PROFESSIONAL LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION IN THE U.S.
Many professional occupations in the U.S. are "regulated", which means that in order to practice the profession you will need to obtain some form of state-issued license or professional certification.
Not surprisingly, many immigrant professionals who were licensed in their home country are eager to become licensed or certified in the U.S. so they can resume their careers. Our licensing section explains the complicated process of professional regulation in the U.S. so you can understand the relevant information that applies to you and
your career path. The licensing or certification process can often be lengthy and expensive, but can be a worthwhile investment that can lead to a better job, higher salary and the opportunity to practice in your field of training.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LICENSING AND CERTIFICATION?
While licensure and certification are overseen by different authorities and have different purposes, they are similar in many ways. Licensing is a mandatory credentialing process established by a state government board. Certification is a voluntary credentialing process by a non-governmental, private professional association. In some cases, professional certification is a requirement for employment, even when a state license is not necessary.
Note: Do not confuse the word “certification”, which is a credential that demonstrates your professional qualifications, with a
“certificate” that you might receive upon completion of an academic or continuing education program.
CONSIDERING LICENSING OR CERTIFICATION
It is important to understand three key points that will help you better evaluate your career plans.
- The Process Requires a Substantial Commitment: Pursuing licensing or certification is a challenging endeavor that may require a great deal of time, commitment and expense. This is true for all candidates, but foreign-trained professionals generally face additional requirements to prove that their qualifications meet U.S. standards, such as foreign credential evaluation or demonstration of English language ability. As a result, licensing or certification in some fields can take years, requiring extensive testing, further academic study, and/or a period of supervised work experience or internship in the U.S.
- Careful Research is Necessary: Licensing requirements vary widely between states. Professional boards are responsible for setting their own standards and procedures in individual states. This can mean that the path to licensing may be easier in some places than in others, or that you are eligible for licensing in one state but not in another. Always check with the specific licensing or certification board to see if you are eligible, and then take the time to learn all the relevant rules and procedures.
- There are Alternatives to Licensing: You should know that there may be opportunities to practice your profession on a more limited basis – or to pursue alternate careers in a related field – without having to obtain a license of certification. Read more about Non-Licensed Professional Careers.