California Nurse Practitioner Licensure Steps - 2024

AKA: NP License in CA, APRN Licensure

by Staff

Updated: February 13th, 2024

California is the third largest state by area in the United States (US) and the most populous when it comes to residents. Nearly 40 million people live in California, and ensuring all of them have fair and equal access to primary healthcare has become a concern.

The Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAi) published a map of the Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) for the state, revealing many of its residents live in a “high need” zone. Nurse practitioners have been asked to fill in where coverage gaps exist, and as of January 1, 2023, NPs can practice independently, thanks to Assembly Bill 890.

The new legislation makes California the 23rd state to grant Full Practice Authority to NPs. So, if you’re looking to further your nursing career and practice autonomously, California is a great state to start a career as an NP. 

Nurse Practitioner Licensure Requirements in California

Follow below to learn how to become a nurse practitioner (NP) in California.

Initial Registered Nurse (RN) License

Already have your RN License?  Skip to the next section

All prospective NPs must hold a valid registered nurse (RN) license to practice in California, which is issued by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN). There are two ways to obtain this license: RN by Examination and RN by Endorsement.

RN by Examination

To become an RN by Examination, each applicant must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam. This route is for those who have never taken the test or been licensed in another state. Other prerequisites for licensure include completing a BRN-approved nursing program and criminal background check (CBC).

To sit for the NCLEX-RN, you must have an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Those intending to transition to an NP career in the near future should choose the bachelor’s degree route.

You can download an application packet and follow the instructions or view a screen-by-screen snapshot of each step of the online process. Start your online application by creating an account on BreEZe, California’s licensing and enforcement system.

Send the application to the BRN 6-8 weeks before your graduation. Include your official school transcripts and the $49 fee for the CBC. There are two ways to be fingerprinted for the CBC, the Live Scan or Manual Process.

Prepare to take the NCLEX-RN exam and pay the $300 fee. The Board will notify Pearson Vue of your eligibility for the examination, and an Authorization to Test (ATT) will be sent to eligible candidates. You can then schedule the exam either online or by contacting Pearson Vue NCLEX Candidate Services and registering by phone at: (866) 496-2539

Don’t forget to send in the As you wait for the application to be processed; you can apply for an Interim Permit. The temporary permit allows you to work as a nurse in a supervised capacity for a $100 fee.

All applicants are required to provide proof of their nursing education via official transcripts. Graduates of institutions in California have their transcripts submitted to the Board by their institutions automatically. For graduates from other states, you need to contact your school or work with a third-party electronic transcript vendor.

Electronic transcripts are to be sent to Applicants from international nursing programs should have their transcripts mailed to:

Board of Registered Nursing, Licensing Unit
PO Box 944210
Sacramento, CA 94244-2100

Once the BRN examines your application and concludes all requirements have been met, you’ll be issued an RN license. You’ll be able to check your BreEZe account for status updates and notifications.

RN by Endorsement

Those who have passed the NCLEX-RN and hold an active RN license issued by another state or Board-approved institution can apply for a license by endorsement. You must pass the NCLEX-RN even if it’s not required in your original state for licensure.

The BRN recommends applicants use the online system for which a screen-by-screen walkthrough is provided. You can also download the application packet and follow the instructions, which include other forms necessary for submission.

If you don’t already have a BreEZe account, now is the time to create one. Select “RN Endorsement” from the homepage, then “Start a New Application or Take an Exam.” Once the application is complete, you can attach any other required documentation to speed up the process.

Each applicant must provide the following:

  • Fingerprints for federal and state CBC
  • “Verification of License” form included in the packet, or Nursys Verification Application
  • Letters and documents explaining disciplinary action or prior convictions, if applicable
  • Application for a temporary license if you want to work while waiting for a permanent license to be approved

International applicants must send their school the “Breakdown of Educational Program for International Nursing Programs” with the transcript request. All transcripts must be submitted in English and sent by the institution.

The fee for RN by Endorsement is $350. The fee for international candidates is $750. All fees are non-refundable and must be paid with a valid credit card.

Advanced Education Requirements

Prospective California NPs are required to obtain a postgraduate degree, hold RN certification in the state, earn national NP certification, and complete the certification application from the BRN. 

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the most common option for NPs, but not the only one. Others go on to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice or PhD, although it’s not required for NP practice in California.

There are 3 pathways toward licensure that stem from where you earn your advanced practice education. We’ve highlighted the main differences here:

  1. If you completed a California-Based Nurse Practitioner Education Program, the process is the most streamlined. You may not need to attain a nurse practitioner certification by a national organization or association – depending on your desired population foci.
  2. If you completed an out-of-state Nurse Practitioner Education Program, you will need to attain a nurse practitioner certification by a national organization or association and complete a form verifying you have successful done this.
  3. If you completed a nurse practitioner program with the addition of clinical competency and experience attained through “equivalency”, you will need to provide additional documentation from both a nurse practitioner and physician.

To gain acceptance into an MSN program, the majority require you to hold a BSN from a nationally accredited School of Nursing, an active, unencumbered RN license in your state of residence and have earned a Cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Those with GPAs between 2.5 and 2.99 are considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Courses in the program should include advanced pathophysiology, advanced psychosocial assessment, advanced pharmacology, diagnosis, communication, recording patient history, and emergency treatment. 

The program must be approved by the National League of Nursing (NLN) or any other agency recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE). Programs should equip those who complete them with the requisite knowledge, skills, and experience to practice as NPs specializing in a particular area, such as adult, family, or pediatric care. 

National Certification

Following your postgraduate nursing education and if from an out-of-state school, you must be certified as an NP in a given specialty area. That is done by national certifying agencies with the authority to verify the quality of your nurse practitioner education. The Board recognizes the following agencies for nurse practitioner certification:

Certifying agencies either hold certification programs or examinations for nurses willing to be certified as NPs in a given specialty area. You should contact any of the above agencies that certify professionals in the area that you want to practice.

Getting Licensed to Practice as a Nurse Practitioner in California

The application process is to be completed online for a fee of $500. Applicants are expected to hold a valid RN license to practice in California, have completed a board-approved postgraduate nurse practitioner preparatory program, and obtained national certification from board-approved national certifying agencies.

People who had their nurse practitioner training in a California-based institution only need to request that verification of their nurse practitioner program and national certification be sent to the Board by their institution and the applicable certifying agency. Those who completed their program in another state or territory must apply for certification and submit the same documents mentioned above.

If your nurse practitioner training did not meet California standards, verification of clinical competency as a nurse practitioner forms must be submitted for you by a physician and a nurse practitioner. Verification of clinical experience as a nurse practitioner must also be submitted by a physician/or a nurse practitioner. The forms can be found here. Processing times vary for many reasons; hence there is no fixed duration for when to expect your license.

The NP license does not come with prescriptive authority. NPs who intend to prescribe and dispense medication must apply for an NP furnishing number for $400. You can also complete this application online. If you intend to handle controlled drugs, you are required to obtain a permit for such from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).