Andrew Wettengel / Monday, April 20, 2020 / Categories: Work World


The COVID-19 pandemic has kept us all on our toes. You've taken the brunt of that challenge working the front lines. Travel nurses have the unique opportunity to travel the country while doing something that they love. However, even in normal times, it can be a challenge to figure out nursing license requirements in each state. Fortunately, that National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) created the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), which is an agreement between states that permits nurses to carry just one license while still being able to practice in all of the participating states.

Breakdown of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact

The Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) was instated in 2000. In 2018, the NLC was updated and renamed the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), which includes new standards of licensure that were not included in the original document. The eNLC allows nurses to have a single license to practice in all of the participating states without paying for additional licenses.

With 34 states participating in the eNLC, nurses can avoid applying for new licenses every time they take an assignment in a new state. To be eligible for this multiple-state license, nurses must:

  • Meet all requirements for licensure in their state of residency
  • Graduate from a board-approved education program OR graduate from an international education program that is approved by the authorized accrediting body in said country and verified by an independent credentials review agency
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN exam or predecessor exam
  • Hold or be eligible for an active, unencumbered license
  • Pass an English proficiency exam
  • Pass state and federal fingerprint-based criminal background checks
  • Have no state or federal felony convictions
  • Have no nursing-related misdemeanor convictions
  • Have a valid United States Social Security number
  • Have no current participation in an alternative program

The 30 states that participate in the multi-state licensing program, are shown on the fancy map above. *Washington, D.C., and U.S. Territories do not currently participate in the eNLC program.

Due to the impact that COVID-19 has had across the United States, the President of the United States declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020. This declaration allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services, under the National Emergencies Act, to waive certain federal licensing requirements to enable health professionals to assist and provide services in states that need help the most.

This means that even in states that aren't a member of the eNLC can grant nurses temporary emergency licensure to help care for those in need during this critical time. Here's a quick summary of how each state is responding to emergency licensure during the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.

What Is the Primary Residence Requirement for a Multi-State License?

In order to be eligible for a multi-state license under the eNLC, you must claim residency in a participating state. If you are not a resident of one of the states in the eNLC, you can apply for licensure by endorsement, but you will only be given a single-state license. However, nurses can have licenses in more than one state.

If you live in a state that participates in the eNLC, you can go to any other participating state without obtaining a new license. However, if you live in a state that participates in the eNLC, but you want to practice in a state that does not participate, that's when you would need to acquire a single-state license for the desired state.

What Are Temporary Licenses?

Travel nurses might be familiar with the term "walk-through states." Walk-through states are those that issue temporary licenses, or licensure by endorsement. These temporary licenses give nurses who are looking to move to a different state and are awaiting a permanent license the ability to work until the license comes in. Temporary licenses are also commonly used during nursing strikes.

Since obtaining a license in a state like California can take several months, temporary licenses allow the demand for nurses to be filled in the event of an emergency situation or while a nurse waits for regular licensing to come through.

Temporary licenses are usually good for between 30 days and six months. If the assignment lasts longer than the length of the temporary license, then a permanent license is needed. Keep in mind that these temporary licenses can only be granted once per state, and not all states even allow nurses to use temporary licenses.

Walk-through states include:

  • Arizona
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont

Fees and Requirements for Nursing Licenses

The requirements for permanent and temporary licenses for nurses are very similar. The fees and requirements include:

  • Criminal background check and fingerprinting
  • No disciplinary actions or encumbrances against the nurse's primary license
  • Copy of driver's license and social security card
  • Meeting the continuing education requirements for each permanent state license held
  • A licensing fee of between $100 and $400

Working with a travel nursing agency, you might get assistance with paperwork and other aspects of the licensure process.

Fees and Requirements in Non-eNLC States

For travel nurses who work in non-eNLC states, the costs of licenses can add up. A nurse with a primary license in their state who decides to travel to a non-eNLC state will have to reapply for a permanent license in the new state. This means that nurses must fill out the application, participate in a background check, and pay another licensing fee. In some states, it can also take several weeks to receive a new license. Here are the average wait times for a nursing license in non-compact states:

  • Alaska: 8 weeks
  • California: 3-6 months
  • Hawaii: 2-15 days
  • Nevada: 2-4 weeks
  • New York: 6-8 weeks
  • Ohio: 4-6 months
  • Oregon: 3-6 weeks
  • Rhode Island: 4+ weeks
  • Vermont: 4-6 weeks
  • Washington: 3-4 weeks

If you are planning to work in any of the states with long wait times, it is crucial to apply for your license as early as possible.

Staying Safe as a Nurse During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Check out our COVID-19 FAQ to learn about how you can protect yourself and what you should do should you come into contact with someone who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Click here for CDC recommendations regarding COVID-19.

If you are ready to start your travel nursing journey, our OneStaff recruiters would love to work with you. We can help you figure out your licensing situation and help you get the ball rolling on any license that you need to travel. Speak to one of our recruiters today at 877-783-1483.

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