Find out California’s requirements to get your nursing license so you can become an RN in California.
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- The California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) regulates nursing licenses and practice.
- You can apply for your California RN license by examination or endorsement.
- You’ll renew your RN license by the last day of your birth month every two years.
If you’re earning a nursing degree in California or planning to work as a nurse in California, you’ll need to know the steps, requirements, and fees to getting your registered nurse (RN) license in the state. This guide covers the information you need to know about getting, keeping, and renewing your California RN license.
California State Board of Nursing
The California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) regulates and enforces standards for nursing licensure and practice. The agency also issues temporary and permanent licenses, evaluates new licenses, and reviews license renewal applications for licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and advanced practice registered nurses.
Featured Online RN-to-BSN Programs
California Nursing Education Requirements
To become an RN in California, you must earn a nursing degree from an accredited and approved program. However, you have two options to fulfill that requirement depending on your finances, time, and career goals.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
A two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) can offer a faster and less expensive pathway to becoming a registered nurse. An ADN focuses on practical skills in nursing, such as taking vital signs, controlling infection, keeping patient records, and administering treatments. You’ll also learn specific skills to care for different populations, including newborns, children, and older adults.
Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN)
A four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) can give you higher average pay, more autonomy, and better patient outcomes. You’ll learn the core concepts and skills in basic nursing care. This degree introduces you to different nursing specialties, such as public health, mental health, and informatics. You can pursue leadership roles with the knowledge of leadership and management your BSN provides.
Applying for a Nursing License in California
When you apply for your RN license in California, you’ll complete many of the same steps, whether you are a new graduate nurse or an experienced nurse. However, if you’re a new nurse, you’ll get your California RN license by passing the NCLEX-RN.
If you’re an experienced nurse with a current, active license in another state or U.S. territory, you’ll complete a couple more steps to verify your out-of-state nursing degree and license.
RN Licensure by Examination
Student nurses or recent graduates of an ADN or BSN program should apply for their RN license by examination. Using this pathway, you’ll pass the NCLEX-RN and your score will be sent to the BRN to qualify you for your first RN license. To apply for licensure by examination in California, you’ll submit:
- Official transcripts sent directly to the BRN from your nursing program
- An application packet
- An application fee of between $300-$750
- A fingerprint card submitted directly to the BRN, so they can complete your background check
Once you submit your application, the BRN will send you an Authorization to Test (ATT), so you can schedule your testing appointment with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
If you need to retake the NCLEX, you must resubmit your application and fee. When the BRN gets your passing NCLEX score sent directly from the NCSBN, they’ll issue you an RN license.
RN Licensure by Endorsement
To apply for RN licensure by endorsement or reciprocity in California, you must earn a degree from a nursing program approved by the BRN, pass the NCLEX-RN, and hold an active RN license in another state or U.S. territory. If you do not do all three steps, you must apply for licensure by examination.
If you’re eligible to get your license by endorsement, you’ll need to:
- Complete an online application
- Get fingerprinted electronically or on a hard card for the background check
- Submit a Nursys verification application or a “verification of license” form, if your current license is in Pennsylvania
- Submit the application fee of $399 for the application and background check
- Documents explaining any criminal convictions or disciplinary action actions on any previously held professional license, not just your RN license, if applicable
How to Maintain Your Nursing License in California
Your first RN license in California is valid for two birthdays, which is usually less than two years. After your first renewal period, you’ll renew your license by the last day of your birth month every two years. The BRN sends out a renewal reminder three months before your license expires. You may not renew your license earlier than three months before it expires.
To renew your RN license, you need to:
- Complete the online application for renewal in your BreEZe account through the BRN
- Pay the $190 renewal fee
- Provide a full set of fingerprints
- Submit proof of completion for the required 30 continuing education hours
Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing in California
How long does it take to get a California RN license?
It takes 2-4 years to get an RN license in California. Most of this time is spent earning your degree, so you have to choose if you want a two-year associate degree in nursing or a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing.
What do you need to become a RN in California?
To become an RN in California, you need to earn an ADN or BSN, pass the NCLEX, complete an application packet, pay the application fee, and pass a background check. You’ll need to send your NCLEX scores, official transcripts, and verification of your current RN license, if you have one, to California’s state board of nursing to complete your application.
How much does an RN earn in California?
As a registered nurse in California, you can earn an average of $133,340 per year. This annual salary equals $64.10 per hour. Your salary depends on what setting you work in, where in California you work, and how much experience you have.
How often do you renew a California nursing license?
Your first California RN license is active for two birthdays, which may be less than two years. After the initial renewal period, you’ll renew your license every two years by the last day of your birth month. You can start renewing your license up to three months before it expires.