Fulfilling the US CPA experience requirements can be a headache for those who do not take the traditional public accounting career route or who do not have CPA work experience. However, you have many options to meet the CPA experience requirement.
Therefore, in this article, I’ll go over how to get CPA work experience and getting a CPA to sign off on a work experience form. Plus, I’ll explain if you can become a CPA without public accounting experience.
To start, keep in mind that there are actually three broad categories of CPA requirements. Getting CPA experience is just one of them. The categories are called the 3 E’s:
Next, let’s go over what counts as work experience for the CPA. Nevertheless, before you decide to become a CPA, you should definitely review the CPA work experience requirements by state because they can vary. After all, you’ll apply to your jurisdiction’s board of accounting to get your CPA license. And each one has slightly different CPA license requirements. (The U.S. has 55 jurisdictions with one in every state and territory.)
Broadly speaking, most jurisdictions want 1-2 years of public accounting experience. Then again, many jurisdictions will accept a longer number of years of non-public accounting experience. For instance, you might be able to meet your CPA professional experience requirement in an industry or government position.
That being said, how to fulfill the CPA experience requirement varies depending on where you will apply for licensure. And there are many exceptions to this 1-2 year CPA experience rule-of-thumb. Some will accept teaching experience, for example, but some won’t. A few states will count part-time work, but others only count full-time work. Furthermore, some want your supervisor to sign your CPA work experience letter. But in other states, any CPA can sign off on a work experience form.
For that reason, here’s a short list to give you an idea of the range of CPA requirements for work experience:
In addition, some jurisdictions require a different amount of work experience based on the work performed. For example:
So as you can see, you really need to dig deeper into the CPA requirements by state before going after your license.
Let me go through the common issues and solutions about work experience for the CPA with these frequently asked questions from readers. These topics are especially applicable for those who do not plan to practice public accounting in the US.
Do you have to have work experience to become a CPA? Yes.
But do you need public accounting experience to be a CPA? In most states, the answer is “no.” A handful of state boards recognize public accounting as the only CPA experience requirement. But really, most states allow non-public accounting, taxation, or even academic teaching as valid experience.
No. Although rules apply about the “verifier”—or the person who will certify that you completed your work requirement—state boards usually don’t have restrictions on where you work.
Specifically, for most states, the verifier has to be an actively licensed US CPA from any state. Therefore, the following people usually cannot verify your work experience:
Furthermore, in many cases, this verifier must also be your direct supervisor.
But getting back to the question, if you can find a US CPA to work under but the opportunity is outside of the US, it is perfectly fine. Still, many US CPAs living overseas may not keep their license active. So, make sure you check with your supervisor on the status of his/her license.
Unfortunately, no. Most states require your verifier to be actively licensed in the US only. Some states such as Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania accept a “CPA equivalent” to verify your experience. But normally, this only refers to qualified accountants from countries that signed a mutual reciprocal agreement with the IQAB. For most accountants working in India, this means they won’t qualify. As of 2021, this list of countries/jurisdictions include:
Montana, Washington, Arkansas,* and Indiana* are some of the states that allow a CPA to verify your experience without being your supervisor. This adds a lot of flexibility because they can in theory verify your prior experiences (even outside of the US) as long as they are relevant.
* These states require applicants to submit their social security numbers, which might be an issue for international candidates.
Yes. Illinois, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin do. But please note that Ohio and Virginia require candidates to have an SSN in order to sit for the exam.
It depends on the state, but in many cases only 1 year is required. For example, some states ask candidates who work in non-public accounting to accumulate one additional year (i.e. 2 years) of experience before getting the CPA license.
But still, remember that this is a general statement, and many jurisdictions have exceptions to the 1-to-2 year standard. So it’s best to check on your specific state CPA requirements.
It depends on the state, but most are quite flexible. That is, they count experience you gained before, during, or after the exam.
This could be a concern if you don’t plan to work in accounting in the future and are relying on your previous experience. Therefore, double-check with your state board before taking the exam.
I strongly recommend candidates to pick a state the works all the way to licensure. However, if you get this advice too late, here is the remedy:
For example, let’s assume you originally registered for New Hampshire because it requires the fewest accounting credit hours. In that case, you can’t expect to switch to Virginia without making up the accounting classes. In other words, the state boards don’t let you game the system.
You may have heard about VITA, which is the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program from the federal government. Through this program, you can volunteer to help seniors, low-income people, disabled persons, and non-English speakers prepare their tax returns.
But how much does VITA experience go toward work experience for the CPA? Well, unfortunately, if you were hoping that VITA counts as CPA experience, you’re out of luck. In fact, you cannot include hours volunteering for VITA towards CPA experience.
If you’re looking for ideas about how to get experience for the CPA license, you can count an internship in most states. Just remember that in many jurisdictions, you need to work under the supervision of a CPA. Therefore, before starting an internship, think about who can sign your CPA certificate experience verification form.
Some jurisdictions will allow part-time work experience to count toward the CPA license. For instance, Colorado requires 1,800 hours of work experience that can be obtained over 3 years.
Others—like Georgia—specifically require full-time work and won’t count any part-time employment. And likewise, some jurisdictions will count volunteer accounting work for CPA experience, and others will not. So before you invest in a part-time or volunteer position, contact your state board. After all, they can offer the best advice on how to gain experience for the CPA license in that jurisdiction.
If you’re having a hard time getting your supervisor to sign your CPA work experience letter, you have some options:
Although the requirements to sit for the CPA Exam vary, you can take the CPA Exam without accounting work experience. Besides, many license holders passed the CPA Exam with no experience. (That doesn’t mean you don’t have to study for the CPA Exam!)
Still, though, you have some “work” to do before taking the CPA Exam. After all, depending on the specific CPA Exam requirements in your jurisdiction, you may need to fulfill all or part of your education requirement before you tackle the exam. That is, all 55 jurisdictions now follow the so-called “150-hour rule,” meaning that you need 150 hours of higher education before getting your CPA license. Basically, that breaks down to a master’s degree or at least a bachelor’s degree with some additional coursework.
Anyway, some jurisdictions allow you to take the exam with no coursework, like Puerto Rico. Others, like Florida, allow you to take the exam with 120 hours of coursework, and you can get the other 30 after you pass. Almost half expect you to have 150 hours or at least be within just a few months of completing your education requirements.
But like I’ve said before…check with your jurisdiction to verify its requirements to take the CPA Exam. You probably won’t need work experience, but you may or may not need to fulfill your education requirements.
And remember, even if you’ve passed the CPA Exam but with no experience, you can’t call yourself a Certified Public Accountant yet.
If you’re looking for CPA states with no experience requirement, you can stop. In fact, there are zero CPA states without a work experience requirement.
Some rumors are going around the internet that Puerto Rico doesn’t have a work experience requirement. For that reason, I double-checked with NASBA. Rest assured, the Puerto Rico board expects a minimum of 1,820 hours. It can be completed as full-time work or a part-time position over 3 years, however. But CPA candidates must fulfill this obligation.
The application for the CPA Exam and CPA license can be an exceedingly complicated process. After all, every jurisdiction has slightly different requirements. What’s more, the outcome often depends on your unique educational background and situation. I would also love to help as much as I can. But in many cases, it is easier and more efficient to do your own research and decide accordingly.
Consequently, AllLibrary.com has a database that contains the rules and regulations of all of the state boards. Basically, you can find info regarding the CPA experience requirements and licensing rules. Plus, everyone can access the database for a fee.
If you are serious about the exam, I encourage you to narrow down your choices to no more than 5 states. Then, free up half a day and buy a 24-hour pass for US $10. It’s worth it.
NASBA recently launched an experience verification service that can be very helpful for domestic and international candidates alike. NASBA even has a client manager who will guide you from start to finish.
Basically, the service authenticates an applicant’s work experience. But first, you need to:
The catch is that it’s only available in a select number of states and jurisdictions. And the service is expensive ($500 for domestic candidates and $700 for international candidates).
If you want a relatively hassle-free experience and don’t mind the cost, check it out here.
If the answer is yes, join my free “e-course” and learn how to plan, study for, and pass this exam. I have two versions designed for candidates with different backgrounds:
* Those with US degrees, or
graduate/live/work in the US
^ Those who study abroad, or
graduate/live/work outside of the US
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!