Nurse talking to a patient

A compact nursing license allows you to travel and nurse across state borders. Compact states offer nurses the opportunity to help patients where care is most needed. To become a travel nurse, a compact nursing license is essential to move easily from one assignment to the next.

To earn a compact nursing license, you’ll have to earn a nursing degree, pass the NCLEX-RN, and follow your state’s compact license application process.

This guide will answer any questions about contact nursing licenses and how to get yours.

Requirements and how to get a compact nursing license

You’ll have to live in a compact state if you want a compact nursing license. For some people, this requires relocating before they can start their careers. Currently, 37 states, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, are part of the Nurse Licensure Compact. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands are awaiting implementation, but they have all passed laws.

Here are all the states you can have a compact nursing license:

  • Alabama

  • Arizona

  • Arkansas

  • Colorado

  • Delaware

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • Guam

  • Idaho

  • Indiana 

  • Iowa

  • Kansas 

  • Kentucky

  • Louisiana (Registered and practical nurses)

  • Maine

  • Maryland

  • Mississippi

  • Missouri

  • Montana

  • Nebraska

  • New Hampshire 

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • North Carolina

  • North Dakota

  • Ohio (Implementation date: 1/1/2023)

  • Oklahoma

  • Pennsylvania (Awaiting implementation)

  • South Carolina

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Texas

  • Utah

  • Vermont

  • Virginia

  • Virgin Islands (Awaiting implementation)

  • West Virginia (Registered and practical nurses)

  • Wisconsin 

  • Wyoming

Compact state nursing license requirements

Compact nurse licenses have Uniform Licensure Requirements to ensure all RNs meet acceptable criteria. These uniform requirements help regulate nursing across state lines. 

To apply for a multistate license in any compact state, you must:

  • Have a valid US Social Security Number

  • Meet your state’s requirements for RN licensure

  • Hold an ADN or BSN from an accredited school or approved overseas equivalent degree

  • Pass an English proficiency test if English is not your first language or if your degree was taught in a different language

  • Have successfully completed the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN

  • Be eligible for an active, unencumbered (unrestricted) nursing license with no active discipline

  • Complete state and federal background checks and fingerprinting

  • Hold no convictions or have been found guilty of a felony offense

  • Hold no nursing misdemeanor convictions

  • Currently not a participant in an alternative discipline program

  • Must disclosure any participation in an alternative discipline program

How to apply for a compact state nursing license

To apply for a compact state nursing license, your primary state of residence (PSOR) must be part of the eNLC. The enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact updated the requirements of the original NLC to ensure that nurses are properly screened and vetted before they can work across state lines.

Only one state can be listed as your PSOR, so even if you plan to travel for work, you must have a primary residence in a compact state.

How to get a compact nursing license in a compact state

  1. Earn your nursing degree and pass the NCLEX-RN

  2. Demonstrate PSOR in a compact state with a driver’s license, state ID, federal tax return, or voter registration card. Homeownership does not grant state residency by default.

  3. Make sure you meet the uniform licensure requirements (see above)

  4. Apply for your multistate license through your state’s nursing board

If you are relocating from one compact state to another compact state, you’ll have to apply for a new compact license based on your PSOR. There is no additional fee, but it is crucial that you always have a compact license issued through your primary state of residence.

What if your current PSOR isn’t part of the eNLC?

Nurses who live in non-compact states can’t apply for compact licenses. However, they can apply for multiple state licenses where they want to work. You can only hold one compact nursing license, but you can have as many single-state nursing licenses as you’re approved for.

Note: Every single-state license has to be renewed according to its state’s laws. You won’t be able to renew all of them simultaneously like you can with a compact nursing license.

The only way to get a compact nursing license if you don’t live in a compact state is to relocate.

How to transfer your nursing license to another state

This is called licensure by endorsement if you need to get a new nursing license because you’ve moved or taken a job. It’s similar to transferring a license and involves reaching out to the new state’s board of nursing.

If you relocate, you must update your license to reflect your new primary state of residence (PSOR). This process can get tricky if you’re moving from a non-compact state to a compact state and vice-versa, so we’ve put together a helpful guide for any situation you may face.

If you move from one compact state to another compact state

  • Apply for licensure by an endorsement through your new state’s board of nursing

  • You can continue to work on your old multistate license until the new one is approved

  • Your previous state’s compact license will be deactivated once the new one is issued

Moving between compact states is the easiest way to transfer a nursing license. You don’t have to pay additional fees, and you can still keep working without any hassle.

If you move from a compact state to a non-compact state

  • You must apply for licensure by endorsement to continue working on your current license

  • After you apply for licensure in your new state, it will convert to a single-state license

  • Your previous compact license will deactivate after your new, non-compact state license is issued

Nurses who move to non-compact states will have to apply for single-state licenses in any outside states they want to continue working in, even if those states are part of the NLC.

If you move from a non-compact state to a compact state

  • You can still keep your single-state license for your previous state

  • You will have to apply for a compact license in your new state

Any single-state licenses you have will remain valid, but you may only have one compact license from any state at any given time.

If you move from a non-compact state to another non-compact state

  • You can keep your single-state license, but you must apply for a new single-state license in your new state

Nurses in the US can hold as many single-state nursing licenses as they want. To maintain licensure, you must renew them according to each state’s guidelines.

Do you have to retake the NCLEX to move to a new state?

No, nurses who hold valid nursing licenses in compact or non-compact states aren’t required to retest if they want to transfer their license. You can apply for licensure by endorsement in your new state, then follow the nursing board’s process for transferring your license.

Nurses aren’t required to retake the NCLEX at any time in their careers. It never expires. Instead, it grants a nursing school access to licensure in their state. Before taking the NCLEX, you must apply for licensure by exam and approval to test (ATT) through your state’s nursing board.

Do compact nursing licenses expire?

All registered nurses must renew their licenses every 2 to 4 years. All states set their own guidelines for nursing licensure renewal. You must follow your nursing board's regulations if you have only one single-state or one compact-state license.

You can hold single-state licenses on top of a compact license. For example, you may apply for single-state licenses in non-compact states while still holding a valid compact license. In this case, you’ll have to renew your compact license and any other single-state licenses separately.

What about the eNLC?

Nurses already holding active compact licenses should know about the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact or eNLC. The eNLC went into effect in October 2018. If you live in a non-compact state, updates to the eNLC could allow you to apply for a compact license in the future.

For compact nurses, eNLC updates expand their career horizons, allowing them to work in even more states as they are implemented into the compact.

If you want to stay up-to-date on all the latest changes to the eNLC, you can sign up for updates through the Nursys notify system. Nursys lets you look up your licenses anytime and offers free status updates sent to your email or cellphone via text message.

Working as a travel nurse with a compact license

Travel nurses tend to prefer compact licenses because they make their jobs easier. Instead of applying for multiple single-state licenses, they can simply move freely between compact states. If you’re considering a career as a travel nurse, you can either apply for a multistate license or relocate to a compact state. While you may be on the road a lot, you won’t have any trouble if your primary state of residence is in the compact.

Non-compact state travel nurses must earn single-state licenses wherever they want to take assignments. So, if you’re a nurse in California, you’ll have to apply separately in every state you take jobs in.

The future of compact nursing licenses

As the eNLC improves nurse licensure regulations, more states may decide to adopt the compact. Doing so helps create a more comprehensive, consistent nursing industry nationwide. It also helps states struggling with staffing shortages fill positions more easily with qualified, experienced RNs.

Compact nursing was life-saving during the COVID-19 pandemic when so many facilities were overrun by severely ill patients. The eNLC made it possible for thousands of nurses to travel where they were needed the most.

Although the pandemic has quieted, nurses are still needed everywhere. Holding a compact license makes it possible for a nurse to respond whenever a hospital or healthcare facility needs their assistance.

With a compact nursing license, you can care for more patients and easily deliver your skills and compassion, where it can have the greatest impact.