Guest Series Part 1: How International Candidates Become a CPA

In today’s post, Roger CPA Review is partnering with Stephanie Ng, publisher of CPA Exam resource site, With the CPA designation under her belt, Stephanie has an expertise on the qualification process for international CPA candidates. Please read on below and learn how you can qualify, sit for and pass the USCPA Exam today. 

The US CPA designation is one of the most recognized accounting qualifications in the world. In 2002, 8503 candidates from 101 countries other than the US sat for the exam, representing 9.2% of total candidates. If we include US residents who obtained their bachelor and master’s degree in other countries, this percentage is much higher. 

In this three-part series I would like to show you how a candidate with international background can register and sit for the US CPA exam.

How Do International Candidates Become a CPA in the US?

The process to become a CPA is essentially the same for candidates around the world, but those with an international background need to take additional steps in order to get qualified. For those who are not familiar with the licensing system, the US CPA license is granted by individual states and jurisdictions instead of a centralized or federal government agency. Therefore, candidates are required to select a jurisdiction and submit the application form to the state board of accounting. 

Each state board has slightly different rules on the CPA exam and licensing requirements, but in general most states follow the general guideline from the AICPA, known as the “3E”s:

  • Education – Obtaining a 4-year bachelor’s degree or above, and 150 credit hours of study;
  • Exam – Passing the Uniform CPA Exam;
  • Experience – Obtaining 1-2 years of relevant and verified experience. 

The biggest headache for my readers, especially those from the commonwealth countries, is that they went through a 3-year university system in their home countries, but the state board requires 4-year bachelor degree which is the system used in the United States. Therefore, in order to get qualified, these candidates must get another 4-year degree, or a 2-year master’s degree to get qualified.

I generally prefer my readers getting a 2-year master’s degree in relevant field such as accounting and taxation because this will solve the 3-year-degree issue and the 150 credit hour requirement, which we will discuss in more detail below. 

Another common obstacle faced by my readers is the lack of 150 credit hours required by most (but not all) state boards. If you obtained a 4-year bachelor degree anywhere around the world, this will likely give you 120 credit hours. This means that, unless you went through: 

  • An accelerated 4-year program in the US 
  • 5-year accounting program in the US 
  • A similar accelerated program in your country or that you have a masters degree in related field  

…You will likely need to make up for more courses in order to sit for the exam. 

The good news is that as long as you fulfill the minimum accounting and business course requirements from your chosen state, you can take any courses you like and from any regionally accredited educational institution (online or offline) to complete the 150-hour requirement.

The Next Step
If you obtain your education outside of the US, you need to get your transcripts evaluated by one of the foreign credential evaluation agencies. We will talk about this in the next post. 

To learn more about how an international candidate can successfully register for the exam, stay tuned for the next post by Stephanie on this blog, or visit

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