Becoming a CPA in Quebec: My Tips for a Stress-Free, Flawless Experience
Acquiring the CPA designation in Quebec may seem like a long and arduous process after you have just immigrated. But careful preparation and knowing what to expect can make the experience a lot less strenuous...
A rigorous process
You are visiting this page because you are thinking about becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant in Canada, particularly in Quebec, just like I did many years ago. Here is one thing you will immediately notice: This process should not be taken lightly. And there is good reason for that! In reality, you want to join a professional order that is not only recognized in Canada, but also internationally. That is why the Quebec CPA Order makes sure that all of its members, regardless of their backgrounds, complete the steps of a highly structured skills assessment process, which includes passing the Common Final Examination (CFE).
Several scenarios for foreign-trained professionals
If you have a professional accounting designation from a country that has signed a reciprocity agreement with Quebec, you can complete a simplified process. If you come from France, you can take advantage of its mutual recognition arrangement with Quebec. But your situation may be entirely different. Even if you have ample university training and professional experience, you may be required to complete certain additional steps to ensure that you meet Quebec's requirements, such as in the following cases:
- if your country has not yet signed a reciprocity agreement with Quebec;
- if your country has signed a reciprocity agreement with Quebec, but you cannot take advantage of it because you have not yet acquired the professional designation.
Having been through the immigration experience myself, I now know that there are solutions. Here are a few tips on how to make the process easier!
Going back to school
Depending on your prior training and experience, the Order may require you to take qualifying courses or even return to university to round out your training, and then pass the CFE. Don’t get discouraged! You will notice something when filling out your application file: You will not check all the boxes or have all the skills; this is normal. Going back to school can be a huge professional and financial investment, but also an investment for your family. This decision will depend on your situation.
Take me, for example. When I arrived in Canada in 2009, after knocking on several doors, I finally succeeded in starting the prior learning and professional experience recognition process. After I completed various steps, which included passing the professional accounting examination (otherwise known as the Common Final Examination) in 2013, I finally became a CPA auditor, CA. I had to take taxation and business law courses before I could write the exam. Even though they were very useful for my work afterward, I must say that going back to school was an adventure in itself! Without the support of my wife and kids, I am not sure I would have made it through the entire process or even passed the exam. Going back to school part time was not easy because my full-time job was extremely demanding and I had a family to consider. But, as I said before, everyone has a different story.
My advice on how to effectively handle the issue of going back to school:
- If your country of origin and Quebec have signed a reciprocity agreement and you are fairly advanced in the process of acquiring the designation in your country, why not postpone your arrival in Quebec and acquire the designation in your country before you leave? Between you and me, if there is no rush to immigrate, this is the fastest solution; because once you arrive in Quebec, there will be fewer steps to take. Plus, you will become a CPA not only in Quebec, but also in your current country, which may be useful to you in your career.
- If you choose to study in Quebec or do not have a choice, because your country of origin does not have an agreement with Quebec, make sure that you have the approval and support of your loved ones who will be immigrating with you. They will be your lifeline (and your best coaches) in times of doubt. Because you will have doubts... One of the most important things is to stay motivated: When you go back to school, you need to be prepared, meticulous and driven for several months at a time.
Be proactive to maximize your chances
The Order will ask you for several supporting documents when it evaluates your prior learning and professional experience. Basic descriptions on a form will not suffice. You will have to explain your prior learning and professional experience item by item.
My advice on how to save precious time:
- Remember to have your original degrees in hand BEFORE you come to Quebec. You will have them certified when you get here. Nothing is worse than having to take care of administrative formalities from outside the country where your documents were issued, because mere copies are not valid here.
- Have the comparative evaluation for studies done outside Quebec prepared by the Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Francization and Integration.
- Obtain a detailed letter from your various employers. It needs to mention your periods of employment, a description of your tasks, and any training you received and gave (bring your training certificates too). Some good advice: Write the letter yourself. The employer will simply have to approve and sign it and nothing will be left out.
- "Translate” your professional training and experience into terms that will be understood in Canada. For example, a baccalauréat in France has absolutely nothing to do with the same term in Quebec. It is the French equivalent of finishing CEGEP, whereas the Quebec term refers to finishing your first degree program at university. That is a world of difference! Follow this advice for your CV too, of course.
- French and English are the two languages recognized in Quebec. This means that you may have to have your documents translated by a certified translator.
- Don’t waste time: Find out about the equivalence process from the Order before you leave. Its site is full of relevant information. Contact the Order as soon as possible. The process does take time… But the Order is there to help you!
About the author
Julien Dupont has served as Director, Financial Reporting at TC Transcontinental since 2017. Prior to his current position, he worked at auditing firms PricewaterhouseCoopers and then Deloitte. His career has led him to work in France, the United States and now Canada since 2009. He completed the Quebec CPA Order’s prior learning and professional training recognition process and passed the Common Final Examination in 2013. He has been a CPA auditor since January 2014.