How to Become a CPA in California if You Are a CPA From Another Country
Every year, California's Board of Accountancy receives applications from Certified Public Accountants working in countries outside the United States who want to become CPAs here.
The process can be a little complicated. Below are some answers to questions the California Society of CPAs frequently receives from foreign CPAs wanting to relocate here.
Extra Hurdles for Foreign CPAs
California has no automatic "exchange" or "charter" agreement to accept CPAs licensed in other countries. If you are a CPA licensed in a country outside the United States, you must meet all of the same requirements set up for California and U.S. residents who want to become California CPAs.
In addition, foreign CPAs have several additional requirements to fulfill before they can get a California CPA license.
If you are a CPA already licensed in a country outside the United States, and you want to get a California CPA license:
- You must have your college education evaluated by an academic service agency before applying to take the Uniform CPA exam in California. The agency must be one approved by the California Board of Accountancy.
- You must take and pass the Uniform CPA exam within the California standards.
- You must complete the "supervised work" requirements set up by the Board of Accountancy. Everyone seeking a California CPA license must complete the California experience and education requirements. The current requirements are listed on the Board's Web site.
As a licensed foreign CPA, your work as a CPA in countries outside the United States may count for the "supervised work" requirement, but you will have to present specific documentation of this work to the Board of Accountancy.
Education Requirements: The Same for All CPA Applicants
California CPAs must generally hold a bachelor's degree (a degree from a four-year college or university) which includes at least 10 semester units in accounting or auditing, plus another 35 units in business-related courses. (See How to Become a CPA.)
Foreign residents who wish to become California CPAs face the same education requirements as all applicants.
However, in California, you can become a CPA without earning a college degree first. To do this, you must complete a specified number of college accounting courses, and take and pass at least two exams specified by the Board of Accountancy. Foreign CPAs who do not hold bachelor's degrees may take this same path to a California CPA license.
You can check with the Board for more details, or request a licensing packet from the Board to read the complete details.
First Step for Foreign CPAs: College Transcript Evaluation
No matter what your college education level is, if you are a CPA practicing outside the United States, the first step to becoming a CPA in California is to have your college transcripts evaluated.
You must have your college transcripts evaluated by an academic credential service approved by the California Board of Accountancy. The board has a list of approved evaluation services; it is up to you to select one of them.
You will have to pay a fee to the academic service for the transcript evaluation. Expect to pay roughly $250 (in U.S. dollars). The service will go through your college transcripts, and make sure that your accounting classes meet the 10 semester-unit accounting requirement, and that your education also includes the 35 units of business classes. The service will also take a class-by-class look at your college records, and certify that your degree is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's degree.
The academic evaluation service will forward a copy of their evaluation to the Board of Accountancy for you. The Board will keep the evaluation on file with your other materials (your request to take the CPA exam and your application for a license).
Some services will return the transcript evaluation to you in a sealed envelope. You may turn this sealed envelope in to the Board with your CPA exam application. Below are some of the academic credential services approved by the California Board of Accountancy, and their contact numbers.
The complete list of education evaluation services approved by the Board of Accountancy is included in the packet sent to all applicants seeking a California CPA license. To request a copy of the license packet, or the CPA exam packet, contact the Board. You can also send a written request for a packet to the Board address listed above. The Board will mail the packets to you.
Board-Approved Academic Credential Services in California:
Center for Applied Research, Evaluation and Education, Inc.
International Evaluation Service
P.O. Box 20348
Long Beach, CA 90801-3348
International Education Research Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 66940
Los Angeles, CA 90066
Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.
P.O. Box 6908
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Academic and Professional International Evaluation, Inc.
P.O. Box 5787
Los Alamitos CA 90721-5787
Foreign Educational Document Services
P.O. Box 4091
Stockton, CA 95204
Education Evaluators International, Inc.
P.O. Box 5397
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc.
P.O. Box 92970
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202-0970
FAX (414) 289-3411
Josef Silny & Associates
International Education Consultants
7101 SW 102 Avenue
Miami, FL 33171
FAX (305) 273-1338
World Education Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 745
Old Chelsea Station
New York, New York 10113-0745
FAX (212) 966-6395
Second Step: Taking the CPA Exam
Licensed, practicing accountants from countries outside the United States must still take, and pass, the California CPA exam.
Whether you are a partner in a firm in the United Kingdom, a veteran CPA from Mexico, or a new CPA in Canada, you must still take and pass the California CPA exam to become a licensed CPA here.
The four-part, two-day CPA exam is given twice a year, in May and November. For detailed information about the test, or requirements to take it, call the California Board of Accountancy's exam division at (916) 263-3955. A brochure titled "Information for Certified Public Accountant Candidates" is available on request.
Application requests may be obtained by writing, calling or sending a fax request to the Board office. Write the California Board of Accountancy, Examination Unit, 2000 Evergreen St., Suite 250, Sacramento, CA, 95815-3832; or call the Board at (916) 263-3953; or send a fax to (916) 263-3675. Exam applications will be released around January 1 for the May exam, and around July 1 for the November exam.
However, foreign accountants have an extra requirement when signing up to take the California CPA exam. If you are a CPA practicing in a country outside the United States, you must submit the evaluation of your college or university transcripts and education along with your application to take the CPA exam.
To sign up to take the California CPA exam, you can write, call or fax the Examination Unit of the California Board of Accountancy.
Third Step: Supervised Accounting Work
Before getting your California license, as a foreign CPA, you must usually work for two to four years under the supervision of a licensed CPA in the United States. The requirement to work under the direction of a licensed, United States CPA may apply even if you are a partner with many years of experience in a foreign country.
Self-employment in the United States does not fulfill the "supervised work" requirement. However, foreign CPAs may work in private industry, public accounting, or government accounting to fulfill the "supervised work" requirement, as long as they are doing accounting work under the supervision of a U.S.-licensed CPA.
The "supervised work" requirement is part of the process all CPA candidates face on their way to gaining a California CPA license. Depending on their level of college education, all candidates are required to complete two, three or four years of accounting work under the direct supervision of a licensed CPA. Foreign CPAs are treated no differently.
Foreign CPAs whose college education was not certified as equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's degree will have a longer "supervised work" requirement. U.S. applicants without a bachelor's degree will face the same, longer "supervised work" requirement.
However, foreign CPAs may be able to use their accounting work experience from another country to meet the "supervised work" requirement in California.
Recognizing Your CPA Experience from Countries Outside the United States
If you are a CPA from a foreign country, your work outside the United States may be counted to meet the "supervised work" experience requirement. You can seek to have your foreign work recognized and certified by the Board of Accountancy.
To do this, you must have original copies or photocopies of all accounting documents you worked on as a CPA licensed in a foreign country. Abstracts and summaries of those documents will not be considered.
You must also have a licensed CPA who was your former employer in a foreign country fill out and sign the "Form E." That form certifies your experience as a licensed CPA. Your employer must specify how much experience you have in performing audits. The form is included in the licensing packet from the Board of Accountancy.
After you ask the Board of Accountancy to recognize your work experience from a foreign country, you may be asked to appear before the Board's Qualifications Committee with originals or photocopies of your foreign working papers.
The Committee meets regularly at different locations around the state. If you are asked to appear before the Committee, the Committee will go over your accounting work and ask you questions about it.
After questioning you and reviewing your working papers, the Qualifications Committee will determine if your foreign work experience meets the requirements for all people seeking a California CPA license.
You must show the Qualifications Committee that due to your work experience you:
- Can demonstrate that you understand how to plan and conduct an audit with minimum supervision, and that the audit results in a "full disclosure" audit statement;
- Have experience planning audits, including experience selecting procedures to be performed in the audit;
- Have experience applying "a variety of auditing procedures and techniques" to the "usual and customary" financial transactions that are part of financial statements;
- Can prepare working papers to document an audit;
- Can prepare written explanations and comments about the work performed in the audit and your findings in the audit; and
- Can participate in preparing full disclosure financial statements.
The Qualifications Committee has the power to decide that your work in a foreign country has satisfied all the licensing requirements. The Committee will decide whether to grant you a California CPA license with no additional "supervised work" time required.
What to do if You Do Not Have Access to Your Working Papers
If most of your accounting work has been done in countries outside the United States, it may be difficult for you to present originals or photocopies of your actual working papers. If you cannot submit photocopies of your working papers from your time as a CPA abroad, you will have to take another step to gain a California CPA license.
Instead of submitting your working papers from your years in a foreign country, you may work under the direct supervision of a licensed CPA anywhere in the United States for one year.
After you have completed your year of supervised work, you must ask your supervising CPA to fill out a "Form E" to send to the Board of Accountancy. Your supervising CPA must fill the "Form E" out "affirmatively." This means that your supervising CPA must certify that your U.S. work time includes the appropriate amount of audit experience.
You may also be asked to appear before the Qualifications Committee. If you are asked to appear before the Committee, you must have available for the Committee copies of your work papers from your year of supervised work in the United States. The Committee will use the "Form E" and your U.S. working papers to decide whether to issue you a license or require you to perform more supervised work before granting you a California CPA license.
At the End of the License Path
Once you meet all the requirements set up by the Board of Accountancy, and have filed all the proper paperwork with the agency, the agency will issue your CPA license.
Once you gain your California CPA license, you are subject to all of the license requirements faced by all other California CPAs.
No U.S. Citizenship Requirement
At this time, there is no requirement that California CPAs must have U.S. citizenship. However, all CPAs must have a United States Social Security number in order to get a license.
Fingerprint and Background Check Requirements
All people seeking a California CPA license must submit their fingerprints to the Board of Accountancy along with their application for a license. Everyone seeking a CPA license must also fill out and submit a "criminal conviction disclosure form" that comes in the license application packet.
Foreign Students—A Different Set of Rules
What if you are a citizen of a country other than the United States, and you want to become a CPA in California? If you are not a licensed CPA in a foreign country, you will face a different path to a California CPA license.
Your path will depend on where you earned (or will earn) your college degree.
If you are a foreign citizen and an accounting student or recent graduate of a college or university outside the United States, and you wish to become a California CPA, you must submit your college transcripts to an academic evaluation service approved by the California Board of Accountancy. (U.S. citizens who earn degrees abroad will face this requirement also.) Graduates of foreign colleges and universities must submit those transcript evaluations along with their application to take the California CPA exam, just like foreign CPAs already in practice in a country outside the U.S.
If you are a foreign exchange student or foreign citizen attending a United States college or university, and you graduate with a bachelor's degree from that U.S. college or university, you will not have to submit your transcripts for evaluation. Foreign citizens who hold a U.S. college or university degree face the same CPA licensing process faced by all U.S. citizens who are college and university graduates. (See How to Become a CPA.)
This means that once you have passed the CPA exam, you must work for two to three years under the supervision of a licensed CPA. The Board of Accountancy has a general guideline that everyone seeking a California CPA license should complete 500 hours of audit work before getting their license. (See How to Become a CPA.)
You will face the same path if you are a foreign citizen with a master's degree in accounting from a U.S. college or university, even if your bachelor's degree is from a foreign college or university.
If, between the two degrees, you have completed 45 semester units of business-related courses, including at least 10 semester units of accounting courses, you will fall under the same license requirements as all applicants holding degrees from U.S. colleges or universities.
Foreign citizens with master's degrees in accounting from U.S. colleges and universities are treated the same as all U.S. college graduates in the California CPA license process.
Still Have Questions?
The California Board of Accountancy is the state agency in charge of licensing CPAs. If you are a foreign CPA or foreign student wishing to become a CPA here, and you still have questions about how to do it, contact the Board. Ask for the Licensing Division, and the Licensing Coordinator.
For a full packet of information on getting your CPA license, including actual application forms, state codes and regulations, you will need to contact the state Board of Accountancy. The Board is a government agency in charge of licensing CPAs in California. You can phone the Board at (916) 263-3680 or fax it at (916) 263-3675. You may also write to the board, and ask to be mailed a complete licensing packet. The address is:
California State Board of Accountancy
2000 Evergreen St., Suite 250
Sacramento, CA 95815-3832