Travel nurse using laptop
Travel Nursing

Understanding Travel Nursing Licensing

As nurses, we are lucky enough to be able to transfer our license from state to state, with associated costs, of course. And if you live in a compact state, you are even luckier because you are able to work in all states that are part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact without having to go through the process of obtaining an additional license.

When to Get a License for Travel Nursing

Many facilities require you to have a license in hand to apply. Meaning, agencies won’t submit you for a job until you hold an RN license specific to that job location. Some may let you interview beforehand but you often cannot sign a contract without an actual license (this is when states with temporary license options and walk-through states can be handy if you are in a rush). Relative to other professions, we actually have it quite easy, but it still involves some organization and pre-planning.

You must look forward and take into consideration your other life plans when you are applying to ensure everything is completed in a timely fashion. Ideally, apply for licensing in states where you want to work three months before you plan to start submitting for jobs. Give yourself a little more time if you are planning to take a travel nurse assignment in California. Their board of nursing is notoriously slow and has many requirements for obtaining a license.

Again, if you have a compact license and are going to work in another compact state, this is a non-issue for you. But, if you are planning on taking a travel nurse assignment in a state that is not part of the eNLC, you will have to apply for that single-state license.

Read more about single-state licensing in our blog post devoted to travel nurses without compact licenses.

Deciding Which States You Want to Work in as a Travel Nurse

Apply for the state in which you want to work the most, and also have a backup plan. Choose another location in case there aren’t assignments available or the jobs don’t match up to your standards.

If you don’t want to apply and pay for two licenses, choose a state with walk-in or temporary licensure available. You can obtain these licenses in shorter periods of time than if you were to apply for a single-state license online or via mail.

woman using laptop

Potential Licensure Problems as a Travel Nurse

This process can seem overwhelming and confusing for anyone. And, to make matters more complicated, each state has different background check/fingerprint rules and systems, methods of applying, and documentation required to complete an application. Some states also have some confusing renewal rules and if you aren’t careful, your license could expire four months after you obtain it. Be sure that your license will be valid when you are planning to work. 

For example, the Washington Board of Nursing renews licenses according to birthdays and even/odd years. So if you apply for that license too early, you may end up having to renew before you even start work, if your birthday falls within the board’s criteria for renewal.

Another example is Colorado. The renewal rules are strict, but if you obtain a license within the 120-day period before your renewal would be due, you are exempt from having to re-apply. 

Read and re-read the application checklists, renewal rules, and any time period stipulations for the license. This is also important when it comes to reading the requirements for fingerprinting and background checks.

Licensure Fees and Travel Companies

The amount it costs to apply varies from state to state and you are going to find the information by searching each specific board of nursing for associated application fees. There are also charges for fingerprints/background checks, license verification, official transcripts, and possibly any required education that you have not completed. Plan for these payments in advance and avoid the hit to your bank account.

But, wait! We have good news! Most agencies reimburse you for all the associated costs of obtaining a license. This must be included in your contract. You can negotiate this with your recruiter. You will only be paid back for the state in which you are taking a contract. If your agency isn’t willing to reimburse you, it may be worth finding checking out other agencies to see if they will help absorb the costs. 

Make sure to save the receipts and credit card/bank statements from all of the charges you incur. Take a picture or a screenshot as extra documentation in case you lose any of the paperwork.

The Future of Licensing

All travel nurses dream of a seamless system that allows nurses to have nationwide licensure for one affordable fee. I think the profession is coming close with the eNLC, but we can do better. This current state-owned process could be simplified, and the expensive fees for applications, background checks, and verifications could be avoided.

Even though there’s work to be done to make the process seamless, expanding your licensing to other states is so exciting for new travelers. Starting to apply for licensure means it’s actually happening. You are taking real steps towards getting on the road. Enjoy the journey!

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

Rachel Norton became an RN in 2007 and has been part of the Vivian team since 2019. She has always worked in critical care, and spent the first 12 years of her career working in a surgical neuroscience trauma ICU. She's also worked as a flight nurse, started travel nursing in 2010 and continued working in the ICU until joining Vivian full-time in 2022. As a user researcher, Rachel advocates for healthcare workers to help bridge the gap between employee and employer expectations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular on Community Hub