Careers in Canada

A Guide for Foreign Nurses to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse in Ontario, Canada

For internationally educated nurses (IEN), you must apply through NNAS and CNO to legally practice as a nurse in Ontario, Canada.
Foreign Trained Nurses

Canada may be one of the best places for nurses to practice their profession when it comes to benefits and opportunities. And did you know that there is a constant demand for nurses all over the country? 

In fact, the Canadian government transitioned this profession to be one of the country’s best career choices, both for locals and foreigners.    

With all these nursing opportunities in Canada, it’s not surprising why nurses from foreign countries find the offer enticing. Suppose you are one of the aspiring foreign nurses in Canada – or overseas looking to build a career in the country. In that case, we will walk you through step-by-step to become a licensed practical nurse here in Canada.

Before looking into the application process and its requirements, acquainting yourself with the country and the province you’re planning to work in will help you better strategize your application.

For this article, we’ll be choosing the province of Ontario as the focus for the rest of the guide. Ontario is a common prospect among foreign nurses looking to work in Canada for a variety of reasons. 

Steps on how to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in Ontario, Canada

As with any successful plans, gathering relevant information is always crucial. This article will help you determine the governing bodies that you must be acquainted with prior to your application process.

For internationally educated nurses (IEN), you must apply through NNAS and CNO to legally practice as a nurse in Ontario, Canada.

National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS) is the assessing and approving body for applications submitted by IEN or foreign nurses. Once the NNAS has approved your application, it will then be forwarded to the provincial regulating institution for nursing practice. That is the College Nurses of Ontario (CNO) for the province of Ontario.

Their respective websites offer a complete and easy-to-follow guide for IENs and various relevant information for those who may have confusion from pre-application to employment. Therefore, it is highly encouraged to explore their websites and familiarize yourself with the available resources before initiating the application process.

Gathering data from the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS)

The NNAS website provides a readily available applicant’s handbook to provide an in-depth guide for IENs. Some of the relevant information from the handbook are as follows:

  • General roles IENs can apply for
  • The role of NNAS in your application
  • Who are eligible to apply in the NNAS
  • How to create an account on their website
  • What are the acceptable forms of IDs
  • Fee schedule information
  • NNAS contact details
  • Third-party authorization form

Gathering data from the College Nurses of Ontario (CNO)

CNO website offers information on what to expect once you apply for a license to practice in Ontario. To give you an idea, here are some of the things you can get from the CNO website:

  • Introduction to CNO and the application process
  • Documents required by CNO
  • The purpose of registering with CNO
  • Starting your application with NNAS
  • Guidelines for the CNO’s application review
  • Required examinations
  • Guidelines for requesting accommodation
  • Completing the registration and fees involved
  • Timelines for the process
  • Guidelines for translating documents
  • Collection of personal information
  • Other informative materials related to the process

Once you’ve gathered enough data, your next step is to align this information with your personal timeline and budget. This means setting your expectations about the time it would take to prepare the required documents and complete the process. You must also take note of how much money you would need to prepare for the application.

Sending an application to NNAS

All applications from nurses outside of Canada are initially reviewed and processed by the National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS). Applications can be submitted online through their website

Here is a summarized flow on what to expect during the initial NNAS online application:

  1. Creating an account with NNAS
  2. Verifying the account through your personal email.
  3. Starting a new application
  4. Selecting the nursing group you are applying for
  5. Select which province you are applying for
  6. Providing your personal information, address, and contact information
  7. Adding educational background information
  8. Verifying your right to practice in your country of origin
  9. Adding information about nursing examinations taken
  10. Confirming registration status and license status
  11. Adding employment history information
  12. Paying the application fee

NNAS will provide you with a permanent application number after you settle the application fee. Keep this number recorded as you will use this for the entirety of the process. At the same time, NNAS will also inform you of the necessary documents and succeeding steps you need to undergo to complete the application.

The next steps to complete after the payment confirmation are as follows:

Submit proofs of identity

NNAS will require two notarized certified true copies of your identification. You will be responsible for all expenses related to the notarization of your documents. One of the IDs also needs to include your photo and both IDs must be valid.

Submit a nursing education form

For this step, you need to download and print a form from your online NNAS account. Then you send the form to your school and have it completed by its school official. After completing the form, your school office will send it directly to NNAS through mail or courier along with your academic transcript, nursing program curriculum, and course syllabi.

Submit a nursing registration form

This step also requires you to download and print a form from your online NNAS account. The form needs to be submitted and processed by the nursing licensing authority in your country. Once completed, the nursing licensing authority needs to send this directly to NNAS through mail or courier.

Submit a nursing practice employment form

Download the form from your NNAS account. The form needs to be completed and submitted directly by your previous employer/s through mail or courier.

Submit a language test result

As part of the requirement for IENs, you will need proof that you are proficient in speaking English or French.

For Native English or French speakers, you only need to submit evidence. It must show that you practiced nursing within the last two years in an institution where the main language used was English or French.

For non-native English or French speakers, you will need to pass a language assessment from the following NNAS-approved agencies:

Given you’ve complied with everything that NNAS requires, the body completes its initial review of your qualifications.

Once the review of your application is done, NNAS will forward it to CNO. You can expect to receive a notification on this part of the process. 

Completing the application through CNO

CNO will not start their review of your application until these three criteria are met:

  • CNO has received a report from NNAS about your educational background, previous registrations, and work experience
  • You settled the processing fee
  • Your request to begin the process for registration in Ontario

Suppose the CNO determines that further assessment is needed. In that case, they may ask for more information and documents about your qualifications until you meet their specified requirements. Once completed, CNO will refer you to take an examination.

Taking the examinations

IENs will need to undertake and pass examinations for their respective roles – and it’s the Canadian Practical Nurse Registration Examination (CPNRE) for licensed practical nurses. You will also be required to take a separate jurisprudence exam. 

All applicants have the right to request an accommodation should they be eligible for it. Accommodation refers to any adjustments made to the testing conditions to assist applicants with existing physical conditions that can impact their ability to undertake the exams.

Completing your application and verifying eligibility to practice

Once you’ve passed the exams and submitted all succeeding documents required by the CNO, you can then complete your registration through their website and settle all applicable fees.

Afterward, your name should be searchable through the College’s online database after this step. And this means you are now eligible to practice your profession in the province of Ontario.

All new registered members are highly encouraged to verify that all the personal information appearing on their database is accurate. Discrepancies on your CNO data can affect your eligibility to practice. Thus, it should be brought to their attention for immediate correction.

You must remember that you are responsible for the cost throughout the process, including translation fees for non-English or French documents.

An alternative pathway for foreign nurses in Canada: Internationally trained nurses bridging program

To help address the constant demand for nurses, the Ontario Internationally Educated Nurses Course Consortium formulated a two-year competency-bridging curriculum for IENs

Many Canadian learning institutions are also offering the bridging program for internationally trained nurses, all with their respective processes. Therefore, there may be some variations on how applications are processed from one institution to another. 

You must find out if you are eligible to undergo this program. Don’t forget to check the tuition fee as well! If the program’s cost isn’t available online, you may opt to send an email to the school. These bridging programs are not only limited to foreign applicants, but domestic applicants may apply as well. 

You may need to contact the institution of your choice about the availability of the IEN bridging programs before applying.

Related article:

RPN, RN, NP: Differentiating the Types of Licensed Nurses in Canada

What to expect under the bridging program

Bridging programs for IENs can be performed through traditional in-classroom setup, online, or a hybrid of both.

We all know that nursing is a hands-on profession. And this means you are still required to complete hours of related learning experience through a recognized institution regardless if you’re taking the bridging program in-classroom or online.

As with any other program, students will undergo competency exams within the program. IENs who have completed the program will need to pass the examinations for their respective roles (NCLEX for RNs, CPNRE for RPNs) and the jurisprudence exam before being granted with the eligibility to practice.

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