The following CPA eligibility guide was written by one of my favorite readers, Moid Raza. He offers great insight to international CPA candidates, especially how to do the CPA in Pakistan.
The Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is one of the most prestigious and acclaimed professional certifications. (And note that’s we’re talking about the CPA US, not the CPA Pakistan. The CPA US is much more globally accepted than the CPA Pakistan and is the gold standard of accounting certifications.)
However, the CPA is considered out of reach for many holders of Pakistani Bachelor’s degrees. Pakistani candidates often have lower education credit hours according to the eligibility requirements in the United States. You have to have 150 credit hours of higher education to get the CPA license.
As per my experience, becoming eligible for the CPA is more difficult than the CPA Exam itself. However, after a lot of effort, discussions, time, and money (of course), I found certain ways that may help you to be eligible for the CPA.
BUT please note that this is a bumpy road. You may need to go for different courses, and that takes effort and time in order to get this right in the first place. So if you are not committed, turn back now.
So let’s get started!!!!
The CPA license is granted by the boards of accountancy in the 55 US states and territories (including Guam and Porto Rico). Each state has different academic and experience requirements for eligibility. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) is the official body for the state boards. So, you need to visit this NASBA site for more details on CPA Exams.
Since 2012, NASBA has allowed Pakistan CPA candidates and other non-US candidates to take the exam in certain international testing centers. If you are a citizen or long-term resident in these appointed countries, you no longer need to visit the US to take the CPA Exam. The countries include Bahrain, Brazil, Kuwait, Japan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Plus, England, Ireland, Germany, and Scotland don’t have residency or citizenship requirements. So, any eligible candidate can take the CPA Exam in those European countries.
The CPA Exam is now offered in India, too. However, to take the CPA Exam in India, you must be a citizen or long-term resident of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sir Lanka, or the US. So if you’re a resident of Pakistan, you can’t take the exam in India.
If you’re a citizen or long-term resident of Pakistan, you can take the CPA Exam in Bahrain, Lebanon, Kuwait, and the UAE. You need to check out this site for more details about CPA Pakistan eligibility.
As an international student, your bachelor’s degree is required to be evaluated by an approved evaluator. Your foreign credential evaluation will make sure that your coursework meets the educational requirements to sit for the CPA Exam.
Some states have specific evaluators and some have a list on their respective state websites. You need to be careful in selecting the evaluator, as some evaluators have so many requirements that it takes a lot of effort to complete those. I will not go into detail, because the information is also available on the NASBA website.
I want to talk about one requirement that many people ignore so it creates problems later on. As a Pakistani bachelor’s degree holder, we do not have adequate education credit hours for the CPA license. I’ll explain.
Now, it’s mandatory for you to have a license if you want to be a CPA, even if you have passed the exam. Once you pass your CPA Exam, you need to complete the requirement of the number of education credit hours for license or else you’ll experience a CPA Exam credits expiration after 3 years [if you are to sit for the exam in non-US locations].
However, there are certain states classified as Tier 1 and Tier 2. In Tier 1 states, you get a CPA license after you pass the exam and finish all of the work experience requirements. And you’re required to have a license in order to be considered as CPA.
However, for Tier 2 states, a certificate is initially provided after you pass the exam, which does not allow the individual full privileges as a CPA. After additional requirements are met, the certificate holder may receive a license, which is the permit you need to call yourself a CPA. You can find details on licensing on this NASBA page.
Prior to 2012, NASBA considered the Pakistani CA and the ACCA as eligible academic education. However, since 2012, they have considered it as a professional experience. Thus, they do not consider those credentials towards the education credit hours requirements for your CPA eligibility. So to get your CPA license, you’ll need to have 150 hours of higher education. And if you have a Pakistani Bachelor’s degree, that’s only equal to 90 hours. (Most Bachelor’s degrees in Pakistan and India are equal to 90 US hours, and you’ll need 150 for the CPA license.) But you can take additional college courses to get up to 150. (Click here for a great article from Stephanie about this issue.)
After a lot of effort and discussion, as per my knowledge and experience, there used to be 2 states where you had a good chance of meeting the CPA eligibility requirements. It used to be that Montana and Alaska were good jurisdictions for international candidates. But that’s changed. I’ll explain.
Montana used to be a good choice for international candidates because it had a low credit hours requirement to take the exam. Plus, it was a Tier 2 state, which means if you pass your exam, you score will never expire and you could get a CPA certificate. However, a certificate doesn’t have all the benefits of a license, as explained earlier.
But Montana became a 1-tier state effective July 1, 2015. So, it doesn’t give a CPA certificate, just a CPA license. You still don’t have to have a Social Security Number to take the exam, so that’s good news for international candidates. But you now need 150 education hours to get the license. So if you apply through Montana, you’ll probably have to take more coursework to get you the 150 hours to be a US CPA in Pakistan.
You can get details of eligibility and other requirements for Montana here.
For qualified CAs and ACCAs, Alaska used to accept the CA and ACCA as academic qualifications. However, you now have to have a bachelor’s degree with a certain number of hours in accounting, economics, college math, and US business law to get your CPA license through Alaska. And according to NASBA’s website, in Alaska “advanced degrees are not accepted in lieu of a B.A.” Thus, you may need to visit Alaska page on NASBA for details. Plus, Alaska is Tier 1 state, which means your passing grades will expire if you do not complete the credit hours for licensing.
Let me explain my steps to becoming a CPA if you’re from Pakistan like me. Please note that all the below steps are based on the following assumptions and are based on my experiences. Let’s assume that you have:
Here, we need to understand my deficiencies for CPA eligibility first:
Please note, I will provide the guidance first and then the time line will be defined later, i.e. what to do when.
Many states require CPAs to have a certain number of credit hours in different accounting and business topics. To overcome this education deficiency, you may need to do certain courses from an accredited college or university. For the details, you may visit this link.
I personally prefer the University of North Alabama (UNA). As I discussed with my evaluator, I personally went with UNA for the following reasons:
In order to complete the education credit hours, you will need to complete the below 3 courses just as I did:
You may be wondering why auditing. Well, it was recommended to me my NASBA evaluator so that I would meet the requirements to take the CPA Exam. In my Audit classes for my Bachelor’s degree, what we studied was based on International Standards on Auditing (ISA). However, the CPA requirements consider the US Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS) for eligibility.
By completing these 3 courses, you may be good to go on the education side. As per my experience, it could take 6 to 9 weeks to complete these courses (based on work and other commitments). You need to go and check for the date of entrance, course completion dates, syllabus of these courses, passing scores, forms submission, etc. through the UNA website.
The Bachelor of Commerce degree has to be evaluated by an authorized evaluator. Click here for Stephanie’s article about foreign credential evaluations.
You need to register on the NASBA website or your state board’s website for the applications to take the CPA Exam, and after passing and getting your work experience, to apply for your CPA license.
The issue is that sometimes these forms need to be notarized. Now, in Kuwait, there are no public notarization rules. Thus, it was an issue for me to get these notarized from here.
The good thing is that you may get forms notarized from Pakistan itself, which will save you time, effort, and lots of money. So make sure that these forms are notarized prior to sending them to your state board.
Phew!!! That’s a lot of work. However, that’s not all. You need to make sure all these documents are sent to your Board within 30 days of application. To get this right, you need to work backwards. 30 days is the rule for the application, and your documents will be in your file for 1 year, so do not worry. However, if they do not receive these documents within 30 days of application, then your application fees shall be forfeited and you will be considered ineligible. Or at least, that was my experience.
To understand the time management, let’s consider an example. Assume you applied to a state board on 20 December 2020 and all the requirements need to be with the Board prior to 20 January 2021 (within 30 days of your application).
But evaluations services can take at least 8 weeks for the evaluation, so you should consider sending them the documents by 31 October 2020. I would recommend sending it by 15 – 20 October 2020. As soon as they receive your documents, they will confirm with you with a receipt email. As soon as they dispatch the evaluation and your documents, they will inform the same to you, too.
So let’s say you might go to classes at UNA to get your education credit hours. The UNA Fall 2020 Semester is open till 31 October 2020, and that means you need to submit your respective forms with UNA by before 31 October 2020. I would recommend sending these forms to them on the same date, i.e. 15 – 20 October 2020. The course should be completed by 1 December 2020 and they announce the results by late December or early January. They will send your transcripts to your Board by the same date or the day after.
VOLLA!!! Insha Allah you shall receive your trophy (Notice to Schedule) within a week or so. Only after getting your NTS, you shall apply for international testing and take the CPA Exam.
Please note that the above example is just for your understanding purpose and there may be a few days up and down, but make sure you do not miss the 30-day window.
No, there are not any exemptions for taking the CPA Exam for Pakistani candidates. The only time exemptions are given are when a candidate has a credential from another professional accounting body. However, no accounting bodies from Pakistan are on that list, which can be viewed on the AICPA’s website.
Right now, no, you cannot sit for the exams for the CPA USA in Pakistan. But if you want to go for the CPA in Pakistan, you can take the exam in the United States, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Bahrain, Lebanon, Kuwait, or the UAE.
There seems to be some confusion about a US “CPA course.” In the US, candidates don’t have to enroll in any certain classes in order to sit for the CPA Exam. Instead, to get the CPA license, they need to meet the education requirements (150 hours of higher education), pass the 4-part CPA Exam, and get at least 1 year of work experience. I think the confusion is that there are several good CPA review courses in the US that help you study for the CPA Exam and pass it faster. These are usually self-study courses (mostly online) that give you the tools to study the content on the CPA Exam.
There are several fees associated with getting the CPA in Pakistan, but they are generally the same as other international CPA candidates. When you’re ready to take the exam, you’ll pay a CPA Exam application fee to your state board of accountancy. Many states also require a CPA Exam registration fee in addition to the application fee. As an international candidate, there’s also the cost of your foreign credential evaluation. And after you pass the exam, you’ll also have to pay a fee to your state board when you finally apply for your CPA license.
Plus, there are additional exam fees if you don’t take the 4-part CPA Exam in the US. For every section you take outside of the US, there is a $356.55 fee, which amounts to $1,426.20 for all 4 sections.
Before you go on this CPA journey, I would first decide if it’s worth it for you. Why do you want to become a CPA? After all, you will need to get in a lot of education hours, pass a very difficult exam, and complete your work experience. Plus, the CPA Exam tests on the GAAP accounting standards, but outside of the US the rest of the world follows IFRS. But if your end goal is to work for a company that follows GAAP, it might be worth it. Click here for Stephanie’s article about the benefits of getting the CPA.
I have jotted down what I can think of for the CPA eligibility requirements. I may have missed a step or requirement. If you come across any info or additions, please feel free to add. Moreover, if you still have any confusion, query, or further guidance is required, please contact me in the comment section below.
I would like to thank the following ladies (weird, no guys) without whom I would not be eligible. You will definitely come across with them if you follow my path.
I would also recommend to go through the CPA Candidate Bulletin for an understanding of CPA Exam. It is the official guidance from NASBA.
If you’re an international CPA candidate, Stephanie has created a free CPA mini-course just for you. Click here to learn more about the course and sign up.
I would also recommend to visit the following websites for more information and guidance:
BEST OF LUCK WITH YOUR QUEST!
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!