Nail Technician School and License Requirements in California

If you want to become a manicurist in California, you must be licensed through the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, which requires the completion of the following steps:

Enter Zip:
Successfully Complete an Approved Manicurist Program
Complete a Manicurist Application for Examination and Initial License
Take and Pass the California Manicurist Licensure Examinations
Keep your Manicurist License Current and Explore your Career Options

California remains the clear frontrunner for nail technicians and nail salons in the U.S., with NAILS Magazine reporting nearly 86,000 nail technicians in California working in more than 6,300 salons in 2013. In San Francisco alone there are more than 250 salons and more than 2,200 technicians.

In addition to being a leader in the nail salon industry, California is also a trendsetter. In Beverly Hills, the salon chain, Hands On, offers a new breed of nail salon. The owners call it a service-oriented concept that offers high-quality spa manicures and pedicures at reasonable prices. In San Francisco, the trend for nail salons revolves around San Francisco’s Healthy Nail Salon Program aimed at rewarding nail salons that make choices that are better for customers, employees, and the environment. In other words, if you want to be on the cusp of the latest trends in nail care, California is the place to be.



Step 1. Successfully Complete an Approved Manicurist Program

Your road to becoming a licensed manicurist in California begins with the completion of a manicurist program that has been approved by the Board. You can view a list of approved schools here. Most manicurist programs are completed in a cosmetology school, although there are also a number of dedicated nail technology schools in California.

According to industry statistics published by NAILS Magazine, 80 percent of all nail technicians in California are Vietnamese. As such, there are a number of nail technician programs in California aimed at Vietnamese immigrants. Many of these programs do not require students to speak any English.

An approved nail technology program in California must consist of at least 400 hours of technical instruction and practical training. Instruction must include the following:

  • Technical instruction and practical training in nail care
  • Manicures and pedicures
  • Health and safety
  • Laws and regulations
  • Health and safety considerations
  • Disinfection and sanitation
  • Bacteriology, anatomy, and physiology

The Board also recommends that nail technology programs provide training in professional ethics, salesmanship, record-keeping, decorum, client service record cards, and basic tax responsibilities.

Note: There are currently no apprenticeship programs for manicurist licensure in California.



Step 2. Complete a Manicurist Application for Examination and Initial License

Upon the successful completion of a nail technology program from a Board-approved sponsor, you must complete the Manicurist Application for Examination and Initial License and submit it, along with an initial license and examination fee of $110. You may also complete the application process online.

To qualify to take the practical and theory examinations required for licensure as a manicurist in California, you must be at least 17 years old, and you must have completed at least the 10th grade in a public school (or its equivalent).

You should allow at least 12 weeks for the Board to process your application and send you a scheduling letter for the license examinations. Any questions regarding your application can be sent to the Board at [email protected].



Step 3. Take and Pass the California Manicurist Licensure Examinations

The California manicurist license examination consists of two parts: a written (theory) and a practical. The Board exclusively utilizes the written and practical examinations of the National Interstate Council of Board of Cosmetology (NIC).

You will be scheduled to take the practical and written examinations on the same day. You will take the practical examination through one of the Board’s permanent testing sites in Fairfield or Glendale. You will take the written examination through one of the many PSI testing centers located in California, which include Anaheim, Burbank, Fresno, Riverside, San Diego, and San Francisco, among others.

You may take the examinations in English, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Additional information about taking the examinations in a language other than English can be found here.

The written examination consists of 100 questions. You will be given 2 hours to complete the exam, although most test takers complete the exam in about 1 ½ hours.

More information about the manicurist examinations can be found by reading:



Step 4. Keep your Manicurist License Current and Explore your Career Options

Once you have taken and passed both examinations, the Board will issue you a California Manicurist license. It is your responsibility to ensure that you keep your license current by renewing it on a biennial basis and paying the renewal fee of $50. All online renewals can be completed through the Department of Consumer Affairs’ BreEZe online system.

Your options for an exciting and fulfilling career in California’s nail industry are wide-reaching, as you may choose to work in a nail salon as a nail salon employee or you may work as an independent contractor and rent a booth or salon space in a spa, full-service salon, or nail salon. As a manicurist in California, you may also find a large number of opportunities working for the print, commercial, film, and theater industries.

Just a few of the top salons throughout California include:

  • Akua Nail Salon, San Francisco
  • Argyle Salon and Spa, West Hollywood
  • Bisou Nail Lounge, San Francisco
  • Candy Paint LA, Los Angeles
  • Cinta Salon, San Francisco
  • esNail, Los Angeles
  • Hotel Bel-Air Spa by La Prairie, Bel Air
  • Marie Nails, Los Angeles
  • MARS the Salon, West Hollywood
  • One the Spa, Santa Monica
  • The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Los Angeles

If you have aspirations of becoming a nail salon owner, you can find more information by reading the Board’s Fact Sheet: Becoming an Establishment Owner.

Back to Top