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Renew Your Nursing License Before It Expires: 5 Things to Know

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated April 4, 2023
    Nursing license renewal rules vary depending on the state. Check out what crucial rules you need to know and how to renew an expired nursing license.
    Credit: dragana991 / Getty Images
    • Nurses cannot practice without an active nursing license from their state’s board of nursing, which must be periodically renewed depending on the state requirements.
    • Nurses who practice without an active license face possible suspension or probation on their license, a fine, a misdemeanor criminal charge, or a felony charge in states with enhanced penalties.
    • Nurses should know the dates their nursing license must be renewed, the renewal rules in their state, the fees, and any required continuing education hours.

    To practice nursing, you must have an active nursing license from your state’s board of nursing. Renewing that license is a requirement to keep your job. Some healthcare institutions track when the staff’s nursing licenses expire since they may incur fines for allowing an unlicensed nurse to practice.

    The renewal period and requirements for renewal vary by state. Discover what you can expect when you renew your state nursing license and five factors you might want to know about the renewal process.

    How to Renew Your Nursing License Before It Expires

    The easiest and simplest way to renew your nursing license is to do it before it expires. If you plan to discontinue practicing, you may request to make the license inactive with your state’s board of nursing.

    Once the nursing license has expired, many states place the license on inactive status. Depending on the rules of your state, you may need to pay an additional renewal fee or take a board-approved re-entry program or refresher courses. While the process may vary by state, these are the general steps required to renew your nursing license before it expires.

    1 | Start the Process Early

    Take time to check your state’s requirements for nursing continuing education (CE) credits or practice hours and ensure you have the proper documentation to fulfill the requirement. Check the status of your nursing license and learn the timetable your state’s board of nursing uses to renew nursing licenses.

    For instance, if your state requires six weeks to approve the renewal but you finalize the application within three weeks of expiration, you may not be able to work until the license is renewed, depending on your state.

    2 | Complete Prerequisite CE or Practice Requirements

    Some states have a specified number of CE hours that must be completed and submitted to renew your nursing license. Other states may have specific CE courses that must be completed. For example, Pennsylvania requires all nurses to complete a child abuse CE for license renewal.

    States may also have practice requirements, like Delaware which requires nurses to have 1,000 practice hours in the past five years, 400 practice hours in the past two years, or a refresher course in the past two years.

    Finally, some states have no requirements to renew your expired nursing license.

    3 | Check the Status of Your License

    Typically, you can check the status of your nursing license through the board of nursing website or state portal. You want to ensure it is currently active and there are no infractions against your license that may have been filed.

    4 | Complete the Application

    Most, if not all, states have the option to renew your nursing license online if it has not expired. Take care to use the recommended hardware and software to access the state portal. Some states recommend using the Internet Explorer browser as other browsers will result in technical difficulties.

    You may also need to access the portal using a computer and not a phone, tablet, or iPad. You will need access to legal information such as your social security number, legal address, nursing license number, and date of birth.

    5 | Pay the Application Fee

    The cost to renew a soon-to-be expired nursing license varies by state. Your state’s board of nursing website or portal will outline the fees involved, which may be higher if you allowed your nursing license to expire.

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    What to Do if Your Nursing License Expires

    If your nursing license expires before you are able to renew, there are options. However, options vary by state and there are consequences for working with an expired nursing license.

    Expired Nursing License Grace Period

    The renewal requirements differ for nurses with newly expired licenses or if the license has expired for two, five, or more years. Many states have a grace period for nurses who are late renewing their expired nursing licenses.

    For example, Michigan has a 60-day grace period and Georgia has a 30-day grace period where you can renew your license, with an additional late fee, without going through relicensure. Every board of nursing can determine if and for how long they may extend a grace period for renewal.

    Most states that have a grace period allow you to renew your expired nursing license online. However, once you are past the grace period, you often have to submit additional documentation for relicensure. You must contact the board of nursing in your state to determine any additional steps necessary to renew an expired nursing license.

    These steps can include catching up on CE hours, a refresher course, or retaking the National Council Licensure Examination.

    Consequences of Working with an Expired Nursing License

    An active license is the law for nurses who want to practice nursing. There are several legal consequences if you break the law. In most states, practicing without a license is a misdemeanor criminal charge, but some states have “enhanced penalties.” This allows the state to charge the nurse with a felony.

    It is more common for nurses to incur a fine if they work under an expired license. The size of the fine varies depending on the state. You are not allowed to work without a license and in some cases, you may be suspended or placed on probation by your state’s board of nursing. Depending on the length of time you have been practicing without a license, you may also face nursing disciplinary action from your employer.

    Nurses should check with their state’s board of nursing to determine if they are within the state’s grace period to renew their expired nursing licenses. If your license has expired and you need income before the new license is activated, there are several options available. For example, you can work as a medical assistant without a nursing license but must practice within the scope of the medical assistant job description.

    Some hospitals allow nurses whose license has lapsed to work as medical assistants until the renewal has been approved. Other positions that do not require an active license include nurse educator, laboratory technician, health information technician, and clinical research associate.

    5 Things to Know About the Nursing License Renewal Process

    Nurses must renew their licenses but the process and procedure can vary depending on their home state. These are the five things you need to know about renewing your nursing license no matter where you live.

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      Know Your Nursing License Expiration Date

      Your nursing license has an expiration date that varies depending on the state. It can be from 1-4 years. You should find out the date your license expires from your state’s board of nursing and mark it on your calendar to start the renewal process 60 days before it expires.

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      Know the Renewal Rules in Your State

      Every state has different renewal periods and different rules for nurses who miss submitting a renewal application. Some states have grace periods during which you can submit an application with a late fee without going through relicensure. Other states require additional documentation to renew an expired nursing license. It is crucial you know the rules in your state.

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      Know the Continuing Education Requirements for Renewal

      Most states require nurses to submit continuing education hours with their license renewal application. These hours must be completed through a provider recognized by the board of nursing.

      Most states do random audits of your CE hour certification, such as California’s requirements and Ohio’s requirements. All states require you to keep your CE certificates for a period of no less than two years and up to six years, depending on the state.

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      Know the Online Renewal Time Period

      States open the online renewal period 90-30 days before your renewal deadline. The time period depends on the state. You must know when the portal in your state opens so you can start the process as early as possible.

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      Know How Much the Renewal Application Costs

      Renewal application cost varies by state but is usually less than $100. States use an online system to accept payment of the renewal application fees.