How to Get a Nursing License in California
Guide to Getting a California Nursing License
Beaches, historic sites, sunshine, mountains, high paying contracts... what’s not to love about nursing in California? California has the most travel jobs available, reputable nurse-patient staffing ratios, and some of the highest-paying contracts in the country. It has a diverse population of over 38 million and is home to some of the top-ranked hospitals in the nation.
California has been called a "nurse’s heaven." The only true downside? The licensing process. It’s certainly not easy, or speedy, but it’s definitely worthwhile.
With all the perks of working and living in California, it’s no wonder that the Board of Nursing is kept busy year-round. For starters, it is not a compact or walk-through state. California has a very specific process for obtaining a license, which can be take weeks or even months to get through.
Understanding the California licensing process and the steps involved can reduce frustration and ensure that you can get your California license with as few time-consuming delays and headaches as possible.
For all of the official information and to get the process started, you’re going to want to visit (and bookmark) the California Board of Nursing. Since we’re just here to help and are not the gatekeepers, always refer to the BON for official processes and requirements!
Starting the California Licensing Process
You can receive your California license by endorsement in two ways. Either way is going to cost you, whether it’s time or money. The choice is yours. But seriously, don’t let the process discourage you!
The First Way Requires a Trip to California
This is by far the fastest and smoothest way to go, but understandably not practical for everyone. It’s a good excuse for a vacation, but if that isn’t feasible, some employers will reimburse the travel costs to get this done when you sign your first California contract with them!
The Second Method Uses Good Old-Fashioned Snail-Mail
And lots of patience. The documentation is the same regardless of which method you choose, with the exception of fingerprinting. Let’s get into it!
- Head to the California Board of Nursing site and print “The Application for Licensure by Endorsement.” This packet will explain the process in detail and is helpful to have handy for reference.
- Nursing License Verification: Nursys is an online license verification. It also offers a free service, “e-notify,” that keeps you up-to-date regarding your nursing licenses. It's the service we use on Trusted to verify and track your licenses! The fee to request license verification is $30.00. It’s important to note that the verification is immediately processed but is only valid for 90 days.
So be sure to wait until you are ready to actually submit your application before requesting your license verification so you’re not shelling out more cash than you need to.
- Passport Photo: The application packet provides detail regarding what is considered an acceptable photo. Your best bet is to obtain a passport photo at locations like Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Target, etc. Yelp is quite handy if you just type in "Passport Photo" into the search.
If you’re crafty and have a nice white wall, go ahead and take one yourself (just make sure to check the photo guidelines)!
- College Transcripts: If you thought you were walking off campus never to look back, sorry! Obtaining your transcripts can be a bit of a pain and takes some time. For that reason, it’s important to get this process started as soon as you begin the licensing process. You will need to request the transcripts be sent to the BON. Check with your school for the exact process.
The good news is that many schools can do part or all of this process electronically, which speeds things up.
Specific California Licensure Requirements
California is a bit nuanced in that it can require prerequisite courses that may fall outside the scope of what was covered in your nursing program. Fortunately, it’s not likely that this is the case, but you may need to check a few more classes off depending on your program.
Six (6) semesters or nine (9) quarter units including principals of:
- Oral Communication
- Written Communication
- Group communication
Related Natural Sciences
Sixteen (16) semester or twenty-four (24) quarter units to include:
- Anatomy with lab
- Microbiology with lab
- Behavioral sciences (Psychology)
- Social Sciences
California also requires 30 continuing education credits every two years.
- LiveScan (Method 1): LiveScan uses electronic fingerprints and prevents many of the issues found with traditional fingerprinting (human error, lost mail, speed of snail-mail). Unfortunately, at this time, the BON only accepts LiveScans that are physically completed within the state of California. So, ideally, your quickest way to get that California license in hand is to make that trip to California to get LiveScan fingerprinted.
Some say this can cut the wait time in half, though it’s a fairly rough guess. It’s totally understandable that for many this isn’t a viable option. But it’s worth considering if you’re planning a vacation or have friends or family you’ve been meaning to visit! And like we mentioned, some agencies will reimburse the travel expenses associated with this if your first California contract is with them. Hey, it’s worth asking, right?
- Fingerprint Card (Method 2): Yep, technology-free! You can request a fingerprint card on the BON website (linked above) and then sit tight and wait for them to arrive in the mail. Some nurses have reported having difficulty receiving the cards in a timely manner and have just resorted to using the standard fingerprint cards found at the fingerprinting locations (such as a police station or a post office).
Always double check the website right before you are ready to proceed with any step, but especially with this one! Head to a fingerprinting location, pay the fee (which varies), and obtain TWO instances of your fingerprints. Why two you may ask? Old fashioned fingerprinting is notorious for being smudged and being difficult to read. If your set of fingerprints has any issue, trying to identify that there’s an issue and resolving it will be a nightmare.
Prevention is huge here. Like alcohol and Cavilon, be sure to allow the cards to dry thoroughly before placing in an envelope and never fold the fingerprint cards.
- You must meet the educational requirements (above) AND pass the NCLEX-RN. Further details for international nurses can be found on the BON website.
- The BON may also request the applicant to take the English comprehension examination (TOEFL) if there is reasonable doubt of an applicant’s ability to comprehend the English language or if they have completed their initial nursing program in a non-English language of instruction.
The Do’s, Don’ts, Maybe’s, and Considerations
- Do pursue your interest in getting a California nursing license!
- Don’t get discouraged! Thousands of people have successfully done it.
- Ensure your name on your identification and background checks matches your application to a "T." Leave no room for error here!
- If you change your name and/or address after you submit your application, immediately notify the board or you will experience delays. Legal documentation for a name change are required such as a marriage certificate, divorce decree, social security card, court documents, or a passport. A copy of your driver’s license CANNOT be used as acceptable proof of a name change. It would probably be a good idea not to take on a name change simultaneous to licensing.
- Temporary licenses are available in California and are valid for 6 months for an additional fee of $50.00. The process is the same except that processing can proceed before college transcripts are verified. The temporary license process still takes several weeks to process however, so many find that a temporary license isn’t necessary. It’s entirely up to you but hasn’t been exceptionally fruitful for most.
Board of Registered Nursing Contact Information
- Mailing Address: Board of Registered Nursing, P.O. Box 944210, Sacramento, CA 94244-2100
- Physical Address: Board of Registered Nursing, 1747 North Market Blvd, Suite 150, Sacramento, CA, 95834-1924
- Phone (Main Office): (916) 322-3350
- Email: email@example.com
Don't Wait! Get the Process Started
The BON makes it clear on their website that due to the large number of applicants, phone calls to check on application status are highly discouraged (and are unlikely to ever be answered). Another option is to sign up and fill out a profile on BreEZe, which allows you to verify a professional license.
The BON also sets expectations via their Processing Times list– the dates that are still in the queue, what dates are currently being processed, and a rough estimate of expected time frames.
Because of the time involved in getting a California license, if you are thinking about traveling to California for an assignment, there’s no time like the present to get started! And when that $2600+ gross weekly opportunity shows up in your "Matches," you’ll be fully qualified with "license in hand," doing a little happy dance and thanking yourself for getting the process started way back when (now!).
Interested in checking out travel nurse opportunities in another state?