Travel Nursing

Travel Nursing and Single State Licenses

This requires the most paperwork and advance planning and the process stresses nurses out. Sometimes it seems like an overwhelming amount of information and required documentation. But if you stay organized and read carefully, you will be licensed in no time.

Stay Organized While You Apply for Travel Nurse Licenses

As you are applying for licensure for travel nursing, make a written list of all that is required and in which order documentation should be submitted. Many states have online checklists to help aid you. Make sure you search for “licensure by endorsement” followed by the state to which you are applying when first starting out. Endorsement means that you don’t have to take another NCLEX (because that would be terrifying!) in order to get your license. You can certainly just use the pre-made checklists. Use your phone and planner to set reminders for yourself about appointments and deadlines. Keeping your documents organized will make the whole process a bit less stressful. 

Travel Nursing Info on Background Checks and Fingerprinting

Each state has different requirements for background checks and fingerprints. Almost all states require some sort of background check, and the processing time varies greatly. Be sure to do some research and ensure you have enough time for this to be completed prior to obtaining a license. Only some states require fingerprints as part of the application.

Fingerprinting can often be done in two different forms: hard copy on an FBI or DOH (Department of Health) card, or visiting an agency that processes digital fingerprints. If you go the digital path, each state often has stipulations about which agencies can be used, and there is a processing code you must obtain prior to scheduling an appointment. You can get that code from the board of nursing in the state that you are applying to. Occasionally it can be found online, sometimes a phone call is necessary, and if you are lucky the fingerprinting agency will have a system for you to look it up.

Some states won’t allow you to apply with digital fingerprints if you are out of state. If you do need to complete a card for this or any other reason (maybe you are way too far from a digital agency), try going to the police station to be printed. The police have the most experience and will increase your likelihood of acceptance. I have never had a card rejected, but I have heard stories of 2-3 cards needing to be submitted before acceptance.

There are other companies that will fingerprint you on a hard copy card. Search the internet for these facilities in your area and call to find out any associated fees. Some digital fingerprint processing locations will also complete cards. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is making this step a little more challenging as some locations are closed for social distancing. Calling the company to find out which locations are opening and what services are being offered is a good idea to find the most convenient option for you. 

Timing Your Licensure with Potential Travel Nursing Jobs

Digital prints and the background check are good for an average of 60 days. Meaning, you need to complete the application with the state within 60 days of fulfilling the requirements. 

This can get tricky if the state has specific renewal rules. For example, Colorado RN licenses ALL expire on September 30th every two years. 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. So you need to time your fingerprints so that they will still be valid during that grace period before renewal is due. If you apply too early  you will end up having to apply for a license a few months after you obtain the initial licensure. If you get fingerprints done and wait more than 60 days to make sure you are in the grace period, you will have to get reprinted. Planning and prep is important!)

Each board of nursing has clear rules about when your fingerprints and background check need to be submitted and how long the documentation is good for. If you submit a hard copy of fingerprints- make sure to check when exactly you should apply afterwards. Many states have specific instructions. Make sure you fill out the correct card (FBI vs DOH). It is best to get the card sent directly from the board of nursing in the state that you are applying to. If at all possible- stick with the digital fingerprints. They have a far lower rate of rejection.

Lastly, on this topic- You will need a state issued driver’s license or international passport with a name that matches the name on your application to complete this step. Be sure to bring this to the appointment with you. Additionally, for a background check you usually need to know your addresses for the last 7 years if you have not lived at your current address for that period of time. 

Required Documentation for Travel Nursing License

In case you haven’t figured it out, each state is different in its prerequisites and process. Some states’ applications are online, some are on paper, and some you can even walk into the board of nursing office and apply. The documentation you provide needs to be complete. Make sure you double triple check the requirements to ensure that you have fulfilled them all.

If you are a nurse trained outside of the USA many states have very specific instructions on what you will need to apply for your license. Please see the state specific board of nursing for assistance.

All states require you to verify your current nursing license with their board of nursing. NURSYS is an online system that lets you send online verification of your current nursing license to multiple states, for a fee of course.

You are usually only required to send verification of one active license. But, certain states require you to report any and all nursing licenses that you have ever held. NURSYS is very easy to use and you can verify all of your licenses in just a few clicks.  

Other possible mandatory documents include transcripts (may need to be official and sealed, be sure to read carefully), a declaration of residence form, and affidavits or proof of education related to infectious and communicable diseases. Some states will also require a certain amount of CEUs per year for licensure,  or proof of education regarding specific topics, such as infection control. 

NOTE: Many states mandate that you submit all the supporting documentation before completing that online or paper application. This will be stated somewhere in the instructions. If you missed all of my prior warnings… READ THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR APPLICATION CAREFULLY.

Travel Nursing Licensing in Walk-Through States and Temporary Licensure

Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, and South Carolina are “walk-through” states. This means that you can arrive in these states and receive a license in just a few days. Often, only a temporary license is awarded, and it is only good for 6 months or less. But, this gives you time to apply for permanent licensure if you plan on staying or extending your travel nurse assignment!

You will still need to bring specific documents for the walk through application process. That information can be found on the state’s board of nursing website.

A limited number of states will let you apply online for temporary licensure. This application usually takes less time to process and is only valid for a short period of time.

If you live in a compact state, it is well worth obtaining a compact license to avoid dealing with the extra paperwork and fees of single state licensure. Check out more info about compact licenses and travel nursing in our post dedicated to the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact.

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.

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