How to become a CPA for international candidates and students?
Since most international candidates do not have a “preferred” state to practice their profession (they either need the qualification for credentials only, or that they work outside of the US), they are free to pick a state with the most favorable CPA exam requirements.
However, this flexibility could be overwhelming when there are 55 states and jurisdictions to choose from. How should you start? Which are the most popular states for international candidates?
Updated: February 2014
CPA for International Candidates: States that (in My Opinion) No Longer Works in Your Favor
Here are a few popular states that worked for many non-US candidates for many years, but they may no longer work due to change of rules.
1. Colorado — Getting A Lot More Restricted
Colorado used to be one of the most attractive states for international candidates. Not only that the full 150 credit hour is not necessary, members of ICAI and ACCA are automatically qualified for the CPA exam.
Unfortunately, on 9th December 2009, the State Board has restricted this rule. Specifically:
- The State Board is no longer accepting Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) certificates as evidence of having met educational requirement.
- Chartered Accountant (CA) qualifications from Australia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico and New Zealand (part of the U.S. International Qualifications Appraisal Board (IQAB) MRA agreement) is accepted; but those from other jurisdiction (e.g. India) is no longer accepted.
Sometime in early 2012 there were further restrictions applied to candidates with 3-year degrees:
- CA certificate is NO LONGER evaluated as equivalent to a 4-year accounting degree in the US. In other words, it will no longer work for BCOM + CA holders. Candidates with MCOM should be fine.
- Colorado has a rather strict working experience requirement: it has to be supervised by an active CPA in the US or the CA in the “qualified” jurisdiction as stated above.
- But you can go through the “education in lieu of experience” rule which allows you to use 150 credit hours to “exchange” for the working experience requirement.
- This rule is scheduled to be removed in 2015.
2. Illinois — Loved By Those Who Just Want A CPA Certificate (Until July 2012)
Illinois was a 2-tier state until July 1, 2012. Nowadays you need to fulfill one year of working experience to get the license.
There is still some advantage to go through Illinois — it is one of the few states that do not require social security number.
3. Delaware: Little Reason To Pick This State Now
used to be the only state that allow Associate degree holder (equivalent to a 3-year Bachelor degree) to sit for the exam. Rule has been changed in August 2012.
4. Michigan — All Waivers Removed
Michigan used to be a state that automatically gives out NTS (your CPA exam admission ticket) if you have a Chartered Accountant membership certificate.
They have since restricted the rules and are no longer consider CA as an educational requirement.
States that I Think Should Work in Some Degree
It depends on your educational background, but the following could be a good starting point for you.
1. California: 150 Credit Hours Now Required
Since January 2014, California requires 150 semester hours, 48 accounting credit hours (vs the previous 24) and 10 credit hours on ethics to obtain the license.
Note that while California does not require a social security number (SSN) to sit for the exam, the state board requires a SSN to grant you the license.
One advantage of registering in California is that the state board may recognize working experience verified by a non-US CPA, but it’s quite a hassle if your experience is gained outside of California.
2. New Hampshire: New Rules Effective July 1, 2014
New Hampshire used to recognize Indian CA certificates but have stopped doing that since 2012. There are new rules effective July 1, 2014 that further restricts the eligibility.
NH currently requires only 12 credit hours in accounting, which suits non-accounting majors. Starting from July 1, 2014, 30 accounting credit hours, 24 business credit hours and 150 overall credit hours is required.
If you haven’t started your application process, you will most likely NOT able to meet this deadline.
New Hampshire has a strict working requirement: that you have to work under a direct supervision of an active CPA, but the rule has been relaxed such that non-public accounting experience is allowed and “CPA equivalent” are qualified to supervise and verify the experience.
After the July 2014 rule, you essentially need to be an accounting major to get qualified. There isn’t much reason for international candidates to pick this state going forward.
States that Provides the Flexibility
1. Virginia: May Accept BCOM + CA; Your Supervisor/Verifier doesn’t Need to be a CPA
You can sit for the exam in Virginia as long as you have 120 credit hours, 24 accounting credit hours and 24 business credit hours. Also, I heard that BCOM + CA could be deemed an equivalent US bachelor degree as long as the evaluation report says so. Given rules change all the time, BCOM + CA holders who want to take this route must first double check with Virginia state board.
Another great advantage of Virginia is the flexibility of working experience requirement. You need to work 1 year in a relevant field, but, unlike most other state boards, Virginia doesn’t require your supervisor (i.e. your verifier of experience) to be a CPA. This means that as long as you work in accounting, you can qualify to get the license.
Restrictions/disadvantages of Virginia:
- Strict requirement of social security number, which makes most international candidates and all H4 visa holders ineligible.
- You need to be concentrated in accounting, i.e. this state is not for non-accounting majors.
- At the end of the day you do need 150 credit hours to get the license.
2. North Dakota: Supervisor/Verifier Doesn’t Need to be a CPA
North Dakota is a typical state that requires 150 credit hours. However, if your bottle neck is on the experience requirement (i.e. cannot find a CPA to work under or verify experience for you), then North Dakota should work. Similar to Virginia, it does not require your supervisor to be a CPA and this supervisor can sign the verification form for you. What’s better than Virginia is that social security number is not required.
3. Guam: 120 Credit Hour + No Experience Needed if You don’t Mind the Inactive License
To me Guam is a hidden gem — as long as you are an accounting major with a 4-year bachelor degree, and do NOT practice within Guam territory, you can get an “inactive” license without SSN, working experience and fulfilling the 150 credit hours.
If you are not an accounting major you do need to fulfill the 150 credit hours.
4. Montana: Can Sit Before Getting 120 Credit Hours
Montana is one of two states that doesn’t require a full 4-year bachelor degree to sit for the exam. All you need to do is to get 24 credit hours of upper-level accounting courses and another 24 credit hours of business courses. Note that you still need to fulfill the 150 credit hours to ultimately get the certificate or license.
Two great things about Montana:
- SSN is not required
- You can get your experience verified by a US CPA without the need to work under him/her.
Montana Working Experience Requirements
You may be glad to know that Montana remains a two-tier state which means that you can get a CPA certificate after passing the CPA exam and fulfilling the educational requirements. In other words, no working experience required.
Even if you want to get the full license, you can get your experience verified by a US CPA but that CPA doesn’t need to be your boss, which makes life much easier. This means that you should be able to verify your experience outside of US.
5. Alaska: Somewhat Similar to Montana — Can Sit Before Getting 120 Credit Hours
There are quite a lot of international candidates going through Alaska so it’s worth mentioning here. Since Alaska allows candidates to sit for the exam before the graduation, 3-year BCOM degree holders can technically sit for the exam as long as they fulfill enough accounting credit hours (the requirement depends on whether you are an accounting or non-accounting major).
The working experience requirement is also quite vague: 2 years of relevant experience deemed appropriate by the Board. I suggest that you find out whether your work is acceptable (by double checking with the state board) before applying for the exam.
Similar to Montana, you need 150 credit hours to get the license. If you are a 3-year BCOM graduate, it means that you will most likely need a 2-year master’s degree to complete the licensing requirement.
6. Washington: Experience can be Verified by Someone other than Your Boss
Washington requires candidates to have the full 150 credit hours to sit for the exam, but the state board allows you to have your experience verified by a CPA who is not your supervisor. In other words, it is similar to Montana in that you can verify your non-US experience by someone you know who happens to be a US CPA — could be friend, a mentor, a business partner… which makes things much easier.
Note that for Washington, this verifier must be an active CPA for 5 years or more.
For Your Further Reading
- Application process of non-US CPA candidates
- CPA exam requirements by state
- Is there any chance still for B.COM or other 3-year degree holder?
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