January 10, 2020

Travel Nurse Licensing Guide

what documents do travel nurses need

Travel Nurse License Requirements, Types & FAQs

Congrats! You’ve decided you’re ready to become a gypsy nurse. Now what? There’s a lot of information out there on how to obtain your nursing license in each state. But what does a travel nurse need to do to get licensed? We’re breaking down the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact, temporary and permanent licenses, and what that means for nurses who choose to travel with TNAA. 

This guide covers a lot of information. Use these links to find what you’re looking for faster.

travel nurse license requirements

While we like to think our process is painless, the reality is that it’s not. Coordinating things like credentialing, documentation, and housing can be stressful. We do everything we can to make the onboarding experience simple. Our robust full-team approach makes getting documents — and all the copies — as easy possible. But that doesn’t make it any less time-intensive.

Remember our ‘robust, full-team approach’ that we just mentioned? We want to highlight that again, because having incomplete or missing qualifications typically prevents an assignment from starting on time. Which can mean you’re leaving money on the table. And no one wants that.

Reminder: While most facilities do not require a BSN to be a travel nurse, you will need your RN license and at least 1 year of experience for most specialties. To see a complete list of specialties and everything you need to know to travel in your specialty, start here.

Part 1: What Type of License Does a Travel Nurse Need?

You will need to hold a current and valid RN license within the state of the assignment. There are 3 types of licensure accepted, and you’ll need 1 of them — depending on where you’re primarily based and licensed as a nurse. Let’s break it down.

  • an eNLC license
  • Walkthrough license
  • State-specific license

eNLC or Compact License

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) allowed a nurse to have 1 multistate license with the ability to practice in their home state and the other participating compact states. In 2018 terminology changed, and the NLC became the eNLC. All of the original states (except for Rhode Island) adopted the new guidelines.

compact state map nurse licensure

Walkthrough License

This license allows nurses to start working quickly while they’re in the process of receiving a permanent license for that state. Walkthrough states are an excellent option for travel nurses whose PSOR isn’t a compact state. As we know, licensure times vary significantly from state-to-state, but there are a few states that process temporary licenses quickly. You may even get your temp license within 48 hours. This is a privilege for nurses who hold a current license in another state. For travel nurses, you’ll also need to be in the application process for your permanent license. 

TNAA Perk: We offer our nurses world-class support; this includes assistance with licensure processes. We will simplify the process of getting the license you need to work. Think of us as your travel nurse concierge: no license, no problem!

State-Specific License

There are a few states that don’t fit either of those scenarios. And that means you’ll need to apply for licensure to be eligible to work in that state. Since these states operate independently, the licensure timeline can vary greatly. And some states, like California, can take months to issue your license. We recommend being open with your recruiter as soon as possible about your personal and professional goals so they can start the process as quickly as possible. However, our nurses to enjoy a more efficient experience…

nurse applying for a license

Part 2: TNAA Licensing Valet Program

We believe in doing things differently; that’s why we offer an expedited and simplified program specifically for California and Illinois. We call it our Licensing Valet Program because our team does the legwork for you, so you get licensed weeks or even months faster than doing it on your own. Here’s what you need to know:  

  • Exclusive: This is the only program of its kind in the travel nursing industry. And it’s only available to TNAA travelers. 
  • Expedited: We work behind the scenes to eliminate the hurdles that travelers typically experience when applying in these states. 
  • Easy: Once your recruiter knows you’re interested in working in California or Illinois, they will check to see if you qualify. From there, your licensing specialist will get to work.

“While on assignment in Arizona, I asked my recruiter about getting my California license. I figured, while I was so close, I could drive over to California to get my fingerprinting done electronically. My recruiter connected me with the Licensing Valet Program. My specialist walked me through the complicated process of this license. She even had a contact at the CA BON. TNAA staff are so professional and have the knowledge and expertise necessary to ensure I have the regulatory licensing that allows me to perform my job.” — Jeanise, RN

Travel Nurse Tip: Speed is everything in this industry. The first qualified applicant to interview will likely get the job; that’s why we recommend marking emails from your credentialing team as priority.

Part 3: Managing Your Travel Nurse Requirements

Quite simply, multiple entities will require your documentation. Your agency (or agencies), your facility, and your state BON. And while your agency or state BON will be sending, verifying, and providing documentation, you should always keep copies on hand. Some call it the CYA copies — if you know what we mean. 

Physical Documentation

Most of our travel nurses keep physical copies of all documents in a physical binder, accordion folder, or small file cabinet. We like all these options! Technology is great, but if a server crashes, can you provide needed documentation? Here are a few things our nurses told us they keep:

  • Personal Identification: While you should always have a valid ID on you, keep all your extras in one place. Think state-issued ID, passport, birth certificate, social security card, etc. Protect your identifying information with a lock or passcode so no one but you can easily access it. 
  • Medical Records: Most travel nurse jobs will require a physical exam and copies of your medical records. Ask your doctor for your most recent transcript or print one from your patient portal. This could be important if you need to see a doctor on assignment who might not have access to your records.
  • Nursing Credentials: We’ll get into credentialing more on this guide, but a copy of your degree, state license information, and any credentials — like your CCRN or ACLS certificates.

Safety Reminder: Protect your identifying information with a lock or passcode so no one can easily access it but you. 

travel nurse documentation

Digital Files

It’s 2020, and everything is digital, from your contract to requesting license verification. You can quickly digitize your documents with a scanner, a PDF-creation app, or by saving a picture of your document as a PDF. If you don’t want to use your phone and/or don’t have access to a scanner, your local library should be able to help but expect a small fee. Keeping your personal information online or storing it digitally can be nerve-wracking in a world of cyber-insecurity. So what do you when you need quick, digital access but want to protect your info?

  • Encrypted USB File: You can keep all your important documents into an encrypted USB file for safe storage. Windows 7 and 10 (Enterprise, Ultimate, and Pro versions) have a free encryption tool, but you can always go to your local tech store to help you do this. Using this method keeps all your data protected and portable. 
  • Google file: Google Drive is a free file storage and synchronization service that comes with your free Google email. We love it because you can store, search, and share files across all devices. No one can access the file without a link from you. We recommend turning on 2-Step Verification if you choose this option.

Part 4: Licensing Advice From a Travel Nurse

Now you know everything about obtaining the licenses you need to work as a travel nurse and how we approach this process. We asked one of our nurses to help with this guide. After all, nurses just understand each other. Meet Luann, a Med-Surg RN with helpful advice for new travel nurses. The nurse’s name has been changed for privacy.

What was your PSOR before traveling?

“My primary state of licensing was Indiana. Like most nurses, my school helped me through that process – which in Indiana can be a bit tricky (they want that photo to be exactly the right size). My school brought in a photographer and somewhere in a government office there is a picture of me in my nursing school scrubs holding the Indiana flag smiling awkwardly.”

Since Indiana has not enacted its eNLC legislation yet, tell us about your experience with licensing.

“At the time that I applied for my initial license, Indiana was not a compact state. In 2019, they passed legislation to become compact, but they are still not in complete compliance with that process, so I am still unable to apply for compact licensure under their laws. Unfortunately, I’ve had to apply for each of the licenses I’ve obtained as a traveler. Mostly it’s been smooth sailing, but I’ve had a few hiccups along the way. The biggest way to stay successful with licensing is to start as early as possible and stay as organized as possible.

what documents do travel nurses need

I always print a copy of the application, even if I’m going to complete and submit it online. This helps me gather everything that I need prior to filling it out and helps me to visualize various requirements (attachments, application costs, etc). Most applications will have a checklist of required documents within the application itself. I always print this and use it as the cover of whatever documents I’m working from.

I really recommend traveling with copies of important documents that may be required by the board I’m applying for. Some boards will want a copy of your birth certificate, others may want your social security card or driver’s license. I have a separate expanding file that contains all of those documents so I don’t have to worry about where they are (i.e. a safe deposit box six states away).”

You have a criminal charge on your background. How does that impact licensing?

Note: An applicant for licensure must demonstrate good professional character. Meaning, your BON will look at any criminal history to determine if it’s relevant to the evaluation of professional character. 

“I refer to my charge as the kerfuffle. If you’ve had a kerfuffle with the law, always make sure you have a copy of any documents associated with said kerfuffle; and a few letters of recommendation that you can pull from. Often times boards will want at least three letters of recommendation within two years, even if your kerfuffle was over a decade ago. Nobody’s perfect. I also make sure I have a phone number for the board in case I have questions. TNAA’s compliance specialists can also be helpful during this time.”

Tell us about your experience with TNAA’s Licensing Valet Program.

“I was in my first travel assignment but I was a few contracts in before we used it. My recruiter, James, mentioned it when we decided to try for CA. I used the Licensing Valet in August and had my California license in November 2017. The process was efficient. I was sent a packet and I completed said packet within the allotted time. A few months later, I got my license. Easy.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Oh, you’re not fluent in all things BON, PSOR, and if you’re eligible for a compact license? Don’t worry. We’ve compiled the questions we get the most below. 

Compact License FAQ
Do I have a compact license?
What are the benefits of being a nurse in a compact state?
What if I want to work in a non-compact state?
What if my home state, where I'm licensed, has pending legislation?
What if I'm licensed in a state with no eNLC legislation?
Am I eligible for a compact license if I live in a non-compact state and own a home in a compact state?
Licensure Terms to Know
BON
PSOR
eNLC
Nursys