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Your Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become a Nurse in Canada through the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS)

Your Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become a Nurse in Canada through the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS)

Are you a nurse working outside of Canada? Have you been thinking about moving and  wondering what the requirements are in Canada for nursing? This mini guide will walk you through each step you need to take so you know exactly how to become a nurse in Canada.

We talk about what the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS) is as well as specific nursing types such as RN, RPN and LPN and each one’s nursing requirements, the application process for NNAS, the NNAS applicant handbook, and the answers to some FAQs.

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RN, RPN and LPN Requirements in Canada for Nursing

Nursing consists of three regulated nursing groups in Canada:

  1. Registered Nurse (RN)

  2. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), referred to as Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) in Ontario

  3. Registered Psychiatric Nurse (also uses the RPN acronym)


You are only able to use the title “nurse” if you are licensed or registered by the nursing regulatory body, college, or association in the Canadian province or territory where you intend to work.

There is no national registration/licensure process for Canadian nurses. Instead, each province and territory has its own regulatory body and assessment process in order to protect public health and safety and ensure nurses meet required standards.


Registered Nurse (RN) Requirements

Typically, RNs complete a four year post-secondary university nursing program to become a generalist registered nurse. These programs teach theory and clinical instruction in medical and surgical nursing. Concepts like the following are studied in depth: humanities, nursing theory, physical and biological sciences, primary health, professional ethics, social and behavioural sciences, and therapeutic relationships.

RNs are prepared to provide direct care and coordinate care for individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations in a variety of health care settings and with a variety of health care professionals. Clinical instruction prepares RNs to take a leadership role when care requirements become more complex.


Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN or RPN in Ontario) Requirements

LPNs complete college-level post-secondary nursing programs that are usually two years long. Generalist LPN programs contain nursing theory and clinical instruction in medical and surgical nursing. With an education based on nursing theory, LPNs study: physical and biological sciences, professional ethics, psychology, and therapeutic relationships.

LPNs provide and coordinate care for individuals, families, and groups in a variety of settings and with a variety of health care professionals. Their patients will have needs ranging in complexity, and they recognize when consultation and collaboration with other health care professionals is required.

Registered Psychiatric Nurse (RPN)

RPNs are regulated to practice only in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, as well as the Yukon territory. These types of nurses complete a 2.5 to four-year psychiatric nursing college or university program. The programs teach theory and clinical instruction in psychiatric and general nursing and require intense study in:


RPNs work with patients with complex psychosocial, mental health, and physical needs. They coordinate care for individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations in a variety of health care settings and with a variety of health care professionals.

If you fulfill these nursing requirements, you may be eligible to apply for registration or licensure as an RN, LPN, or RPN, but keep in mind that you may require further education and/or assessment of your nursing knowledge.

There are other types of nursing in Canada, but if your experience doesn’t fit in any of the above descriptions you’ll need to come to Canada first and then look for a job/upgrade your certifications. Otherwise, read ahead for the application process in Canada for nursing. 


The Application Process

The National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS) application process consists of an Advisory Report that includes an evaluation of your education, based on Canadian standards and compared to Canadian nursing requirements. You are responsible for any costs associated with the process. The steps are as follows:

1. Create Your Online Account

Click the Apply/Login link to create your online NNAS Applicant Account. Be sure to read the Terms and Conditions before creating your online account. To create your online account, you will need to:

  • Provide your email address and create 3 security questions.
  • Agree to the online consent form.
  • Enter the security code sent to your email address.
  • Create a password.


To complete your NNAS Application, you will need to:

  • Complete all of the application fields on each screen.


Enter either a Visa or MasterCard credit card number to confirm your account. Debit cards are not accepted. The main application order costs $650 USD, but you may incur other costs as well.

Once NNAS reviews your application and payment, you’ll get a welcome email with your permanent ID number. Hang onto this, as you’ll need the ID number to keep track of your application status and print all forms needed for your application. NNAS will let you know what information and documents you need for the Advisory Report.


2. Submit your Proof of Identity Documents

Two forms of current (not expired) identification are required. They must be notarized copies of original documents (signed, dated, and stamped) and have your signature.

Original identity documents are not accepted. You must be with the notary at the time your original documents are copied and notarized as certified true copies.

  • In Canada, notarized copies must be prepared by a notary public or a lawyer.

  • Outside of Canada, notarized copies must be prepared by a government-approved official. They must apply their official signature and seal to each reviewed document, include their address and phone number, and declare in a written statement that they have seen the original documents, made the copies, certify that they are true copies, and confirm that they are not in any way related to the applicant.


At least one form of identification must contain your photo, and acceptable forms include:

  • Passport
  • Driver’s licence
  • Other government-issued identification
  • Birth certificate
  • Legal name change affidavit
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree (Decree Absolute)


Documents must be in English or French (or translated to one of these languages). If you need to have your documents translated, this can be done, and sent directly to NNAS, by:

  • An approved source agency (for example, a school or licensing authority)
  • A certified translator
  • NNAS (via CGFNS International Inc. at a cost of $85.00 per page)

All translated documents must include:

  • The translator’s official stamp and/or identification number, address, phone number, and the date of translation.
  • A statement by the translator that it is a true representation of the original document(s).
  • The printed name and original signature of the translator.

 

3. Submit your Nursing Education Form

You’ll then download and print the Nursing Education form from your online account, and sign, date, and send your forms to each nursing or nursing-related post-secondary school you’ve attended outside of Canada

Forms must be completed by each school official and sent directly from the school official (not yourself!) to NNAS by mail or courier, along with copies of your academic records/transcript documents, nursing program curriculum/course descriptions, and/or course syllabi.

The documents must be sent in an envelope with the organization’s name, return address, and seal/stamp. If the documents are in any language other than English or French, they will need to be translated (which NNAS can do upon request, for a fee). 

Then, NNAS reviews your documents and compares and verifies them with information in its global database. The quality and level of detail within the documents your schools provide will affect your assessment. It’s highly encouraged that you ask your post-secondary school to include as much detail about your nursing education as possible. The more, the better. 


4. Submit your Nursing Practice/Employment form

Download and print the Nursing Registration form from your online account. Print, sign, date, and send this form to all nursing licensing authorities where you were ever licensed or registered outside of Canada. Each authority (not you) must complete and send it directly to NNAS by mail or courier. 

If you have a diploma that allowed you to work as a nurse in your country, ask the school that issued the diploma to send an official copy (not the original) of the diploma in its original language. 

Again, if the documents are in any language other than English or French, they will need to be translated .

5. Submit your Nursing Practice/Employment Form

Download and print the Nursing Practice/Employment form from your online account. Print, sign, date, and send this form to all employers you have worked for in the past five years (including the current year). The form must be completed by each employer and sent to NNAS directly by them (again, not by you) via mail or courier.

 

6. Submit your Language Testing Results

If your first language is not English or French, you’ll need to complete language testing and have the results sent directly to NNAS from your approved language testing agency.

You must prove that you can listen, speak, read, and write in English or French (depending on the province you intend to work in). Testing must be current, and successful results must be no older than six months at the time you apply to NNAS.

Language testing can be conducted by and submitted from the following agencies:

  • IELTS – International English Language Testing System
    The lowest acceptable scores are speaking 7, listening 7.5, reading 6.5, writing 7, overall 7 (Academic format).

  • CELBAN – Canadian English Language Benchmark Assessment for Nurses
    The lowest acceptable scores are speaking 8, listening 10, reading 8, writing 7 (Academic format).

  • TEF – Test d’Évaluation de Français
    The lowest acceptable scores are speaking 5, listening 5, reading 4, writing 4, vocabulary 4 (Academic format).


If your first language is either English or French, you must meet the following criteria: 

  • The main language where you live and work is English or French, and your nursing education program of instruction was in English or French. Online and distance education programs are not accepted.

  • You can show evidence that you have safely practiced nursing within the last two years, where the main language used was English or French.


NNAS Applicant Handbook

The NNAS Applicant Handbook contains the following sections. Be sure to review this in detail before submitting your application.

  • An Introduction to National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS)
  • 6 Steps to Creating an NNAS Advisory Report
  • Fee Schedule
  • Contact Information
  • NNAS Communication Guidelines
  • NNAS Third Party Authorization

You can find the NNAS application for registration/licensure here.

 

NNAS FAQs

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions applicants have about the application process in Canada for nursing.

Who uses NNAS?

NNAS is the first step for any internationally educated nurse (IEN) applicant to Canadian nursing regulatory bodies, colleges, or associations who are:

  •  a graduate of a nursing education program outside of Canada.
  •  not registered to practice as an RN, LPN, or Registered Psychiatric Nurse anywhere within Canada.

How does the application process work?

IEN applicants requesting registration with a Canadian nursing regulatory body, college, or association first go through the following steps:

  1. Go to www.nnas.ca to create an online account, complete your forms, and pay your fee(s), as described above and in the applicant handbook. Through this account, NNAS will communicate with you and guide you through the process.

  2. Submit all required documents. NNAS will tell you which documents are needed and who must submit them.

  3. Complete a language proficiency test, if required (NNAS will tell you if you need a language proficiency test to proceed with your application).

  4. Receive an NNAS Advisory Report. NNAS will tell you when your file is complete.
    Through your account, you will be able to access a copy of your Advisory Report.

  5. Apply to your desired Canadian nursing regulatory body, college, or association. After you have received your Advisory Report, you will receive instructions about how to contact the organization with your request to register.


Why do I have to start my application with NNAS?

Applying through NNAS ensures a consistent approach to collecting, verifying, and storing documents that all nursing regulatory bodies in Canada require. Your educational credentials will be assessed using standardized tools that all participating regulatory bodies endorse.

 

Can I apply to NNAS if I completed my nursing program in high school?

All applicants must complete post-secondary nursing education.


I'm an IEN who applied to a Canadian nursing regulatory body, college, or association before NNAS came into effect in 2014. At that time, my application was refused. Now I would like to apply again. Do I have to apply to NNAS first?

Yes.


Can I apply to more than one province or category (e.g. RN/RPN) at the same time?

Yes. When you create your account at NNAS, you can select the provinces and/or categories in which you eventually wish to apply. Additional fees may apply if you choose this option.


What if during the application process I want to apply to a different province?

When NNAS is in place, you can change your mind about where you want to apply by submitting a request for a re-evaluation by another college or association in another province. There may be a fee for this service depending on whether a different assessment tool is required.


Can I apply to NNAS if I do not have a work permit or permanent residence in Canada?

NNAS does not address any immigration issues. There is a link to Citizenship and Immigration Canada provided on the NNAS website.


What is the application fee for NNAS?

The fee schedule for NNAS services can be found on the NNAS website. Note that the application fee is separate from any college or association application fee.


What privacy legislation is NNAS following?

The NNAS is a Canadian organization and is subject to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (Canada). Provincial or territorial privacy legislation will apply once your file is transferred to a college or association.


Can I provide authorization to a third party to access my information so that they can enquire about my file on my behalf?

Yes. When you set up an account with NNAS, you will be asked to sign an authorization form that outlines the terms and conditions associated with this.

 

Useful Links:

Canadian Culture and Communication for Nurses - offers free online programs to help internationally-educated Nurses across Canada improve their communication skills and cultural knowledge in Canada for nursing.

CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses
- Care can help you achieve nursing registration and integration into the Canadian workforce.

Hire IEHPS
- Online educational resources for health professionals and employers.

Immigration and Citizenship
- Government of Canada website for immigration and citizenship.

NCSBN
- NCSBN is dedicated to developing psychometrically sound and legally defensible nurse licensure and certification examinations consistent with current practice.

Nurse Avenue
- Once your NNAS application is approved, sign up for a free job seeker account and upload your resume to our database so employers can easily find you.

Windmill Microlending
- A Canadian charity that helps skilled immigrants by offering small loans to cover application costs to verify your profession. Loans can be up to $15,000 to help with credential assessments, bridging programs, licensing exams and most other costs related to professional accreditation.

 

If you’re a nurse from outside of Canada and are considering moving to Canada for nursing, you’ll need to be aware of what the nursing requirements in Canada are and what the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS) is. 

Here, we’ve explained the RN, RPN and LPN nursing requirements in Canada and the application process for NNAS, and provided a link to the NNAS applicant handbook and the answers to some FAQs. This information will help guide you as you learn and plan to come to Canada for nursing. 

 

Author Bio:

Emma Caplan writes and edits client-facing documents and takes pride in making them sales-ready and reader-friendly. She has additional experience in quality control and proofreading. She has written articles and podcast summaries for the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast, edited fiction and non-fiction books, and volunteers as a copy editor for Editors BC’s West Coast Editor and Students for High Impact Charities.

Emma has also earned a certificate in editing and a bachelor of management degree. In her free time, Emma enjoys hiking, travelling, and creating jewelry. Connect with her on LinkedIn