If you’re interested in making a career in accounting, there are two different types of qualifications you’ve probably heard of: the CPA and the ACCA. Both credentials are well-respected, and can set you up for a promising career in accounting, taxation, auditing and finance. However, there are some key differences between the CPA and the ACCA. 

What Does CPA Stand For?

CPA stands for ‘Certified Public Accountant’. It is a US-based license, provided by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The AICPA is the largest accounting body in the world. Regardless of where you are in the world, if you want to work as an accountant with US-based clients, you need to take the CPA exam. The CPA exam can be taken in any of the 55 states granted the license to conduct the exam. Although the AICPA acts as a centralized body for the CPA, each state has slightly different rules and requirements for the exam

What Does ACCA Stand For?

ACCA stands for ‘Association of Certified Chartered Accountants’, which refers to the global body that administers the Chartered Accountant certification. The ACCA has its headquarters in London, United Kingdom. The main difference between the CPA and the ACCA is that the ACCA offers an international qualification to prospective accountants, valid across the globe. ACCA also offers an exam, which is recognised in most commonwealth countries

Differences Between CPA vs ACCA

  • To start off with, the ACCA is a much older qualification than the CPA. ACCA was established over 100 years ago in 1904. The CPA, on the other hand, was established in 1974. 
  • The CPA is a ‘qualifying exam’, while the ACCA is a program. With the ACCA, candidates get textbooks, a syllabus, and write exams according to a curriculum. For the CPA exam, none of this is provided. The exam is largely stand-alone and self-study. 
  • CPA candidates must have a minimum of 150 credit hours of higher education (equal to 5 years of study) in order to write the exam. The ACCA entry level is much lower than the CPA. The ACCA also has two entry points depending on your level of education and experience: “ACCA Foundations in Accountancy” and the “ACCA Qualification” level. Regardless of your ACCA qualification level, if you are registering for the CPA you will still need to meet these requirements. 
  • Most CPA candidates aim to complete their exam within 18 months. This leaves enough time to study for each of the 4 parts of the exam. The ACCA exam, on the other hand, is made up of 13 papers. Generally, candidates need 3-4 years to complete all of the examinations and become an ACCA member. 

Does a CPA qualify as a ACCA?

The US has mutual recognition agreements with 8 different international accounting bodies. This means that members of these bodies can take a simplified version of the CPA exam, known as IQEX. However, the ACCA is not one of these 8 accounting bodies. So, if you hold an ACCA, you still need to go through the ordinary process to get your CPA. 

The ACCA is a lot more lenient in this regard. If you have a CPA license, or are even just a member of the AICPA, you are granted exemptions for a number of the ACCA papers.