Trimming, buffing and painting nails might not seem like a job that needs a license. However, if you want to work as a manicurist, aka a nail technician, every state except Connecticut requires licensing. You can accomplish some — but not all — of the work for your nail technician license online.


You can take classes for nail tech certification online, but you also need hands-on, in-person experience as part of your training. Your license exam may require you to show up in person too. The amount of training needed depends on state standards, ranging from a few hours to hundreds of hours.

What Nail Technicians Do

By and large, nail technicians are interchangeable with manicurists. In North Carolina and California, for example, you apply for a manicurist license. By whatever name the job is known, the professional focus is on nail-related skills such as:

  • Manicures and pedicures
  • Applying and removing acrylic nails, nail tips and nail extensions
  • Sculpting nails
  • Applying nail polishes and gels
  • Massage techniques for feet and hands
  • Buffing and smoothing calluses 
  • Working knowledge of nail-related products 
  • Knowledge of diseases and disorders of human nails 

Requirements for Licensing

Manicurist license requirements vary from state to state. The relevant government department probably has "cosmetology" or "cosmetic art" in its name. Once you find the right website, you can learn about licensing requirements. In most states, certification requires, at a minimum:

  • You're at least 16. 
  • You have a GED or a high school diploma.
  • You complete a state-acceptable training or apprenticeship program. 
  • You pass a state licensing exam. 
  • You have a minimum number of hours of practical experience.

There are lots of variations on the basic template, though. Connecticut has no license for manicurists; Alabama requires only a 10th-grade education; Kansas says you have to be at least 17.

Nail Tech Certification Online Options

You can accomplish some of the courses and requirements for your nail tech license online but not all of them. This professional field is hands-on, and buffing and painting a digital simulated hand won't be sufficient. Whether you're working toward your nail technician license online via apprenticeship or cosmetology courses, you need to practice on real people.

You may, however, be able to take classes online and apply for your nail tech license online. You probably won't be able to take your nail technician exam online. To minimize cheating, an applicant for licensing usually is required to show up at a test center and take the exam in the flesh.

Time and Testing Requirements

The amount of training or apprenticeship needed for your license depends on the state. In an apprenticeship, you work under a mentor who's a licensed manicurist, earning a wage while you learn your craft.

  • Alabama requires 750 classroom hours or a 1200-hour apprenticeship completed over two years.

  • In Alaska, you need only a 12-hour nail technician course.

  • California requires 400 hours.

  • Georgia wants 525 credit hours of study or a 2,050-hour apprenticeship.

  • Louisiana wants 500 hours.

Your state government sets the standards for what you need to be taught. In North Carolina, for example, the required 300 hours of school training includes:

  • Infection control and blood exposure procedures
  • Professional image
  • Manicuring theory
  • Trimming, filing and shaping
  • Decorating
  • Sculptured and artificial nails
  • Care and treatment of fingernails, toenails and cuticles
  • Arm and hand manipulations
  • Pedicures 
  • Acrylic overlay
  • Gel overlay
  • Business management
  • Professional ethics
  • Relevant laws and regulations

This material is covered on the North Carolina licensing test, with 75% required for passing.

Reciprocal Licenses

If you have a license from one state, other states may not require you to jump through every hoop. In Nebraska, for example, you can get a license without an exam, provided:

  • You're at least 17 with either a high school diploma or a GED.

  • You have a current license in another state. 

  • You completed at least 300 hours of nail tech, which is the same as the Nebraska requirement.

  • You've worked as a manicurist for at least a year.

  • You passed a written exam in your license state.