One of the most common questions about the CPA exam that we tend to see (other than “how the heck am I going to pass this thing”) is “does my CPA license work across state lines”?
And it’s a darn good question. These days, thanks to the ease of communication the internet offers us, the opportunities for CPAs to serve clients outside the state they’ve been licensed to practice in are greater than ever and have had a profound impact on the way CPAs operate, both in their home state and otherwise.
So, if you’re a licensed CPA, can you work with clients outside of the state you’re licensed for? The answer is…complicated.
Really, it depends on the state in question, due in large part to the idea of reciprocity. Reciprocity in this context essentially refers to a CPA’s ability to work across state lines, whether digitally or in-person, and it can vary from state to state. In 2006, a nationwide initiative began to get every state in the U.S. to (eventually) pass laws allowing CPA licenses to work in basically the same way as a driver’s license.
States with reciprocity laws (49 states, including Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) allow mobility for nonattest services; essentially meaning CPAs only have to obtain one license in their principal state of business (generally the state you grew up in and/or the state you attended college in) and can use that license for temporary work across state lines.
The “nonattest services” part is where things get a little specific. “Nonattest services” tend to include everyday accounting work like bookkeeping, payroll, tax preparation and so on, whereas “attest services” involve anything where the CPA has to get involved personally with the work such as audits.
As opposed to the 49 states with reciprocity laws (or ‘individual mobility’, meaning independent CPAs are covered by these laws) for nonattest services, only 15 states have adopted what’s known as “firm mobility” for attest services. In states with firm mobility, firms and individual CPAs can offer attest services such as audits or reviews without getting a license in that state, notifying the state board, and/or paying additional fees. In states that offer firm mobility, you just have to meet that state’s peer review and firm ownership requirements, which makes this slightly harder for individual CPAs to offer attest services in states they aren’t licensed in.
So what does this mean for you? Basically, it boils down to what you want to offer – if you’re keeping it simple and trying to offer nonattest services, and/or if you’re practicing as an individual CPA, you should be fine in nearly any state you want to offer services in so long as you’re already a licensed CPA. Attest services and/or entire firms looking to increase their reach are going to have a slightly harder go of it, at least until more states offer firm mobility.
In the meantime, just keep studying and just keep practicing – and if you get a job offer from out of state, just make sure to see if you’re eligible to do it first.