Are you interested in obtaining your CPA designation and becoming one of Canada’s 210,000 (and growing) CPAs?
If so, then you’re in the right place.
Below, I’ll show you exactly how to become a CPA in Canada. From getting your undergraduate degree to passing your common final examination and completing your PEP, I’ll explain everything you need to know.
A CPA is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA). To obtain your CPA designation in Canada, you must complete college-level education, take the CPA PEP program, and spend just under three years gaining practical on-the-job experience.
Chartered Professional Accountants are experts when it comes to money and numbers.
From management accounting to tax preparation, financial reporting, performance management, and everyday financial accounting, CPAs are accounting professionals who can read between the lines.
Some of the top professional skills you’ll learn during your CPA journey include:
- Data analysis
- Critical thinking
- Data organization
- General finance business knowledge
- Leadership skills
- Preparing financial statements and taxes
These skills are what set accounting professionals apart from general bookkeepers.
Once you become a Canadian CPA and get your CPA license, you’ll have all the skills and certifications needed to start your own business or pursue a career in professional accounting.
How To Get a CPA Designation in Canada: Four Steps
Assuming that you’re taking the university route, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to obtain your Chartered Professional Accountant designation in Canada. The sooner you can plan for it, the better, so you can get a head start.
The first step on your CPA path involves attending university.
The majority of CPAs start by obtaining their undergraduate education in accounting or business.
Obtaining your undergraduate degree typically takes around four years, which means that it takes half as much time as the alternative route. The required courses you’ll need to take over the course of your education include:
- Financial accounting
- Accounting and financial fundamentals
- Information technology
- Managerial accounting
As long as you make decent grades and pass your classes, then you’ll make a good CPA candidate.
With your university degree under your belt, it’s time to pursue your professional designation.
All Chartered Accountants must go through the Professional Education Program for CPAs. This program will teach you all of the advanced accounting skills you need to excel in the CPA profession.
The CPA PEP program consists of six modules, which build on your undergraduate knowledge and prepare you to pass the rigorous final exam. The modules are:
- Core 1-2: Strategy and governance, financial reporting, audit and assurance, finance, taxation, management accounting
- Choice of Two Electives From: Assurance, taxation, finance, performance management
- Capstone 1: Professional skills, leadership skills, integration of competencies
- Capstone 2: Preparation for the common final examination and development of professional writing skills
You’ll complete your CPA PEP program part-time, which gives you the opportunity to start working in the field and gaining valuable on-the-job experience.
The final capstone module of the PEP mostly involves preparing for the common final exam.
This rigorous final is the culmination of everything that you’ve spent the last six to seven years working towards, and will test your knowledge and abilities. The CFE is not something to take lightly.
The test may vary slightly from one year to the next, depending on CPA Canada’s requirements. Here’s a general idea of what to expect, though:
- Day 1: Four-hour test relating to Capstone 1 involving case studies
- Day 2: Five-hour test on your knowledge of management accounting, financial reporting, and your PEP electives
- Day 3: Four-hour test designed to assess your technical and enabling competencies
Once you’ve passed the CFE – congratulations! You just completed one of the most difficult professional exams in the country. The journey isn’t over yet, though.
Throughout your time spent enrolled in the CPA PEP program, you should have started your 30 months of practical experience. The two routes for obtaining your practical experience are:
- Enroll in a pre-approved practical experience program (offered by employers) that will ensure you learn all of the required experience-backed skills
- Flexible experience verification, during which you complete your practical experience in relevant fields
You can learn more about how to complete your practical experience hours on the CPA Canada site.
Many of the large Fortune 500 companies (and some smaller employers as well) offer their own practical experience programs to prospective long-term employees.
Many of these companies may also offer to help fund your CPA PEP expenses as well, viewing the expense as an investment.
If you start your practical experience journey at the same time as your CPA PEP, then you should only have a few remaining months of experience left.
Once you complete your remaining experience, then you’ll be eligible to receive your CPA designation and pursue a full-time career path as a Chartered Professional Accountant.
CPA Alternative Route (Without College)
While it takes longer, you can obtain your CPA designation without a bachelor’s degree. This alternative experience verification route requires you to successfully complete eight years of training in six technical competencies:
- Management accounting
- Audit and assurance
- Financial reporting
- Strategy and governance
After you have eight verified years of experience, you’ll be able to apply to the PEP program, and start your official CPA Canada training.
How Difficult Is it to Become a CPA In Canada?
I won’t lie to you, the CPA certification program isn’t easy. That’s on top of the four years you’ll have to invest into obtaining your undergraduate degree.
That being said, it’s an achievable goal for those willing to dedicate the necessary time to their studies and accounting training.
One of the main prerequisites that I’d recommend for all CPAs is an affinity for math and numbers.
Whether you’re a certified management accountant or you’re just helping small businesses prepare their taxes, you don’t want to make mistakes.
Thankfully, today’s accounting software makes it easy to generate detailed reports and helps to handle the more tedious aspects of the job.
However, you never want to rely completely on software, and you’ll always want to double-check your numbers.
Becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant in Canada typically takes between six and seven years, depending on how quickly you complete your education, CPA PEP, and training experience.
In addition to your CPA certification, you’ll also need to complete a full undergraduate degree as well, which is the lengthiest part of the process.
After graduating from university, you’ll invest around two years into obtaining the CPA PEP program while you complete your 30 months of practical experience training.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what it takes to join the ranks of chartered accountants:
- Bachelor’s degree with an accounting major: four years
- CPA Professional Education Program: two years
- Completing practical experience: 30 months (completed during your PEP)
If you start your practical experience at the same time as your PEP, you should be almost complete by the time you pass the common final examination (CFE).
As a career CPA, you can expect to earn a median amount of $75,726 in Canada. The top percentile of CPAs earns just over $99,000 per year, while the bottom percentile earns just over $60,000 per year.
Keep in mind that these numbers are just averages for employed CPAs. As a Chartered Professional Accountant, you could also start your own business filing taxes and performing professional accounting services. While the risk is greater, so are the profit margins.
As an employed CPA, you can generally expect to earn more as you climb the corporate ladder and prove your value to your employer.
With a few years of solid experience and a good resume under your belt, you’ll also be able to apply to higher-paying positions at competing companies.
The cost of becoming a CPA in Canada varies, depending on the province you’re in and the path you take.
In addition to undergraduate student expenses, you’ll also have to submit a CPA membership application (which can total around $625 for first-time applicants in Ontario).
Public licensing fees are typically around $500 – $700. The most expensive part of becoming a CPA is paying for the CPA PEP program, as each module costs $1,300 – $1,400, and exam fees can cost up to $1,500.
For more information, look into the CPA requirements in your province.
Can I Get a CPA Designation in Canada From Abroad?
As a Chartered Professional Accountant in Canada, you’ll be able to work within Canada and abroad. With remote work on the rise, many of the top-paying Canadian companies are paying their CPAs to work from home or abroad.
That being said, your CPA certification doesn’t necessarily transfer over to other countries.
If you want to become a CPA in another country, you’ll usually need to pass that country’s CPA certification requirements, which could involve additional education or examination.
How To Become A CPA In Canada vs the USA
The process for becoming a CPA in Canada is nearly identical to becoming a CPA in the US. Both require a college education, and several years of experience, and require candidates to pass a rigorous final exam.
That being said, obtaining your CPA in Canada takes a little bit longer, as the CPA PEP in Canada takes around two years, compared to the US, which requires you to pass all exam sections within 18 months.
Becoming a CPA in Canada can take a long time, especially once you factor in your college education, two years of CPA PEP, and the two-and-a-half years of practical experience hours needed to obtain your CPA certification.
However, the career itself can be very rewarding, and you’ll always be able to find gainful employment.
Want to learn more about accounting and personal finance?
Be sure to check out my list of the best personal finance podcasts for Canadians next!