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How to Become a Registered Nurse in California with a Foreign Country's Nursing License

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Despite being a nurse in your country of origin, becoming licensed to practice as a nurse in California will require that you successfully complete the NCLEX-RN examination required of all US nursing students. The only exception to this rule is if you graduated from a Canadian school or university. For nurses from all other countries, significant documentation is required to ensure that your education was adequate for US standards. If English is not the language of your country, you will need to demonstrate first your ability to understand the language proficiently by completing a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination. Then you must arrange for an official translator to translate your school transcripts. Be patient and start early.

Apply to take and successfully complete the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if your nursing classes were taught in a language other than English. Specify at the time of your examination for your scores to be forwarded to the California Board of Registered Nurses. According to the board's website, it may take up to 6 months for the state to receive TOEFL scores, so begin this process as soon as possible.

Print out the Application for License by Examination packet located on the California Board of Registered Nurses website or in this article's Resources. This multipage packet includes the application, instructions, a checklist and all necessary forms a foreign-educated nurse will require for the state.

Choose which fingerprint option -- Live Scan or Fingerprint Card -- you wish to use to complete your criminal background check. You are asked to make this decision early in your application process as your total application fee to the state board depends upon which option you choose. Please note that you will still be required to pay the fingerprint processing fees in addition to your application fee to state. The Board strongly suggests that you use the Live-Scan system, which usually returns results within 2 weeks as opposed to up to 2 months for the fingerprint card system.

Complete your fingerprint documentation via Live Scan or by the card method. Specific instructions for either method are included in the application packet.

Complete the California Application for Licensure by Examination form. Attach the recent photograph to the form.

Send a "Breakdown of Educational Program for International Nursing Programs" form to your school with the "Request for Transcript" form. Request that your school also send you a copy of your transcript in addition to sending an official copy directly to the California Board.

Using the options provided in the printed packet, choose a translator if your transcript is not in English. Provide her with the "Certified English Translation" form to complete and establish her credentials. This form and a copy of her translation of your transcript will be forwarded to the Board.

Submit a copy of your license or diploma from your native country. If you graduated but do not hold a license in your country, you must provide a written explanation to the Board.

Mail your completed application, the total fees depending upon your choice of a fingerprint method, your photograph and a copy of your country's license or diploma. It will also be helpful to the Board if you include a cover letter listing the status of the additional documentation that international nurses require, such as your progress in obtaining a translator, confirmation that you have requested your transcripts, etc.

When your approval is received, schedule and successfully complete your NCLEX-RN examination at a Pearson VUE testing center. While United States nursing graduates can usually receive their examination approval in 2 to 4 weeks, the times required to receive and process international documentation can take up to 6 months.


The Board requires TOEFL only if an applicant attended a non-English speaking nursing school and is applying for an Interim Permit.

Start the process as early as possible due to time delays that often accompany receipt of international documents.


If you change your name or address after submitting your application for licensure, notify the Board immediately in order to receive current information and to avoid not receiving additional instructions or your test approval.

You are required to submit legal documentation of any name change to the Board. Examples cited include a "birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce decree, and/or court documents, social security card or passport. A copy of a driver’s license is not acceptable."

The Board warns applicants in bold letters that "Your name must match EXACTLY as it appears on your photo identification that you will present at the test center."

If your nursing school documentation is deemed inadequate by the California Board, you may be required to successfully complete additional educational courses prior to your application's approval.