How to Work in the US as a Foreign-Educated Nurse

16 Min Read Published June 11, 2024
Young nurse taking notes in hospital room

Looking to work in the US as a nurse from another country? This article will explain everything you need to know. Keep reading to learn more about how to work in the U.S. as an RN from anywhere else in the world, including the UK, the Philippines, India, or Australia.

How to Work in the U.S. as a Nurse From Another Country

Current U.S. immigration laws can make it difficult for foreign nurses in the U.S. to obtain jobs. Those interested in pursuing this avenue should obtain the proper visas and paperwork from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department and have the proper foreign nurse licensure requirements for the U.S. 

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Purdue Global

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Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
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Accreditation
CCNE
Location
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Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
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Location
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Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

There are eight key steps foreign-educated nurses will need to take to obtain a position as an RN in a US hospital. 

  1. Meet the educational requirements
  2. Complete a foreign-educated nurses (FEN) course
  3. Take and pass an English language proficiency test, if mandated
  4. Pass your National Council Licensing Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX – RN)
  5. Obtain credential evaluation  
  6. Find a nursing recruiting agency or US-based employer
  7. Apply and obtain an RN immigrant visa/green card
  8. Accept an RN position

Step 1. Meet the US Education Requirements for Nurses

First and foremost, internationally educated nurses must meet basic education requirements. These include: 

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Step 2. Complete a Foreign-Educated Nurses (FEN) Course

While the aforementioned are required, most states also require foreign-educated nurses to complete a Foreign-Educated Nurses (FEN) refresher course.

The course consists of 120 hours in the classroom and 120 hours of clinical practice under the supervision of a licensed Registered Nurse.

Step 3. Pass English Language Proficiency Tests

After meeting the initial education requirements, some foreign-educated nurses must take and pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). This will vary depending on the country of origin and results are sent directly to the state nursing board. 

Nurses who went to nursing school in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada (except Quebec), or Ireland are exempt as are those whose spoken language in nursing school was English and/or the nursing school textbooks were written in English.

It’s important to note that even if you speak English fluently, but your nursing program was held in another language, you will still be required to take an English competency test. There are very few test-opt options available and with increasing wait times, it is simply easier to take the exam and pass versus trying to petition the board for an exemption. 

Step 4. Pass the NCLEX-RN Examination

After ensuring you meet the education and language requirements it’s time to apply for the NCLEX  in the state of intended employment. Registration with Pearson Vue is required and costs $200 plus additional foreign fees.

According to the webpage, NCLEX examinations are currently administered in Australia, Canada, England, China, France, Israel, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Taiwan.

Step 5. Have the CGFNS or Another Credentialing Organization Evaluate Your Credentials

The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) is a company that is employed by State Boards of Nursing to ensure that applicants meet the basic requirements and are fit to take the NCLEX.

Established in 1977 after a thorough investigation of the immigration of foreign-born and educated registered nurses, the U.S. Department of State and Labor developed the Commission with a dual purpose: to ensure safe patient care to Americans and to help prevent the exploitation of graduates from foreign nursing schools who are employed in the United States to practice.

This company specifically will go through all nursing school transcripts and education history from your home country. While this company is the most popular and most well-known - it is expensive and each state requires different levels of credentialing. 

There are three main credentialing reports: 

  1. Credentials Evaluation Service Professional Report
  2. CGFNS Certification Program
  3. Visa Credentials Assessment

Credentials Evaluation Service Professional Report

This report is less involved and cheaper than the Certificate Program or VisaScreen. It provides the basic information for the State Board of Nursing and only a handful of states accept this. 

Below are the requirements you’ll need to meet:

  • English Requirement
  • Secondary School Documents
  • Licensure Documents from your Home Country
  • Nursing Education Documents from your Home Country
  • $350 Fee

CGFNS Certification Program

This evaluation is the same as above but requires the applicant to take the CGFNS Qualifying Exam.

Here are some specifics:

  • Everything in a Credentials Evaluation Service Professional Report
  • CGFNS Qualifying Exam 
  • $445 Fee

The CGFNS Qualifying Exam helps states determine if foreign-educated nurses are well suited to care for patients in America. According to the CGFNS web page, individuals must possess a wide variety of nursing knowledge.

Applicants are required to have a minimum number of classroom and clinical hours in required fields such as pediatric nursing, psychiatric nursing, neonatal nursing, and adult medical/surgical nursing

The examination is held three times a year at over 40 testing centers across the globe. Individuals may travel to other countries, if needed, in order to take the exam. 

VisaScreen: Visa Credentials Assessment

The same requirements as the CGFNS Certification Program but will qualify the individual for a Work Visa after successful completion of the NCLEX. 

You’ll also need to pay a $540 fee.

Other credentialing services could potentially be cheaper and still accepted by the State Boards of Nursing. It is important to check with the State Board before using a different credential service. Alternatives to CGFNS include:

  • International Education Research Foundation 
  • Educational Records Evaluation Service

Step 6: Find a Nursing Recruiting Agency or US-Based Employer

The next step is to obtain an employment visa. There are several options for these nurses but nurses must have sponsorship from a staffing agency. It is easier for foreign nurses to work with an independent staffing recruiter and agency than directly with a hospital.

Agencies are well versed in helping nurses work in the U.S. and have systems in place in order to ensure all information and paperwork is completed accurately. 

Agencies are also invested in ensuring that all documentation is properly filled and finding the best nursing position to protect your interests and that fits your nursing abilities. 

Step 7. Obtain Your Nursing Employment Visa or “Work Visa”

Types of Work Visas for Nurses

Mexican And Canadian Nurses - TN Visa

Mexican and Canadian nurses may work in the United States with a special TN visa if the individual has an offer of employment, a license to practice in their home country, and pass the NCLEX and state licensure requirements. 

H-1B Temporary Work Visa

Nurses who hold a four-year degree and fulfill a specialized nursing role may qualify for an H-1B temporary work visa and then apply for a green card once stateside. These specialized roles include critical care nurses, emergency room nurses, and/or cardiology nurses.

It is important to note that there is a very limited number of H-1C visas available to nurses who want to work in very specific hospitals in underserved communities. 

EB-3 Visa

An EB-3 visa is also commonly referred to as a green card or permanent residency visa. To be eligible for this type of visa, you must have two years of education from an accredited institution and have a license to work in the country where you received your education. 

This visa allows nurses to work in the U.S. at a hospital or other medical facility for ten years. Additionally, with this visa, nurses can bring their spouses and children under 21 to the United States. Of note, the EB-3 visa does not require nurses to have a job offer before they come to the United States.

Step 8. Find a Registered Nursing Job in the US

Many career experts advise nurses to conduct targeted job searches through job boards specific to their area of expertise. You can start by checking out the available positions on the nurse.org job board. If there is a particular hospital you’re interested in, you may want to look on their site to see if they have any openings.

Can I Work in the U.S. as an LPN From Another Country?

Many LPNs from foreign countries want to know if they can practice in the U.S. Unfortunately, U.S. work visas are only issued to foreign RNs and APRNs. Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) are not eligible for work visas in the U.S.

According to CGFNS International, a non-profit organization that helps foreign-educated healthcare professionals live and work in their country of choice, only nurses with a first-level degree or RN credentials (as defined by the International Council of Nurses) have nursing license transferability in the US.  Per CGFNS, at this time, practical and vocational nurses are unfortunately ineligible for licensure in the U.S.

CGFNS reports that the minimum requirements needed to work in the U.S. as a nurse are graduation from an accredited RN program, an unencumbered RN licensure, and two years of working experience in the profession. 

Foreign Educated LPN Requirements by State

Some US state nursing websites have varying degrees of information on how LPNs can obtain work if they are licensed in a foreign country and living in the U.S. with a non-work visa. Unfortunately, much of the information is unclear.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) website states there is an option for obtaining licensure as a foreign-trained LPN in New York, however, the Nursing Board Office at the New York State Education Department was unable to confirm that, and instead advised LPNs to see the requirements to apply for a NYS license and to take the NCLEX via email message.

Per the NYSED website, these are the instructions for applying for licensure as an LPN who graduated from a nursing school in a foreign country (outside of the U.S. and U.S. territories).

STEP 1: Complete New York State’s infection control coursework requirement.

You can find an NYSED-approved infection control course here.

STEP 2: Submit an online application for LPN licensure.

There is also a limited permit application option for those who have not taken the NLCEX-PN.

STEP 3: Have your foreign nursing credentials verified.

There are two options:

  • Arrange to have the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) verify your nursing education credentials to the NYSED using CGFNS’ Credential Verification Service for New York State. You must also arrange for NYSED to receive verification of your nursing license from the licensing authority that issued it using a Verification of Foreign Professional Licensure/Certification form.

  • You must arrange to have your credentials verified by your foreign nursing school using a Certification of Professional Education form.

New Hampshire provides information specifically for foreign educated nurses in Quebec and other non-Candian provinces. Individuals will need to submit the following forms to the New Hampshire Board of Nursing to be eligible for endorsement. 

  • Application for Licensure by Endorsement
  • Declaration of Primary State of Residence
  • Notarized Criminal Record Release Authorization and completed fingerprint card along with any required fee
  • Request for RN/LPN Verification of Original License
  • A minimum of 400 hours of active practice in the 4 years immediately prior to submitting the application  

Provide verification of 30 contact hours of continuing education in the past two years. One hour of learning equals one contact hour.

STEP 4: Pass the NCLEX if you haven’t already.

If you haven’t passed NCLEX-PN, you must register to take the NCLEX-PN with Pearson VUE.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs website California.gov offers applications for vocational nurse licensure by endorsement for foreign-educated LPNs. However, eligibility appears to be for LVNs with Special Immigrant Visas or those who are refugees and asylum seekers.

Contact your state’s individual nursing board for more information on foreign-educated LPN work if you are a foreign-educated LVN in the US with a non-work visa.

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Walden University
Walden’s online programs for nursing meet rigorous standards for academic quality and integrity, and the School of Nursing teaching faculty all hold doctorates. With three degree completion options, you can choose a bachelor’s in nursing path that makes sense for your busy, unpredictable schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

Nurses NOT Eligible To Work In The United States

Unfortunately, not all foreign-educated nurses are eligible to work in the United States. These include but are not limited to:

  • Nurses with less than two years of experience
  • Nurses lacking a four-year nursing degree (state dependent)
  • Individuals who have committed a crime
  • Nurses who lack sponsorship from a reputable nursing agency
  • Nurses without a visa

Next Steps for Nurses Who Want to Work in the U.S.

Due to ever-changing immigration laws, it is important for potential nurse immigrants to speak directly to staffing agencies or immigration lawyers to ensure all laws are followed. Most foreign-educated nurses work closely for several years prior to working in the United States as a registered nurse.

Those seeking additional information regarding specific immigration laws should search the U.S. Department of Homeland Services and U.S. Department of Labor.

FAQs

What are foreign nurse licensure requirements in the US?

  • Minimum of two years of nursing experience
  • Graduation from a four year nursing degree program
  • Proficiency in the english language 
  • Licensure as a Registered Nurse 

Can I work as a nurse in the US without experience?

  • No, in order to become a nurse in the U.S. you must have a minimum of two years of bedside nursing experience. 

How to become a nurse in the USA from the Philippines?

  • Graduate from a four-year accredited nursing program.
  • Pass the required nursing licensure exam. 
  • Practice as a nurse for at least two years in your home country 
  • Complete the required Foreign-Educated Nurses refresher course
  • Pass an English proficiency exam (if from a non-english speaking country)
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
  • Work with the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) to evaluate credentials.
  • Obtain a work visa
  • Work with an employment agency to secure a nursing position 

How to become a nurse in the US from India?

  • Graduate from a four-year accredited nursing program.
  • Pass the required nursing licensure exam. 
  • Practice as a nurse for at least two years in your home country 
  • Complete the required Foreign-Educated Nurses refresher course
  • Pass an English proficiency exam (if from a non-english speaking country)
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
  • Work with the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) to evaluate credentials.
  • Obtain a work visa
  • Work with an employment agency to secure a nursing position 

How to become a nurse in the USA from the UK?

  • Graduate from a four-year accredited nursing program.
  • Pass the required nursing licensure exam. 
  • Practice as a nurse for at least two years in your home country 
  • Complete the required Foreign-Educated Nurses refresher course
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
  • Work with the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) to evaluate credentials.
  • Obtain a work visa
  • Work with an employment agency to secure a nursing position 

How to become a nurse in the US from Australia?

  • Graduate from a four-year accredited nursing program.
  • Pass the required nursing licensure exam. 
  • Practice as a nurse for at least two years in your home country 
  • Complete the required Foreign-Educated Nurses refresher course
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
  • Work with the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) to evaluate credentials.
  • Obtain a work visa
  • Work with an employment agency to secure a nursing position 

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Kathleen Gaines
MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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