Ultimate Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) States Guide

Working as a travel nurse can be an exciting and lucrative opportunity, but licensing issues can limit your options.

Luckily, the majority of states have now entered the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which broadens travel opportunities for nurses who call a compact state home.

What does it mean to have a Compact License?

If you have what is known as a multi-state or compact license, you are eligible to practice in any other state that is part of the Nursing Licensure Compact without having to apply for individual licenses. This means if you take an assignment in another compact state, you can use your current license and not have to worry about extra paperwork or fees.

How do you obtain a Compact License?

The only way to obtain a compact license is to have a primary residence located in a compact state. This is essentially the same as a tax home. You will need to pay for a residence in this state, register your car here, and pay taxes.

For those of you who already live in a compact state--congrats! You likely don’t need to do anything else to travel with your compact license. The only caveat would be if your home state became a new member of the compact in the last few years. If this is the case, check with your board of nursing to see if you need to do any additional paperwork to confirm your compact licensure.

If you do not live in a compact state but want to have a compact license, the only way to do this would be to establish residency in a compact state. This could take a lot of time and effort, especially because you will need to move all of your personal tax information and other government paperwork to the state you want to reside in. However, if you plan to travel for an extended period of time, it may be worth the effort.

Unsure of your licensure status? Check out this PDF that can help point you in the right direction.

States Participating in the NLC

Currently, there are 34 states in the Nursing Licensure Compact.

* New Jersey - As of 1/12/21: New Jersey is allowing nurses who hold active, unencumbered, multi-state licenses issued by Nurse Licensure Compact member states to practice in New Jersey under their multi-state licenses.

Non-Compact States

If your tax home is located in a non-compact state, you will only be able to practice in that state until you apply for other state licenses. For those who are making a permanent move to a new state or thinking about becoming a travel nurse, you will have to apply for a license in your new state. The licensing process varies from state to state and can take anywhere from days to months. For a comprehensive list of contact information for each state’s Board of Nursing, check out this page.

Requirements to Receive a Nursing License

Even if you look at compact versus non-compact states, you will find that most states require the same basic requirements. Education and testing requirements in the United States are essentially the same no matter which state you live in.

In addition to looking at your NCLEX and degrees, the state board of nursing will want to know of any criminal convictions you have on record. This includes any disciplinary action taken against your nursing license in each state you have worked in.

This means some states will want to receive confirmation that all of your current licenses are active and in good standing. Most of the time, this can be done through Nursys.com. For a fee, you can send verification of your licenses to most states.

Continuing education will also vary by each state. Some states require as many as 30 hours of continuing education credits every time you renew, and others may not require any hours. Either way, it is your responsibility to know what the requirements are for your home state and any state that does not fall under your compact license umbrella.

Why aren’t more states a part of the NLC?

While the Nursing Licensure Compact has made amazing strides since its origin, there are still several states who are resistant to joining. Some argue that the training and care standards vary from state to state, making it difficult to ensure that nurses have the knowledge and skills to practice across state lines.

In 2018, the NCSBN attempted to alleviate some of these concerns by issuing 11 licensure requirements. This list outlines both educational requirements along with criminal background checks.

In addition, some states are concerned that the NLC will negatively affect the privacy of patients and result in a loss of revenue that is generated by individual state licenses. They are also worried about the rapid spread of telenursing and how it may impact patient care. For example, if a nurse in New York can conduct a telehealth visit with a patient in New Mexico, that might take away from employment opportunities for a nurse in New Mexico.

Finally, the NLC doesn’t have a clear and concise protocol for disciplinary actions, which is worrisome to some states. All of these factors have prevented a country wide adoption of the NLC.

Supporters of the NLC

The encouraging part of all of this is the number of professional organizations who are working to support the NLC. In addition, some states may have legislation that is working to get them added to the NLC.

If you are a resident of a non compact state and would like to have the state consider joining the NLC, please reach out to your local lawmakers and board of nursing. The more the state hears from voices that want compact privileges, the more likely the governing bodies are to bring it up for discussion.