Becoming a CPA in California can be a lucrative and fulfilling career choice, but there are a number of specific criteria you’ll need to meet before you can get certified.

To become a CPA in the state of California, you will have to go through the CPA application process, pass the CPA exam, and meet all of the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) requirements. 

These state-specific requirements apply to your level of education and experience. You will also have to pay the CPA exam cost and other fees set by the board. 

As you study for the CPA exam, you want to be sure you know all of the California CPA requirements so that nothing holds you back from accomplishing your goals. 

This article will review CPA license requirements in California and explain how to become a CPA in California.

California CPA exam requirements

california cpa exam requirements

California CPA exam requirements set by the California CPA board determine your eligibility for the Certified Public Accountant designation. 

If you want to schedule the CPA exam in California, make sure you check all of the right boxes

To become a CPA in California, you must:

    1. Meet all of the education requirements, which include how many credit courses you need and in what subjects. These standards will be listed in more detail below.
    2. Apply to take the CPA exam, which will include sealed transcripts and an application fee.
    3. Submit fees and schedule a CPA exam.
    4. Take and pass the CPA exam by scoring at least a 75 on all four sections within 18 months.
    5. Pass the professional ethics exam, required in some states for certification.
    6. Practice general accounting in a supervised setting for one year.

Let’s look a little more closely at each of these crucial steps.

California CPA education requirements

California requires people who want to take the CPA exam to meet certain educational criteria. 

California CPA education requirements include a bachelor’s degree, plus 150 semester units of additional education. The California Board of Accountancy must accept credits from the institution you’ve attended. 

Here is a detailed breakdown of the specific education requirements in CA for the CPA:

  • 24 semester hours in accounting courses. Here are some examples of courses that may be accepted by the board for this requirement:
    • Auditing
    • Internal and external reporting
    • Taxation
    • Financial statement analysis
    • Financial reporting
    • Accounting
  • 24 semester hours of business courses. Here are some examples of business courses that may be acceptable to the CBA:
    • Administration
    • Communications
    • Business law
    • Economics
    • Computer science
    • Finance
    • Statistics
    • Mathematics
  • 20 semester hours in accounting that includes:
    • Six semester hours in accounting
    • 14 semester hours in business
    • Nine semester hours in business and/or accounting
  • 10 semester hours in ethics. These may include courses such as:
    • Morals
    • Fraud
    • Legal Environment of Business
    • Professional responsibilities
    • Auditing
    • Business leadership
    • No more than three semester hours or four quarter hours in general, foundational courses such as religion and philosophy.

To learn more about the specific courses that are acceptable to the board, you view the Uniform CPA Examination Handbook for the California Board of Accountancy. 

There is some nuance to what courses are acceptable. For example, on the CalCPA website, it explains that excess accounting course hours can be used toward business-related course requirements. 

The CBA will not review your transcript before you submit an application. If you have questions, you can reach out to the Initial Licensing Unit of the CBA here on their website

Your bachelor’s degree must be completed by the time you sit for the CPA exam.

International candidates should also reach out directly to the CBA. The board will review foreign credentials through a separate service, to ensure that the equivalent education has been achieved.

Age and residency requirements

California CPA requirements do not include a restriction on age or residency. You simply must meet all of the other requirements to be eligible to become an accountant in this state.

California CPA exam fees

There are state-specific fees to take the CPA exam in California. California CPA requirements require applicants to pay for the following:

  • $100 fee for first-time applicants
  • $100 fee for transfer applicants
  • $50 fee for repeat applicants

Once your application has been received and approved, you will be able to select your exam sections. 

From the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), you will receive a payment coupon. You can submit the payment coupon and fee to NASBA. 

The fees for the CPA exam itself in California are:

  1. Auditing and Attestation (AUD): $193.45
  2. Business Environments and Concepts (BEC): $193.45
  3. Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR): $193.35
  4. Regulation (REG): $193.45

Lastly, you will have to pay separately for the California ethics exam. This fee is $150.

California CPA exam schedule

There are four testing windows nationally in which to take the CPA exam. California CPA requirements allow you to schedule in any of these four testing dates:

  1. January 1-March 10
  2. April 1-June 10
  3. July 1-September 10
  4. October 1-December 10

The dates you choose should be strategic and align with your plans to study for the CPA exam.

Prometric testing centers in California are located in:

  • Fresno
  • Alameda
  • Camarillo
  • Fair Oaks
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • San Bruno
  • Glendale

Room and board should be considered as you budget for the CPA exam, especially if you do not live within easy driving distance of one of these test centers.

CPA license requirements in California

cpa license requirements caifornia

After you have successfully passed all four sections of the CPA exam, your journey is not quite over. The state board of accountancy has a few more hoops that you’ll need to jump through before becoming an official CPA. 

These include certain experience requirements that you must meet before you are licensed. 

Once you are licensed, you will also have to renew semi-annually, and take continuing education courses throughout your accounting career.

California CPA experience requirements

California CPA experience requirements mandate one calendar year of accounting employment. This must be supervised in the state at a firm. 

A CPA who carries an active accounting license must directly supervise your work. The exact specification is 500 hours of attestation or auditing work. 

Once this is complete, you are eligible to be a licensed accountant in California.

California CPA license renewal

As you practice accounting in California, you will have to submit for semi-annual license renewal. California CPA license renewal follows this process:

  • CPA/PA licenses will expire every other year, on the last day of a licensee’s birth month.
  • A license renewal application must be submitted and postmarked by the night it expires.
  • 90 days before your license expires, you will be notified by mail.
  • The fee for renewing a CPA license in California is $250.
  • To renew, you must take a qualifying continuing education (CE) program. The CBA’s requirements for CE include 80 hours in acceptable subjects, such as ethics, auditing, accounting, fraud, regulatory review and more. There are both technical and formal education components to this requirement.

If you are seeking to obtain a license in the state of California based on another state’s credentialing, it will require you to submit a new application. 

California CPA reciprocity requires absolute compliance with in-state policies and standards. Out-of-state licensees may be able to forego re-applying if they have practiced public accounting for at least four years.

California CPA ethics exam

The California CPA ethics exam is a 50 question test. To pass, you must score at least 90. 

This exam covers the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, as well as the California Accountancy Act and Accounting Rules and Regulations. 

There is a 300-page study book that will be provided. It is estimated that it should take you 16 hours to read the book.

You have six chances to pass the California CPA ethics exam. It must be completed within one year. Your results are valid for two years while you complete all other licensing requirements.

useful links

More useful links

There are many great resources to inform you about California CPA requirements. Here are some recommended links for further information:

California CPA board

California Board of Accountancy’s CPA Exam Application

CPA Exam Qualifications Quick Tips

NASBA California CPA Exam Info

NASBA CPA Exam FAQs