This article was originally written for Indian BCOM holders, but it is applicable to all aspiring CPA with a 3-year degree.
Are you an Indian BCOM CPA candidate who wishes to get take the CPA exam in the United States? Is your BCOM and CA degree not enough to get you qualified to take the exam? Have you tried several State Boards and credential evaluators but still can’t get a favorable response?
Let’s discuss the challenges and possible solutions on how to get you qualify to sit for the US CPA Exam.
(If you have a MCOM or relevant master’s degree, you are most likely eligible for the CPA exam. Please proceed to read this post on how to start the application process)
A Post Dedicated to Indian BCOM CPA Candidates
Being an Indian Chartered Accountant is a great accomplishment and I’d like to commend you on that, but getting pass the US-centric CPA exam requirements can be frustrating. Let me help you go over the steps one by one.
All CPA candidates are expected to fulfill the “3E” requirements: Education, Exam and Experience.
Each state board has slightly different rules, but in general, the steps are:
- Obtain a “standard” bachelor degree (in the US, this means 4 years or more), together with 150 credit hour of general higher education. Students typically get 30 credit hours in each academic year. This means state boards are looking for 5 years, but some of these can be from non-degree courses from US regionally accredited universities.
- Pass the CPA exam. There are 4 parts to be completed within 18 months
- Fulfill your experience requirement and get properly verified
1A. The 4-Year Bachelor Degree Rule
The tertiary degree system in India is different from that of the US – the bachelor program in India is 3 years, versus 4 years in the US.
Because of this, Indian CPA candidates cannot fulfill the first requirement of obtaining a 4-year bachelor degree.
In the past, there have been 3 solutions:
(a) Apply through Delaware
For years Delaware was the only state that recognizes “associate degree” including 3-year non-US bachelor degree. However, Delaware has changed its rules in August 2012.
Nowadays no state board allows associate degree or 3-year degree holders to get the CPA license.
(b) Apply through Colorado or Michigan
Colorado and Michigan used to recognize CA certificate as a prerequisite to sit for the exam, and many Indian candidates applied through them. However, they have since changed the interpretation of the rules in 2009 and 2012 respectively and it no longer works.
(c) Apply through a few states that recognize Indian Chartered Accountancy
The CA certificate is recognized as a 4-year bachelor equivalent in the US by some states (e.g. New Hampshire, Montana, Colorado). However, since 2012 they have also changed the interpretation of their rules.
It is a big challenge for B.COM with or without CA to pass this rule.
- If you have B.COM only and are serious about getting your CPA qualification, I suggest that you take a 2-year master’s degree in accounting, e.g. MCOM. At this stage I can’t see an easy way out.
- If you have B.COM + CA, it may work*, but the process is complicated. I suggest you think through all the pros and cons, then seek help from an expert called Leslie-Anne. You can find her contact at the end of this post.
1B. The 150 Credit Hour Rule
One year of university typically equals to 90 credit hours. For a 3-year B.COM degree, you get 90 credit hours.
In the past, a CA certificate gave you an additional of around 40 credit hours. With 90+40=130 credit hours you can get qualified for a few states. However, since 2012 chartered accountancy has been considered a “experience qualification” rather than an “academic qualification” and most state boards no longer grant credits towards the educational requirements.
Fortunately there are solutions to this rule. If you have:
(a) BCOM + related master’s (e.g. MCOM or Master’s in Accounting or tax), it is counted as 3+2 years = 5 years. You are fine and can start the application process.
(b) If you have BCOM + non-accounting master’s (e.g. MBA), you may need to take additional accounting courses to fulfill the minimum accounting requirements. To determine if this is necessary, get a credential evaluation report.
(c) If you are BCOM + Indian CA, explore whether it’s worth the effort to get the US CPA. If the answer is yes, contact Leslie-Anne for assistance (link at the end of this page).
(d) 4-year degree or equivalent (e.g. BCOM + 1 year of master’s), you can make up for the remaining 30 credit hours with non-degree courses. Click here for further instruction.
For (b), (c) and (d), there will be extra time, money and effort involved, but it is doable.
1C. Applying for the CPA Exam
If you are fine with 1A and 1B above, you should be able to find a state that you can qualify.
Once a State Board is chosen, the next step is to send your Indian transcripts and marksheets to the foreign credential evaluation agency.
Whether the evaluation is required depends on where you get the education, and not your nationality. For example, if you are an Indian international student graduated from a US university, no evaluation is needed. On the other hand, if you are a US citizen studying abroad for a year, then you need to submit an evaluation report for that year.
The evaluators will normally send the report directly to state board (please double check with them). For the portion of education you may have obtained in the US, please arrange the transcript to be sent directly from your school to the state board.
Tips: make sure your name is consistent in different reports. I believe they file the application documents by name.
1. Which evaluator should I use?
The State Board of your chosen state should indicate which evaluators you can pick from. Some allow you to choose anyone that is a member of the evaluator’s association, while others only recognizes one, e.g. NIES for New Hampshire.
While some evaluators seem to be slightly lenient in terms of giving you more credit hours, I don’t have a personal recommendation. Depending on your needs you can pick either the cheapest or the fastest.
I went through FACS myself. They were cheaper and reliable but back then they took the longest time.
You can get more information on these evaluation agencies here.
2. How many credit hours do you think I can get?
Even the professional evaluators need time to review your school and specific subjects before making a decision. Please understand that I can’t give you a quick answer. I don’t have the expertise to evaluate transcripts so even if you send me one I won’t be able to help.
You will have to make some commitment i.e. to pay the evaluators for a professional evaluation. It costs anywhere from $100-300. Express service is available but will incur extra cost.
Some states offer pre-evaluation service which will show you which courses you lack. I think it is a good idea if you aren’t sure whether you can get qualified for that state.
2. Taking the CPA Exam
(a) Getting the NTS
(b) Selecting a Testing Center
You can register in one state and physically take the exam in another. For example, the Virginia requirements is favorable for you and you register there, but you want to stay at relative’s house in San Francisco. You can certainly take the exam in California.
Since September 2014, Indian citizens and permanent residents can sit for the exam in the Middle East. Please be aware of the certain restriction of taking exams outside of US jurisdiction. See “Note on CPA Exam International Sites” below.
(c) Preparing for the Exam
This is in fact an “easier” step for most international candidates, because, things are finally somewhat under your control 🙂
I have a page on the top 5 CPA review courses for your reference.
3. Experience Requirement
This is an important consideration for picking the right state BEFORE you apply for the exam.
This is often another bottle neck for Indian and other international candidates. Most state boards only recognize “relevant” experience that is “properly verified”.
Most states are fine with general accounting experience, but a few states only recognize public accounting i.e. auditing or related work in a CPA firm. This means that corporate, non-profit organization and non-US government agencies your experience cannot be counted, or are discounted.
(b) Proper verification
For most states, experience must be verified by an actively licensed US CPA during the time you work(ed) for him/her. Most states require that this person to be your direct supervisor. Some states allow “CPA equivalent”, which usually means a Canadian CA or Australian CA, but for the exact definition you will have to check with your State Board.
For work experience in India, unless you work under a US CPA, your experience may not be counted. I know it is frustrating but we have to play by the rules.
1. I have a H4 visa and I can’t work in the US
Yes, this could be an issue, but there are a few states that allow your supervisor to be a non-CPA.
There are also states that require a CPA to sign your verification form, but this person does not need to be your boss. This way, you can ask this person to verify your previous experience in India.
The following link has lots of ideas, but focus on those that don’t require social security number.
2. I live in India and I can’t find a CPA to work for
This is also tough, but you may call up the Society of CPA of your registered state or explore the possibility of working in your local Big 4 which should have some US CPAs working in the firms.
Alternatively, pick a state that allows non-CPA supervisor to verify your experience.
Note on CPA Exam International Sites
Question: I work in UAE and am considered a long-term resident. Should I take the CPA exam there?
Yes, you are qualified to take the CPA exam in UAE, but please beware of the following:
Not all states allow candidates to take the exam in international sites. California is one example. You can go to this page for the list.
There is a stricter requirement to fulfill the working experience requirement: if you take the exam in non-US exam sites, you have to get the working experience fulfilled within 3 years or they will void your CPA exam results. If you take the same test in the US, this restriction does not apply.
To learn more about taking the CPA exam outside the US please click here.
This is All Too Confusing. Can I Get Help?
Yes, this is all very complicated. For BCOM + CA in particular, it has to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. It’s too risky for me to give you a general answer without looking into detail your courses and qualifications.
If you are serious about taking the exam, the best thing you can do is to contact Leslie Anne.
It is understandable that she provides service only to CPAexcel students and you may find out the exact state that works after you purchase the CPAexcel course.
Rest assured that they have a good product with 9 out of 10 students pass on their first attempt (CPAexcel is on my recommended list regardless of this service)).
There is a 95% refund if Leslie-Anne can’t get you qualified at the end.