5 Quickest and the Longest States to Get RN Licenses

Health Carousel Travel Nursing
November 14, 2022
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Whether you’re a first-time travel nurse or a seasoned veteran, the matter of obtaining licensure in a new state you’d like to work in is always a hurdle. In some states, nurses can obtain licensure from the state’s board of nursing usually within 2 weeks. We’ll discuss the states that have the longest licensure windows, on average, for nurses who reside in another state. We’ll also review the top 5 quickest states to get a nursing license in.


If you’re an experienced travel nurse, you likely are familiar with the term “compact state license.” A compact state is one that has enacted the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) through legislation. This enables registered nurses with an active RN license and who are a permanent resident of that state to work in other participating compact states without having to obtain additional nursing licensure. For example, a nurse whose permanent residence is in Baltimore, Maryland, can work a travel assignment in Augusta, Maine, without having to obtain licensure. Why? Because both states are members of the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC) agreement or compact state alliance.

See a map and full explanation of compact state traveling by clicking here.

If a nurse resides in a state that is not an NLC member, but wishes to travel to a state that is an NLC member, they must apply for licensure in that state just as they would anywhere else. Upon obtaining a license in that compact state, however, they do not have the same access to all other compact states, as someone who resides in an NLC member state would—they only have licensure for that single state.


Now that we have a general understanding of NLC member states and who can travel on a compact license, let’s look at the states that can be most time-consuming for a nurse when trying to obtain permanent licensure. Each timespan listed is an average—in some cases licensure can be obtained more quickly, while in some circumstances, it could take even longer. Also, for newly graduated nurses, licensing will usually take longer pending receipt of your nursing board scores and nurse graduate program transcripts.


Surprised California doesn’t top the list? The Buckeye State actually takes the cake as the longest state to get licensed in, on average, and with attractive Midwestern cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, many nurses in the surrounding states (and beyond) go through Ohio’s long licensure process. Like most states, Ohio requires a fingerprint and criminal background check. Learn more by visiting the Ohio Board of Nursing website.


Ah, California—a bucket-list destination for many travel nurses. With promises of gorgeous weather and high pay (though be sure to consider the high cost of living in many major cities), California is the state our recruiters are most-asked about when the topic of licensure comes up. With a similar (though sometimes shorter) time frame to Ohio’s licensure process, travel nurses interested in California jobs must take the long-view. Consider applying for licensure first while taking another assignment elsewhere as the process plays out. Once you obtain your California RN license, you can then begin your Golden State job search (ask a THS recruiter about California cities where you can get the most bang for your buck). Please keep in mind that California does require fingerprints.

To learn more about obtaining a California nursing licensure by endorsement, check out this recent article from HCTN. You can also explore the California Board of Nursing website for more information.


Before diving too deeply into the Maryland RN licensure process, it’s important to again recognize that Maryland is a compact state. Therefore, if your permanent residence is in another NLC member state and you have a compact nursing license, you can work as a travel nurse in Maryland without additional licensure.

If you do not already have a compact state license and are interested in working in Maryland, however, be prepared to wait 10 weeks, on average, for a Maryland RN license. With excellent opportunities for travelers in Baltimore, the wait is worth it for many nurses. Learn more about the fingerprint and background check process and more on the Maryland Board of Nursing website.


Another compact state, Maine is home to beautiful Acadia National Park, world-famous lobster festivals, and many quaint seaside towns. For these reasons and more Maine assignments have become a hot commodity in the traveler community, especially in the summer and fall months. If you’re interested in working as a travel RN in Maine (and you don’t have a compact state nursing license), expect to wait 8-10 weeks for licensure. Fingerprints and a background check are required; learn more about the process on the Maine Board of Nursing website.


The Last Frontier is calling! While that may be the case, a nurse interested in working in Alaska must first go through the (on average) 8-week nursing license process. Alaska, like all the aforementioned states, requires fingerprints and a background check from nurses applying for a license. Learn more about obtaining your license in Alaska on the state’s Board of Nursing website.


While these states didn’t make the top 5, they were very close, and are worth keeping in mind as a travel nurse.

  • Illinois
  • Michigan 
  • New Jersey 
  • New York
  • Indiana 
  • Nebraska
  • Iowa 

5 States Where One Can Get a Nursing License Quickly

Now that we’ve reviewed the states with the longest licensing turnaround time, let’s review the quickest states to get a permanent nursing license.


Georgia notoriously has one of the quickest turnaround times for permanent nursing licensure. After you submit your application and requirements, expect to have your license within 10-14 days.


Alabama is another state with an average licensure time frame of around 2-3 weeks.


While the Hawaii Board of Nursing’s website states an average of 45-60 days for licensure, most nurses receive their new license within 2 weeks.

South Carolina

South Carolina’s Board of Nursing website states the licensure process takes around 14 days.


Kentucky is another state where nursing licensure turnaround time is typically quick, averaging around 7-14 business days.

There are a few cases when temporary licenses can be obtained through the state board of nursing. Sometimes states grant temporary permits for nurses to practice. This is when a nurse has applied for permanent licensure within the state, but the state may be backed up with processing. In this case, the state grants a temporary state nursing license.

Other states, like Arizona, provide a temporary travel nursing license to travel nurses. These are referred to as walkthrough states. Travel nurses often apply for these, which allows them to practice nursing in the state during the duration of their travel nursing assignment. Not all states will grant temporary licenses, so check with the state board of nursing before assuming.

Remember, the average times listed above will vary depending on the time of year and current demand. If you live in a compact state and hold an active RN license, apply for a compact nursing license, which allows you to work in other participating compact states. A compact license can help you bridge the gap when awaiting permanent licensure.

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Find the Travel Job that’s Right for You

Interested in how the pay stacks up in other states not on this list? Our trusty Super Nurse sidekicks are standing by to answer any questions you have. Click below to get information on opportunities in other states!

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