Can I use my UK accountancy qualifications abroad?

If you would like to take your skills and experience and work as an accountant overseas, how easy it is to do? Are your qualifications transferable? We look at the options available to UK qualified accountants.

“There is no doubt that individuals and organisations alike are increasingly taking a global approach to future plans,” says Adrian O’Connor, Founding Director, Global Accounting Network.

“Rapid technological advancements mean that geographic borders are not the barrier they once were – the world is getting smaller. Meanwhile, future uncertainty caused by myriad external factors, not least Brexit, is encouraging a greater number of people to explore opportunities outside of the UK.”

He says it is no wonder a growing number of professionals are looking to capitalise on favourable market conditions elsewhere, or simply hedge their bets against unpredictable local economies.

Recent client demand, and subsequent recruitment activity, reflects this growing thirst for international growth, he says.

“The organisations we work with are increasingly seeking finance professionals who have experience within a global operation, are familiar with specific international tax structures or who have a solid background in analysing risk associated with global expansion strategies. Unsurprisingly, we have also witnessed job roles, and associated remits, shift in recent years to fit within business structures which are conducive to international operations.”

AAT’s qualifications are internationally recognised and are focused on meeting the needs of employers, government and students, both now and in the future. AAT makes sure to maintain professional standards, with great focus on supporting and encouraging professional accounting across the world.

AAT recognise’s that the best solutions come from combining knowledge and expertise, so focus on building relationships with local organisations to develop finance skills on a global scale.

With partner organisations in New Zealand, Botswana, Asia and many more, AAT are working to support local talent and economic development.

Using your qualifications abroad

While many professionals dream of expanding their skill-sets with jobs overseas, the prospect of getting qualified in a new territory can often be a barrier to making it happen, Mr O’Connor says. However, for accountants looking to experience life in a new country, getting the green light to practice internationally may be easier than you think.

“While anyone moving outside of the EU for work will, of course, be subject to local visa restrictions, holding the relevant qualifications is the first step to falling within the parameters needed for a ‘specific offer of employment’ to be made – a prerequisite of many work visas.”

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that professionals who have relevant experience will have to go back to the drawing board in terms of education. In the US, for example, it is possible to become qualified as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with no further training.

Becoming a Certified Public Accountant

Global Accounting Network’s sister company, Hoxton Circle, is based in the US, and for clients across the pond a CPA licence can be a prerequisite for any accounting role.

“The criteria for becoming a licenced CPA varies between states – so it is vital that you do some research to see how your existing qualifications stack up against state board office requirements,” Mr O’Connor says. “However, it is worth noting that most states have passed mobility laws in order to allow practice in their location by CPAs from other destinations. So once you have the licence, it’s pretty mobile.”

While each state board sets its own requirements regarding education and experience, broadly speaking, all CPA candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree, at minimum, and have no fewer than 150 semester hours of formal education, must achieve a passing score on the Uniform CPA Exam and gain field experience under the supervision of a licensed CPA. In most states and jurisdictions, one year of supervised experience satisfies the requirement.

Eligibility to sit for the Uniform CPA Exam is determined by individual state boards of accountancy. A decision is made after existing qualifications are submitted and evaluated by a local university admissions officer to get a comparison to US qualifications.

“While some professionals will be able to sit the exam with no further training, others may need to complete additional courses before they qualify to sit,” he explains. “These courses can usually be completed in your country of origin before setting foot in the US.”

International destinations

For those with their sights set on destinations more exotic than the states, it is worth noting that while the CPA qualification is US based, it is internationally recognised. CPA exams can be taken in several other countries, including Japan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Brazil and the UAE, and the qualification is recognised in the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Mr O’Connor says that for candidates who are ACA qualified, the ICAEW has partnerships with accountancy bodies around the world, so those planning to live and work in another country may be able to join a local institute automatically. Membership recognition agreements are currently in place with organisations including CAANZ in Australia and New Zealand, HKICPA in Hong Kong and SAICA in South Africa.

Similarly, the creation of the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation in 2011, which is a joint venture between The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), means that CIMA accreditation is now more globally recognised than ever before.

While it can take some time to get your head around alternative processes and local legislation, core competencies such as interpersonal skills and technical ability travel well. And for those who are eager to climb the career ladder, international experience really can pay dividends.

What are the pros and cons of relocation?

Working internationally can undoubtedly lead to professionals boosting their earnings and career prospects.

“We recently helped one individual get a 40% pay increase and move to a 15% tax jurisdiction in one fell swoop,” Mr O’Connor says.

A good recruitment agency can have an important role to play in advising candidates on upcoming opportunities, but they will also act as a professional guide to help jobseekers navigate the financial, legal, cultural and practical challenges that working abroad can bring.

An experienced recruitment consultant will be able to advise on how relevant your domestic knowledge is in the international market, where you are able to work and if any additional qualifications or languages are required.

They will also be in a good position to offer candid insight around how a placement overseas will impact your overall career trajectory. While a short term contract may provide a real boost to your CV, it is possible, in some instances, that two years away can essentially mean that career development is put on hold until you re-enter the domestic market – something certainly worth considering.

“Alongside this, there are also the emotional and social implications of uprooting both professionals and their families,” he says. “Having to contend with the local culture, climate and food may be trickier than expected, not to mention the logistics of managing an international move. Look carefully at what any proposed ex-pat relocation package provides. For example, accommodation, transport, flights back home, schooling for children, relocation allowances or health coverage.”

What is the difference between setting up a business abroad, and going to work on a foreign assignment?

While going to work on a foreign assignment is a relatively easy way to gain career-boosting experience, setting up or expanding a business abroad requires a greater level of commitment – and arguably greater rewards, Mr Connor says.

“This is a strategy we have applied to our own growth plans and Global Accounting Network is expanding into the US next year,” he explains. “The decision was based on a similar market with a shared language and a business-friendly tax regime.”

The specific skills people gain from studying with AAT underpin the accounting profession. They are integral to the success of an organisation, and at the heart of a strong finance team.

For more information about AAT international, we have a team dedicated to AAT training providers overseas and creating partnership opportunities – international@aat.org.uk

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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