How Aspiring India CPAs Can Take the US CPA Exam: Issues + Solutions

How Indian BCOM or CA Takes US CPA Exam: Issues + Solutions

This article was originally written for Indian BCOM holders, but it is applicable to all aspiring CPAs with a 3-year degree.

Are you an Indian BCOM CPA candidate who wishes to 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 to meet the US CPA eligibility so you can 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 past the US-centric CPA Exam requirements can be frustrating. Let me help you go over the steps one by one.

Basic Requirement

The AICPA, NASBA, and jurisdictions expect all CPA candidates to fulfill the “3E” requirements: Education, Exam, and Experience.

  • Education: Earn a bachelor’s degree and 150 hours of higher education with coursework in accounting
  • Exam: Pass the 4-part CPA Exam within an 18 month rolling window
  • Experience: Depending on the jurisdiction, have at least 1 year of qualified and verifiable work experience

Each jurisdiction’s board has slightly different rules, but in general, the steps are:

  • Obtain a “standard” bachelor’s degree (in the US, this means 4 years or more), together with 150 credit hours 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 that must be completed within 18 months of passing the first part.
  • Fulfill your experience requirement and get properly verified.

1. Meeting the Education Requirement

One of the first hurdles you must pass to get your CPA license is meeting the education requirement. In most jurisdictions, you have to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to even sit for the exam. This is often referred to as the “120-hour rule” because a US bachelor’s degree equals 120 credit hours or 30 hours per year.

However, 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. Therefore, Indian candidates with an Indian bachelor’s degree have 90 credit hours. (3 years * 30 hours/year = 90 credit hours)

Because of this, Indian CPA candidates often cannot fulfill the first requirement of obtaining a 4-year bachelor’s degree. This is a challenge, but Indian candidates can overcome it.

The 4-Year Bachelor Degree Rule: Challenges

In the past, there were 3 solutions to meet the education requirements to sit for the CPA Exam:

(a) Apply through Delaware

For years, Delaware was the only state that recognized “associate degrees,” including 3-year non-US bachelor degrees. However, Delaware changed its rules in August 2012.

Nowadays, no state board allows associate degrees or 3-year degree holders to get the CPA license.

(b) Apply through Colorado or Michigan

Colorado and Michigan used to recognize the CA certificate as a prerequisite to sit for the CPA Exam, and many Indian candidates applied through them. However, they changed the interpretation of the rules in 2009 and 2012, and this 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.

The 4-Year Bachelor Degree Rule: The Solutions

It is a big challenge for BCOM candidates with or without the CA to pass the rule in most jurisdictions that you have to have at least a bachelor’s degree with 120 hours of coursework even to take the CPA Exam.

If you have a BCOM only and are serious about getting your CPA qualification, I suggest that you take a 2-year master’s degree in accounting. For example, you could get an MCOM, and your courses might overlap with the information that is on the CPA Exam. At this stage, I can’t see an easy way out.

If you have BCOM + CA, it may work*, but the process is complicated. I suggest you think through all the pros and cons and consult the help of an expert.

*Alaska, Guam, and Colorado may still accept partial or full Indian CA credits. Please double-check with the state boards before applying.

The 150 Credit Hour Rule: The Challenges

One year at a US university typically equals 30 credit hours. For a 3-year BCOM degree, you get 90 credit hours. With only 90 credit hours, you’ll need to earn an additional 60 credit hours before you can become licensed.

And 99% of jurisdictions now require you to earn 150 credit hours in order to become licensed. Earning 150 credits means you have to earn 30 more than the 120 that may be required to sit for the CPA Exam, depending on the jurisdiction. (Note: sitting is not the same as becoming licensed. You’ll need to hit 120 AND 150 credit hours to both sit and become licensed.)

In the past, a CA certificate gave you an additional credit of around 40 credit hours. With 90+40=130 credit hours, you could get qualified to sit for the exam in a few states. However, since 2012, chartered accountancy has been considered an “experience qualification” rather than an “academic qualification,” and most state boards no longer grant credits toward the educational requirements.

The 150 Credit Hour Rule: Solutions

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. So, that means you will probably have 150 credit hours. You are likely fine and can start the application process.

(b) If you have a BCOM + non-accounting master’s (e.g., MBA), that’s still 3+2 years = 5 years. So you probably meet the 150 hours rule.

However, most jurisdictions have specific rules about how many of those hours are in accounting courses. If you have non-accounting masters, 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. After all, depending on where you plan to work, you might not need the CA and CPA. A credential for a certified accountant in India might be the best career path if you plan to work in India and don’t anticipant working for a multinational company or a Big 4 firm that follows US accounting standards.

However, if it’s worth it to you to get the CPA, get a credential evaluation report to see if you need any additional education hours

(d) If you have a 4-year degree or equivalent (e.g., BCOM + 1 year of master’s), you probably have around 120 credit hours. And, you can make up for the remaining 30 credit hours with non-degree courses.

For (b), (c), and (d), there will be extra time, money, and effort involved, but it is doable.

2. Meeting the Exam Requirement

Applying for the CPA Exam: Challenges

If you meet the 150-hour rule as I explained above, you should be able to find a jurisdiction where you can qualify.

Once you choose a jurisdiction, the next step is to send your Indian transcripts and mark sheets to a foreign credential evaluation agency.

Whether an evaluation is required depends on where you received your education, not your nationality. For example, if you are an Indian international student who 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.

Normally, the evaluators will send the report directly to your chosen Board of Accountancy. (Please, though, double-check with them. NASBA has contact information for each Board of Accountancy.) 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.

Applying for the CPA Exam: Solutions

You will have to make some commitment to pay the evaluators for a professional evaluation. It costs anywhere from $100 to more than $400. The price varies if you are just looking for a general diploma evaluation or if you need a course-by-course evaluation as you might need if you received your education outside of the U.S. Express services are often available but will incur extra costs.

Some states offer pre-evaluation services, which will show you what courses you lack. I think it is a good idea to take advantage of these services if you aren’t sure whether you can get qualified for that state.

Tip: make sure your name is consistent in different reports. I believe they file the application documents by name.

Taking the CPA Exam as an International Candidate

(a) Getting the NTS

Once your application is approved, the state board will email or send you a Notice To Schedule (NTS) that allows you to schedule your exam at a chosen Prometric testing center.

(b) Selecting a Testing Center

You can register in one state and physically take the exam in another. For example, if the Virginia requirements are favorable for you and you register there, but you want to stay at relative’s house in San Francisco while you take the exam, 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. Plus, you can now take the CPA Exam at certain Prometric sites in India, too.

However, 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

Regardless of where you take the CPA Exam, preparing for the exam is the same. This is, in fact, an “easier” step for most international candidates, because, things are finally somewhat under your control.

Keep in mind that the CPA Exam only has a pass rate of about 50%. And since the exam is only offered in English, international candidates can find the exam particularly challenging.

Therefore, it’s critical that you adequately prepare for the exam. Many candidates find success with a CPA Exam review course. I have a page on the top CPA review courses.

3. Meeting the Experience Requirement

This is an important consideration for picking the right jurisdiction BEFORE you apply for the exam.

The Experience Requirement: Challenges

The experience requirement is often another bottleneck for Indian and other international candidates. Jurisdictions require 1 or more years in accounting experience. However, most state boards only recognize “relevant” experience that is “properly verified.” Let’s go over what that means and how to meet that requirement.

(a) Relevance

Most jurisdictions are fine with general accounting experience, but a few states only recognize public accounting, like auditing or related work in a CPA firm. This means that if any of your experience hours are in a corporate environment, a non-profit organization, or non-US government agencies, your experience cannot be counted in some jurisdictions.

(b) Proper verification

For most jurisdictions, your experience must be verified by an actively licensed US CPA during the time you work(ed) for him or her. Most states require that this person was your direct supervisor. Some states allow a “CPA equivalent” to verify experience, which usually means a Canadian CA or Australian CA, but for the exact definition, you will have to check with your chosen Board of Accountancy.

For work experience in India, unless you work under an actively licensed US CPA, your experience may not be counted. I know it is frustrating, but we have to play by the rules.

The Experience Requirement: Solutions

I actually have a whole post dedicated to finding solutions to the experience requirement. Read this post to find out which states have flexible experience requirements and other advice for meeting the CPA Exam requirements in India.

Note on CPA Exam International Sites

In the past, CPA candidates could not take their exams in India.

However, NASBA, the AICPA, and Prometric are working together to make more testing locations available. So, candidates can now sit for the exam in 8 Indian cities: Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Trivandrum.

Common Questions

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 pick the one you like best, so long as it’s a member of the evaluator’s association, while others only recognize one. For example, New Hampshire requires you to use the NIES, or the NABSA International Evaluation Services.

To be safe, I recommend only using NIES in case the board you select ONLY accepts NIES or if you have to transfer your application to another board that only accepts NIES evaluations.

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, or the Foreign Academic Credentials Services, Inc. They were cheaper and reliable back then, but they took the longest time.

You can get more information on evaluations on my website.

2. How many credit hours do you think I can get?

Even 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. Using a professional evaluation agency is the best way to determine the CPA USA eligibility for Indian CAs and whether you can get a CPA in the duration after a BCOM.

3. I have an H4 visa, and I can’t work in the US. What should I do?

Yes, this could be an issue, but there are a few states that allow your supervisor to be a non-CPA.

Some states 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 focuses on those that don’t require social security numbers. If you’re an international candidate and don’t have a US social security number (or SSN), you can’t meet the conditions in certain states that require you to have an SSN.

4. I live in India, and I can’t find a CPA to work for. What should I do?

This is also tough, but there are a few options. First, most states have a CPA society or other professional organizations. Find the CPA society in your jurisdiction—they might be able to connect you with a qualified CPA. Second, you could explore the possibility of working for your local Big 4 firm, which should have some US CPAs working for them.

Alternatively, pick a state that allows a non-CPA supervisor to verify your experience.

5. I work in the 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 jurisdictions allow candidates to take the exam in international sites. California is one example.
  • Also, there is a stricter requirement to fulfill the working experience requirement: if you take the exam at 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, sign up for my free informational course.

6. How to do a CPA course in India?

Let’s talk about a slight misconception about how the CA and CPA USA course details differ. To get your Indian CA credential, you enroll in a course that combines education and experience to get to the end goal of being a CA. The CPA is a little different in that you don’t have to enroll in a course to get it.

In contrast, you meet the 3E’s (education, experience, and exam) on your own and apply to your chose Board of Accountancy to get your CPA license.

Therefore, there really isn’t any US CPA course eligibility for Indian students.

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.

You can learn more about taking the CPA exam outside the US on this site.

7. Can I become a CPA USA in India?

Yes, if you are an Indian candidate, you can still become a US CPA if you meet the education, experience, and exam requirements.

According to the AICPA, the CPA enrollment requirements for the exam are basically the same for international and US candidates: select a Board of Accountancy, contact them for an exam application, apply and pay your fees, and schedule your exam when qualified.

8. What is the CPA fee structure?

To learn more about the costs associated with getting your CPA, you can discover the CPA Exam fees on my website.

9. Are there courses for BCOM graduates in USA?

If you have a BCOM degree and are looking to get more education hours in the United States to get your 150 credit hours, I recommend looking into a Master of Accounting.

Summary

  • BCOM or any 3-year degrees: do not qualify
  • BCOM + MCOM: should be ok; can proceed
  • BCOM + MBA or other non-accounting master’s: get an evaluation report and see if you lack accounting credit hours
  • BCOM + CA: Maybe… see if it’s worth it; and if the answer is yes, seek the advice given in this article

Advice for Indian Candidates Not Living in US

Right now, I see a lot of candidates who are taking their CPA Exams in Guam. So, if you are living outside of the United States, and you’re not able to work under the direct supervision of a licensed CPA, Guam is a pretty attractive jurisdiction. Plus, if you sit for the exam in Guam, you don’t need a social society number, and you don’t have to be a Guam resident or a US citizen.

Even more, to verify your experience, Guam will let you use NASBA’s experience verification service. That means that if you aren’t working under the direct supervision of an actively licensed CPA, NASBA can help you find the right routes to verify your experience and get your license. However, please note that extra fees are involved if you use NASBA’s experience verification service.

You can also take a look at Montana and Michigan. They don’t require an SSN, don’t require state residency or US citizenship, and participate in NASBA’s experience verification service.

This is All Too Confusing. Can I Get Help?

Yes, this is all very complicated. For candidates with the BCOM + CA, in particular, your qualifications must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. It’s too risky for me to give you a general answer without looking into the details of your courses and qualifications.

About the Author Stephanie Ng

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!

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