ll take a look at how you can reach out to your current and prospective licensing boards for more detail on how you can obtain additional licensure, depending upon your current nursing license and primary state of residence. But first, some background information.

What Are Nursing Compact States?

These are the states that decided to join the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), which enables licensed nurses to work in any state that belongs to the compact. The idea of a nursing compact started with a study and report by the Pew Health Professions Commission that suggested single-state licensure of nurses would not meet future healthcare needs in the U.S.

Allowing nurses to work in more than one area would be especially helpful in times of crisis. That was in 1995. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) started to plan the Nursing Licensure Compact. Some states joined the compact, others did not, and others continued to discuss it.

Fast forward to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and Pew’s predictions were realized. Nursing professionals with multistate licensure had the opportunity to travel to places with the biggest need for assistance. During the height of the pandemic, the president signed a national public emergency declaration. It gave all nurses the ability to travel across state lines or provide telehealth services regardless of their home state license.

Any RN, LPN/LVN, living in a state that allows multi-state licenses can pursue one. As of September 2023, there are 41 states that are participating in the nurse license compact. This is an increase from the number of nursing compact states 2022 had to offer. Check out the full list of participating nursing compact states.

What Is a Compact State Now? 

The NLC allows for RNs and LPN/LVNs to have a multi-state license, which gives you the legal ability to practice in your primary state of residence and any other of the NLC states. In other words, with your primary state license, you can work in in many states. (A multi-state license is the same thing as a compact license.)

There are two types of licenses you can apply for through your state board of nursing:

1. Single state license

2. Multi-state license

The difference between these two types of licenses is where you can practice. To take advantage of working in other states, you need to hold a multi-state license issued by your primary state board of nursing. If you are interested in working in a state that is not part of the NLC, you must apply for a single-state license with the board of nursing in that state. 

*Note: The Public Health Emergency (PHE) officially ended on April 10, 2023. Many licensing boards and departments of health had already lifted their pandemic waivers, but some may still be in effect for a short period of transition. If, under the public health emergency, you had been working in a state other than that in which you are licensed, be advised that those waivers will expire and you will need to follow one of the paths mentioned in this article in order to maintain your ability to work in a different state.

How Does Having Nursing Compact States Help Nurses?

While the NCSBN initially created the NLC to allow nursing mobility to serve patients better, nurses benefited too.

  • A multistate license expands job opportunities for nurses and helps increase their work experience.
  • If you’re in one of the compact states for nursing, license application fees and renewals only have to be paid once, in most cases.
  • Travel nurses can be ready for any assignment in compact nursing states without waiting for individual state licenses.
  • Multi-state licensing increases the opportunity for telehealth since a nurse’s license must be in the patient’s state. When a nurse holds a multi-state license, they can provide telehealth services to patients in other nursing compact states/territories.
  • Spouses of active military members can continue to work throughout a deployment or assignment that requires moving without going through the process to obtain another license.

How Do I Apply for a Compact State Nursing License?

There are a few ways that nursing professionals can become licensed to work in multiple states after having graduated from a board-approved education program. For RNs and LPN/LVNs, the NLC was developed to help facilitate easier cross-state practicing. If you’re a CNA with an active license in your home state, you have options for licensure by endorsement.

To apply for a compact license, you must:

1. Confirm that you primarily live in a compact state for nursing.

2. Make sure you meet all the requirements listed below.

3. Go to your state’s board of nursing website to upgrade your RN license to the NLC license.

To hold a multi-state nursing license, you must meet the Uniform Licensing Requirements from the NLC:

  • Primary residence is in one of the compact states.
  • Meet licensure requirements in your state of residency.
  • Complete a board-approved nursing program in the U.S. or complete an international education program that is approved by that country’s authorized accrediting body and is verified by an independent credentials reviewing body.
  • Pass an English proficiency exam (if you completed an international education program that was taught in a language other than English or if your native language is not English).
  • Pass an NCLEX-RN, NCLEX-PN, or predecessor exam. 
  • Hold or be eligible for an active, unencumbered nursing license.  
  • Submit to state and federal criminal background checks including fingerprints.
  • Have not been found guilty, been convicted, or entered into an agreed disposition of a felony.
  • Have no misdemeanor convictions related to nursing.
  • Are not participating in an alternative program (if you are, you must self-disclose this).
  • Have a valid U.S. social security number.

Licensure by Endorsement

You are eligible for licensure by endorsement if you are actively licensed in one state, jurisdiction, or territory of the United States and are seeking a license in another. You are eligible to apply with the board of nursing and/or Department of Health to get endorsed in that state if you meet its minimum requirements. This is a great opportunity if you, as an RN, have passed your NCLEX. Your NCLEX is reciprocal and recognized in all states. You will be issued a new license for the additional state in which you are seeking licensure and will be able to actively work in both states.

Please note, this is a formal application process that is reviewed by the specific license issuing body. In most (if not all) states, you must complete any necessary requirements, which may include FBI or state background checks and fingerprinting. You may also have to pay any fees associated with the application process.

License Requirements for Practicing in Nursing Compact States 

Note that these links are for convenience, but for the most accurate and current information, please refer to your state board of nursing.  

Choose Your State, Choose Your Job

With the NLC, you have the freedom to work in any of the nursing compact states. How would you like to choose from the latest job postings on a platform designed just for nurses? Find your next full-time, contract, travel, or per diem job on IntelyCare right now.

Maggie Kilgallon contributed to the writing and reporting of this article.