Everything you need to know about the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC)

kendall upton

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton

Staff Writer

closeup of diverse group of smiling nurse faces
closeup of diverse group of smiling nurse faces

If you want to become a nurse in another state, you’ll need to know about the NLC.

If you’ve done any research on nurse licensure, you’ve undoubtedly come across something called the Nurse Licensure Compact. This multistate agreement, which allows nurses to easily practice in participating states has been around since 2000, with more states joining nearly every year. The compact expands access to care for patients along with a slew of other benefits, but has its share of drawbacks, too. Whether or not you live and practice in a compact state, nurses should familiarize themselves with the NLC to understand what it is and how it may affect their practice.   

What is the Nurse Licensure Compact?

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) is an agreement between states to mutually recognizing RN and LPN licenses among member states. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) regulates the NLC. It was created to allow nurses to possess one multistate license that would allow them to practice in all participating or “compact” states. There are currently 39 United States jurisdictions that have enacted the NLC.

When an RN or LPN possesses a multistate license, they can do the following:

  • Nurses can practice via telenursing in all compact states
  • Nurse educators in compact states can teach via distance learning in all compact states
  • Nurses can practice in-person across borders in other compact states (which can be especially useful for travel nurses or nurses who live along a state border but work in a neighboring state)
  • Nurses can quickly provide services during disasters in other NLC states

It should be noted that if you are moving (changing your primary residence) from one compact state to another, you still need to apply for a new multistate license by endorsement in the state you are moving to. Even if you already had a multistate license in your original state, you must apply for a new one which reflects your new primary residence.

What is the eNLC?

The Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) is an updated version of the NLC that was implemented in 2018. All states that were a part of the original NLC had to adopt the eNLC if they wanted to participate, meaning they weren’t automatically a member of the eNLC just because they were a member of the original NLC. Most states that were a part of the original NLC have already enacted the eNLC or having pending legislation to do so.  

The eNLC added 11 uniform licensure requirements (ULRs) for nurses applying for a multistate license. One of the bigger changes was requiring all applicants to submit state and federal fingerprint-based criminal background checks as part of their application.  

Today, you may hear the NLC and eNLC used interchangeably. They are the same thing—even though the eNLC is a newer version, people still call it the NLC, too.

Which states are NLC members?

Today there are 39 U.S. jurisdictions that have enacted the NLC. A few states that have enacted the NLC are still waiting for the NLC to be implemented. Several more have legislation pending that would allow them to join the NLC if their respective bills pass. Check out the table below to find out the current status of each state and jurisdiction regarding the NLC:

StateNLC member (compact state)NLC enacted or waiting implementationPending NLC legislationNon-NLC, no legislation pending
American SamoaX
District of Columbia (D.C.)X
Mariana IslandsX
New HampshireX
New JerseyX
New MexicoX
New YorkX
North CarolinaX
North DakotaX
Puerto RicoX
Rhode IslandX
South CarolinaX
South DakotaX
Virgin IslandX
West VirginiaX

States pending implementation

Three states have enacted the NLC, but it has yet to go into effect in these jurisdictions:

  • Guam: Guam has only partially implemented the NLC. A date has not been set for full implementation. Nurses holding a multistate license in other NLC states may practice in Guam, but residents cannot obtain a multistate license until implementation is complete.
  • Pennsylvania: The NLC was enacted July 1, 2021. Implementation is in progress but has not been completed.  Federal criminal background checks must be implemented in Pennsylvania, which could prolong the process even further. Pennsylvania residents cannot obtain a multistate license until implementation is completed. Nurses in other NLC states with a multistate license may not practice in PA until implementation is complete.
  • Virgin Islands: The NLC was enacted Dec. 6, 2021 and does not have a date set yet for implementation. Like Pennsylvania, federal criminal background checks must be implemented in the Virgin Islands (VI). VI residents cannot obtain a multistate license until implementation is completed. Nurses in other NLC states with a multistate license may not practice in VI until implementation is complete.

Benefits of the NLC

Supporters of the NLC have said that the NLC is a modern solution to the antiquated single-state licensure model which was the norm for over a century.


…the NLC is a modern solution to the antiquated single-state licensure model which was the norm for over a century.

Nurses would have to apply and pay for a license in every state they wish to practice, a process that could take weeks or months to complete. However, the nursing landscape today is much different than what it once was, from travel nursing to telehealth and much more. Supporters of the NLC say that it has the following benefits for nurses and patients alike:

  • Nurses can practice in-person or virtually via telenursing services with patients across the country without needing to obtain additional licenses.
  • Nurses can quickly provide their services in compact states in the event of a disaster.
  • Nurses can seamlessly provide telehealth services and online nursing education across compact state borders.
  • Travel nurses, military spouses and nurses who live close to a border but practice in another state can easily and more affordably practice in other states (they don’t need to apply and pay for additional licenses).
  • The NLC removes a burdensome expense for organizations that employ nurses and may share the cost of multiple licenses.
  • When nurses can provide services across state borders without being burdened by a state-by-state licensure process, patients have greater and quicker access to care.
  • Having universal standards for nurse licensure ensures quality care and safety for patients.

Are there any downsides?

Not every state has jumped on board the NLC, and there are opposers even in states that have already joined. Opposers say that although the NLC sounds like an enticing idea, it ultimately hurts state authority:

  • Continuing education: The NLC does not set universal standards for continuing education requirements for nurses, which was previously left up to individual states. Without a uniform policy, states may have little or no professional development requirements.
  • Disciplinary/legal action: Critics are concerned that nurses who are disciplined in one state can be disciplined in all NLC states that they practice, which could create a domino effect of disciplinary action against nurse licenses. This takes a toll on the individual nurse, financially and otherwise, but could also limits nursing practice and access to care for patients.
  • Lost revenue: Joining the NLC could reduce state revenue. States make money off nurse application fees, but by joining the NLC, that revenue is lost. Although the NCSBN offers a financial program which would initially assist states in replacing some of that lost revenue, it does not guarantee that all revenue would be replaced.
  • Workforce data: Without issuing its own licenses, states may not have access to demographic data about their nursing workforce. Without that data, states won’t know if the demographic makeup of its workforce reflects the communities they serve.
  • Roe v. Wade: It is unclear how a multistate license could be affected by the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade. Critics are concerned that states that can revoke the license of caregiver who performs or assists with abortions could pursue disciplinary action or revoke the license of someone who does so in a state where it is legal.

Frequently Asked Questions

I live in a non-NLC state, what can I do?

Nurses are only eligible for a multistate license if they formally declare that their primary state of residence is a compact state. You may apply for a license by endorsement in a compact state if you are a resident of a noncompact state. The NCSBN states that, “Your eligibility will be limited to a single state license that is valid in that state only. As a resident of a noncompact state, you can have as many single-state licenses as you wish.”

Does the NLC apply to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs)?

No, the NLC only applies to RN and LPN licenses. APRNs must have an individual license in each state that they practice. 

A new APRN Compact was adopted in 2020. It aims to create a multistate license for APRNs, much in the same way as the NLC. It will be implemented once seven states have enacted legislation to join the compact. Currently, three states have enacted APRN compact legislation and five more have legislation pending.

What do I do if I’m moving from one NLC state to another?

If you already have a multistate license in an NLC state, you need to apply for a new multistate license if you are changing your primary residence to a new NLC state. The NCSBN states, “When permanently relocating to another compact state, apply for licensure by endorsement and complete the Declaration of Primary State of Residence form within the application, which can be found on your board of nursing’s website.”