How to Become a Nail Technician:
The Definitive Guide

Have you ever looked down at your gnawed-on fingernails and wished you gotten a manicure?

If so, you probably went to a nail technician.

She probably looked at your nails and cried a little inside, but that didn’t stop her.

She picked up her nail file and a bottle of polish and made you look new again.

This could be you!

All you need is some training and a genuine interest in cosmetology.

Here’s how you can get your start:

What is a Nail Technician?

A nail technician typically works in a salon, where they make people’s finger and toe nails look good.

Painting nails, filing nails, making sure the cuticles are cut, these are all duties of a nail technician.

Consider your nail tech the Monet of nail care.

If you want your nails to look good before prom, a wedding, or just because, then you’re going to want to visit a nail tech, who can make you look even more gorgeous.


  • Provides nail care
  • Manicures
  • Pedicures
  • Treatments like acrylic nail application
  • Maintains sterile work environment
  • Develops clientele and promotes sales

Average Salary

The salary for a nail technician depends on a few things.

Whether or not the nail tech has experience and education will provide them with a better salary.

Those that are just starting out can make around 17,000 dollars.

Those that have more experience can make around 22,000 dollars.

Depending on where you work can lead you to more pay as well.

Those that work for themselves typically make more money than nail technicians who work in salons.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $30,480


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$46,040
New Hampshire$34,420
New Jersey$30,000
New York$29,060
North Carolina$30,900
Rhode Island$27,720
South Carolina$22,450
South Dakota$33,960
West Virginia$29,530
Puerto Rico$26,710

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $46,040.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $46,040
Utah - $45,080
Michigan - $44,310
Montana - $41,140
Iowa - $41,010
*Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Nail Technician

Step 1Graduate High School

This is definitely the type of career that requires you to have a high school diploma.

Some technical high schools even have cosmetology programs, to kick start your career.

In this program, you’ll learn about nail and hand care techniques that will be in class discussions.

This type of program may qualify you to take your licensure exam.

If that’s the case, attending a cosmetology class after high school is not necessary.

Step 2Complete a Cosmetology Program

If you didn’t have a cosmetology program in high school, then you’re going to want to find one now that you’ve graduated.

Most licensing boards require you to pass a training program.

You’ll be able to find these types of programs at community colleges, technical colleges and cosmetology schools.

Some of the classes that you’ll take throughout this program may include: cosmetology chemistry, disinfection and sanitation, artificial nails, and nail disorders

While in school, you’ll want to build your portfolio, which will showcase your talents in the area.

Step 3Get a License

You must be licensed in your state in order to be a nail technician.

Depending on which state you live in, you may have to take a written and practical exam.

You may have to demonstrate knowledge about safety, sanitation, and how to properly do a client’s nails.

After you receive your licensure, you’ll have to maintain it every couple of years.

Step 4Advance Your Career

Once you obtain your license, you’ll be able to work virtually anywhere that nail techs work.

After you gain experience, you’ll be eligible for higher paying positions, like manager or even open your own business.

You can also continue your education to keep up with current trends and research.


You will need to partake in a cosmetology program once you have graduated high school, or years later if you don’t want to start straight out of school!

This program will give you class room experience as well as real world experience in the field.

One thing to remember is to make sure that the program is state approved, so that you can become licensed in the field.

You’ll work with others to create incredible nail designs and learn about sanitation, as well as how to use nail tools.

Understanding the art of doing a customers nail’s can be very rewarding, yet challenging at times.

Video About The Career


In order to work in the state that you live, you’ll need to be licensed.

Most states require licensure, and most exams require a written portion as well as a hands-on portion.

Once you’ve passed the exam, you can get a job at any salon that does nails.

Also, the exam can cost between $50 and $450 to take depending on which state you live in.

Certification Example:

nail technician certificate example

Average Training Program Duration: 0-1 Year

Depending on where you live, it can take between three and nine months to become a nail technician.

It is important to continue your training, even after you have become licensed.

There are new trends and new ways to do nails popping up all of the time, and you don’t want to be left behind!

Popular Programs

Job Outlook

The outlook for a nail tech is very optimistic.

Within the next ten years, the growth will be around 13%.

New salons are popping up everywhere, so getting hired will be easier than ever.

It’s even possible to work from home in this career.

Employment Growth Projection: 33%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 40,100 jobs.

Nail Technician: Interest Over Time

Should You Become a Nail Technician?

Overall Satisfaction: High

Overall Satisfaction

Nail technicians love their jobs, it is a way to be creative and give people what they want.

It’s enjoyable, and the hours are typically not too harsh.

The job can be straining on the neck and hands, but most nail technicians say it is manageable.

If you work in a salon, maybe you can get a massage from a co-worker!

If you work alone, you’ll be able to manage your own hours, and this means you can take breaks when needed so your hands and neck don’t get overwhelmed.

Average Salary: Low

Average Salary

Typically, a nail technician will make between 17,000 and 22,000 dollars a year.

Salary ranges depend on education, certifications, additional skills, experience, and how many hours are being put in throughout the workweek.

Those that have less education and experience will make less money than those who have more experience and have gone to school longer.

Managers and salon owners make more than beginning nail techs.

It’s possible to get bonuses and tips in this field.

Job Growth Outlook: High

Job Growth Outlook

It seems that over the next ten years, the growth of this career will be around 13%.

That is a positive growth, especially with new types of nail services and better grooming habits.

The growing number of nail salons throughout the country will continue to increase, as well as jobs when people leave the career or retire.

Education Duration: 0-1 Year

Education Duration

Depending on where you go to school, it takes roughly a year to become a nail technician.

You’ll have to take two exams before you’ll be able to graduate the program.

Many of the programs estimate the time it takes you to finish the program by hours, not credits like typical college.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed
  • Communication skills
  • Conversational skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Reliability
  • Trendspotting
  • Precision
  • Concentration

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is a nail technician?

A nail technician is a person who works with fingernails and toenails to make them look and feel nice.

A nail technician works in a salon, where they use tools to cut, file, and paint nails to look good.

They also make sure that their station is up to date with state regulations, so that they provide a sanitary experience for their clients.

One of the most important parts of being a nail tech is that all of the tools are sterilized before and after each client.

This way, everything stays clean, and clients nails stay gorgeous.

Most nail technicians find themselves sitting and hunching over a lot, so make sure that you stretch out those back and neck muscles.

You can work in beauty salons, department stores, and even from your own home.

Q. How much does a nail technician make?

Depending on how much education and experience a nail tech has, they can make from 17,000 dollars to around 22,000 dollars.

Of course, those that work for themselves or own a salon can make more.

Nail technicians who have more experience tend to make more money, and depending on where you work, you can get large tips as well.

Q. Do nail technicians usually get tips?

Yes, most nail technicians receive tips, and also some type of bonus.

Most customers will provide their nail technician with a cash tip because of a job well done.

It is customary, at least in the United States, to give a tip to someone who provided you a service.

If a customer doesn’t give you a tip, don’t get upset, maybe they didn’t have any extra cash or they didn’t know they were supposed to tip.

Q. What is the demand for nail technicians?

New salons are popping up everywhere, and with the development of different techniques for nail care and nail art, more and more nail technicians are needed.

Q. How long does it take to become a nail technician?

It takes around a year to finish a cosmetology program to become a nail technician.

Training can last a life time, as there are new ways to do nails, and new fashion trends every year.

Similar Careers

  1. Avatar for Charlotte Fleet Charlotte Fleet

    Thank you for explaining exactly what a nail technician does including painting and filing nails. My younger cousin wants to try and find something she can do a few hours a week in order to have something to do while in college. I think she should look into going to nail technician school so she can have the training she needs.

  2. Avatar for Jessica Iid Jessica Iid

    I learned over 20 years ago how to do nails, i absolutely love doing nails. Its a true passion. What’s that saying ” If you love what you do everyday, you wont work a day in your life!”. Something like that…. Anyways you get it. I have a 5 year plan, i want to own my own salon in 5 years. I start school this May (2020), i give myself 5 years for this because i want to make sure i have a good clientele when i open! Im so excited!!!!

  3. Avatar for Annabelle M. Annabelle M.

    Thank you for all this information! I have been trying to decide what I would like to go back to school for now that my two boys are grown up and off to college. I think becoming a nail tech would be fantastic for me. It is low-intensity work and I will be able to to something I enjoy.

  4. Avatar for Brandon Brandon

    My wife and I own a nail salon. I put up the money and she runs it. The take home for us is not a huge amount after paying the staff so that is something consider however, you can easily open your own salon and make livable wages as an owner. If we cut corners, we could live on my wife’s earnings alone so that should tell you something.

  5. Avatar for Patty Reinholds Patty Reinholds

    I have always loved doing nails and considered this as a career option until I saw what you make. The take home is not great at all. I know you can make tips at these places but it depends on the business. I still think it would be worth getting certified/trained in just to have it under your belt, so to speak. You can always find work somewhere.

    1. Avatar for Aaronica Pierre-Louis Aaronica Pierre-Louis

      Honey these statistics are all wrong I know nail techs that make up to $500 a day and more those are salaries for someone who is employed by a nail salon making say $14 an hour

  6. Avatar for Hanna L. Hanna L.

    Having had some experience working as a nail tech, I can tell you that working full time at one of these places earns you more BUT this depends on the location and the amount of business. I was working 34 hour weeks and making roughly 24,000 a year. This is a bit above the averages listed. There were also only a few people who worked with my there other than the owners and their daughter.

  7. Avatar for Candice Bella Candice Bella

    You really don’t earn a whole lot with this job profession! I guess this is a good option for someone who wants to work part time or supplement their partner’s income. I can’t imagine working full time and making enough to raise a child or two! I am sure it is a fun and creative career none the less.

Leave a Comment