I have many readers from India who are very interested in becoming a US CPA. Some have great reasons, while others’ desires may be based on incorrect information. In this article, I’ll help you decide whether it’s worth it for Indian CAs to pursue the US CPA title.
First, let’s go over the differences between the US CPA and CA that is granted in India and other countries. In terms of daily activities and knowledge, there isn’t much difference between a CPA and a chartered accountant. So, CA accountants and CPA professionals both have content knowledge in accounting, auditing, business and managerial accounting, financial reporting, and taxation. Plus, both can work in the public or private sectors with very small to very large multinational companies.
Before you pursue either credential, you should understand the requirements to become a chartered accountant vs CPA. I’ve noticed a lot of misinformation posted on other blog sites, so please read this article carefully.
The CPA (Certified Public Accountant) is an accounting certification granted to individuals who fulfill certain education and experience requirements as a public accountant. The CPA license is not granted at the federal level but at the state level by each jurisdiction’s Board of Accountancy. In fact, the United States has 55 jurisdictions in each of the 50 states and the 5 territories.
Each jurisdiction has slightly different requirements to obtain and maintain your CPA license. However, they generally include the following benchmarks of the 3E’s.
In some jurisdictions, CPA candidates must also pass an ethics exam before applying for licensure.
There are many benefits of the CPA credential, especially for professionals who plan to work with US-based companies.
Like CPAs, CAs (or chartered accountants) must pass the CA Exam and meet experience benchmarks that have been established in their country. CAs are experts in the IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) and other international accounting standards.
The role of Indian CAs is very similar to that of CPAs in the United States. The main difference is that Indian chartered accountants’ services are limited to India, while the US CPA credential is recognized around the globe.
Although there is CPA and chartered accountant reciprocity among the US and some countries, no such agreements currently exist between the US and India. However, NASBA and the AICPA have reached mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) with professional accounting bodies in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, Ireland, and Scotland. According to these agreements, qualified professional accountants in these countries can practice in the United States without the need to be completely re-credentialed.
But still, the US currently does not have a similar agreement with India. Therefore, an Indian CA wishing to work as a professional certified public accountant in the US must apply for the credential. And, the candidate must meet all licensure requirements.
In the past few decades, many multinational companies have entered India, leading to significant regional expansion. Often times, the financial reporting of an Indian business needs to be integrated with global accounts that must follow the US GAAP or the IFRS. For that reason, accounting professionals increasingly need to be familiar with multiple standards.
In the past, these corporations usually relied on Indian CAs for accounting services. Through on-the-job training, they were able to ensure that Indian accounts also met the US GAAP standards for financial and compliance reporting.
However, many of these Indian CAs received inadequate training and supervision in US standards. Therefore, errors and inconsistency in accounting reports were not uncommon. Plus, these oversights created issues with the SEC (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) and other US regulatory bodies.
Therefore, the demand for US CPAs stationed in India is growing. CPAs are needed for US GAAP reporting and for general controller roles for US subsidiaries in India. At the same time, global Indian companies publicly listed in the US require US CPAs for quarterly and annual financials. They also rely on CPAs for conformity with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other compliance reporting and documentation.
I should also mention that many of my readers want to get the CPA title for the sole purpose of working in the US. They were told that they would be assigned training opportunities in the US as long as they take part in the “CPA program.” Or, someone told them that a CPA title can lead them to a job in the US. However, let’s break down these factors and determine what is myth and what is fact.
Please note that the so-called “CPA program” in the United States does not exist. So to get the CPA, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass the CPA Exam. However, the test is a qualifying exam only. To alleviate some of the confusion, let’s review the players in the US CPA license process.
However, it’s important to note that none of these institutions have formal programs or courses that lead to the CPA. Although the AICPA offers a limited amount of study material and a partial sample exam on its website, none of the institutions listed above have training programs or provide any review materials.
The CPA Exam review courses you may have heard of are developed by third-party commercial providers. You don’t need to take any of them if you are confident to go straight to the test center.
However, the CPA Exam is difficult; less than 50% of candidates pass. Therefore, even if you have an accounting degree or have substantial work experience as an accountant, I strongly suggest enrolling in a review course. Miles CPA is a good choice if you’re a candidate living in India or the Middle East. Otherwise, check out the article Best CPA Exam Review Courses if you are looking for some guidance.
Some rumors even claim that the CPA title can guarantee a job in the US. This is far from the truth. Similar to the Indian CA, I don’t think being a chartered accountant will automatically lead to a job in India. So if you are planning to sit for the CPA Exam only as a ticket to move to the US, please give it a second thought. You can find more effective ways to land a US accounting job. For example, you could join a US corporation, strive to be a top-performing employee, then request an internal transfer to the US headquarters or regional offices.
In any case, the number of US CPAs from India is not enough to meet the demand.
India’s higher education system follows the same 3-year bachelor system that is used in the UK. Each year of higher education study on a bachelor’s track in India is equal to about 30 credit hours in the US system. So, an Indian bachelor’s degree is equivalent to 90 US credit hours.
This is different from the 4-year bachelor’s degree that is commonly granted in the US. A US 4-year bachelor’s degree is worth 120 credit hours.
Because of this difference, it is hard for Indian candidates with only a bachelor’s degree to meet the education requirements of the CPA license without an extra degree. Depending on the state, you’ll need at least 120 hours to even sit for the CPA Exam and a full 150 hours to get the license.
Plus, most state boards require US CPAs to sign the experience verification form that is used to validate the work experience required for the CPA license. This can create difficulties for candidates working outside of the US. Since the pool of US CPAs in India is small, it is very hard for those who pass the CPA Exam to find an Indian supervisor who is actively licensed in the US.
Let’s review some common situations for Indian accounting professionals and how they can meet the education requirement for the US CPA.
The BCOM (or Bachelor of Commerce) is a common degree for Indian professionals wishing to go into the accounting field. However, since the degree is worth about 90 US credit hours, you will need an additional degree or other education hours to get your CPA license. You could consider an MCOM or a related master’s degree in accounting or taxation.
For those who do have a master’s degree in an accounting field, such as the MCOM (Master of Commerce), you should have no problem getting qualified for the US CPA exam. Specifically, your educational level is sufficient to fulfill the general higher education requirement.
If you only have a BCOM and the CA credential, however, it is getting a lot tougher to get qualified as a CPA. In the past, some US jurisdictions considered the CA to be worth 40 US education credit hours. With a 3-year BCOM (equivalent to 90 hours) plus a CA (previously equivalent to 40 hours), candidates could reach the 120 hours required to sit for the Exam in most states. Then, they could take a few extra courses to meet the 150-hour requirement to get the CPA license.
However, since an overhaul of the standards in 2012, most Boards of Accountancy changed their interpretation of the CA qualification. Now, most states view the CA as an “experience qualification” rather than an “academic qualification.”
What’s the point of going for the CPA for chartered accountants? The benefits of the CPA + chartered accountant credential might be worth the hassle of getting both designations if you plan to work in certain situations.
If you plan to only work in the United States, you may only need the CPA without the CA.
If you plan to only work for non-US companies in India or other companies that are not traded on US markets, you may only need the Indian CA.
However, if you ever want to work with a company that is traded on the US market, even if it is based in the US or India, or ever foresee needing to understand US GAAP in addition to IFRAS, you should consider getting the CPA in addition to the CA.
Our blogger Neha has passed both the CPA Exam and the CA Exam. This blog post compares the CPA and CA in terms of format, structure, grading, and restrictions. Neha also shares whether she thinks the US CPA is worth it after getting her CA.
I usually don’t recommend specific CPA Exam review providers in my articles, but I’m going to make an exception this time. Miles Education is the best CPA India provider of review sessions to get you ready to sit for the CPA Exam. Miles CPA offers high quality study materials and engaging lectures that review all of the content likely to appear on the exam.
Plus, Miles has partnered with Amity University for an online Post Graduate Degree in Public Accounting. This degree is worth the US equivalent of 30 education hours. India CAs can enroll in this program as a “bridge course” to get the additional hours they might need to sit for the CPA Exam.
The Miles staff can also help CPA US candidates verify their experience, select an appropriate jurisdiction for licensure, and schedule to take the CPA Exam.
Some of my readers have asked me if “CPA” stands for “chartered professional accountant.” No–the acronym stands for Certified Public Accountant.
Even if you have an Indian CA, you still need to meet all of the requirements for the CPA Exam and license. Click here to find a full-length article that lists all of the requirements.
If you are looking for CPA Exam review sessions in India, I recommend Miles CPA, the premier provider of CPA Exam reviews in India and the Middle East.
If you have a master’s degree in a relevant field, I encourage you to take the CPA Exam right now, as you are the lucky few who can actually get qualified for this exam in your country.
For BCOM + CA candidates, you may want to look into the services offered by Miles Education. As I explained above, Miles may be able to verify your work experience and get you ready to sit for the CPA Exam, including helping you schedule your exam and find the right jurisdiction for your license. Good luck!
For Your Further Research
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!