What are compact states for nursing?

By ShiftMed Team//Nursing Profession
Nurse talking to a patient

Compact states are part of the eNLC or enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact. This is an agreement developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Nurses with one compact license can travel and work in different compact states.

Since 2015, the eNLC (then the NLC) has grown from 25 states to 37. In 2018, the enhanced version of the Nursing Licensure Compact added new standards for multistate nurse licenses. For example, you now have to pass a state and federal background check and submit fingerprints if you want to get an eNLC license, which wasn’t a requirement before.

eNLC states in 2023

What are compact states in nursing? Any state that has been implemented by the NCSBN. Currently, 39 jurisdictions are part of the eNLC.

In addition to 37 states, Guam and the US Virgin Islands are also part of the eNLC, though the Virgin Islands are still pending implementation at the time of this article’s publication.

Here are the eNLC states as of January 1, 2023

  • Alabama

  • Arizona

  • Arkansas

  • Colorado

  • Delaware

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • 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

  • Oklahoma

  • Pennsylvania (Pending implementation)

  • South Carolina

  • South Dakota

  • Tennessee

  • Texas

  • Utah

  • Vermont

  • Virginia

  • West Virginia (Registered and practical nurses)

  • Wisconsin 

  • Wyoming

Compact nursing states by ShiftMed

If you live in any of these states, you can apply for a multistate nursing license that allows you to work across compact states. Nurses in Pennsylvania will have to wait until PA is implemented before they can get their compact licenses.

What states are not part of the nursing compact?

Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, and Washington state do not belong to the eNLC.

If you live in any of these states, you can only apply for a single-state nursing license. If you want to work in another state, you’ll have to apply for a license there, too. Nurses can have as many single-state licenses as they’re approved for, but they can only hold one compact license at a time.

Compact nurse license application

Do you want to get your eNLC license? We’ve broken down the application process so it’s easy to follow.

If you already have your RN license and live in a compact state, then you’ll have to follow the steps for converting to a multistate license.

You’ll have to complete the RN license requirements if you don't have a license yet. These include getting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited school and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

These steps are for nurses who have already passed the NCLEX.

  1. Confirm your primary state of residence (PSOR) is part of the eNLC

  2. Make sure your current nursing license has no active disciplinary action

  3. Long onto your state’s nursing board website, and click “eNLC Upgrade Application” or “Apply for a multistate license”

  4. Submit state and federal background checks, plus fingerprints, to your state’s nursing board

  5. Follow any additional instructions, and wait for your approval

As long as you don’t have any outstanding disciplinary actions or criminal record, you shouldn’t have a problem getting your compact nursing license.

Keep in mind that you are legally required to reveal if you’re currently participating in an alternative discipline program, as per the eNLC’s Uniform Licensure Requirements for a Multi-state License.

Can I still get a compact nursing license if I don’t live in a compact state?

A lot of nurses in non-compact states want to work as travel nurses. The easiest way to become a travel nurse is with a multistate license. Unfortunately, living in one of the 13 non-compact states (or D.C.) means that you can’t get a compact license.

The eNLC requires compact nurses to have a primary state of residence (PSOR) that’s part of the compact.

Does this mean you can’t ever become a travel nurse? Not at all! You could offer services in your state, which wouldn’t require any additional certification or licensure on your behalf.

You could also apply for a single-state license in other states that you travel to. Nurses from non-compact states can get around having a multistate license by applying for single-state licenses wherever they want to work.

For example, let’s say you’re a nurse in New York. New York isn’t a compact state. But there are jobs closely in New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania that you wouldn’t mind taking. To work in those states, you can apply for a nursing license in each one.

Apply for licensure by endorsement

For nurses who have already passed the NCLEX and have a license in their state, getting a nursing license in another state is straightforward. It’s called “licensure by endorsement.” You have to log onto the state’s board of nursing, apply for licensure by endorsement, pay the fees, and await your results. That’s it!

You won’t have to retake the NCLEX-RN every time you apply for a new state license. In fact, nurses who pass the NCLEX never have to take the exam again. You’ll just have to complete the CEUs (continued education units) and renewal requirements for each state you’re licensed for.

Move to a compact state

If you are committed to working as a travel nurse and want a compact license, moving to a compact state is the only way to qualify. If you move from a non-compact state, you can apply for a multistate license on your new state’s board of nursing. You’ll have to be able to prove residency there, usually through a federal tax return, driver’s license, state ID, or voter’s registration. Homeownership does not count as proof of residency for nurses.

Nurses who move from non-compact to compact states can keep their single-state license from their previous state of residence. You’ll also be able to obtain a compact license from your new state.

If you want to keep your single-state license, you’ll have to renew it separately from your compact license.

Remember, holding single-state licenses means you have to renew each one separately. States have their own requirements for renewal. You’ll have to stay on top of each license’s deadlines to avoid any lapses in licensure.

Nurses from compact states only have to renew their multistate license every few years.

Why compact states are important for nurses

Compact states help nurses travel more easily, which means they can help more people. For travel nurses and disaster relief nurses, holding a multistate license helps them reach patients faster without any hassle.

During times of crises, like the 2019/2020 coronavirus pandemic, states were overwhelmed by patients. They also suffered subsequent nursing shortages. Compact nursing licenses made it possible for nurses from other parts of the US to respond to their calls for help. They could hop on a plane and reach a hospital or care center in hours and assist people where nurses were most needed.

Although healthcare has stabilized a bit since the initial pandemic, there is still a major demand for skilled nurses throughout the country. Travel nurses have many jobs available, and a multistate license expands their opportunities.

Additionally, the eNLC helps increase access to healthcare for people who may not be able to easily get it where they live. It helps close nursing shortages and reduces costs at every level of the healthcare model.

Stay up-to-date with eNLC states in 2023

Sign up for the Nursys e-Notify system to get emails or text messages whenever there are changes to the eNLC. You can easily find out what states are part of the compact and which ones are being added.

Hopefully, as more states become aware of the value of compact nursing, they’ll decide to join the eNLC. You’ll be one of the first to know if they do, thanks to the Nursys system.

Nursys is America’s only official database for nursing licensure, run by the NCSBN. It’s free for nurses to use and allows you to easily get information about license status, upcoming expiration, renewals, or public disciplinary action or alerts.

You can also use Nursys verification participating board when you’re applying for licensure by endorsement in another state. You’ll have to pay $30 per license. The system makes it a lot easier to streamline single-state applications because your verification and information is immediately forwarded to your target state’s nursing board.

Compact nursing license FAQs

What state is the hardest to get a nursing license in?

Midwest states take the longest with nursing license applications. Ohio is one of the longest because it requires all nurses to submit federal background checks and fingerprints before they can begin working.

Maryland also takes a while to issue RN licenses, with an average waiting period of 10 weeks. The good news is that Maryland and Ohio are both compact states, so once you get licensed in them, you don’t have to apply for licensure again to work in another compact state.

Why is California not a nursing compact state?

California is a dream destination for many travel nurses. It has gorgeous weather, higher pay than most parts of the country, and plenty of opportunities to work with various age demographics. However, CA has one of the country’s strictest nursing regulations. It hasn’t joined the eNLC yet because it wants to maintain its own safety standards.

Nurses in California already have to clear background checks and provide fingerprints to get their state licenses. The state wants to ensure that its safety and training requirements are maintained, so it's hesitant to join a compact that would allow travel nurses to work there easily.

Why would a state choose not to be part of the compact?

The biggest concern for non-compact states is safety. Although the eNLC wants to standardize nursing requirements across the country, there are still major gaps between nursing applications in different states. The greatest risk, as non-compact states see it, is criminal backgrounds.

The NLC didn’t require background checks, which posed a greater risk for patients. However, the eNLC does require state and federal background checks. Progress is being made, and we may see more states join the compact in the future.

Are multistate and compact the same thing?

Yes, a multistate nursing license and compact nursing license are the same. If you hold one, you can work in any state that’s part of the eNLC agreement.