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How to get a nail tech certification in 2023

From gel top coats to cuticle pushers, specialized tools are necessary for being a nail technician. Adding complex nail chemicals and figuring out how it all works can be, well, as hard as nails. You’ll have to ask challenging questions, like where to get your nail tech education and whether you need nail technician insurance or esthetician or beautician insurance. Luckily, getting licensed to start a nail business doesn’t have to be complicated as your collection of nail supplies.

Let’s discuss how to get a nail technician license and break down some common state requirements. Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll know which exams and training you need to launch your beauty industry career as a licensed nail tech.

Why you need certification to become a nail tech

If you do nails, all states require certification. A nail tech program is typically the shortest route to licensing. Add more services, and you’ll want to look into an esthetician or cosmetologist license.

And while many nail techs get their start wondering if they can do their own nails and learning through practice and experience, professional programs and certification exams give new nail professionals:

  • The skills for all kinds of applications and services
  • An understanding of nail anatomy, structure, and disorders
  • Knowledge about required disinfection and safety regulations they’ll need to run an independent business
  • A portfolio to show potential clients

Renewing your certification every 2 years also shows clients you’re up-to-date on sanitation policies and take your work seriously.

What is a nail tech license?

A nail tech license is required for working as a professional nail tech. Every state has individual licensing requirements, including a training course, passing a nail tech exam, completing an application, and paying the fees for a professional license.

How long does it take to get a nail tech license? State cosmetology boards have different demands. Most states have a list of approved programs at either nail technology schools or beauty schools. Here are some typical state education requirements:

Alabama: 750 school hours of training or 1,200 apprenticeship hours

Arizona: 500 hours

California: 400 hours

Georgia: 525 hours or 1,050 apprenticeship hours

Minnesota: 350 hours

New York: 250 hours

Pennsylvania: 200 hours

You’ll complete a professional nail tech program full-time in 4 to 6 months.

How to get a nail tech certification in your state

Do requirements vary from state to state? Yes, but once you’ve completed the different nail tech school programs, licensing looks almost identical in most states. You’ll take and pass an exam, then apply for a license and pay a fee. Many states require you to submit passport-sized photos. You’ll also need to meet other state requirements, like a minimum age or education level.

Many states mandate 2-year renewals for licenses that require a few hours of continuing education classes or events, like attending a nail conference to learn new skills and stay on top of trends in nail design. Many states also offer reciprocity, which means you can practice as a nail tech if you were educated and licensed in another state. You’ll have to provide your original license and pay a fee. Be warned: some states won’t recognize apprenticeship training if you want to relocate and apply for a reciprocal license.

If you’re getting your license for the first time, here are some typical rules:

  • Alabama: Apply with the Alabama State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering. Show that you’ve completed your educational training program or apprenticeship to register for the state exam. When you pass, you’ll be issued a manicurist license.
  • Arizona: Complete your educational program, supply passport photos, and pay the $40 fee to apply for licensure. You’ll be scheduled to take the state’s $177 exam on the first available date. There are written and practical exams on the same day.
  • California: There’s no apprenticeship in the Golden State, so you’ll have to complete an educational program, apply for a license and pay the $110 fee. You must be 17 years old and have completed 10th grade. In California, you’ll likely wait another 3 months before getting your exam scheduling letter, so keep your knowledge fresh. You’ll meet the written and practical parts of the exam on the same day.
  • Georgia: Once you’ve completed your educational program or apprenticeship, you’ll apply for the state licensure exam. The practical exam lasts 100 minutes. The theory exam is a 90-minute, computer-based, written exam. Together, they cost $109. After your exam, you’ll apply for licensure with a $30 application fee, proof of citizenship or qualified alien status, and a notarized application.
  • Minnesota: Minnesota’s exam comes before your licensure application. Take the $60 practical and online written exams, then apply for licensure with the Minnesota Board of Cosmetologist Examiners. Pay the $139 application fee, provide a copy of your high school or GED, completion of your educational program, and scores from the written and practical tests.
  • New York: In New York, apply for licensure before completing your nail tech exam. Send your application, applying for a temporary permit, along with an affidavit from your educational program and a $50 permit fee. You can legally work with this permit while waiting for an exam date. After you pass the written and practical sections of the exam, you’ll get a permanent license.
  • Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s streamlined process combines your exam and license applications. After your education, you’ll get a temporary permit to begin practicing as a nail tech. You’ll take a combination theory and practical exam online to get your permanent license.

Exams almost always contain a theory (written) and practical section. Some states combine testing locations, dates, and costs, while others break up their licensing exams. Some practical exams are taken online. That’s very different from some states, where you’ll need to demonstrate your skills in person, using your own materials, on a friend you bring along! Typical practical exam skills you’ll demonstrate are:

  • Set-up and client preparation
  • Nail tip application
  • Manicure application
  • Nail wrap
  • Sculptured nail application
  • Nail polish application

Training varies widely from state to state. Some states like Texas, for example, require a certain number of hours in various areas, from laws governing nail businesses to diseases of the hands and feet, power equipment, and safety (as well as nail services). Others are freer. What’s the best nail tech certification program? The one that’s right for your needs. Here are some factors you should consider:

  • Does your program grant reciprocity in other states?
  • Does it boast a high pass rate on state exams?
  • Can you attend part-time if needed?
  • Does it offer additional licensing and services you can learn, like skincare?
  • What are the training hour requirements?
  • How much practical training will you get? Does the program offer facilities and supplies to get started?

Cosmetology school and technical instruction: Most states allow nail techs to complete their education at licensed manicurist or cosmetology schools. Cosmetology schools often offer a shortened curriculum focusing only on nail care. Technical instruction at either option will vary with state requirements but can include:

  • Nail wraps, tips, and gels
  • Sculptured nails
  • Nail art
  • Manicures and pedicures
  • Acrylic application
  • Chemicals and chemistry
  • Decontamination and sanitation to contain infections
  • State laws and regulations
  • Business administration for nail techs
  • Customer service

How to start your nail salon

Congrats, newly licensed professional nail tech! Whether you’re a nail artist or a pedicurist or specialize in wedding nails or wraps, you’ll want to start thinking about how to open your own nail salon business. You’ll be at the forefront of the industry’s success—it’s set to grow by almost $2 billion to over $11 billion by 2027.

Starting a small business that has the power to transform your life and make the world more beautiful, one client at a time. Before you get started, protect the hard work you’ve completed so far with small business insurance from Huckleberry.

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