How to Become a CPA in Virginia

The steps to understanding Virginia CPA requirements, and to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in Virginia, like those in every other state, are highly regulated. Since the licensure exam is uniform in every state, laws regulating how to obtain licensure must be different to accommodate the varying state tax and finance laws. Because of this, even the requirements for eligibility to sit for the exam vary by state. Virginia CPA requirements can be broken down into three basic steps; education, exam, and experience. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) is the body that creates, edits when necessary, and oversees the administration of the Uniform CPA Exam. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) is the entity that administers it in each state. Joint oversight like this means that the organization charged with creating the test is not the same one to administer it, and vice versa, which leaves each of them to focus on the parts of making you a CPA.


Historically speaking, the economy of Virginia relied on agriculture. The two most important features of the state’s agricultural economy at the time of its founding were tobacco and slave labor. The civil war brought an end to both, forcing the state to reconsider everything during reconstruction. Coal mining and increasing industrialization took the place of the tobacco industry, although Virginia tobacco growing and cigarette manufacture was still a rather large export for the state. After World War II and the civil rights movement, integrated schools and the founding of what was then the largest community college system in the country, Virginia’s economy began growing into more urbanized, skilled, technology-driven markets. With the nation’s capital bordering northern Virginia, the largest and most lucrative industry is the government and government enterprises, which accounted for 18.6 percent of Virginia gross state product (money the state earns). For CPAs looking to cash in on the trends, the state is going in, having a knack for government or defense-related finance would be an asset in the state of Virginia.


Highly skilled professional fields like accounting require licensure to practice. They also require a highly detailed process to even get started, let alone finish it. CPAs in Virginia must complete state-specific education before they are allowed to practice. Even though most of the job they do is the same across the country, and the resulting test is uniform, CPAs are state-licensed because there are many state-specific tax and financial laws that CPAs must contend with. Being licensed to be trusted to handle someone else’s money is a pretty important thing to have the skills for. Almost every state allows their CPAs to practice outside of the licensing state. Many states put certain restrictions on this practice to maintain order, and keep the field state specific. They may not be able to work more than a certain number of hours, or there is a limit on the how much CPA can earn doing certain accounting jobs outside of their licensing state. The state board websites provide information on what the regulations are from their state to another. Depending on the state you are traveling to for work from Virginia, different rules apply, due to agreements the states have with each other.

The national requirements to become a CPA include a minimum standard of 150-semester units of post-secondary education, one year of accounting related work experience, and passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination. Once you are licensed as a CPA in any state, interstate CPA licensing requirements begin to apply, regardless of the type of client services you perform, and regardless of how well you know about the laws in the next state over. Educational programs in accounting include sections on inter-state laws regarding accounting practice.


To become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in Virginia, specific eligibility requirements must be met beyond those of the national minimums. The Virginia State Board of Public Accountancy updates their website to inform people in the world of accounting about these requirements, with links to accounting laws that pertain to Virginia specifically, contact information to relevant people and programs, and downloadable and electronic submittable forms for CPA applicants.
Unique to Virginia, CPA Exam applicants must have a Bachelor’s Degree, with a minimum of 24 semester hours in accounting courses. Of these 24, certain classes must be taken including auditing, financial accounting, management accounting and taxation. As for business courses, graduates must have taken a minimum of 24 semester hours. Principles or introductory courses do not qualify in the 48 required hours. After completing the Uniform CPA Exam, the new CPA must also pass the AICPA Professional Ethics Exam for initial licensure. No CPA can get licensed in Virginia without passing the ethics exam.


To be eligible for CPA licensure in State, candidates must meet these following qualifications:

Virginia offers other options for the education requirements that are suitable for CPA licensure, which includes a completed bachelor’s degree, and fifteen semester hours in Accounting. Alternately, the applicant can be within 18 semester hours of completing a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent, from a regionally accredited college or university, and upon graduation will have completed 15 semester hours in Accounting.

In order to obtain a license CPAs must be also employed full-time for the equivalent of 1 year in academia, a firm, government or industry in any capacity involving the substantial use of accounting, financial, tax or other skills that are relevant. Whether other skills are relevant are determined by the Virginia Board of Accountancy on a case-by-case basis. Sadly, self-employment does not qualify as experience.


All CPAs must continue their accounting education to maintain licensure after it is obtained. In the field, they call this Continued Professional Education (CPE) and it is required each year, but the amount varies from state to state. The CPE Reporting Period is also different in each state. In Virginia, the period is from 1/1 to 12/31 over a three-year rolling period. General requirements for CPE include 120 hours, with a minimum of 20 per year for those three years. There is also an annual CPE in ethics requirement for most states including Virginia. The requirement, in this case, is four hours in the area of accounting professional conduct and ethics.

For those accountants who teach on the topic in college or university, they can receive 60 hours maximum in a three year reporting period. The VBOA will award the CPE hours for the year in which the exam was passed and the certification was received. CPAs will also earn instruction hours at the rate of 30 hours maximum in a three year reporting period. For instructors, credit is equal to presentation plus preparation. Repeat instruction of the same course is only accepted if the material is substantially changed. For those CPAs who are taking accounting courses at an accredited college or university, one semester hour equals 15 CPE hours and One-quarter hour equals 10 CPE hours.

Virginia accepts CPE credits for programs offered by National Registry sponsors.


Federal regulations in 2007 were designed to make it easier for a CPA to maintain clients who move away or live in another state. Historically the accountant and the client had to live and work in the same state, and that client moved to the next state over or took a job just over the border, or (a newer scenario) the client is telecommuting to a state neither of them lives in, that CPA could continue working with that client, even though the clients finances are now the concern of a state the CPA is not licensed in. The regulating bodies who govern accounting, and who passed this new regulation are the AICPA and NASBA.

The regulation itself is referred to as the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) and the section dealing with mobility across state lines is section 23, or “no notice, no fee, no escape”. Section 23 is often compared to the driver’s license model. Any driver who is licensed in a U.S. state can, without penalty, drive across the country without applying for new driver’s licenses in each state she visits. If she were to disobey the traffic laws of the state she is visiting outside her licensing state, she can be disciplined by the state where the infraction occurred. The same applies to the UAA, and specifically section 23. The UUA in its entirety was developed and is maintained, reviewed and updated by the AICPA and NASBA. It provides a uniform approach to regulation of the accounting profession.
Each State has a board of State Society or professional organization for accountants. The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants website has all sorts of helpful information for future and current CPAs, as well as CPE requirements and information for conferences and CPE events that are specific to Virginia. Membership in a state professional organization will also ensure that CPAs are up to date on any tax law changes, which happen constantly, and give working professionals a great way to network and meet colleagues.