Eligibility Requirements for International CPA Candidates

Created: Jun 12, 2024 | Updated: Jun 13, 2024

Becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a huge achievement that opens up numerous opportunities in the field of accounting. However, for international candidates, the path to obtaining a CPA license may not be as straightforward as it may seem for citizens or residents of the United States.
 

In this blog, we will explore the eligibility requirements for international CPA candidates, explain what a CPA is, and guide you through the process of becoming a certified public accountant. We'll also discuss the necessary documentation, including academic certificate translation, and how a translation company like Translayte can assist you in getting your CPA license.


Table of Contents

What is a CPA?

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a professional designation given to qualified accountants who have passed the CPA exam and met other state requirements in the United States. CPA exams are developed according to the guidelines set by The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). To take the Uniform CPA Exam, you must already have a bachelor's degree and professional experience in the accounting field. But what exactly does being a CPA mean, and why is it so important?

The CPA designation has its roots in the early 20th century. The need for standardised accounting practices became apparent as businesses grew and the economy expanded. In 1896, New York became the first state to legislate the certification of public accountants, setting the stage for what would become the CPA designation. Over the years, the CPA has evolved to meet the changing demands of the business world, maintaining its status as a symbol of professional excellence.

So, why pursue a CPA certification? At its core, the CPA designation is all about trust. CPAs are trusted professionals who have demonstrated their knowledge and skills through rigorous education, examinations, and experience. They play a critical role in financial reporting, auditing, tax preparation, and consulting, helping businesses and individuals make informed financial decisions.

CPAs adhere to a strict code of ethics and professional conduct, ensuring they provide high-quality services with integrity. This trustworthiness makes them indispensable in a variety of sectors, from public accounting firms to corporate finance departments and government agencies.

 

How can an international candidate become a Certified Public Accountant?

NASBA, in collaboration with the AICPA and Prometric, provides international administration of the Uniform CPA Examination.

The following group of people, along with meeting the requirements of one of the 55 United States jurisdictions can apply for and take the CPA exam:

  • Americans living overseas.
  • Permanent residents or a citizens of Japan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, or the United Arab Emirates.
  • Permanent residents or citizens of Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar may test in any of the four Middle Eastern nations listed previously or
  • Citizens and long-term residents of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Columbia may sit for the Exam in Brazil.
  • Each of these individuals can also sit for the exam in the U.S.

If you belong to any of the above categories, you can proceed to read the steps to become a CPA:

  1. Evaluate Your Eligibility: Most states require a bachelor's degree with specific coursework in accounting and business. We share more on the eligibility requirements below. 
     
  2. Get Your Academic Credentials Evaluated: Since you’re an international candidate, an approved agency must evaluate your academic qualifications. This evaluation ensures that your education meets the standards required by the state board of Accountancy in the U.S. Organisations like NASBA or World Education Services (WES) are used for this purpose.
     
  3. Translate Your Academic Certificates: If your academic documents are not in English, you need to translate them. This is where a certified translation company like Translayte comes in handy. They can provide accurate and certified translations of your non-English academic certificates, ensuring they are accepted by the state board.
     
  4. Choose a U.S. Jurisdiction: Next, decide which U.S. state you want to be licensed in. Each state has specific requirements, so choose one that aligns with your educational and professional background. Here are some of the states that are more flexible for international CPA candidates:
    - Colorado
    - Delaware
    - Michigan
    - New Hampshire
    - Montana
    - California
    - Illinois
    - Virginia
    - Guam
    - Alaska
    - Washington
     
  5. Apply for the CPA Exam: Once you’ve chosen a state, you’ll need to submit your application to the state board of Accountancy or NASBA (you can apply through either of them). This involves filling out an application form and submitting your academic credentials and translated documents.
     
  6. Receive Your Notice to Schedule (NTS): Afterwards, you’ll receive a Notice to Schedule (NTS) letter. This document allows you to schedule your exam dates. It’s important to note that the NTS is usually valid for six months, so plan accordingly.
     
  7. Obtain a U.S. Visa: If you would like to take the exam in the United States, you’ll need to obtain a U.S. visa. The type of visa required will depend on your specific situation. Generally, a B-1/B-2 visitor visa is suitable for those who need to travel to the U.S. to take the exam. 
     
  8. Prepare for the CPA Exam: The CPA exam is rigorous, and enough preparation is key to passing. Invest in quality study materials and enrol in a review course. There are numerous resources available, including textbooks, online courses, and practice exams.
     
  9. Take the CPA Exam: The CPA exam consists of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). You don’t have to take all four sections at once, and you can schedule them at different times within the validity period of your NTS. You can take the CPA in any of these countries; England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates. 
     
  10. Apply for Your CPA License: After passing all four sections of the CPA exam and fulfilling the work experience requirements, you can apply for your CPA license. This involves applying to the state board, along with any additional required documents, such as proof of work experience and passing an ethics exam if required.
     
  11. Maintain Your CPA License: Once you get your CPA license, it’s important to maintain it by fulfilling continuing professional education (CPE) requirements. Each state has its own CPE requirements, which typically need to be completed on an annual or biennial basis.

 

What are the eligibility requirements for international CPA candidates?

 

Educational requirements

 Most states in the U.S. require candidates to have a bachelor's degree with a specific number of credit hours in accounting and business-related courses. This often translates to around 150 semester hours. However, the catch for international candidates is that your academic credentials will need to be evaluated to ensure they meet U.S. standards.

 

Work experience

Many states also have experience requirements, which usually means you need to have worked under a licensed CPA for a certain period, often one to two years. This experience is vital as it ensures that you have practical, on-the-job training to complement your academic knowledge.

 

Documentation

If your academic certificates, transcripts, or other essential documents are in a language other than English, they must be translated. And not just any translation will do; these translations need to be certified to ensure they are accurate and accepted by the state board.

 

Citizenship and Social Security Number

Some states in the U.S. typically require applicants to have a Social Security Number or be U.S. citizens. However, international candidates are exempt from this requirement in several states, including:

 

Residency Requirements

While many states permit international candidates to obtain a license without residing in the state, some states do have specific residency requirements. These states may require you to live within their jurisdiction or conduct significant business there for at least six months.
 

Eligibility requirements for international CPA candidates

 

How to choose the best United States Jurisdiction for CPA certification?

The first step in choosing the right jurisdiction is to thoroughly understand the requirements set by the state boards of accountancy. Each state has its own educational prerequisites, experience requirements, and specific rules about who can sit for the CPA exam. For example, some states require candidates to have completed 150 semester hours of college education, including specific coursework in accounting and business. Other states might have different rules about acceptable degrees and the types of experience that qualify.

It's important to do your homework here. Start by visiting the websites of the state boards you are interested in. You can find their list on the NASBA website. Some states, like New York or California, might have more stringent requirements, while others might be more flexible, especially for international candidates. Make a checklist of the states that align best with your current qualifications.


What is the CPA exam pass rate?

The CPA exam pass rate is an important metric that gives insight into the difficulty of the exam and the preparedness of candidates. The pass rate can vary each year and across different sections of the exam. 

The pass rates for each section can vary due to a number of factors. Here are some insights:

  • Auditing and Attestation (AUD): This section has one of the lower pass rates, hovering around 48-49%. It tests your knowledge of the audit process, ethics, and professional responsibilities.
  • Business Environment and Concepts (BEC): BEC generally has the highest pass rate, which has recently been above 60%. This section covers a broad range of topics, including corporate governance, economic concepts, and IT.
  • Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): With a pass rate typically around 50%, FAR is considered one of the more challenging sections. It tests your understanding of financial statements, transactions, and reporting.
  • Regulation (REG): The pass rate for REG is usually in the mid-50s. This section focuses on federal taxation, business law, and ethics.
YearAUDBECFARREG
202047.97%61.76%49.98%55.42%
202148.59%62.84%50.97%56.51%
202249.40%65.56%52.22%58.00%

 

IQEX vs CPA exam compare the exam in detail

The International Qualification Examination (IQEX) is an alternative to the CPA exam for candidates from certain countries with mutual recognition agreements with the U.S. The IQEX is a single exam that covers topics from the CPA exam but is designed for accountants already qualified in their home country. 

These agreements recognize that the accounting standards and practices in these countries are substantially equivalent to those in the U.S. The countries currently included are:

  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Ireland
  • Hong Kong
  • Mexico
  • Scotland

IQEX is designed to streamline the certification process for these professionals by focusing solely on the differences between U.S. accounting principles and those of their home countries. It’s a single exam that covers:

  • U.S. tax law and regulation
  • Business law relevant to the practice of public accounting in the U.S.
  • Ethics and professional responsibilities specific to the U.S. context


FAQs

 

Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to sit for the CPA Exam?

No, you do not have to be a U.S. citizen. International candidates are eligible to sit for the CPA exam.

 

What is the structure of the international CPA Exam?

The international CPA exam consists of four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG).

 

In which languages can I take the international CPA Exam?

The CPA exam is administered only in English.


Do I need a passport to take the international CPA Exam?

Yes, you will need a valid passport to take the international CPA exam at any international testing location.

 

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