Registered Nurse Certification in How to Become an RN in North Carolina: Nursing License Application and Renewal Guide

If you want to become a registered nurse (RN) in North Carolina, you must follow specific steps to qualify and apply for licensure. Meeting the education requirements and successfully getting licensed as an RN can take several years, so this career decision requires commitment.

However, dedicating yourself to this career path can pay off. There is a serious healthcare staff shortage in the U.S., and by becoming a part of the solution, you can have a career with a high degree of job security. As of July 2019, RNs in North Carolina earned an average hourly rate of $31.18. While this is lower than the national average for RNs, the field is inarguably well-paying.

If you want to become an indispensable part of the healthcare workforce and take your career to the next level, becoming an RN is a smart move. This guide will walk you through the entire process and give you the information you need to get started on your path toward becoming an RN.

North Carolina Board of Nursing

As set out in the Nursing Practice Act by the General Assembly of North Carolina, the North Carolina Board of Nursing handles licensing for registered nurses in the state. This organization is responsible for regulating the practice of nursing, approving and monitoring nursing education programs, and investigating complaints against licensed nurses in North Carolina.

The Board is located at:

North Carolina Board of Nursing
4516 Lake Boone Trail
Raleigh, NC 27607

Written correspondence can be sent to the Board at:

North Carolina Board of Nursing
P.O. Box 2129
Raleigh, NC 27602-2129
Fax: (919) 781-9461

If you have any questions about nursing licensing in North Carolina, you can also call the Board at (919) 782-3211.

There are several different levels of nursing licensure in the Tar Heel State. Generally, RNs are responsible for planning and carrying out medical interventions and treatments, but there are several different specializations that are reflected in licensing. Advanced practice registered nurse is a broad term used to describe RNs who are certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse practitioners. Each of these has their own specific licensing requirements, but this guide will focus on the requirements to become an RN — a necessary step before you can be licensed in any of these advanced fields.

Registered Nurse Education Requirements

Across the nation, nursing certification standards mandate that candidates meet certain nurse education requirements. Seeking a formal education in nursing will give you the skills and knowledge needed to excel in healthcare — not to mention pass the necessary certification exam.

Individuals looking to become an RN must obtain at least a two-year associate’s degree in nursing, though many facilities require a bachelor’s degree. Those looking to advance in their career would do well to look into getting a master’s degree in their preferred specialty as well, though this isn’t strictly required to start working as an RN.

There are many registered nursing schools across the U.S. that can give you the education needed to succeed as an RN in this state. North Carolina recognizes nursing schools that are accredited by major commissions such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education In Nursing (ACEN).

RN Licensure by Examination

All new candidates who are not currently licensed as an RN in another jurisdiction must apply to become an RN by examination. This process involves filling out an application online, passing a criminal background check, and taking the required examination. Advice on each of these steps will be provided below.

Note, however, that if you are already licensed in another jurisdiction, you may be eligible to apply for RN licensure in North Carolina by endorsement. Skip to the relevant section later in this guide for insight on this.

Fingerprinting and Background Checks

All candidates applying for licensure must undergo a fingerprint-based criminal history check by the State Bureau of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation:

  • In-state applicants should use Live Scan, a digital fingerprinting option that can be used to submit your data directly to both organizations. This is done as part of the online application via the Nurse Gateway. It has a non-refundable fee of $30, which can be paid with a credit or debit card.
  • Out-of-state applicants will be issued fingerprint cards and have instructions for completing the criminal background check mailed to them.

If a past criminal offense is related to the duties and responsibilities of an RN — or if the conviction is related to a crime of a violent or sexual nature — the applicant may be ineligible to become an RN. The Board must consider applicants on a case-by-case basis if there are concerns. If rejected, applicants can appeal the decision within 30 days.

The Board recommends that applicants complete this step prior to testing. It can take up to two weeks upon receipt for your background check to be processed. You can review the status of your background check on the Nurse Gateway.

Approved Exams

The North Carolina Board of Nursing uses the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to assess candidates seeking to become licensed RNs. Candidates may be limited in how many times they can sit the exam, so it may pay to use a practice exam to prepare for the formal test.

Applying to Take a Certification Exam

To apply for licensure by examination, you must:

  • Access the Nurse Gateway and complete the online application;
  • Pay the necessary non-refundable fees to take the examination. This includes a $75 application fee to the North Carolina Board of Nursing four to six weeks prior to program completion and a $200 registration fee to Pearson Vue two weeks prior to program completion;
  • Receive an authorization to test (ATT) letter — which will be sent to you via email within 10 days of both fees being paid — then schedule your exam on the Pearson Vue website or via phone at (866) 496-2539.

For answers to common questions and more information on the NCLEX, you should review the 2020 NCLEX Examination Candidate Bulletin. You can also reach out to Pearson Vue by emailing them at

Getting Your License

Completing the above steps — filling out the online application, doing the criminal background check, and taking the examination — will complete your application. You will receive an Application Confirmation, which serves as your receipt that you’ve completed it. The application processing time usually takes up to five business days. You can check on the Nurse Gateway periodically to check your application status.

Once your application is processed, you will receive an email confirming whether it was approved or denied. You can then access your license certificate on the Nurse Gateway, where you can download and print it. Note that the North Carolina Board of Nursing does not issue wallet-sized license cards, nor do they mail out physical licensure certificates.

RN Licensure by Endorsement (Out-of-State Applicants)

Before applying by endorsement, determine if your current license qualifies you to work in North Carolina. The Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) is an agreement that allows RNs to work in eNLC states as long as they meet some basic requirements. Licensed RNs from nearby states such as South Carolina and Virginia may already be qualified to perform work in North Carolina. These states include:

ArkansasNew Hampshire
ColoradoNew Jersey
DelawareNew Mexico
FloridaNorth Carolina
GeorgiaNorth Dakota
IndianaSouth Carolina
IowaSouth Dakota
MarylandWest Virginia

If you are already licensed in one of the above states, you may already have a multistate license — as such, you may not need to apply to perform work as an RN in North Carolina. Contact the Board if you have any questions about this agreement.

Otherwise, you will need to apply by endorsement. To qualify, you must have:

  • An active license in another jurisdiction;
  • Completed an accredited nursing education program that was approved by the jurisdiction of original licensure;
  • Passed the NCLEX or the State Board Test Pool Examination (SBTPE);
  • Completed any court conditions resulting from any convictions;
  • Have written explanations and relevant documents for past disciplinary actions taken against you as an RN.

You can complete the application via the Nurse Gateway on the North Carolina Board of Nursing website. Have all information on your current licensure and past nursing experience, including details about your nursing education background, on hand to speed up the application process.

RN License Renewal

Is your license within 90 days of its expiration date? As long as you don’t claim another eNLC state as your primary residence and meet the continuing competence requirements (see below), you are eligible to renew your license.

This can also be done online via the Nurse Gateway; simply click on the “expiring soon!” tile under the “Licenses/Approval to Practice/Certifications” tab. You’ll then be able to select “Renewal/Reinstatement” to begin your application. This requires a non-refundable fee of $100 to the Board, payable by credit or debit card.

Continuing Competence Requirements

Nursing practices are always evolving. New advancements, such as telehealth technologies and artificial intelligence, are changing the nursing landscape. As such, nursing professionals are expected to pursue continued education to remain informed of these developments and current best practices.

Before a license renewal or reinstatement can be issued, applicants must meet at least one of the following continuing competence requirements:

  • You’ve been certified (or re-certified) by a national credentialing body that is recognized by the Board;
  • At least 30 contact hours of continued education;
  • At least 15 contact hours of continued education and 640 hours of active practice within the past two years;
  • Completed at least two semester hours of post-licensure academic education related to nursing;
  • Completed a board-approved refresher course.

If you don’t meet any of the above, note that there are some additional eligibility requirements that you might meet. Review the Board website for more details or reach out to them using the contact information above if you have any questions.

North Carolina Nursing License Verification

If you need to authenticate an individual’s licensing status with the North Carolina Board of Nursing, you can enter their information on the Board’s License Verification tool. You may search using the person’s license number, their name, their contact information, or their Social Security number. If you are licensed as an RN in North Carolina, your information will be listed here as well.

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