The Truth About Social Work Licensure and Out of State Reciprocity

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From A Military Spouse That Moves Every Three Years

Have you ever wondered what it is like to go to graduate school, complete 2000 hours of supervision, and two years of clinical experience, take a national licensing exam and finally get licensed as a clinical social worker; only to have to move every three years? As a military spouse, I have been licensed (or attempted it) in three states, so far. I have also supervised three clinicians that are also licensed in at least two states. Spoiler alert: it’s a gigantic pain.

What You Think License Reciprocity Means

Most people think that if you are licensed in one state (like, Florida), and then you move or get a job in another state, that you can just call them up and “transfer” your license. WRONG!

In my experience, there is no such thing as true reciprocity. Essentially, it is a huge paperwork nightmare and usually an expensive process.

What Reciprocity Really Means

According to the Association of Social Work Boards, reciprocity is “the system that would allow you to obtain a license in a new state or province because you have a license in another state or province”. How many states do this, according to the ASWB? “Basically, none.”

Top 10 Things to Know About Multi-State Licensure

  1. Complete all of the necessary requirements to become licensed in one state. This is ideal because if you start your clinical experience and supervision in one state and then move BEFORE you finish, this whole process becomes even more complicated.
  2. Keep good records. Keep a log of your clinical experience and hours of supervision (some states will want to see more detailed information about what you were doing and how you accumulated your hours. Make sure you have your clinical supervisors full name, license number, date of licensure and up-to-date contact information at all times.
  3. BEFORE YOU MOVE – Contact the Licensure Board in the state that you are planning to move to and get the application. You will typically be looking for an “Application By Endorsement” or “Application from Out of State Licensee”.
  4. Be prepared to call a lot! It can be difficult to get a live person on the phone. But, if you do, get their direct extension! You need a live, local person to help you. They will know the answers to your questions.
  5. Start requesting documents. Typically, you will have to resend (which means pay for) your graduate school transcripts, your ASBW test scores, and a license verification form from your current state. This is the annoying part. This will probably cost you anywhere from $20-$75 or more and will have to be done every time you want to get licensed in a new state. Ugh! The ASWB does have a Registry which will hold all of your documents and send to them to the new state. But again, this has a hefty $60 fee plus annual renewals.
  6. Contact your old supervisor. Depending on how long you have been licensed in your current state, you will probably need a signature from your previous supervisor to testify to your clinical experience and supervision hours. If that person is MIA or deceased, then you have more work to do. But, it can still be done.
  7. Figure out if you have to take any additional continuing education courses. Each state has their own courses that are required for licensure. In Florida, there is “Laws and Rules” and “Medical Errors”. In other states, it might be “Child Abuse Reporting”. Find out what you need and get certificates for any of those courses. Herein lies another set of fees!
  8. Fill out all of the forms. Many require notarized signatures on at least one page and some require a passport style photo. Again, here are some annoying fees, unless your bank does free notary service. Don’t forget to make copies of the forms. It is quite possible that somehow, one of those pages will get lost or separated and that sends your application to the start-over pile.
  9. Pay the fees. Usually there is an application fee that is at least $100-$150.
  10. Wait! And wait! And wait. Some states may respond quickly, but for others, there are review boards that only meet quarterly. It is helpful to know when they meet, so you can get your application before the deadline.

What Happens Next?

Depending on your situation, you can choose to relinquish your license in the first state (which I don’t recommend) or you pay the fees to maintain your licensure requirements in both states. This means, renewal fees (usually at least $50 every couple of years) and continuing education requirements. Again, each state has specific requirements, so you have to make sure that you take the right classes. You also have to make sure that whatever you take is approved by either state. So, in some cases, that means doubling up continuing education requirements and, in others, it doesn’t.

Is there a Benefit to Multi-State Licensure?

For military spouses, there is because you never know if you might return to a prior duty station. To already have this process completed is very helpful. If you live in a state that borders closely with another state, it can be helpful in your job search to be able to practice across state lines easily. Some agencies have locations in multiple states and this can make employment there easier. With the advent of telehealth, the rules about where you can provide services are often dictated by where you are licensed.

Some Good News About License Reciprocity

For military spouses, there have been successful efforts to streamline the licensure process as part of active duty transfers. Most states now allow for a much closer version of reciprocity during the time that you are living in a state, as part of a military relocation. So, while it was extremely difficult and time-consuming for me to get licensed in California in 2009, it would be easy to do today. Also, the Association for Social Work Board has the initiative to increase license portability and improve the process across the country. Click here to be part of the national effort to endorse social work practice portability.

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at