Can a Nurse Work in Any US State? Exploring License Requirements and Reciprocity

The nursing profession is in high demand across the United States, and many nurses may wonder if they can work in any state without obtaining a new license. The answer to this question depends on various factors, including the specific state’s licensure requirements and whether the state participates in the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC).

The NLC allows registered nurses (RNs) to practice in multiple participating states using their current nursing license, eliminating the need for obtaining a separate license for each state. However, not all states are part of the NLC, which means that a nurse might need to secure an additional license to work in non-NLC states. Furthermore, each state may have its requirements and regulations that a nurse must adhere to when seeking licensure outside of their home state.

To work as a nurse in any given state, it is essential to understand the specific state’s licensure process and the potential ease of practice with the NLC’s help. This will ensure that nurses comply with all necessary rules and regulations, enabling them to provide high-quality care to patients across the United States.

Licensing Requirements for Nurses in the US

NCLEX-RN Examination

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is a standardized test that every nurse must pass to obtain licensure in the United States. This exam measures the competencies needed for safe and effective nursing practice, ensuring public protection. To be eligible for the NCLEX-RN, candidates must graduate from an accredited nursing program, such as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 1.

The NCLEX-RN consists of multiple-choice questions, with a maximum of 265 questions and a minimum of 75 questions. The exam covers various topics, including:

  1. Safe and Effective Care Environment
  2. Health Promotion and Maintenance
  3. Psychosocial Integrity
  4. Physiological Integrity

The test is scored using a computerized adaptive testing (CAT) system, which tailors the exam to each candidate’s ability level 2.

State-Specific Nursing Licensure

While the NCLEX-RN is a nationwide requirement for licensure, each state has its own licensing requirements for nurses working within its jurisdiction. These state-specific requirements may include additional education, background checks, and continuing education units (CEUs).

For instance, California requires registered nurses (RNs) to complete 30 contact hours of continuing education every two years to maintain their licensure 3. Additionally, some states have specific requirements for foreign-educated nurses, such as completing a Foreign-Educated Nurses (FEN) course 4.

To ensure compliance with state regulations, it is crucial for nurses to check with their respective nursing boards for the most up-to-date licensing requirements and procedures. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) provides a comprehensive directory of each state’s nursing board contact information.


  1. Nursing Licensure for Internationally Educated Nurses 
  2. NCLEX-RN Exam 
  3. California Board of Registered Nursing Continuing Education 
  4. 8 Steps To Work As a Nurse in the US as a Foreign Nurse 

Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) States

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) is an agreement among certain U.S. states that allows nurses to practice in multiple states with just one license. This makes it easier for nurses to work across state lines and provides benefits to both nurses and patients. Nurses who have obtained a compact nursing license in an NLC state are eligible to practice in all other NLC states.

Benefits of the NLC

By joining the NLC, nurses receive several benefits, including:

  1. Increased job opportunities: With a compact license, nurses can practice in multiple states without going through the lengthy process of obtaining licenses in each state.
  2. Flexibility: Nurses can easily relocate between NLC states, which is especially beneficial for travel nurses.
  3. Simplification: Nurses only need to maintain one license, reducing paperwork and administrative tasks.
  4. Cost-effective: Obtaining a single compact license can be more cost-effective than obtaining individual licenses for each state.

Joining the NLC

To obtain a compact nursing license and join the NLC, nurses must follow these steps:

  1. Take the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) in an NLC state.
  2. Become licensed in the state where they pass the nursing boards (e.g., if a nurse passes the NCLEX in Missouri, they will hold a Missouri compact license).
  3. Practice in any of the NLC states without needing additional licenses.

Currently, there are 41 states and two territories that have passed legislation and joined the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), making it significantly easier for nurses to work across the U.S. with one license.

Primary State of Residence (PSOR) Rules

Before understanding the PSOR rules, it is essential to know about the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) states. The NLC allows nurses to have one license, called a multistate license, enabling them to practice in participating states without needing individual state licenses. As of April 2024, 38 US states have fully implemented the eNLC.

Primary State of Residence (PSOR) refers to the state where a nurse primarily resides, as evidenced by legal documents such as a state driver’s license and state voter registration card. To be eligible for a multistate license, nurses must apply with the State Board of Nursing in their PSOR.

When relocating their PSOR to another compact state, nurses need to apply for licensure by endorsement within 60 days of relocation in that state. A current driver’s license may be required as proof of residency.

If a nurse relocates to a non-compact state, they must obtain a single-state license in that specific state. Similarly, if a nurse from a non-compact state wishes to work in a compact state, they also must obtain a single-state license in the new state.

Here’s a brief overview of what nurses need to consider:

  1. If relocating within compact states, apply for licensure by endorsement within 60 days after moving
  2. If relocating from a non-compact state to a compact state or vice versa, apply for a single-state license in the new state
  3. Always ensure that legal documents, such as driver’s license and voter registration, reflect the current PSOR

To sum up, while a nurse cannot work in every US state with a single license, they can practice in the participating 38 compact states with a multistate license, making the process of working across states more accessible and convenient.

Applying for Licensure by Endorsement

When a nurse seeks to practice in a different state, licensure by endorsement is the process they must follow. This procedure allows licensed nurses (RNs and LPNs) to obtain licensure in other states, without having to retake the NCLEX examination. However, requirements may vary depending on the state, so it is essential to research and understand the specific requirements for each state before applying.

To begin the process, a nurse needs to first verify if the state they wish to practice in is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). If both the original and desired states are NLC members, the nurse can work across state lines without having to obtain additional licensure. If either state is not part of the NLC, the nurse must apply for a single-state license in the new state.

Some general requirements to apply for licensure by endorsement include:

  1. Proof of an active nursing license in the original state
  2. Official transcripts verifying completion of an approved nursing program
  3. Verification of passing the NCLEX exam
  4. Completed application form with required fees
  5. Background check and fingerprinting, as required by some states

It is crucial to keep in mind that some states might also have additional requirements, such as completing a specific number of continuing education hours or providing proof of a minimum amount of working experience. These requirements can usually be found on the state’s Board of Nursing website or through state-specific licensure guides.

Once all the required documentation has been submitted, the waiting time can vary between 4-6 weeks for a temporary license and up to 8-12 weeks for a permanent license, depending on the state. In most cases, temporary licenses are only valid for a limited time, usually six months, and are non-renewable.

In summary, the licensure by endorsement process allows nurses to practice in other states without the need to retake the NCLEX exam. By understanding and following the specific requirements of each state, nurses can expand their career opportunities and provide care to patients across the United States.

Continuing Education Requirements

Continuing education is a crucial aspect of the nursing profession, as it helps nurses stay up-to-date with the latest developments in healthcare and expands their knowledge base to provide the best patient care possible. The continuing education requirements for nurses vary among different states in the US.

For example, in Alabama, nurses are required to complete 24 contact hours of continuing education every two years. On the other hand, Alaska mandates 30 hours of continuing education every two years. Some states may also require specific topic-focused courses, like domestic violence, pediatric head trauma, or suicide prevention, which may be a one-time requirement or included in annual renewal requirements, as seen in Kentucky.

License renewal processes also vary amongst states. For instance, in Mississippi, nurses need to renew their licenses yearly by completing 14 hours of continuing education, earning a national nursing-related certification, conducting nursing research, publishing a nursing paper in a recognized journal, delivering a continuing education presentation, or acting as a preceptor to student nurses.

When planning to work in a different state, nurses should be prepared to adapt to the specific continuing education requirements of that particular state. Here’s a brief overview of the continuing education requirements in some US states:

StateContinuing Education HoursRenewal Period
Alabama24 hoursEvery 2 years
Alaska30 hoursEvery 2 years
Mississippi14 hoursEvery year
Kentucky14 hours + specific topicsEvery year

To ensure compliance with these requirements, nurses can leverage various resources available online, such as the Nursing Center and Incredible Health websites. These platforms provide information on the continuing education requirements in each state and offer relevant courses to help nurses fulfill their license renewal requirements.

Employment Opportunities and Limitations

Specialization Constraints

When considering the possibility of working as a nurse in any US state, it’s important to recognize that some limitations exist,

State Boards of Nursing

Each state in the United States has its own Board of Nursing that regulates the nursing profession. These boards are responsible for licensing, disciplining, and setting the scope of practice for nurses practicing within their jurisdiction. They ensure that nurses meet the necessary qualifications and follow the established standards of practice, maintaining patient safety and quality care.

For nurses looking to practice in a specific state, it is essential to familiarize themselves with the licensing requirements of that state. Each state has its own set of rules and regulations for licensure, which may include examinations, background checks, and fees. It is crucial for nurses to obtain the appropriate license for the state they plan to practice in, as practicing without a license can have serious consequences, such as fines or loss of a nursing license.

To facilitate the process of working across state lines, some states have joined the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). The NLC allows nurses who hold a compact nursing license to practice in any participating state without obtaining an additional license. This is particularly beneficial for travel nurses, military nurses, and those living near state borders.

Here is a list of states that are part of the NLC:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia (Registered Nurse and Practical Nurse)
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

It is important to note that not all states participate in the NLC. Nurses should verify the licensure requirements and compact status of the states they wish to practice in to ensure compliance with all regulations.

In conclusion, while a nurse can work in any US state, it is crucial to understand and meet the specific licensure requirements for each state. The Nursing Licensure Compact can facilitate the process of working in multiple participating states, but not all states are part of the compact.

Legal Considerations and Scope of Practice

When discussing nursing practice in the United States, it is crucial to understand the legal considerations and scope of practice that vary from state to state. Nurses must adhere to the regulations specific to the state in which they work. The Nursing Practice Act (NPA) sets the laws governing nursing practice, and each state’s board of nursing interprets the NPA into regulations, having the authority to enforce these laws.

Scope of practice refers to the professional activities that each state authorizes nurses and other clinical staff to perform. A nurse’s scope of practice may include patient assessment, ordering tests, interpreting results, making diagnoses, prescribing medications, and ordering treatments. It is essential to understand that the scope of practice varies by state.

Different variables influence nurses’ scope of practice, such as their level of education, competence, and confidence, along with policy requirements of the service provider. Furthermore, the context in which the nurse practices and the health needs of the patient also play a role in the scope of their professional activities.

Nurses are also bound by an ethical code that provides a framework for ethical nursing care and decision-making principles. The Code of Ethics for Nurses serves as a statement of their ethical values, obligations, duties, and professional ideals, both individually and collectively. This code acts as the profession’s non-negotiable ethical standard.

In summary, nurses must familiarize themselves with the legal considerations and scope of practice regulations applicable to the state they work in. They must also be aware of the ethical standards and principles guiding their practice, as professional conduct allegations can lead to legal consequences and jeopardize their nursing license.


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