Although my site mostly covers the US CPA exam, I’ve received lots of questions on the new CPA Canada designation. Readers have also asked me about the Canada CPA Exam. So, I decided to write a short post on the basics. At the end, you’ll also find info about how to become a CPA in Canada from the USA.
So, what’s the difference between getting a credential from CPA Canada vs. the US CPA? Well, in the United States, individual boards of accountancy grant the Certified Public Accountant credential instead of a national governing body. In fact, each state and territory has its own board of accountancy, meaning the US has 55 in total. And those boards set the requirements to get the CPA license. Although they generally follow the recommendations of the AICPA and NASBA, the boards still have the final say in specific education standards and experience benchmarks. Likewise, they can even set continuing education requirements.
Similar to the US, each Canadian province has its own regional accounting body. However, in 2013 and 2014, three of the biggest Canadian credential organizations decided to merge. Today, CPA Canada is a national organization representing the unification of the CIGA (Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants), the CMA Canada (Society of the Management Accountants of Canada), and CGA-Canada (Certified General Accountants of Canada). Moreover, CPA Canada took a bold move by merging several former accounting qualifications (CA, CMA, and CGA) into one CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant) designation. Consequently, the process was completed with much success.
Therefore, CPA Canada partners with regional Canada accounting bodies to award the CPA credential. In a similar way, NASBA and the AICPA work with the individual boards of accountancy in the US.
First, Canada CPA candidates must have an undergraduate education in certain related subject matters. Or, they gain education through preparatory courses. Then, they enter the Canada CPA’s “CPA Certification Program,” gain experience, and participate in a capstone project. Finally, they must pass the Common Final Examination (CFE).
In short, candidates have few different paths to become a Chartered Professional Accountant in Canada. However, both paths lead candidates through the CPA PEP, or Professional Education Program.
If you already have an undergraduate degree with an accounting focus, then follow this default route to become a CPA in Canada. If qualified, you will be admitted to the CPA PEP.
Shown on the right is an extract of the CPA Competency Map. Additionally, you can get more info and download the full version here.
If you’re an international candidate, or if your undergrad degree isn’t in accounting, don’t worry. After all, those who are not qualified to immediately enter CPA PEP based on their lack of education prerequisites can enroll in CPA preparatory courses, or CPA PREP. Moreover, they help candidates pick up the knowledge and skills they lack. In this way, non-accounting majors and international candidates can work to become a CPA in Canada.
Currently, you can choose from 14 different CPA PREP courses. Each covers specific skills and ends with an exam. For example, titles include “Introductory Financial Accounting,” “Economics,” and “Business Law.” The courses are offered part-time through a blend of self-study, distance learning, or in classroom settings. Check out this page for more info about the Canadian CPA prep courses.
If CPA candidates don’t have an undergraduate degree, they may still be able to become a CPA through considerable relevant experience. Specifically, candidates need at least 8 years of work in certain technical competency areas, including:
If you completed the respected course for your CA, CGA, or CMA designation on or before September 2015, then you can transition to the CPA designation. To get started, just contact your provincial CPA body where you plan to work. Then, request information on the CPA application process for that specific jurisdiction.
If you were half-way through the old CA, CMA, or CGA programs before the merge with Canada CPA, you will automatically be transitioned into the appropriate point in the CPA PEP program.
Moreover, you can find more information from the links at the bottom of this page.
CPA PEP is a 2-year part-time program designed for accounting professionals who work full time. What’s more, it consists of six modules:
Each module ends in an examination. Most importantly, CPA candidates must pass each module examination to proceed to the next module. And finally, the Common Final Examination is a 3-day test to complete the whole process.
CPA PEP is developed on a national basis, but the program is delivered on a provincial basis. Therefore, you can register for the CPA PEP through your provincial or regional CPA body. Plus, schools that run across the provinces can help you study if you need an extra push.
You will have to sit for six exams in the Core Modules 1 and 2 and two exams for Electives 1 and 2. Plus, you must pass two learning modules, Capstone 1 and 2. And in the end, the CPA Exam in Canada, the Common Final Examination (CFE), is a 3-day exam to complete the program.
The CPA PREP consists of 14 modules. The sequence in which you take modules 1-10 is important because some modules are prerequisites for others. However, modules 11 and 12 are self-study. In other words, they can be taken at any time, subject to availability. Plus, you only have to complete the ones you need, so you might not have to register for all fourteen. Each module ends with an examination, too.
For information about the module fees and scheduling, please contact your provincial body.
Since September 2015, the provinces have standardized the Canada CPA work requirements. Consequently, candidates can choose from two routes:
Additionally, students can choose to take a combination of the two routes.
Regardless of which route you pick, your experience must meet 5 benchmarks:
The fees associated with the Canada CPA vary from region to region. However, the Western School of Business (WSB) has a list of standard CPA PEP administrative fees that is available online. According to WSB, some of the costs (withstanding the fees associated with CPA PREP, if you must go through that program first) include:
To compare the CPA Exam Canada costs to the fees to become a CPA in the US, check out this article.
Just as with the US CPA certificate, Canada CPA holders must engage in continuing education to keep their credential active. Although US CPAs usually refer to their continuing professional education as CPE, Canadians use the term CPD, or career and professional development. Additionally, provincial CPA bodies generally require 120 hours every 3 years, with a minimum of 20 hours per year.
Of course, before pursuing the CPA Canada certificate, you should consider the average CPA salary in Canada and the availability of CPA jobs in Canada. According to payscale.com:
Canada CPA has mutual agreements with several international accounting bodies. Through these agreements, other credentialed accountants may be able to practice in Canada. Or, they might have a shorter path to become a CPA holder in Canada.
So, does the US CPA transfer in Canada? Well, if you already hold a US CPA, you can pursue the Canada CPA as long as you have the following:
In addition, you must be in good standing with your board of accountancy and you’re up-to-date on your CPE requirements, too.
To apply for a Canada CPA, start by registering with the appropriate provincial or regional CPA body. You will need to pay fees and provide documentation of your work experience and CPA status (active vs. non-active), too.
Membership recognition agreements also allow Canada CPA holders to go after the US CPA credential. However, candidates may have to jump through some extra hoops. Specifically, candidates:
Canada CPA does not currently have an agreement with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. Likewise, it does have an agreement with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nepal.
If you have the ICAI credential from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, you may be exempt from certain modules in the CPA PEP program. Plus, ICAI candidates are strongly encouraged to complete the CPA PEP Capstones 1 and 2. However, completion of the capstones is not mandatory. Taking the CPA Common Final Examination, though, is not optional, as all candidates must pass the exam.
In addition, ICAI holders might be exempt from the Canada CPA assessment of experience if they have:
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. I understand that the US state boards still allow legacy CA members to take the IQEX and get a faster route to become a CPA in the US. In this case, I suggest checking with the state board in your jurisdiction for more information.
I don’t cover Canadian review courses for now. But I’ve heard from friends that Prepformula, Densmore, and Pass are the bigger providers.
Well, if you already have the US CPA, you may be able to register for the Canadian CPA credential if you’ve met certain requirements. Basically, you need 150 education hours including a bachelor’s degree or higher. Plus, you must have already passed the US CPA Exam, have gained 30+ months of relevant experience, and are up to date on your CPE requirements.
Really, the answer to that question depends on your intended career path. Although Canada and the US have mutual agreements that allow for reciprocity, it’s still best to pursue the appropriate credential where you plan to live and work.
According to Canada CPA, about 77% of first-time candidates pass the CFE, or Common Final Examination.
This article is my attempt to provide a basic understanding of how to become a CPA in Canada. However, I have never gone through the process myself, and I definitely do not consider myself an expert on the Canada CPA. Because of this, I will likely not be able to answer specific questions that you may have. Instead, please call the accounting body in your province for assistance.
Good luck on your path toward the Canadian CPA!
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!