Nurses are integral to Canada’s healthcare system. The pandemic has intensified the shortage of skilled nurses across the country and consequently, the demand for internationally educated nurses has never been higher.
Whether you recently qualified as a nurse abroad or have several years of nursing experience, immigrating to Canada can unlock a wide range of opportunities. In this article, we explore immigration programs you can leverage to move to Canada as a nurse, the provincial licensing process, and in-demand nursing jobs in Canada.
In this article:
- Reasons to move to Canada as a nurse
- Does Canada accept foreign nurses?
- Immigration programs for internationally qualified nurses
- Types of nursing licenses in Canada
- How to get licensed in Canada as a foreign-trained nurse
- In-demand jobs for nurses in Canada
- How much money do nurses make in Canada?
- How to find nursing jobs in Canada
- Recruitment process for nursing jobs in Canada
- Should you move to Canada as an internationally educated nurse?
As an internationally trained nurse, settling in Canada can be an attractive opportunity for various reasons, including:
Shortage of skilled nurses in Canada
According to the government’s Job Bank, labour shortages in nursing will continue for the foreseeable future. Estimates show that, between 2019 and 2028, there will be 191,100 job openings for registered nurses (RNs) but only 154,600 qualified candidates (including new graduates and newcomers) to fill these positions, creating a nationwide shortfall of 36,500 registered nurses. Between 2019 and 2021, job vacancies for registered nurses and nurse aids and patient service associates in Canada have nearly doubled.
Nursing is an in-demand job in most provinces
Nurses are in demand in most provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta, and Manitoba. Active efforts are underway to recruit and train nurses, as well as to make it easier for internationally educated nurses to immigrate to Canada.
Ontario, for instance, allocated $342 million in its 2021 provincial budget to add 5,000 new and upskilled registered nurses and registered practical nurses to its healthcare workforce. Similarly, Quebec plans to recruit 1,000 foreign-trained Francophone nurses by 2023.
Nurses earn high salaries in Canada
Although nursing salaries vary based on province and the National Occupation Classification (NOC) code your occupation falls under, nursing jobs in Canada generally pay well. The median income for registered nurses in Canada is around $76,000 per year, but many RNs earn as much as $92,000 per year.
Internationally educated nurses are essential in keeping Canada’s healthcare system running smoothly. Several Canadian immigration programs prioritize the selection of newcomers in in-demand occupations, such as nursing, for permanent residence (PR).
However, before you move to Canada as a nurse and start looking for jobs, you must be licensed in the province you intend to work in. Most provinces allow you to start the licensing process remotely, allowing foreign nurses to enter the job market sooner.
Canada allows newcomers with the skills and qualifications needed to bridge critical skill gaps to apply for permanent residence. There are several PR programs you can choose from to move to Canada as a nurse.
Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program
The Express Entry Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program allows internationally qualified skilled workers to immigrate to Canada as permanent residents. Under the FSW program, applicants are selected based on their profile’s Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS) rather than occupation.
Your CRS score is based on factors such as your age, education, work experience, language proficiency, and other factors. You also get additional points if you have a Canadian job offer, a provincial nomination,(see below section on PNP) or Canadian work experience or educational credentials.
All Canadian provinces and territories, except Quebec and Nunavut, have Provincial Nominee Programs that allow them to nominate applicants with the skills and qualifications needed to bridge labour shortages.
Selection for Express Entry PNP streams is based on CRS scores, but other PNP streams allow provinces to nominate skilled workers in specific professions or National Occupation Classification (NOC) codes to meet urgent market demands. You may have a better chance of receiving a provincial nomination from a province that is looking for qualified nurses. See the section on in-demand nursing jobs below for relevant NOC codes for nursing.
Here are some PNP streams and draws you should keep track of as you prepare to immigrate to Canada as a nurse.
|Province||PNP streams for nurses|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||
|Prince Edward Island||
Quebec Regular Skilled Worker Program (RSWP)
The Regular Skilled Worker Program (RSWP) allows the provincial government of Quebec to invite applicants who have the skills, training, experience, and language skills to work and settle in the province.
Applicants in all occupations can submit an Expression of Interest under the RSWP and selection is based on factors such as age, language proficiency in French and English, years of experience, education, and more. Once you are selected, you receive a Quebec Selection Certificate (also known as a Certificat de sélection du Québec or CSQ) and can apply for PR with the IRCC.
|Note: This list is not exhaustive and, depending on your situation, you may qualify for other immigration programs as well. Download our guide on immigrating to Canada for more information.|
Nursing is a regulated occupation in Canada, and you must be licensed by your provincial or territorial regulator before you can work as a nurse in Canada. Most provinces allow you to start the licensing process before you arrive in Canada.
There are three main types of nursing licenses in Canada that are based on the level of education and skill required and job responsibilities:
- Nurse Practitioner (NP): To qualify for an NP license, you must have a master’s degree in nursing or an advanced nursing credential with a specialization in adult, pediatric, or primary healthcare along with work experience as a registered nurse (or equivalent). In some jurisdictions, the NP license is considered an extension of the RN license, and applicants must first register for, or be eligible for, an RN license.
- Registered Nurse (RN) and Registered Psychiatric Nurse: You can qualify for an RN license if you have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you earned your degree more than three years ago, you must provide evidence of recent nursing practice.
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN, also known as Registered Practical Nurse): You can qualify for an LPN license if you have a diploma in nursing. If you earned your diploma more than three years ago, you must provide evidence of recent nursing practice.
Depending on the province you apply to, the license names may differ and there may also be entry-level licenses for nursing students or fresh graduates. In some provinces, such as British Columbia and Alberta, the licensing process for Registered Psychiatric Nurses is separate from that for RNs.
British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia each have a single college that regulates all categories of nurses. In all other provinces and territories, different nursing categories have their own regulator. Visit your provincial/territorial regulator’s website for more information on the licensing process for your nursing category:
|Province/Territory||Regulatory body for nurses|
|Newfoundland and Labrador|
|Prince Edward Island|
Once you’ve determined your eligibility, you must apply for the applicable nursing license. You must first obtain a report from the National Nursing Assessment Service, after which you must register with your provincial regulator, provide the required documents, and pay a licensing fee. Although the licensing requirements vary by province/territory, the process typically involves the following:
Registration with National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS)
Internationally educated nurses who qualify for an RN, RPN, or LN license must complete an online National Nursing Assessment Service (NNAS) application before immigrating to Canada. Here are the key steps for registering with the NNAS:
- Create an online account, pay the fee, and start your application: Select one nursing category and one province for your application and pay the main application order fee of $650 USD plus taxes. You have 12 months to complete your documentation and submit your application after paying the fee.
- Provide your identity documents: Submit notarized, signed copies of two identification documents, including one photo ID, such as your passport, driver’s license, or other government-issued identification. Other acceptable identity documents include birth certificates, name change affidavits, and marriage certificates.
- Submit your nursing education form: Send printed copies of the form to each international post-secondary institution you attended for your nursing education. The institutions will have to send the completed forms, along with your academic transcripts and course descriptions, directly to NNAS. Internationally qualified nurses DO NOT require a separate Educational Credentials Assessment (ECA).
- Submit your nursing registration form: Send printed copies of the form to all licensing authorities where you were registered as a nurse outside Canada. The licensing authorities will need to complete the form and send it to NNAS directly.
- Submit your nursing employment form: Send printed copies of this form to all the employers you’ve worked for in the past five years. Your employers must send the completed forms to NNAS directly.
- Submit your language test results: If your first language isn’t English or French, you must appear for an approved language test (IELTS, CELBAN, or TEF) and meet the minimum score threshold. If you live and work in a country where the primary language is English/French and your nursing study program was in one of these languages, you don’t need to submit language test results.
|Note: You cannot submit education, registration, and employment forms to NNAS yourself. NNAS will charge a translation fee if the documents submitted as part of your application aren’t in English or French.|
NNAS will assess your foreign nursing credentials and compare them to Canadian qualifications for the purpose of licensing. It will also review your identification documents, international work experience, language test results, and other key documents. NNAS will then prepare a report on your nursing education, registration history, and experience and send it to your provincial regulatory authority.
Apply to register as a nurse in your province
|Tip: Most provinces allow you to complete the licensing and registration process online from outside Canada. The entire process, including the NNAS application, can take up to 18 months. Be sure to start the process as early as possible so you can begin your nursing career in Canada soon after arrival.|
After completing your NNAS application, contact your provincial or territorial regulator and ask them to consider your application for a nursing license. The regulator will only start the process after they receive your file from NNAS. At this stage, you need to pay an initial application fee which varies by province and nursing category.
The provincial regulator will review your nursing education credentials, evidence of recent practice (work experience in the past three years) and proof of language proficiency. If your application doesn’t meet the licensing requirements, you may be asked to complete additional education or evaluations before you can qualify.
To qualify for a provincial nursing license, you must also:
- Be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or have authorization to work in Canada.
- Pass the Registration Examination for the applicable nursing category to prove your competency. RN license applicants must appear for the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination) while LPN applicants must give the REx-PN test (Regulatory Exam – Practical Nurse).
- Complete the Jurisprudence Examination to demonstrate your knowledge of the laws, regulations, standards, and guidelines that apply to the nursing profession in your province or territory.
- Declare whether you suffer from any mental or physical condition or disorder that might impact your ability to practice nursing.
- Submit a criminal background check report and declare any past offences or instances where you were refused registration as a nurse in any country.
After you’ve met all the licensing requirements, you can pay the registration and first year membership fee and complete your registration online.
Many provinces and territories require nurses to meet local labour market needs. According to recent provincial and territorial data, the following nursing jobs are most in-demand across Canada:
|In-demand nursing jobs||Provinces with the most demand|
|Nurse practitioners (NOC 3124, skill level A)|
|Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses (NOC 3012, skill level A)|
|Nursing co-ordinators and supervisors (NOC 3011, skill level A)||
|Licensed practical nurses (NOC 3233, skill level B)||
|Nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates (NOC 3413, skill level C)||
|Note: This list is based on in-demand jobs data published by various provinces and territories and recent PNP draws. Labour market requirements change over time and provinces may prioritize other NOCs where skill shortages are more acute. Read our in-demand jobs in Canada article series for more information on the scope of your occupation, average wages, and more.|
Average salaries for nurses in Canada vary by province, area of expertise, and years of work experience. According to the Government of Canada’s Job Bank, registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses earn a median wage of $40/hour in Canada, with median salaries being the highest in Nunavut ($67.83/hour), Northwest Territories ($53.23/hour), Yukon ($45.28/hour), and Saskatchewan ($44.23/hour). In parts of British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba where the shortage of registered nurses is more severe, hourly salaries of more than $50 are common.
Nurse practitioners earn a median wage of around $53.37/hour in Canada, while licensed practical nurses can make between $22 and $33.23 per hour.
Since most provinces allow you to complete the nursing licensing process from outside Canada, you can start looking for your first nursing job in Canada before you arrive. Here are some tips to help you find a suitable role:
Familiarize yourself with local job market requirements
The skills and qualifications Canadian employers look for in nurses may be different from your home country. The easiest way to identify skills gaps and suitable job opportunities is to review job postings for your nursing category. Some job descriptions, for instance, may require applicants to have specific certifications or training to work in a particular field of expertise. These can be a good starting point to prepare for the job market.
Gather additional qualifications and skills
To position yourself as a strong candidate for nursing jobs in Canada, you may want to invest in additional certifications and skill-building programs. Some sought-after certifications, such as basic life support, CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and first-aid certifications, can be completed before you get your RN/LPN license.
|Tip: If you are in the process of applying for your nursing license, you may be able to find work in related unregulated occupations, such as a personal support worker, caregiver, or attendant in Canada until you get licensed as a nurse. This Canadian experience will add value to your resume.|
Craft a Canadian-style nursing resume
Resume formats from your home country may not be well-suited to the Canadian job market. The ideal format for your resume will depend on how much practical nursing experience you have. Many Canadian employers shortlist resumes using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), so be sure to customize your resume for each job and include keywords from the job description. To get started, download our free Canadian-style resume templates.
Explore job search platforms and employer websites
Job portals such as Job Bank, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Monster, GrabJobs, and Indeed are great places to look for job opportunities. In addition, you should create a list of hospitals, healthcare providers, and non-profit organizations that hire nurses and keep tabs on their websites’ career pages.
Build your professional network
Networking is crucial for nurses in Canada. Connect with nurses and healthcare professionals in your province on LinkedIn or through professional associations and nurture meaningful relationships through one-to-one coffee chats. Volunteering is another great way to meet healthcare professionals in your region. Networking gives you access to job opportunities that may not be available publicly and allows you to gather information regarding the licensing process, job market, and hiring process specific employers follow.
|Tip: For more job search insights, read Prepped’s article on how to get your first job as a nurse.|
In Canada, employers shortlist candidates for nursing interviews based on their resumes and cover letters. Although many healthcare employers fill open positions through referrals from their network or by advertising the vacancy, some organize open interview days, where qualified nursing candidates can appear for walk-in interviews.
The initial round is typically a screening interview where the recruiter asks about your credentials, interest in nursing, and approach to patient care. If you’re shortlisted, you’ll undergo multiple interview rounds, including a culture fit interview to assess your soft skills and team fit.
After your selection, the employer will conduct background screening and reference checks to verify your identity, credentials, nursing license, employment history, and past conduct. Finally, the employer will make an offer of employment, which you can accept outright or after negotiating its terms.
|Tip: Read our Canadian job market analysis for healthcare for more insights on the hiring process.|
Qualified nurses are highly sought after in all provinces of Canada and the local supply isn’t enough to meet the labour market needs. As an internationally-trained nurse, Canada’s immigration programs offer you an exciting, lucrative opportunity to move to Canada and settle permanently. However, the licensing process can be time-consuming and you may need to complete some provincial examinations or further education before you can land a job as a licensed nurse in Canada.