California is the most popular state to register for the US CPA exam, representing 15% of total candidates.
Since Jan 1, 2014, the state board’s rules have changed such that 150 credit hours and accounting concentration are required to obtain the California CPA license.
International Candidates: Read before Proceeding
California strictly requires a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for the CPA license. For those who are not familiar with SSN, it is a government issued ID given only to US citizens, residents, and those allowed to study or work in the US.
What’s confusing is that California does allow candidates with SSN to sit for the exam, so technically, you can still apply and think about transferring your exam credits to other states. However, I strongly recommend you try another state because there is a lot of risk in the transfer. You can check out this page for state boards popular to international candidates.
California CPA Requirements
1. Exam Eligibility
(i) General Educational Requirement
- 4-year bachelor degree or above.
- 150 credit hours is now required.
- If you are enrolling in a master’s degree or a program that would make you fulfill the 150-hour rule upon graduation, you may take the CPA exam before graduation by seeking prior approval from CA state board*.
- For other “regular” bachelor degree holders with 120 credit hours, you can make up for the remaining 30 credit hours with:
- An additional master’s degree;
- Non-degree courses in community colleges, and other accredited educational institutions. It can be done either online or in classroom setting. Here are some suggestions on how this can be done.
* You need to ask your school to send (1) your current transcript; (2) a letter from the registrar stating that you are enrolled in a master’s/150-credit-hour program, that you have already fulfilled the bachelor portion of this program, and the date you are expecting to complete all courses.
(ii) Accounting Courses
- 24 credit hours.
- Qualifying courses include Accounting, Auditing, External or Internal Reporting, Financial Reporting, Financial Statement Analysis, Taxation.
- Other accounting courses that can be counted include Assurance, Attestation, Bookkeeping, Cost (Cost Analysis, Costing), Peachtree, QuickBooks, and CPA Review courses taken from regionally/nationally accredited institutions.
- Refer to CBA Regulations section 9.2(b) for details.
(iii) Business Related Courses
- 24 credit hours.
- Qualifying courses include Business Administration, Business Communications, Business Law, Business Management, Computer Science/Information Systems, Economics, Finance, Marketing, Mathematics, Statistics, Business, related law courses offered at an accredited law school.
- Refer to CBA Regulations section 9.2(c) for details.
California state board does NOT consider ACCA membership (and professional qualifications other than these) equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. However, it *may* count some coursework towards the 150 credit hour requirement. There are many factors involved, including when you took the ACCA courses.
California State Board (CBA) is kind enough to clarify the situation upon my email inquiry (Aug 2012):
We will consider coursework from the ACCA, to the extent that the ACCA program is equivalent to coursework for academic credit at a U.S. nationally or regionally accredited degree granting institution. However, the ACCA syllabus itself is subject to change over time.”
The only way to find out for sure is to obtain a foreign credential evaluation report from agencies accepted by CBA.
BCOM + CA Holders
Here is CBA’s reply regarding the CA certificate:
In response to your question, the evaluation of foreign education is conducted by a case-by-case basis and the CBA relies heavily on the U.S. equivalency determinations made by the CBA-approved foreign credential evaluation services. If a candidate has a question regarding the U.S. equivalency of specific education they should be advised to contact one of the CBA-approved services. The CBA does not provide a blanket acceptance of any education.”
In other words, you have to go through the evaluation agencies to find out. For next step, you have two choices:
- Apply to the agencies knowing that you may not get a favorable result;
- Contact Leslie-Anne Rogers, who handles CPA exam qualification at CPAexcel, for assistance (with a fee). More information can be found here for Indian candidates.
2. Additional California CPA Requirements to Obtain the License
Apart from the 24 accounting credits and 24 business course credits, you need the following additional courses for the license:
a) Accounting Study Subjects
- 20 credit hours. Again, this is in addition to the 24 accounting credits.
- The state board is essentially looking for an accounting concentration. You can check out the detailed requirement under CBA Regulation Sections 11.1.
- You are automatically qualified if you have a master’s in Accounting, Taxation or Laws in Taxation.
b) Ethics Study
- 10 credit hours.
- Qualifying courses include Auditing, Legal Environment of Business, Business Leadership, Morals, Corporate Governance, Business Law, Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, Human Resources Management Fraud, Management of Organizations, Business, Government & Society, Organizational Behavior, Professional Responsibilities.
- Details can be found in BPC section 5094.3.
The state board does not have pre-evaluation service, but they provide this self-assessment worksheet to determine your eligibility for the California CPA license.
3. California CPA License Experience Requirements
150 credit hours + 1 year of experience is the only way to get the license effective Jan 1, 2014.
- 1 year of experience in accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, tax, or consulting skill.
- Experience acquired in academia does NOT qualify.
- 500+ attest hours are needed for those who want to sign attest reports.
- Part-time work is accepted. 170 hours is equivalent to one month of full-time employment.
(i) Experience from public accounting
- Must be supervised and verified by “an individual who holds a valid active license, or comparable authority to practice public accountancy in any state or country”.
- My interpretation is that your supervisor can be a CPA and CA from other countries. Giving the language is quite vague here, it is best to double check with the state board by email if your boss is not a US CPA.
Here is a useful piece of information from reader Natasha if you obtain the experience outside of the US:
The only other thing that I noticed is that when the licensing procedure is proceeding, at certain point of time, the Board will require the candidate to present in front of the board (I think they use the words “appearance before the CPA Qualification Committee (QC)”) if the working experience is acquired outside of the US.”
(ii) Experience from non-public accounting / private industries
- Supervised and verified by a US CPA.
- If this person is not the owner of the company, then a second signature from his boss (not necessarily a CPA) is required.
(iii) Special Note to Out-of-State Supervisor License Verifications
If your experience is obtained outside of California, the state board requires written verification from the out-of-state licensing body with which the supervisor holds a valid active license to practice public accountancy.
4. Ethics Exam Requirement
The CA State Board only accepts the Professional Ethics for CPAs (PETH) from the California CPA Education Foundation. The exam has to be taken within 2 years after the submission of the license application.
5. California CPA Requirements on Residency and Age
Non-US citizens and residents are welcome to apply. There is no minimum age requirement.
Social security number or ITIN is not required to sit for the exam, but mandatory to obtain the license.
- First-timers: standard exam fees +
$100$50 initial application fee*
- Repeaters: exam fees +
$50$25 repeat application fees*
- Special note on NTS: Unlike most states, NTS approved by CA State Board is valid for 9 months (instead of 6 months) counting from the date of NTS issuance. The Exam Handbook has the details.
* There is a temporary fee reduction from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016.
7. Continuing Education
CPE required for license holders. Click here for California CPA CPE requirements.
8. Useful Links
Almost all the information on this page is extracted from these very useful and informative handbooks prepared by California State Board:
- California CPA Exam Handbook for CPA Exam Applicants
- California CPA Exam Handbook for licensing
- SSN and ITIN requirement for licensing in California
California Board of Accountancy
2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 250
Sacramento, CA 95815-3832
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: 916-561-1703
- Fax: 916-263-367
This is Too Complicated. Can You Help Me?
The CPA exam requirements can be overwhelming especially if you are not a “typical” candidate. I encourage that you read these posts for background information
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