CPA vs ACCA: What’s the Difference?

CPA or ACCA - Which Should You Choose for Your Career?

cpa-vs-accaChoosing your career in finance or accounting is an exciting journey filled with numerous opportunities for growth and specialization. Two prominent certifications that often come up in discussions are ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CPA (Certified Public Accountant).

While both certifications are highly regarded in the accounting profession, they have distinct differences and cater to different career paths.

Let’s dive into the nuances of ACCA and CPA, helping you make an informed decision about which path aligns best with your career aspirations.

What does CPA stand for?

CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant. It is a professional designation granted to accounting professionals in the United States after passing the Uniform CPA Exam and meeting other specific state education and work requirements.

CPAs are licensed by their respective state boards of accountancy. The CPA credential is highly regarded in the accounting profession and signifies a high level of skill and knowledge in accounting.

What does ACCA stand for?

ACCA stands for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. It is a global professional accounting body that offers the Chartered Certified Accountant qualification.

ACCA’s qualification is recognized around the world and provides individuals with knowledge and skills in accounting, finance, and management. The organization supports its members and students throughout their careers, providing opportunities for professional growth and development.

Differences Between CPA and ACCA

ACCA: A Global Perspective

Origin and Recognition: ACCA originated in the United Kingdom and boasts a global presence, with members in over 180 countries. It is widely recognized around the world, particularly in countries following the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).

Structure and Modules: The ACCA program consists of 13 exams, divided into three levels: Applied Knowledge, Applied Skills, and Strategic Professional. Additionally, candidates must complete an Ethics and Professional Skills module and accrue 36 months of relevant work experience.

Flexibility and Duration: ACCA offers great flexibility, allowing candidates to take exams at their own pace, with a maximum duration of ten years to complete the qualification. This flexibility makes it an attractive option for individuals who need to balance work, studies, and personal commitments.

Career Opportunities: ACCA opens doors to diverse career paths in accounting, finance, audit, and tax, both in practice and in industry. It is especially well-regarded in sectors like banking, consulting, and global corporations.

CPA: Mastery in U.S. Accounting Standards

Origin and Recognition: CPA is a U.S.-based certification and is recognized across all 50 states. It is highly esteemed in the United States, particularly for roles that require a deep understanding of U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

Structure and Exams: The CPA exam is divided into four sections: Auditing and Attestation (AUD), Business Environment and Concepts (BEC), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR), and Regulation (REG). Candidates must pass all four sections within an 18-month timeframe.

Licensure and Requirements: Beyond the exams, CPA candidates must fulfill specific education and experience requirements, which vary by state. Typically, candidates need a bachelor’s degree with 150 credit hours of education and one to two years of accounting experience under the supervision of a CPA.

Career Opportunities: A CPA license is essential for anyone looking to climb the corporate ladder in public accounting firms in the U.S. It also holds significant prestige in industry roles, government, and education.

How to Choose Between ACCA and CPA for your Career?

CPA or ACCA – Which is Better for Your Career?

Geographical Considerations: Your geographical location and where you intend to work play a crucial role in your decision. If you’re aiming for a global career or work in regions that follow IFRS, ACCA might be the more suitable option. On the other hand, if your career is U.S.-centric, especially in public accounting or roles requiring a deep understanding of U.S. GAAP, CPA is the way to go.

Career Aspirations: Consider your long-term career goals. ACCA offers broader options and is often chosen by those looking to work in diverse sectors and roles. CPA is ideal for those aiming for senior-level positions in public accounting in the U.S.

Commitment and Investment: Both ACCA and CPA require a significant investment of time, money, and effort. Evaluate your current life situation and future commitments to decide which program’s structure and requirements align better with your capabilities.

Does a CPA qualify as a ACCA?

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) qualification are two distinct certifications in the field of accounting, each with its own set of requirements and recognized in different parts of the world.

The CPA is primarily a U.S. qualification administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and each state has its own Board of Accountancy that grants the license. On the other hand, ACCA is a global accounting qualification offered by the ACCA institute, headquartered in the United Kingdom.


Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs): ACCA has mutual recognition agreements with various accountancy bodies around the world. However, as of my last training data in September 2021, there is no direct MRA between ACCA and AICPA or State Boards of Accountancy in the U.S.

Exemptions: ACCA offers exemptions from certain exams for individuals who have already qualified as CPAs, depending on the state in which they are qualified and the specific education and experience they have. The specifics of these exemptions would need to be checked directly with ACCA.

Becoming ACCA Qualified: To become ACCA qualified, an individual would typically need to pass a series of exams, complete a professional ethics module, and have three years of relevant work experience. Depending on their previous qualifications and experience, a CPA might have some of these requirements reduced.

Things to Consider

Recognition and Employability: The recognition of ACCA versus CPA depends significantly on the region in which you plan to work. CPA is highly recognized in the U.S., while ACCA is more globally recognized, especially in Commonwealth countries.

Purpose of Obtaining the Qualification: It is important to consider your career goals and where you plan to work to determine whether pursuing ACCA in addition to CPA is beneficial for you.

Time and Financial Investment: Obtaining an additional qualification requires a significant investment of time and money. Ensure that the benefits align with your career goals.

A CPA license does not automatically qualify someone as an ACCA member, and vice versa. However, there may be certain exemptions and pathways available to make the process of obtaining the additional qualification smoother. It is crucial to directly consult with the ACCA institute and evaluate your individual circumstances and career goals to make an informed decision.


Whether you choose ACCA or CPA, you’re embarking on a journey that will open doors to rewarding career opportunities and professional growth. By understanding the differences, geographical relevance, and career implications of each certification, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your professional aspirations and personal circumstances.

Embrace the journey, stay committed, and you’ll find yourself on a path to success in the dynamic world of accounting and finance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I pursue both ACCA and CPA certifications?

Yes, you can pursue both ACCA and CPA certifications if you wish to enhance your global employability and expertise in U.S. GAAP, but it requires a significant time and financial investment.

Which certification has a quicker completion time, ACCA or CPA?

CPA generally has a quicker completion time since it has fewer exams and a set 18-month timeframe for completing all sections, while ACCA offers more flexibility but could take longer to complete.

Do I need an accounting degree to pursue ACCA or CPA?

While an accounting degree is beneficial, ACCA allows entry to candidates with varying educational backgrounds. For CPA, an accounting degree or significant accounting coursework is typically required, though specific requirements vary by state.

Which certification is more widely recognized globally, ACCA or CPA?

ACCA tends to have broader global recognition due to its presence in over 180 countries and alignment with IFRS, while CPA is highly prestigious and recognized in the U.S.