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Compact Nursing States: Updated Guide for RNs

Compact Nursing States - a picture of a traveling nurse smiling in her car.

What are compact nursing states and what do they offer nurses?

Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) states allow nurses to have one license that is valid in multiple states. This allows nurses to work in more than one state, as they only need to meet the requirements of their home state. Compact nursing states also offer Nurses Bill of Rights, which provides nurses with greater protection and rights than they would have in noncompact states. Over two million nurses live in an NLC compact state and are able to practice in other states. In addition, nurse compact states usually offer more career options and often have lower nurse-to-patient ratios, which can lead to better patient care and higher job satisfaction. As a result, compact nursing states offer a number of advantages for nurses. 

Table of Contents

TLDR

  • The NLC allows nurses to practice in other NLC states without having to obtain additional licenses.
  • There are 37 states and two U.S. territories that participate in the NLC, and eight more have legislation pending.
  • Working in a compact nursing state is beneficial for nurses who are looking for more job opportunities and earning potential, in addition to those nurses who frequently travel or move between different states for work.
  • If you don’t live in an NLC state, you are limited to single-state licenses until that state joins the nurse licensure compact.

What are the compact nursing license states (and territories)?

 

* Pennsylvania, Ohio, and the Virgin Islands have passed the legislation and entered the compact, but are awaiting implementation (Ohio implementation date 1/1/2023).

**Guam has a partial implementation, which allows nurses who hold active, multi-state NLC licenses to practice in Guam, however, nurses who claim Guam as their primary state of residency cannot apply for a multi-state license until the NLC is fully implemented.) 

What states have pending legislation to join the NLC?

What states do not have legislation for the NLC?

  • American Samoa 
  • California
  • Connecticut 
  • District of Columbia 
  • Hawaii 
  • Mariana Islands 
  • Nevada 
  • Oregon 

What if my home state is not in the NLC?

You can still work in whichever state you wish, but your license will be valid only in the states for which you obtain licenses. This means if you’re a resident of a noncompact state (a state not currently participating in the NLC), then your eligibility is limited to single-state licenses that are valid for each respective state. You can have as many single-state licenses as you want; only nurses who claim residency in one of the participating compact states are eligible for a multi-state license. 

For example, if you’re a nurse whose primary residence is in California, you will be able to work in any state you wish even though California is not part of the NLC compact. Instead, you will need to apply for a single-state license in whichever state you wish to work, which typically includes a license by endorsement in a compact state.

Also, remain aware of your state’s legislation regarding joining the NLC. As of November 2022, there are eight states that have legislation pending (see bulleted list above).

How do nurses benefit from working in compact nursing states?

Compact nursing states offer a number of benefits for nurses. The compact state nursing license allows nurses to have one license that is valid in all NLC states and territories. This saves time and money, as nurses only need to maintain one license instead of multiple licenses. The portability of the licensure is also beneficial, it allows nurses to easily work in another NLC state if they wish. The NLC also promotes interstate practice, which can improve patient care by providing more options for treatment. In addition, the NLC helps to ensure that nurses are held to the same standards of care regardless of which state they are practicing in. Licensure requirements for all nursing compact states are the same. The NLC allows nurses to respond quicker and easier during natural disasters. Also, nurses in NLC states with a multi-state license can practice telenursing in all other compact nursing states. The same goes for nursing educators in NLC states, with a multi-state license they are able to teach (virtually) in all NLC states. As a result, the NLC provides a number of benefits for nurses who choose to work in compact nursing states.

What are the benefits of being a nurse in a compact nursing state?

Nurses looking for more job opportunities and earning potential may want to consider working in a compact nursing state because it has its perks. No matter where you go within the state, your nursing license will be honored. This makes it ideal for nurses who like to travel or who simply want the freedom to practice nursing in any state they choose. Additionally, compact state nurses have access to a wider range of job opportunities. And if you ever need to take your career in a new direction, you can do so without having to go through the hassle and expense of getting your license again. Plus, since all states recognize each other’s licenses, you can easily transfer your license from one state to another if you ever need to move. In short, being a nurse in a compact state offers many advantages.

How to check if you have a compact license

You can check to see if you already have a compact license through Nursys, the national database for verifying nurse licenses. It provides a list of both active and lapsed licenses as well as their status regarding whether they are single-state (i.e., just one state), multi-state (more than two but less than four), or N/A, meaning that no specific amount of states has been specified. If you download your Nursys report, it will show which states you are eligible to practice in according to the type of license you have.

If you live in a compact state and have your RN license from that state, then you likely declared residency in that state. If that’s the case, and assuming you’ve met all the licensure requirements, then the license you were issued should already be a multi-state license.

What are the requirements for nurses to work in a compact nursing state?

In order to work as a nurse in a compact nursing state, an individual must first be licensed as a registered nurse in their home state. They must then submit an application to the Nursing Compact Commission and pay the required fees. Once approved, the nurse will be issued a Compact License, which will allow them to practice nursing in any of the other nurising compact states. In addition to holding a current RN license, nurses must also meet all other requirements for licensure in their home state, including passing a criminal background check. Nurses who wish to work in a Compact state but do not hold a license from one of the states participating in the Compact are required to obtain a temporary permit from the Nursing Compact Commission. This permit allows them to work for up to 90 days while they complete the application process for a Compact License.

What should I do if I want to work in a state that is not part of the NLC?

To work in a non-compact state, such as Connecticut or Hawaii, you’ll have to apply for and be on top of the specific requirements for RN licensure in whichever prospective state you choose. Although, you won’t be able to practice until you receive your single-state license, you still have the option to hold multiple single-state licenses. But again, each single-state license is valid only for its respective state. 

How does the NLC help nurses maintain their licenses and work in multiple states?

The NLC is overseen by the American Nurses Association (ANA). The NLC helps nurses to save time and money by eliminating the need to renew their licenses in multiple states. In addition, the NLC provides nurses with greater flexibility when it comes to working in multiple states. For example, if a nurse lives in Texas but works in New Mexico, the nurse would only need to renew their license in Texas. The NLC also helps nurses maintain their licenses by providing a streamlined process for reporting disciplinary actions and ensuring that all licensure requirements are met.

Next steps

  • If you want to check your licensure to see if it is or is not a compact license, use Nursys‘ QuickConfirm tool.
  • If you want to apply for a multi-state license go to your home state’s Board of Nursing website and navigate to the appropriate “licensing” tab.
  • If you want to monitor a state’s current NLC standing, bookmark this page.

FAQs

1. Can I get a multi-state license if I live in a noncompact state?

Nurses who declare a compact state as their primary residence are the only ones eligible for a multistate license. You can still apply for a license in a noncompact state, though your eligibility will be limited to that one state. Of course, you could have multiple single-state licenses if you wish. If a state wants to join the NLC, it must pass legislation first.

2. If I already have a multi-state license, do I need to apply for a new one? 

A nurse will be automatically grandfathered into the new nursing compact licensure if they have an original NLC multi-state license issued prior to 7/20/17 and they meet the following requirements: 

    • Is a resident of the original NLC state that has since joined the eNLC
    • Held an original multi-state license on July 20, 2017
    • Has not had a disqualifying event since July 20, 2017

3. Are APNs, LPNs, and VPNs included in the NLC? 

Like RNs, LPNs and VPNs are recognized and included in the NLC. However, APNs are not included in the NLC, but in fact have their own compact that began in August 2020. This compact also allows license holders to practice in other nurse compact states. Delaware, North Dakota, and Utah are currently the only three states in the APRN compact.

4. Do I qualify for a new multi-state license? 

In order to receive a multi-state license, a nurse who lives in a compact state must:

  • Meet the requirements for licensure in the state of residency.
  • Have graduated from a board-approved education program or have graduated from an international education program (approved by the authorized accrediting body in the applicable country and verified by an independent credentials review agency).
  • Have passed an English proficiency examination (applies to graduates of an international education program not taught in English or if English is not the individual’s native language).
  • Have passed an NCLEX-RN® or NCLEX-PN® examination or predecessor exam.
  • Be eligible for or hold an active license (without active discipline).
  • Have submitted to state and federal fingerprint-based criminal background checks.
  • Have no state or federal felony convictions.
  • Have no misdemeanor convictions related to the practice of nursing (determined on a case-by-case basis).
  • Not be a current participant in an alternative program.
  • Self-disclose current participation in an alternative program.
  • Have a valid United States Social Security number.

5. What if the state I’m practicing in is no longer part of the NLC? 

You must obtain a single-state license to continue practicing nursing if your state is no longer part of the NLC. Currently, this pertains to Rhode Island only. 

6. Where is the compact states nursing application?

You can find access to the compact nursing state application on your home state’s State Board of Nursing website. The application is usually found underneath the “Licensing” tab, under “applications”. If this doesn’t work, you can always call or contact your home state board of nursing for application specifics.

7. If I live in a noncompact state and own property in a compact state, am I eligible to obtain a compact license?

No. you must claim a compact state as your primary residence to be eligible for a compact license. You will need to show proof of residence in the form of a driver’s license, voter registration, or tax address. 

8. eNLC vs. NLC: Whats the difference?

In 2015 the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) went through a comprehensive revision that produced what is now known as the the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC). However, as of January 19, 2018, the eNLC has undergone further revisions and now includes additional standardization of rules and requirements. Since the newest revisions, the eNLC has dropped the “e” from its name. The agreement is now known as the new NLC, but you will still see the term eNLC. 

9. What is the difference between compact license and multi-state license? 

These two terms mean the same thing and are used interchangeably in reference to the NLC. 

Conclusion 

The NLC is a modern solution for 21st century nursing and the goal is to have all 50 states participate. The ability to jump from state-to-state and continue practicing professionally could be a real game changer for you and yours, so let’s review the key info we’ve covered:

The NLC stands for Nurse Licensure Compact and it is an agreement between participating states that allows nurses to have one multi-state license instead of a single-state license that limits a nurse’s working jurisdiction to only the state in which the license is granted. Currently, there are currently 37 states and two U.S. territories that participate in the NLC. 

Working in an NLC state can be beneficial for nurses who are looking for more job opportunities, career options, and earning potential. These states offer nurses the ability to work in multiple states with one license, which can be valuable for those who frequently travel or move to different states for work.

If you want to have a multi-state license, you must claim residency in (live in or move to) a compact nursing state. In addition, nurses need to complete an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX exam before they’re able to submit an application to the Nursing Compact Commission. Also, depending on which state you earned your RN license, you may already have a multi-state license. Check to see if you have a compact license at Nursys.

If you do not live in a compact nursing state, then your working jurisdiction is limited to only the state in which the license is granted.

Resources

If you have more questions, we suggest you take a look at the following materials and resources.

 
If you’re interested in leveling up your nursing career, check out our affordable and accredited online nursing programs where we offer tuition payment plans starting as low as $325 per month for our MSN program or $375 per month for our DNP program. 
 
Sources: We gathered our information from the Nurse Licensure Compact (NCSBN & NurseCompact.com), APRN Compact (APRNCompact.com), and Nursys (Nursys.com).
 
 

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