Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) is a professional designation in Canada. It’s one of the first steps to becoming an accountant in Canada.

Accountants could previously choose from one of three designations: Chartered Accountant, Certified General Accountant, or Certified Management Accountant. However, the three categories merged in 2014.

Now, accountants have a simplified career path. This article dives deeper. It explains the qualifications to a Canadian CPA, how long it takes to become a CPA in Canada, and whether you can receive your accreditation from abroad.

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What are Canada’s CPA requirements?

There are four significant steps to a CPA qualification:

  • Prerequisite education — including an undergraduate degree and academic prerequisites
  • The CPA Professional Education Program (PEP)
  • Completion of the Common Final Examinations (CFE)
  • Necessary practical experience

1. Prerequisite education

Most people start with a business or accounting undergraduate degree. These post-secondary programs cover the subject areas to undertake the CPA PEP later. The required courses include Financial Accounting, Managerial Accounting, Accounting and Financial Fundamentals, Information Technology, and Economics.

You must meet a particular grade and average in these courses to qualify it as a CPA PEP pre-requisite.

Other courses, which include Corporate Financial Reporting and Taxation, are common in post-secondary accounting programs and can help with other parts of the CPA process like the CFE and practical experience.

But, suppose you’re doing or finished an undergraduate degree not related to accounting or business, and you now want to become a CPA. In this case, it’s possible to continue your program or enroll again into a university just to take the required PEP courses.

Entry into CPA PEP also has an alternative for individuals with at least eight years of related work experience. This alternative lets you bypass the undergraduate degree requirement.

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2. CPA Professional Educational Program

CPA PEP is a graduate-level program to continue your accounting education and consists of six modules in preparation for the CFE:

  • Core 1 & 2 which includes Financial Reporting, Strategy and Governance, Management Accounting, Audit and Assurance, Finance, and Taxation;
  • Elective 1 & 2 which is a choice of two between Assurance, Performance Management, Taxation, and Finance;
  • Capstone 1, which includes Leadership Skills, Professional Skills, and Integration of Competencies
  • Capstone 2, which helps candidates develop their writing skills and prepare for the CFE

Some post-secondary institutions also provide CPA certification programs like a Master’s or graduate diploma in accounting. Master of Accounting programs (MAcc) can exempt CPA candidates from the entire PEP process, while graduate diploma programs generally let you skip the Core and Elective portions.

3. Common Final Examination

The CFE is a three-day exam that covers the culmination of the PEP. It requires students to demonstrate their understanding of financial reporting and management accounting and their breadth of knowledge in other PEP areas.

CPA Canada administers the exam and requires test takers to finish their undergraduate education and PEP beforehand.

In recent exams, the first day consisted of a four-hour case-based test related to Capstone 1. Day two was five hours. It assessed a candidate’s understanding of financial reporting and management accounting, as well as one of the four electives from the PEP Elective 1&2.

On day three, candidates had a four-hour exam that assessed technical and enabling competencies. The most recent 2021 exam consisted of three to four cases that took 40 to 90 minutes to complete.

Completing the CFE and practical experience portion allows candidates to receive their CPA designation.

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4. Practical Experience

In addition to classroom education and exams, the CPA designation requires a minimum of 30 months of full-time relevant accounting experience. This experience must further be

  • supervised;
  • include regular and detailed reports about your progress;
  • involve at least one semi-annual progress discussion with your CPA mentor; and,
  • an assessment of your experience by the CPA profession.

It’s common for employers, especially Fortune 500 companies or accounting firms, to have a pre-CPA role in place, which allows candidates to receive their 30 weeks of practical experience.

These paid roles have previously qualified as “practical experience” for other CPAs when they went through the designation process. They also streamline the role to efficiently provide mentors, progress reports, and supervision and adhere to CPA Canada’s requirements.

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How long does it take to become a CPA in Canada?

Generally, CPA candidates take six to seven years to get their designation, including the four years that most undergraduate programs usually take. After university, the PEP program is generally a two-year part-time system that accounting professionals finish while completing their 30 months of practical experience.
However, the alternative CPA route requires candidates to complete at least eight years in certain technical competency areas. At the eight-year mark, they can apply to the PEP program to begin their CPA journey.

Related: Is an accountant liable for mistakes and what insurance coverage do accountants need?

Can I do CPA Canada from abroad?

If you’re not a Canadian or have accounting training from another country, CPA Canada must assess your credentials before providing you with a CPA designation. In some instances, you’re able to port your accounting designation over from another country, like the US, and become a Canadian CPA.

Some foreign citizens may have more issues bringing their accounting credentials to Canada. It ultimately depends on Canada and CPA Canada’s relationship with that country.

It’s a long process to get a CPA in Canada. However, the career path is reliable and well regarded. CPAs benefit from strong earning potential and the ability to start their own accounting practice. Despite the hardship of the PEP and CFE, obtaining your CPA is well worth the work.

Related: How to Become a Certified Bookkeeper

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