Do I Need a Social Work License?

I see this question all of the time on the travel social work forums…do I really need a license?  Let’s dive in and tackle this one head on.

The long and short of it is a big, fat “maybe.”  I really wish there was a clear-cut answer to this question.  As a travel social worker, the truth is, you might be looking for a contract and every single one of them immediately available requires a license in hand.  This can lead to a sense of “it’ll never happen for me,” or “maybe I just shouldn’t bother.”  I vehemently disagree with this line of thought.

If you’ve noticed, I’m more of a “go for it” type – I mean, what do you really have to lose?  No matter what happens, you gain experience and learn from it!  This is no different.  Whenever I see a job posting I want that requires a license, I take action.   But more on that a little later.

If you don’t have a social work license in any state and aren’t planning on sitting for the exam, I will be honest with you that this can – read can and not will – hinder your opportunities.  You can be a travel social worker without a license in any jurisdiction.  The issue is, every state has a different law on who can call themselves a “social worker.”  In Illinois, for instance, you must be licensed at the LSW level to legally call yourself and work as a social worker.  This can’t be circumvented.  In Hawai’i, the law is similar unless you are the direct employee of a State agency – then you can have a bachelor’s degree and no license (but this won’t apply to you as a traveler, as you won’t be a direct employee of a state agency, but a contractor for a staffing agency).  The opportunities for unlicensed travel social workers exist.  I’ve completed four assignments in two different states without a social work license in those jurisdictions.

If you have a master’s level license – in some states this is an LSW, in others an LMSW, and I even know of an LGSW (if it requires the ASWB Master’s Level exam, that’s the license we’re talking about) – then you should be able to endorse your license to a similar license in new jurisdiction without much trouble.  Of the four licenses I hold, two are at this level.

If you have a clinical social work license – an LCSW, LiCSW, etc., you will generally have a better range of opportunities available to you as a traveler.  In this case, if you apply for a job that requires a license, if the job just requires a basic license, it’s up to you whether you want to have your clinical license endorsed to an equivalent or if you’re okay having it endorsed to a basic license.  My view on this is a little controversial.  People can be very invested in titles and credentials after all of their hard work.  I am not one of those people.    

As such, wherever I need a license and it doesn’t have to be clinical, I get a master’s level license.  It’s just downright easier.  When you want to transfer/endorse/apply for comity on a clinical license, almost every state requires supervision verification on their forms.  This means I would have to hunt down my clinical supervisor from a decade ago for every state where I wanted a license and ask, would you mind filling out (and sometimes having notarized) these forms?  I don’t think that’s fair, so I don’t do it.  In fact, I have only just this year, had to have my clinical license endorsed to a new state because the Joint Commission Certification for the position required it.  It was a not-so-amazing process.

Back to my earlier statement, if I see a job that requires a license, I take action.  After finding out the minimum licensing requirements for the job, I google the licensing requirements for the state where there’s a posting.  I ask my recruiter, “In your experience, how long does it take to get a license in this state?”  “Do they require license in hand?”  “Have they ever waited or are they willing to wait for the right candidate to get their license?”  It doesn’t hurt to ask these questions – sometimes assignments will wait for you.  Next, I find out if that state has a temporary license – a couple do (Alaska is one of them).  I might even call the State Licensing Board and find out how long their current processing times are.  In January 2018, Illinois processing times for a license verification were 3-6 months behind.  North Carolina, I also found out, meets less than one time per month to review applications.  So after gathering my data, I decide if it’s worth it or not and proceed forward. Isn’t it lovely to be in control of your own destiny?!!

Finally, I will point out the following – if you’re close to getting a clinical license in California or New York – do it before you travel.  Their clinical licensing standards, while they’ve become easier than what they were, are still some of the hardest in the nation.  If you can stick it out and get your supervision, do it. 

Let me know if you have any more specific questions!  Happy decision-making and job-hunting!


  1. You have a real ability to write a content that is helpful for us. Thank you for your efforts in sharing such blogs to us. Agency Social Work Jobs 


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