CPA Exam for International Students: Educational Requirements

Today we will go through the exam and licensing requirements for international CPA candidates. For those who obtain education and work within the US, please click here for the CPA exam requirements.

Overview of the CPA Licensing System Since the establishment of the CPA designation more than a hundred years ago, the CPA license has been granted by the state board of accountancy in each of the 50+ US jurisdictions. There is never a license-granting centralized agency at the federal level. Because of this historical reason, each state may have slightly different requirements to sit for the exam. The national associations of the CPA and state boards, known as the AICPA and NASBA, have worked hard towards a uniform CPA exam and licensing requirements known as the 3Es. That is Education, Exam and Experience. For the education criteria, candidates should attain at least a 4-year bachelor degree, plus 150 general credit hours of higher education. Most states require a certain number of accounting and business courses. For the exam, all candidates must take the Uniform CPA exam administered by the AICPA. For the experience, candidates are required to work in a relevant field for at least a year, supervised and/or verified by a US CPA. Do You Qualify? The education system in your home country could be very different from that in the US. I’d like to take the time to explain the differences and their implications.

CPA Exam For International Students

First, the Degree Requirement The US CPA qualification requires at least a 4-year bachelor degree. Many places, in particular the commonwealth countries, use a 3-year university system. In this case, you will, unfortunately, have a tougher time getting qualified for the exam, because the US uses a 4-year bachelor system. I understand that, in most cases, there is an additional year in secondary school and therefore the total number of years in education is the same; but given the US exam, I am afraid you need to follow their rules. If you fall into this category, you must take an additional degree, preferably a 2-year master’s degree in a relevant field, to make it work. Some states may not accept correspondence courses from non-US universities, so I would recommend getting this degree in a classroom setting if possible. Also, if the additional degree is not related to your original degree, it may not be counted for some states as fulfilling the degree requirement. The education is supposed to reflect a progressively advanced study in a unified degree program. Second, the 150 Credit Hour Rule As part of the 3E requirement, candidates are required to achieve an equivalent of a master’s degree with 150 credit hours of higher education. For those who are not familiar with the US credit hour system, one academic year roughly equals to 30 credit hours. Therefore, if you have a 3-year degree, you’ll have around 90 credit hours. If you have a 4-year degree, you’ll have around 120 credit hours. If you have a 3-year bachelor and 2-year master’s degree, then you’ll have 90 plus 60 credit hours which equals to 150 hours. This 150-hour rule is not as rigid as the degree requirement. As long as you’ve met the minimum degree requirement, that is, 4 years of university, you can take non-degree courses to make it up for the remaining 30 credit hours. In other words, these courses do not need to be within a degree program, and they can be in any subject, as long as they are offered by regionally accredited universities. I know people who have taken fun courses, such as introduction to golf and cooking classes in community colleges, and they are all counted. Third, minimum accounting and business requirements The last part of the educational requirements is the minimum accounting and business credits. There are 3 common pitfalls that you should be aware of: Upper-Division Courses By upper-division, it means that the courses must be at the intermediate or advanced level.

Some states accept any accounting courses, but a few, such as Montana, only counts upper-division courses for the accounting credit requirements. In this case, even if you are a commerce major in a 3-year university, you may not have enough of these accounting credit hours. So make sure you check the requirements carefully before applying. Federal taxation course It is also common for state boards to ask specifically for at least 3 credit hours of US federal taxation course, given taxation is a big part of the CPA exam. As an international candidate, your taxation course taken in your home country cannot be counted. Therefore, please expect to take one standard course in US taxation if you register in one of these states. They are offered online and the course actually helps a lot in your preparation of the Regulation section of the CPA exam. Similarly, for a few states such as Colorado, you may need to take specific courses such as the US GAAS, covering the US auditing standards. This course is also offered online and you can check out the link in the description below this video. Note to non-accounting majors A few countries don’t offer accounting majors. Instead, they have a general education in the university, similar to liberal arts offered in the US. For these candidates, you’ll need to make up for additional accounting credit hours, either through a master’s degree in accounting or by taking non-degree accounting courses. Other non-accounting majors should do the same to fulfil the minimum course requirements. Note to ACCA members, Chartered Accountants and other designation holders Since 2012, virtually all state boards have stopped recognizing ACCA, CAs and most other professional qualifications as equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree. The only ones that are counted are the statutory accounting bodies that have signed a mutual agreement with the US. Here is the list as of 2014.

International CPA Certification Requirements

A few states may still count your ACCA and CA courses towards the 150 credit hour requirement. Therefore, it’s still worth the effort to include your certificates in the application. Common Pitfalls I’ve got quite a lot of emails asking for help in the exam registration process. Here are the most common issues from international candidates. First, degree not considered US equivalent It is possible that a candidate has 200 credit hours but still not qualified for the CPA exam. Here are the possible reasons: the candidate has a 3-year degree plus several professional qualifications or diplomas, or he has two degrees that are not related to each other. In this case, you don’t have much choice but to get an additional degree, preferably masters in accounting. Second, not enough accounting or tax credit hours This could happen if the state board does not recognize some of your accounting or tax courses taken in your home country, or they only recognize intermediate or advanced level courses, or that you are a non-accounting major. Solution: either register in a state with fewer accounting requirements or take extra courses. In general, the second option is better if you don’t mind the extra time, money and effort. Third, did not realize the exam requirements are different from licensing requirements Many states have a step-up requirement when you apply for the license. For example, many states only require 120 credit hours to sit for the exam, but 150 hours to get the license. As of 2014, there are 35 states that fall into this category. Other states may require extra accounting credit hours for licensing. Examples include California and Pennsylvania. For a smooth licensing process, make sure you check not only the rules on the exam but also those on the license. Other considerations Social Security Number Most state boards require the candidates to submit their SSN or social security number in the application. You get an SSN only if you are allowed to work in the US. Quite a few states can waive this requirement if you fill out a form, or write them a letter, so generally, this is not a big issue for international candidates. The only state to stream out for is California: SSN is not required to sit for the exam, but mandatory to get the license. If you don’t want to get stuck in the middle of the process, please select another state. Experience Requirements Fulfilling the experience requirement is part of the 3Es and is often another bottleneck for international candidates.For a smooth path towards CPA, please make sure you can fulfil not only the CPA educational requirements but also those for the experience.

One response to “CPA Exam for International Students: Educational Requirements”

  1. Oluwatosin

    Good evening , i am a Ph.D student in Accounting at Babcock University, Ilishan Nigeria. I am in my first year and i want to register for CPA. Kindly guide on how to apply for the admission.

    many thanks.