Updated on March 22, 2024
Article byHimani Bhatt
Edited byHimani Bhatt
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Difference Between CIA & CPA

Both Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) & Certified Public Accountant (CPA) are widely sought-after accounting certifications that professionals seek to improve their career prospects. The primary difference in CIA vs CPA professionals lies in their scope of work. While both professionals perform auditing functions, the former exclusively conducts internal audits while the latter performs a wide range of accounting and auditing tasks. 


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In other words, a CIA possesses a niche skill limited to the internal audit domain, while a CPA exhibits expertise in various public accounting and financial reporting activities. CIA is a globally recognized internal audit certification awarded by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). On the other hand, CPA is a U.S.-recognized public accounting license issued at the jurisdiction level.

CIA vs CPA Comparison Table

DefinitionIIA-issued certification for internal auditorsU.S. State board-issued license to practice public accountancy
RecognitionGlobally recognizedThe U.S. recognized
Regulatory bodyIIAAICPA and NASBA
A niche area of expertiseInternal auditingPublic accounting & financial reporting
Certification requirementsBachelor’s degree/Master’s degree/other education  Bachelor’s degree with 120-150 semester hours  
Pass the CIA ExamPass the Uniform CPA Exam
Relevant internal audit work experience1-3 years of work experience
Job profileGovernment AuditorFinancial Advisor
Internal Audit ExecutiveSpecialist
Audit Supervisor/ManagerInternal Auditor
Finance & Operations AuditorBusiness Consultant
Compliance AuditorTax Accountant
Risk ManagerAccounting Consultant
Examination detailsPartsThreeSectionsFour
Time durationComplete within 3 yearsTime durationComplete within an 18-month rolling period
Exam timingPart 1 – 150 minutesExam timing4 hours long (per section)
Parts 2 & 3 – 120 minutes
Passing score600 or more out of 750 marksPassing score75 or more points on a scale of 0-99
Question typesMCQsQuestion typesMCQs, simulations, & written communications
Total certification cost$655-$1315$989.96-$1334.6 (approximate)
Duties & responsibilitiesReview the business proceduresPrepare & assess reports on transactions
Analyze and evaluate the financial reportsBalancing financial transactions
Suggest modifications to governance procedures & internal controlsRevenue forecasting & evaluating profit margins
Fraud detection & preventionPublish audited monetary reports
IndustriesPrivate commercial entitiesGovernment
Public commercial entitiesNot-for-profit organizations
Public accounting firmsPublic accounting firms
Governmental agenciesPrivate companies
CPE requirementsPracticing CPAs40 Credit hours per year40-120 Credit hours (state-specific)
Non-practicing CPAs20 Credit hours per year1–3-year renewal period (state-specific)

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CIA vs CPA Infographics


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What is a CIA?

CIA is the only international certification issued to accountants conducting internal audits. IIA issues the credential to qualified individuals who pass three parts of the CIA Exam and obtain relevant work experience. 

CIA Exam

The CIA exam is a three-part computerized test to be passed within three years. The exam is conducted throughout the year in Pearson VUE test centers in more than 150 countries worldwide.

CIA Exam PartsDurationNumber of QuestionsPassing Score
Essentials of Internal Auditing150 minutes125 Multiple-choice Questions (MCQs)600 out of 750 marks
Practice of Internal Auditing120 minutes100 Multiple-choice Questions (MCQs)600 out of 750 marks
Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing120 minutes100 Multiple-choice Questions (MCQs)600 out of 750 marks

The current pass rate for CIA exams is 41% globally. The tests are administered in multiple languages. Moreover, there is no fixed test date. Candidates may choose the most suitable date and time as per their convenience. 

In comparing the difficulty level of CPA vs CIA exams, the CIA exam appears to be easier. It is because the time period required for passing it is more. Also, it has a less comprehensive syllabus, and only MCQ questions are asked in the exam.

CIA Certification Prerequisites

To acquire the CIA certification, you may take any of the following pathways to fulfill the education, exam, and experience requirements:

Educational requirementExam requirementExperience requirement
Master’s degreePass all three exam parts1 year of internal audit experience
Bachelor’s degreePass all three exam parts2 years of internal audit experience
Active Internal Audit Practitioner Designation HolderPass all three exam parts5 years of internal audit experience
Other education and 5 Years of Internal Audit ExperiencePass all three exam partsNo additional experience required

To take the CIA program and sit for the exam, you must meet any of the above education requirements and submit a character reference form and identification proof. However, after passing the exam, you must verify your professional experience before applying for the certificate.

Total Certification Cost

Please note that the certification costs may vary across different countries. However, here lies the standard certification cost structure. 

ParticularsIIA MemberNon-MemberStudent
Application Fee$115$230$65
CIA Exam Part 1 Fee$295$425$245
CIA Exam Part 2 Fee$265$395$215
CIA Exam Part 3 Fee$265$395$215

Career Path

CIAs work in the internal audit departments of different organizations. They analyze the financial records to identify the discrepancies that can be controlled internally. Their job profile involves reviewing and assessing the current business functions and making them apt for the currently emerging challenges.

Moreover, the reports generated after the thorough analysis of the financial procedures make businesses identify the risks beforehand and tackle the in same. Therefore, a CIA’s job profile is not just limited to supervising the internal audit processes of a company. Instead, their scope of work extends to ensuring complete risk management.

In addition, they work with the senior leadership to develop methods for preventing fraud and theft against the organization. Here are the different career paths for a CIA:

  • Compliance Auditor
  • Internal Audit Director
  • Information Systems Auditor
  • Senior Internal Auditor
  • Lead Internal Auditor
  • Audit Manager
  • Auditing Specialist
  • Risk Manager


Comparing CIA vs CPA salary, it is evident that CIAs earn a bit less due to their micro skill set. However, the CIAs make a decent average pay of $67,779 annually. Moreover, the pay may vary as per their geographic location, employer, seniority level, work experience, etc. 

Continuing Professional Education (CPE)

CIAs must report the required CPE Credit hours annually by December 31 in the Certificate Candidate Management System (CCMS). It is necessary to sustain an active certification. 

Moreover, the requirements vary as per the professional status. CIAs must also complete two CPE hours of ethics that they may include in their total annual CPE requirement.

StatusRequired CPE hours
Practicing CIA40
Non-practicing CIA20

What is a CPA?

A CPA is a licensed accounting expert who has passed the CPA exam and satisfied the state board-specific education and experience prerequisites. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) partners with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to conduct the CPA Exam and issue the CPA license. 

Fulfill the below-mentioned requirements to earn the credential:

  • Complete 120-150 semester hours of education
  • Pass the Uniform CPA Exam with at least 75 points in each section
  • Obtain 1-3 years of relevant work experience 
  • Pass the Ethics Exam with a minimum of 90% (if required by the state board)

The requisites mentioned above may change as per your state board of accountancy.

CPA Exam Requirements

The CPA exam is a computer-aided licensure test. CPA exam constitutes four sections to be passed within the rolling 18-month period. You must score at least 75 points on a scale of 0-99 in each section. 

CPA Exam sectionsQuestion TypesDurationTest lets
Auditing & Attestation (AUD)MCQs & simulations4-hour5
Business Environment & Concepts (BEC)MCQs, simulations, & Written Communications4-hour5
Financial Accounting & Reporting (FAR)MCQs & simulations4-hour5
Regulation (REG)MCQs & simulations4-hour5

The Uniform CPA Exam has an average pass rate of 50%. Contrary to the CIA Exam, the licensure test is only available in English. It is administered only at domestic or international Prometric testing centers. 

When you compare the difficulty of the CPA vs CIA exam, the CPA exam appears to be more challenging. This is because it has extensive coverage of all aspects of accounting. Moreover, the CIA exam allows you three years to pass it against the CPA exam, which permits only 18 months.  

Total Certification Cost

CPA certification cost varies as per the state you wish to be licensed. Also, the amount for international candidates differs due to additional evaluation services. Furthermore, here is the approximate CPA certification cost structure. 

Particulars Amount Total Fees
Exam Application Fee$50-$200
CPA Licensure Fee$100-$500
CPA Exam Fees
Total Feesabout $4,400

Job Profile

The CIA vs CPA work profile comparison reveals that the latter performs a broader array of accounting tasks. These tasks include record-keeping, income tax preparation, consulting, and risk management. 

They devise intelligent strategies to bolster the financial growth of a company. In addition, their vast expanse of accounting knowledge and deep financial insight comes in handy for its betterment. 

They can also function as a government auditor or involve in delivering not-for-profit auditing services. Besides, they are also eligible to deliver other services like business valuation, forensic accounting, environmental accounting, international accounting, etc.

Let’s view the different job profiles for a CPA:

  • Auditor
  • Business Advisor
  • Accounting Consultant
  • Tax Accountant
  • Accounting Vice President
  • Chief Accounting Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer


The average annual base pay of a CPA is $77,800. However, similar to CIAs, the remuneration of CPAs may vary as per the geographical location, position, employer, and work experience.

Note that the salary disparity in CPA vs CIA exists due to differences in their scope of work. CPAs are paid more as they possess expertise in all financial aspects of a business and perform a variety of accounting functions. Conversely, with internal audit as their restricted sphere of operation, CIAs command lower salaries.

Continuing Professional Education (CPE)

CPAs must renew their accounting license every 1-3 years to provide quality professional services. Moreover, the reporting requirements, period, and the associated fees are state-specific. The common requirements are as follows:

  • CPE Reporting Period – 1-3 years
  • CPE Reporting Requirements – 40 -120 Credit hours

This article is a guide to CIA vs CPA. Here we discuss the CIA vs CPA salary, work profile, exam requirements, CIA vs CPA exam difficulty, etc. You may also have a look at the following articles –

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