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The NCLEX and Moving Between States - An Easy Guide

Congratulations! You are nearing or are done with nursing school and many people take that opportunity to seek out a new home in a different state than they went to school in for a variety of reasons. But this can bring up some obvious questions such as …
If I took the NCLEX here and move there, do I need to retake it?
Is my nursing license still valid? If not, what do I need to do?
If my primary residence is here, can I take the NCLEX in the new state I am planning on moving to?

NCLEX is National

So let me put your mind at ease a little – the NCLEX is a national exam and is valid in any state you want to practice in. It does not vary from state to state. RNs in Georgia take the same NCLEX as RNs in Nevada for example. However, there are a couple of hoops you need to jump through in order to get initial licensure and move.

License is by State

Essentially, although RNs and PNs take a national NCLEX exam – they do not have a national license. They have to get a state license in any state they wish to practice in by applying to each board individually. It is pretty straightforward once you have your initial license, but it can get confusing because each state does it a little differently.

This allows each state to regulate their RNs and PNs as well as you must abide by a state nursing practice act of the state you practice in. The scope can be slightly different and you must take the responsibility to read up on your practice act and know it for yourself. NCSBN has a good website with all the nursing boards contact information on it - https://www.ncsbn.org/contactbon.htm

Figure Out If You are Eligible for that State

Deep breath…let’s go. So first things first – after you graduate, in order to sit for the NCLEX you have to get an initial license. You can get this in the state you are going to move to (if the board of that state allows it) or the state that you went to your nursing school in. If you are in college, you might be a permanent resident of another state that you want a license in - residency doesn't matter where you take the NCLEX or where you get licensed. But you MUST read the board’s requirements and see what they are. Each state is unique and has different guidelines and requirements. It is obviously outside the scope of this blog to review each state but if you have a specific question, you may email me.

It may be quicker to sit for the examination in the state that you went to school and receive a license by examination in that state. Then you can apply for a license by endorsement in the state you want to move to - but then you would have to pay for two licenses.

Go to the state’s nursing board website and look for the “Nurse by Examination Requirements”. The first time you get a license it is "By Examination". When you have a license and you want to apply for a license in another state then it is "By Endorsement". If you look at the Florida Board of Nursing website their requirement detail that you can attend a Florida eligible nursing school, a military school, an international school, or another state’s nursing school if they have an NCLEX code by NCSBN and qualify to be licensed by examination in Florida.

When you apply to a board of nursing look at their requirements carefully. If you are applying to a state that is not the same state that your nursing school is in, you often must submit an affidavit of graduation. Make sure you keep copies of EVERYTHING and mail it certified to them. If you are moving – make sure you put a stable address on your application where you can receive the mail they send back. It can take varying amounts of time for your board to review your application – so submit it well in advance of your target test date.

Once a board deems you eligible to test then they give you a testing window – most are about 90 days that you have to take the test by after receiving the letter (so read the fine print and don’t take forever!). Each board's testing window is a different duration.

It doesn't matter where you physically take the NCLEX.

The NCLEX is an international exam and you may take it at any qualified testing center. If you want to be licensed in Arizona, you do not have to take the NCLEX in Arizona. You could take the NCLEX in Boston and the score would be communicated to the Arizona board of nursing if that is the board you applied to. Make sure you search for test centers around where you want to take the test. A busy metro area might not have the test date you want – but if you are willing to drive to the next town, they might have a good opening for you.

What if I wasn’t eligible to license by examination in the state I want to work in? or What if I need a license in a different state now?

Okay, so maybe plans changed and you need a license in a different state now. This is called “licensure by endorsement”.

To start this process, you have to do two things – apply to the new state’s board of nursing through their licensure by endorsement process. And typically you have to pay to have your license verified by Nursys.

Nursys is a national online database that verifies licenses for employers, the public, and nursing boards. It’s a little tricky, most states participate in Nursys but not all, so check on their website at https://www.nursys.com/NLV/NLVJurisdictions.aspx. On Nursys it is free to send verification of your license to one or multiple states.

If your state’s nursing board doesn’t participate in Nursys then often you have to get them to fill out an affidavit and mail it to the state’s nursing board you are applying to and there may be a small fee.

Whether or not the state has Nursys does not affect where you take the NCLEX. It doesn't matter if you move from a non-Nursys to a Nursys or a Nursys state to another Nursys state or a Nursys state to a non-Nursys state. Your NCLEX result is valid in every state of the nation. Moving in these instances just changes how your license is verified and the steps you have to take. It takes a little longer to verify a license from a non-Nursys state because you have to contact that state nursing board directly to send an endorsement to the new state you are applying to.

What is the Nurse Licensure Compact?

The other thing you should know about is the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). The NLC states that have agreed if a nurse has a license in one of the participating states, then they will honor it and it streamlines the process to work in another compact state. For example, if you have a license in South Carolina and wanted to move to Colorado, then you could work in Colorado with your SC license for up to 30 days while your license got approved and issued by Colorado. You still must apply for licensure in Colorado but the process is a little less strenuous than if you moved from a non-compact state.

It doesn't matter if you are moving from NLC to non-NLC or non-NLC to NLC to take the NCLEX. The NCLEX is valid in every state. What changes is the endorsement process and how long it takes to get issued a license in the new state. Here is a good map of the NLC https://www.ncsbn.org/nlc.htm.

Can I have various active licenses in different states?

Yes. You can have 50 state nursing licenses if you wanted to. It would be a lot of paperwork! But essentially, you also have to keep up with fees and continuing education for any state. A lot of people keep active licenses in at least 2 states. This allows you to travel nurse in another state or some people keep it if they think there is a possibility they might need to move. For example, a friend of mine has elderly parents in Florida but she lives in Texas. She has kept a license in Florida in case she needs to quickly relocate to help her parents. This would allow her the option of getting a quick temporary nurse position there and relocating easily. Some people that live in a town on a state line get two licenses so they have more job options. Lake Tahoe is a good example of a city that might have employers in two different states.

Under what scenario would I ever have to retake the NCLEX and do this again?

So typically for any state to renew a nursing license they require a certain number of practice hours. These can typically be paid or voluntary. If you don't meet those practice hours required to be competent then to keep a nursing license you may have to retake the NCLEX to show you know enough to care for patients safely.

The other situation is if you let your license lapse and didn't work for a couple of years as a nurse but then decided to go back to it, reinstate your license and start working again. Depending on how long it is since you have had a license, that state might require you to take the NCLEX again. Some states also have an option where you can take a refresher course instead of retaking the NCLEX - it just depends on the state. For example, in South Carolina, if it has been over 5 years since you have held a nursing license you can take a refresher course or the NCLEX. If it has been less than 5 years then you can show that you have had 30 hours of continuing education, maintained a certification, got another nursing degree, or completed a refresher course.

What else?

Always check the board of nursing for the state you want to move to. There can be unique rules and qualifications. Sometimes states require specific continuing education (CE) requirements that you have to take online (e.g. New York requires a sexual abuse course). Most nursing schools include all these unique items in your curriculum for the state they are in. My Florida nursing school included the hour of CE on HIV/AIDS for example one day in class and gave us certificates to submit for the Florida board of nursing.

Some states require other options to show you know their practice act. In Texas, all nurses must take a separate state board called the “Texas nursing jurisprudence examination”. This is an online exam that you can take from home that makes sure you have reviewed and are competent on the specific nursing practice act in Texas.

We hope this helps with your post-graduation plans!