Difference Between ACCA vs CPA (USA): Which Certification is better?

If you are an accountant and thinking about a globally recognized qualification, CPA and ACCA may come to mind. Should you go for ACCA or CPA? Does it make sense to get both? Let’s take a look.

Organization Structure The CPA license is granted by each state or jurisdiction in the United States. There is no centralized body, and each state has slightly different CPA exam and licensing requirements. International candidates are often confused and frustrated by the complicated application process. ACCA is based in the United Kingdom. It operates as a single entity with a much simpler application process. Although it is a statutory accounting body in the UK, international candidates generally consider the certification as a global brand. Application & Qualification This is probably the biggest difference when it comes to CPA vs ACCA. For US CPA, candidates must have a minimum of a 4-year bachelor degree and preferably a master’s degree in order to fulfil the 150 credit hour requirements, equivalent to 5 years in higher education. Once you are approved for the exam, you are on your own in terms of how to get prepared. Most candidates choose to take commercial review courses to help in their studies.

For ACCA, the entry-level is much lower – you are qualified as long as you have 3 GCSEs and 2 A-Levels in 5 separate subjects including Math and English. In other words, most high school graduates can qualify. If you have a bachelor degree in relevant subjects, you can apply for exemption on part or all of the papers at the Fundamental Level. Unlike the US CPA, once candidates are registered, ACCA takes an active role in preparing you for the exam by providing study guides and sample papers. They also provide a database of ACCA Approved Learning Partners.

Exam Content and Format For US CPA, there are 4 parts in the exam. The exam itself is 100% computerized consisting of multiple-choice questions, task-based simulations, which is, intense case studies, and written communications. Grading is mostly computerized. You can choose to take the 4 parts one at a time, 2 at a time or even 4 at the same time. You can sit for the exam any time (Monday to Friday or Saturday) during the first 2 months of each quarter and at any Prometric centres throughout the US as well as in Japan, Brazil and 4 Middle Eastern countries.

For ACCA, there are 14 papers divided into Fundamental Level (9 papers) and Professional Level (5 papers). Candidates can apply to waive part or all of papers at the Fundamental Level. Some but not all papers are computerized. The exam is offered in June and December each year in more than 170 countries throughout the world. Time Required to Pass For US CPA, most candidates aim to pass the exam within 12 to 18 months. Those who have the time and commitment can choose to take all parts together and pass the exam within 3 to 6 months. For ACCA, given the number of papers and the fact that exams are held only twice a year, candidates generally need 3 to 4 years to complete all papers and become an ACCA member. Reciprocity and Exemptions The AICPA has a reciprocal agreement with 6 accounting bodies in the world. Their members can choose to take a simplified version of the exam known as IQEX. ACCA is not among these 6 accounting bodies. On the other hand, ACCA is more generous in this regard. Exemptions are granted to AICPA members for 8 papers as well as for Foundations of Accountancy. You can check out the exemptions from the link on this page. Other Considerations For the US CPA exam, unless you live in the few countries where international exam sites are available, you will have to travel to the US for the exam. These countries are Japan, Brazil, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, the UAE. Indian citizens and long-term residents can take the exam in the Middle East centres. For ACCA, the exam can be taken in more than 400 testing centres, located in 170 countries. For candidates who come from a country that is exceedingly difficult to get a US VISA, ACCA could be a much-preferred choice.

Conclusion The US CPA is arguably the most prestigious accounting qualification. The entry barrier is high with an equivalent of a masters’ degree together with strict working experience requirements. Because of these stricter requirements, the exam itself has much fewer parts – only 4 compared to the 14 papers in ACCA. There are certain jobs that can only be performed by a CPA, for example, signing an audit report and launching a CPA firm. Therefore, it is a big advantage to get a CPA title especially if you want to work in public accounting in the United States or in American firms. For ACCA, the application process is much simpler and the entry barrier is low. However, it takes years to complete the studies and obtain membership. While ACCA is globally recognized, it is not as relevant outside of the UK and Commonwealth countries. If I must pick… Which one should I go for? Since it is not possible to take advantage of the ACCA membership to get exemptions from the US CPA exam, I recommend that you go for only one and not both.