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Improving Professional License Transfers for Military Spouses

license transfers military spouses

Military spouses often experience career turbulence related to frequent PCSs and deployments. Imagine earning a degree or maintaining a professional license while the constant threat of being uprooted lurks in the shadows. This can cause a lot of anxiety, seemingly unanswerable questions, and financial strain.

License Transfers for Military Spouses: How to Improve

In February 2020, the Department of Defense provided a report to Congress titled Military Spouse Licensure: State Best Practices and Strategies for Achieving Reciprocity. This report provides paths to improvement for states’ licensing practices. The long-term solutions outlined in this report include the full implementation of interstate compacts.

Military Spouse Residency Relief Act

While it’s obvious where you physically live, navigating residency and domicile can be complicated for military spouses. Where you claim residency and domicile can impact the process of renewing or transferring licenses.

The Military Spouse Residency Relief Act is a 2018 Amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act designed to allow military spouses to choose to establish residency in the same state as their active duty service member or to establish residency with each PCS. Your state of residency, however, could influence the cost and eligibility of licensure in some states.

Transferring a license or certification to a new state often requires licensing fees. Military spouses arguably go through the rigmarole of license transfer more frequently than civilians holding the same licenses. As of 2018, military spouses are eligible for up to $1,000 in reimbursement for licensure and certification costs resulting from PCS moves.

Many states support military spouses through expedited applications, issuing temporary licenses, or recognizing existing licenses from other states. The US Department of Labor provides a Military Spouse Interstate License Recognition Options map that provides an overview of the rights of military spouses in all 50 states.

Agreements that Improve License Transfer Processes

Eliminating barriers to licensing transfer has clear benefits for military spouses – reducing costs and limiting periods of unemployment. It also has benefits for the general public. Many career fields that meet the needs of the community – like healthcare – suffer from a shortage of qualified workers in that field. Expediting licensure processes and eliminating barriers improves the number of qualified people in the workforce.


Attorneys can connect through the Military Spouse JD Network, which supports spouses in the legal profession through advocacy, education, and through networking. Attorneys are required to hold a separate license in each state – a process that can take up to a year and cost thousands of dollars.

  • There is progress to be made: many military spouses have passed 3 or 4 different bar examinations.

Emergency Medicine

The EMS Compact has been planned since 2012 and requires expedited licensure processing for veterans, active duty military members, and military spouses who hold emergency medicine certifications (EMR, EMT, paramedic). It is anticipated to be fully operational in 2020.

  • There is still room for improvement: only 20 states currently participate.


The Nurse Licensure Compact allows licensed nurses to continue practicing in other states – including practicing telemedicine – without having to obtain additional licenses. This agreement has been supporting healthcare improvement for over 18 years.

  • There is still room for improvement: just 34 states are members of the compact.

Physical Therapy

The Physical Therapy Compact makes physical therapists and physical therapist assistants eligible to work within multiple states. Several states waive fees for active duty military, veterans, and spouses.

  • There is still room for improvement: only 20 states currently participate.


The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact expedites licensure for physicians already practicing medicine and allows them to practice in multiple states.

  • There is still room for improvement: just 29 states participate in the compact.


The Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact was developed primarily to promote the use of telepsychology. It is not yet fully operational, but when it is, it will decrease barriers for those in the field of psychology.

  • There is still room for improvement: less than 10 states participate.

The Bottom Line

The employment landscape for military spouses who hold professional licenses is improving. But there is progress to be made. These compacts are not perfect. If you are preparing to PCS, contact the licensing board in the state you are moving to for specific details about your rights as a military spouse in that state and license transfer requirements.

A military spouse and attorney co-founded MissionLICENSE. This organization supports and advocates for military spouses in navigating licensure transfers from state to state in any profession. If you aren’t finding the answers you need, perhaps this organization can support you in successfully transferring a professional license.





About the author

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Chelsea Bostelman is a registered nurse who stays busy with freelance writing, exploring Europe, and working on a graduate degree in nursing. She founded the Stuttgart Nurse Journal Club to provide underemployed nurses with free continuing education opportunities. A 10-year military spouse, she and her family spend their free time hiking, biking, and eating in southern Germany.