Iowa RN Licensing Guide

  • Compact State
  • Participates in NURSYS
  • Renewal every 3 years


Iowa had nearly 59,000 registered nurses in early 2022. These nurses are governed by the Iowa Board of Nursing (IBON), which issues Iowa nursing licenses by endorsement and exam. The IBON’s mission is to protect public health, safety, and welfare by regulating nursing education, continuing education, and the practice of nurses.


The preferred method for applying for an Iowa nursing license is completing an application online through IBON Online Services. Once an applicant begins a new application, they must complete it within 12 months, or the application is archived and all required documents submitted may be destroyed. Once an application has been archived, the applicants must begin a new application, repay the application fee, and potentially resubmit all documents. When the IBON approves new applications for Iowa RN licenses, it may issue licenses by endorsement or examination for a 24-month to a 36-month period. When RNs renew their initial licenses, they’re placed on a three-year renewal cycle.

Prospective nurses must complete nursing education programs approved by the Iowa Board of Nursing. IBON approves nursing programs with a physical presence in Iowa to ensure nursing students receive a quality education that prepares them to pass the nurse licensure exam and earn their Iowa RN license. The Board has the authority to regulate both pre-licensure and post-licensure nursing programs. It doesn’t approve out-of-state nursing programs, but it will accept these programs if they’re in good standing with the regulatory agency and approved by the State BON or agency that regulates nursing programs in the state it’s in.


Iowa RN licenses must be renewed every three years. Licensees should check the Online Verification System to determine their license expiration date. Nurses may renew RN licenses up to 60 days before their expiration date. To renew online using IBON Online Services, click on “Renew an Existing License” and follow the directions.

Iowa law requires that nursing license renewals be completed 30 days before the current license expires. However, IBON considers renewals on time if completed on or before the 15th day of the licensee’s birth month, the standard expiration date. Renewals completed on or after the 16th day of the licensee’s birth month are considered late and incur a $50 late fee. IBON automatically audits continuing education (CE) credits of any licensee who renews late.

Continuing Education Requirements

Continuing education is a mandatory prerequisite to renewing an Iowa RN license. RNs must earn 36 contact hours of CE during each three-year licensure period. RNs who regularly examine, counsel, or treat dependent adults or children must complete mandatory training on abuse identification and reporting offered by the Iowa Department of Human Services. Mandatory training counts as 2 CE contact hours. Options to complete CE requirements include:

  • Informal offerings by:

    • Board-approved providers

    • Approved providers from state BONs with mandatory CE requirements

    • American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation

    • National League for Nursing

    • National Commission for Certifying Agencies

    • Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education

    • American Medical Association Continuing Medical Education

    • International Association for Continuing Education and Training

    • National Commission for Health Education Credentialing

    • National Board of Public Health Examiners

    • American Psychological Association

    • National Council for Behavioral Health

    • American Association of Nurse Practitioners

    • National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

    • National Association of Licensed Practical Nurses

    • National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service

    • Commission for Case Manager Certification

  • Current national certification or recertification related to the practice of nursing (counts as 36 CE contact hours)

  • Completion of an IBON-approved nurse refresher course

  • Participation as a one-on-one preceptor for nursing students or employees transitioning into a new clinical practice area for at least 120 hours (counts as 12 CE contact hours)

  • Completion of a nurse residency program (counts as 36 CE contact hours)

  • Academic offerings from: 

    • Public and private colleges and universities

    • Community colleges

    • Governmental academies

  • Informal offerings from nonapproved providers when specially approved by IBON for individual licensees

  • Academic credits for courses taken toward a nursing degree beyond the degree attained for original licensure (each semester hour equivalent to 15 CE contact hours / each quarter hour equivalent to 10 CE contact hours)

IBON conducts random CE audits each month to determine whether CE requirements have been met. RNs may receive a notification when renewing online that they’ve been randomly selected for an audit at the end of the renewal process. Late renewals are automatically audited. When selected for an audit, RNs must submit documentation of completion of CE requirements as part of the renewal process. Failing to comply with an audit may result in disciplinary action. Licensees with questions regarding CE audits may email IBON staff at [email protected] or call 515-281-8258.


Fingerprinting Requirements

All Iowa RN license applicants must complete two fingerprint cards used for obtaining state and national criminal background checks. They receive these cards from IBON in their application packet. IBON won’t accept any other fingerprint cards. Applicants must obtain fingerprint impressions through an authorized technician only. They should contact their local police department or sheriff’s office through a non-emergency number to schedule an appointment for fingerprinting. There’s usually a charge for this service. Steps for completing fingerprinting include:

  • Arriving at the authorized fingerprinting agency for instructions on how to proceed

  • Typing or writing legibly in blue or black ink all required information on the cards 

  • Confirming all blanks on fingerprint cards are filled to ensure they’re not returned

  • Having fingerprints carefully and legibly rolled in all the appropriate boxes

  • Signing the waiver allowing IBON access to all criminal history convictions

  • Sending completed fingerprint cards, signed waiver, and check or money order made payable to the Iowa Board of Nursing to the IBON office

Some authorized technicians electronically scan fingerprints, which is acceptable but only when they print the actual fingerprint cards for hardcopy submission. Electronic fingerprint submission isn’t available. Applicants must not fold, bend, staple, tape, or modify the fingerprint cards in any way or they risk having their fingerprints rejected and delaying the application process. IBON won’t issue an Iowa nursing license until it receives the completed fingerprint packet and fee.

Contact Information

Iowa Board of Nursing
400 SW 8th Street, Suite B
Des Moines, IA 50309
[email protected]
(515) 281-3255


IBON voted to initiate the Original Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) on July 17, 1998, which took effect in 2000. On January 19, 2018, IBON withdrew from the NLC to fully implement the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) and the Interstate Commission of Nurse Licensure Compact Administrator Rules took effect.

Nurses who live in a Compact state, including Iowa, can apply for a multistate license in the state they declare as their primary state of residence (PSOR). Applicants must provide proof of their PSOR with a driver’s license, voter registration card, or federal income tax return showing their permanent home address. RNs with a multistate license in another Compact state who move to Iowa must establish Iowa as their PSOR and provide an Iowa address on their application for a new multistate license. They may practice nursing on their previous multistate license while awaiting their new Iowa multistate nursing license.

Licensure by Endorsement

RNs licensed in another state can apply for licensure by endorsement in Iowa if their PSOR is a non-Compact state or they hold a single state license in a Compact state. To qualify for an Iowa RN license by endorsement, applicants must:

  • Have graduated from a Board-approved RN nursing education program

  • Have passed the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)

  • Hold an RN license in another state

  • Disclose any past criminal convictions or disciplinary actions for the IBON to review and approve

Applicants can access an online application through IBON Online Services by clicking on the “License by Endorsement” link. They must provide a mailing address where IBON can send additional licensing information. Applicants receive a packet of required materials and instructions via ground mail after completing the online application and paying the appropriate fees. Steps required for obtaining an Iowa nursing license by endorsement include:

  • Submitting two completed fingerprint cards obtained from the IBON office

  • Completing and signing the Criminal History Background Waiver

  • Reporting all criminal convictions and out-of-state disciplinary actions received

  • Requesting nursing education program to send a hard copy of official transcripts directly to the IBON 

    • The Board won’t accept transcripts submitted by the applicant or that are faxed or electronically transmitted

    • Transcripts must show the degree conferred and graduation date

  • Sending a request for verification of original license only

    • Apply online at Nursys for original license verification

    • States that don’t participate in Nursys require completion of a Verification of Original License form contained in the licensing packet

  • Submitting active military or federal government employee identification, if applicable

Applicants with questions about the paperwork or application process may email the Iowa nursing license endorsement staff at [email protected] or call 515-281-4827.

Licensure by Exam

Graduate nurses who’ve never been licensed may apply for Iowa nurse licensure by examination if they graduated from an IBON-approved RN nursing program. Applying for licensure is a two-part process. Applicants must complete the IBON application for exam and NCLEX registration to receive an Authorization to Test (ATT). They start by completing an online application from the “License Examination” link and paying the application fee. The IBON will send the applicant a packet of additional materials and instructions via ground mail. Applicants must return all the required documents, including:

  • Two completed fingerprint cards obtained from the IBON office

  • Completed and signed Criminal History Background Waiver

  • Signed and dated Applicant Information Form

  • Documentation on all criminal convictions and out-of-state disciplinary actions received

  • Official nursing transcripts sent directly from the nursing school via ground mail that show the date of graduation and degree conferred

Pearson VUE administers the NCLEX. Applicants can complete NCLEX registration and pay the $200 fee online or contact Pearson VUE by phone at 866-496-2539. They must use the same name, address, and email as they did on the IBON application. Once IBON makes the applicant eligible for testing, Pearson VUE sends them an ATT email. The IBON application and NCLEX registration expire 90 days after receipt of the ATT. If these expire, applicants must resubmit both applications and both fees.

Applicants who pass the NCLEX receive an email informing them that IBON has issued their Iowa nursing license. For those who fail the exam, IBON sends them notifications through the mail along with re-examination instructions. License numbers aren’t released by phone. Applicants also can verify their new Iowa RN license on IBON Online Services by clicking on “Secured Access” and searching for their license information or using the “QuickConfirm” license verification option on Nursys.

Individuals with additional questions on the exam application process can email the exam staff at [email protected].

Licensure for Foreign Educated Nurses

Foreign educated nurses can apply for Iowa RN licensure by endorsement or licensure by exam by following the same steps as domestic nurses, with the exception of requesting their nursing school to mail official transcripts to IBON. This step is replaced by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) Professional Report. They also have some additional steps required.

International applicants must provide a U.S. Social Security Number or documentation that allows them to live and work in the U.S., such as an immigrant visa. Those with an SSN can apply online and may qualify for a multistate license. Those without an SSN are issued a single state license only and must call the IBON office at 515-281-3264 or email [email protected] to request a paper application. Additional requirements include applying with CGFNS for a CGFNS Professional Report, which must include one of the following:

  • Credentials Evaluation Service Report

  • Visa Screen certificate 

  • Certification Program CGFNS certificate 

  • Certificate verification letter confirming that a Visa Screen or Certification Program CGFNS certificate was issued

International graduates must also complete an English Proficiency test. Acceptable tests include the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Applicants are exempt from taking an English Proficiency test if all the following requirements were met:

  • Applicant’s native language is English

  • Instruction in the nursing program was in English

  • Textbooks in the nursing program were in English

  • Nursing program was administered at a college, university, or professional school located in Canada (except Quebec), Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa

Once foreign-educated candidates for an Iowa nursing license by exam submit all required paperwork, they must register to take the NCLEX like domestic candidates. IBON makes them eligible to take the NCLEX and Pearson VUE sends them their ATT, which expires in 90 days.

Foreign educated candidates seeking licensure by endorsement must submit the same additional items as those seeking licensure by exam, but they must have already passed the NCLEX. They also must have held licensure or registration as a nurse in the country or U.S. territory of origin, of residence, or where they were educated as documented by CGFNS. Foreign educated nurses aren’t eligible for temporary licenses.


IBON processes applications in the order received after it receives a fully completed application, fee payment, and all required documents. Before calling to check application status, applicants should check the status on IBON Online Services by selecting the “Check the Status of an Application in Process” link. When monitoring status online, materials won’t display until they’re reviewed and processed by IBON staff. During peak licensure times, it can take 3 to 8 weeks to process applications based on the volume and when IBON receives required documents.

Temporary Nurse License

Only RNs licensed in another state applying for licensure by endorsement may apply for a temporary nursing license in Iowa. Applicants educated in the U.S. or internationally applying for an Iowa RN license by exam aren’t eligible for a temporary license. Endorsement applicants may be issued a temporary license after IBON receives and accepts:

  • Completed application for licensure by endorsement

  • Two completed fingerprint cards and signed waiver

  • Application and criminal history background check fees totaling $169

  • Verification of original license

  • Declaration that the applicant has no criminal convictions or current disciplinary action against their license in another state

  • Confirmation the applicant has sent a request for official transcripts from their school of nursing


All licensure fees are nonrefundable and due at application submission. Any overpayment made that’s less than $10 won’t be refunded. Applicants/Licensees are encouraged to apply/renew online using a Visa, MasterCard, or Discover card. Unless otherwise noted, all payments should be made payable to the Iowa Board of Nursing.

  • Licensure by Examination: $143

    • $93 application fee and $50 criminal history background check fee

  • NCLEX Fee to National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN): $200

    • Each attempt

  • Re-Examination Fee: $93

    • Add $50 criminal history background check fee if one year has passed since beginning the exam application

  • Licensure by Endorsement: $169

    • $119 application fee and $50 criminal history background check fee

  • License Renewal: $99

  • Late License Renewal: $149

    • $99 renewal fee plus $50 late fee

  • License Reactivation: $225

    • $175 application fee and $50 criminal history background check fee

  • ARNP License: $81

    • Initial license and renewals

  • Certified Copy of Original Documents: $20

  • Returned Check Charge: $15

    • Paid by certified check or money order only

  • Verification of License Status: $25

    • When not using Nursys

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Frequently asked questions

How do applicants for an Iowa nursing license by exam apply for re-examination if they fail the NCLEX?

Applicants must wait 45 days between examinations, but they can apply for re-examination as soon as they’re notified that they didn’t pass the NCLEX. IBON prefers applicants to complete their re-examination applications online. They must repay the $93 application fee to IBON, plus the $50 fingerprinting fee if it’s been more than 12 months since their last examination application. Applicants must also pay the $200 testing fee to Pearson VUE again. There’s no limit to the number of times Iowa nursing license candidates can retake the NCLEX.