December 13, 2022

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, read our breakdown of Travel Nursing by Specialty.

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 three types of licensure accepted, and you’ll need one 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 one 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.

Temporary 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. 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 from our Quality Assurance Specialists 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 get to enjoy a more efficient experience.

Travel Tips for State-Specific Licenses:

Here are a few tips that can help you get the assignment destinations you want:

  1. Make a Travel Road Map. List all places you’d like to take an assignment. Discuss your “Travel Road Map” with your recruiter so they can watch for those assignments.
  2. Count up your licenses. Determine which states you already hold a license in or can obtain one quickly (more information below about temp licenses, walk-thru states, etc.).
  3. Apply while on assignment. While on assignment in one of the “quick license” states identified on your “Road Map,” start the process of obtaining a license in the states that have longer waits.
  4. Update your list. As you take new assignments, consider where you want to go next and discuss those destinations with your recruiter!

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 for getting your licenses.

We have a team of experienced and dedicated Licensing Specialists who are ready to assist you through the entire license process from start to finish. As soon as you book with us, the licensing team will reach out to you to help you obtain a license for your assignment. Not ready to book with us yet? No worries! Our valuable Licensing Team is able to provide you with quick tips and tricks on how to apply for a license. We have information on turn around times and licensing costs that are available for all states. Just let your recruiter know which states you are interested in and we can provide you with information on obtaining that license.

“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 the 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 in our travel nurse orientation 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

In this day and age, 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 do when you need quick, digital access but want to protect your info?

  • Encrypted USB File: You can keep all your important documents on an encrypted USB file for safe storage. 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 and smiling awkwardly.”

what documents do travel nurses need

Tell us about your experience with licensing.

“At the time that I applied for my initial license, Indiana was not a compact state. [When it comes to obtaining additional licenses 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.

“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. This means 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. Oftentimes, 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. 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