How to Become a Licensed CPA in California

To follow the current trend in state education requirements, California just instituted a new 150 credit hour rule as of January 1, 2014. This means in order to get a CPA license in California, you will have to have graduated with at least a bachelor’s degree and an additional 30 credit hours totaling 150 hours. You do not, however, have to complete all 150 hours in order to sit for the exam.

Let’s take a look at what you need to do to take the exam and get licensed.

California CPA Exam Requirements

In order to be eligible to sit for the exam in California, candidates must meet the following personal qualifications and educational requirements.

  • No minimum age limit
  • Not required to be a US citizen
  • Not required to be a CA resident
  • Valid Social Security Number required
  • CA does not participate in the International Examination Program

Educational Requirements to Sit

As I mentioned earlier, starting in January 2014 California instituted new requirements for applicants. You do not have to complete all 150 credit hours in order to sit for the exam, but you do have to complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school including the follow.

Bachelor’s Degree including the following:

  • 24 credit hours in Accounting courses
  • 24 credit hours of general Business classes like Economics, Management, and Marketing

Many schools use the quarter system instead of the semester class schedule. In this case, you will have to have 36-quarter hours of both accounting and general business classes in order to take the test.

Exam Fees

The total cost to take the CPA exam in California is $829.08 including an initial one-time $100 application fee. The cost for each section is listed below.


AUD – Audit $192.03
FAR – Financial Accounting and Reporting $192.03
BEC – Business Environment and Concepts $172.51
REG – Regulation $172.51


The fees are typically based on the duration of the exam. That’s why the FAR and AUD exams cost the most.

IMPORTANT – Don’t go all out and register for all the sections at once. Your NIT or notice to sit is only valid for six months. After that, it will expire and you will have to re-register. Re-registration application fees are $50 for one section and vary depending on how many your sign up for at once, so only sign up for the exams that you are ready to sit for in the next 6 months.

CPA License Requirements

Taking the exam is only the first step in becoming a CPA in the state of California. After you sit for the big test, there are a few things administrative things you must do before you can truly call yourself a Certified Public Accountant.

Pass the Exam

You’ll have to pass all four sections of the exam with a score of at least 75 in an 18-month period.


Submit all the required paperwork to the state board usually includes transcripts, license application, and proof of work experience.

CA is unique in that they require your fingerprints. You must have them taken, notarized, and submitted with your application paperwork.


Pay the $250 certification/application fee and $120 annual license fee when you send in your initial license application.

CA Professional Ethics Exam

Most states are requiring candidates to take the AICPA uniform ethics exam, but California has decided to make their own exam. This exam is very similar to the AICPA test. It consists of 50 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within two years of passing the CPA exam and purchasing the ethics exam.

The CA ethics exam costs $150 and is taken online. You can get a 20% discount if you sign up as a member of the CALCPA. You can even become a member of the CALCPA for free if you just graduated with an accounting degree!

Take this exam seriously! Although it is open book, you must get a 90% or higher to pass and you only have three chances to pass it before you are required to purchase it again. If you do happen to fail it three times in a row, you can call the state board and either get a free copy or a discounted copy.

Additional Education

If you didn’t complete your 150 credit hours of college courses, you will need to do so before you will be issued a license.

Work Experience Requirements

Like most states, California requires a work experience requirement be met after passing the exam in order to become licensed. You must have:

2-years of general experience in accounting, attest, compilation, and management among others.

If you want to become certified to sign attest engagements, you will also be required to have 500 hours of attest work experience.

More Exam Resources and Information

As you can see, between applying, taking the exam, and sending your paperwork, it can be an involved, especially if you attended more than one college. Before you can sit for the exam, you’ll have to send in transcripts from every college you’ve attended. This can be a pain.

It’s sometimes easiest to contact the state board directly to see what they need and what they already have on file. For example, they should already have your test scores if you requested a copy be sent to them in your exam application process.

Here is the contact info for the state board.

California State Board of Accountancy

California CPA Application Forms

    • 2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 250
    • Sacramento, CA 95815


  • Phone: 916-263-3680
  • Fax: 916-263-3675


California Society of CPAs

NASBA – California