California Architect Professional Licensing Guide



The California Architects Board, which is a part of the Department of Consumer Affairs, regulates the legal practice of architecture in California and grants licensure as a Licensed Professional Architect.
The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) also plays a significant role in qualifying architects for professional licensing. Their services include:

  • Verification of training and experience through a 3 year Intern Development Program (IDP)
  • Skills assessment through professional examination called an Architect Registration Exam (ARE)
  • National credentialing called NCARB Certification – once you are licensed in California, this is a tool to become licensed in several states. It is available only to highly experienced professionals, as defined by NCARB
  • Compilation and maintenance of training and credentials through an online subscription service


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of architects in the US work in small architecture firms. One in five architects is self-employed (20%); Architects also often work in construction firms and government agencies.

Since architecture is closely tied to the construction industry, job opportunities can suffer in an economic downturn. The demand for different architectural services varies by region. Often architects pursue licensing in multiple states to expand the geographic territory of their practice. It is becoming more common for US design firms to collaborate with overseas companies to complete CADD (Computer-Aided Design and Drafting) and related work at a lower cost than employing an architect in the US. This trend means fewer opportunities for junior architects to develop their professional experience.

Certain areas of architecture are stable or growing. For example, architectural work for healthcare and education may grow as the population ages and schools need to reinvest in buildings. A particularly high-demand specialty area in architecture is green building and remodeling – design that focuses on more efficient use of resources such as energy, water and materials.


What makes a successful career in this context? A competitive general skill set for architects is knowledge of CADD (Computer-Aided Design and Drafting) and Building Information Modeling (BIM) technologies. Communication and organization skills are critical since architects coordinate broad teams of specialists. Consider specializing in a niche area such as a part of the work process (pre-design, design, construction, facilities management) or a particular type of structure (hospitals, schools, factories). Trained architects may also choose to adapt their specialized knowledge and transferable skills to related fields like industrial and interior design, urban planning, real estate development, or structural engineering.

Note to architects with structural engineering experience: If you specialize in structural engineering and want to work in this field in the state of California you must undergo licensing as a Structural Engineer, which is also regulated by California Department of Consumer Affairs.



This guide assumes that you are not licensed as an architect anywhere in the US. To become licensed in California, the California Architects Board looks at three separate aspects of each candidate’s application: education, experience, and examination. Architects with a license in another state of the US can pursue Licensure by Reciprocity. You must be licensed in California in order to practice architecture in the state.

Foreign-educated architectural candidates need to meet several requirements to become licensed in California. Throughout the process you will work closely with NCARB, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. You will need to use the internet extensively to correspond with NCARB and you will have to learn to use their web-based applications to maintain your records online.

Steps to licensing are as follows:


First, you should familiarize yourself with the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the licensing process and explore the NCARB and California Architects Board (CAB) websites. Then you must establish a record on the NCARB website. You fill out an application form and you pay a fee of $350 to begin ($100 initially if you graduated university in the last six months. You will have to pay the remaining $250 before you take the Architect Registration Examination [ARE]). After the first three years you will pay $75 to maintain your record until you finish the licensing process.

To read more about this, please go to the Important Links section.


In order to be eligible to begin testing in California, candidates are required to have a total of five years of California Architects Board (CAB) approved education credit to be eligible for the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), eight years for the California Supplemental Examination (CSE) and licensure.

The state of California does not require that the 5 or 8 years of education come from a National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accredited institution. Your foreign education and work experience may apply. The CAB may credit up to 4 years for a non-NAAB accredited professional degree in architecture. Additionally, various amounts of credit can be earned for degrees or class units that are related to the field of architecture, such as an undergraduate degree in architecture or a degree in a field related to architecture. Applicants can also earn credit through work experience completed under the direct supervision of a licensed architect.

In California, you can have your foreign education evaluated in two ways. First, you can choose an evaluation service that is approved by the California Architects Board. A complete list of these companies can be found in the Important Links section. However, not all of these agencies are approved by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and their evaluation may not be used to apply for NCARB certification.

Alternatively, NCARB recognizes the Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) to evaluate all education received at a non-National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) approved institutions.

For internationally educated applicants, a complete EESA application package must include the following documents:

  • Signed National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) application, including your NCARB file number
  • Official transcripts for all coursework to consider as well as official translated copies (submission of a portfolio is optional and should only relate to coursework, not professional experience)
  • Translated and certified copies of all diplomas/certificates if originals are not in English
  • Translated and certified academic course descriptions if originals are not in English

The Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) define official translations as those that are certified by a professional translator working into English. They must come from an official source, such as an academic institution, lawyer, translation service, notary or embassy.

The cost of this degree evaluation is $1,825. When it is complete, EESA-NAAB sends a copy of all reports directly to NCARB and the information is added to your record.

This evaluation will give very specific details about where your education/degree does not meet the standards of an architecture program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

Deficiencies may be identified in one of 4 categories:

  • General Education
  • Technical Systems and Practice
  • Design
  • History, Human Behavior, and Environment

The evaluation will state if your degree is equivalent to either a US professional degree (B.Arch or M.Arch equivalent) or a pre-professional degree (technical school or 4-year Bachelor’s). This will determine the amount of training required for you to qualify for licensure in California. We will explain this in the step describing the Intern Development Program.

You should invest the time at the beginning to provide the most complete documentation you can! It costs you an extra $200 each time you provide more documents after your first evaluation. (This process is called Reconsideration).

If you disagree with the evaluation even when there are no more documents you can provide, you can challenge the evaluation only once (this process is called an Appeal).


You must correspond with Education Evaluations Services for Architects (EESA) to get its approval before you take any coursework to meet a deficiency in your record. There is no fee for EESA to update your record as you meet the deficiencies it identified, however you must send EESA official transcripts and course descriptions for these courses.


The next step in the process of becoming a Professional Architect is to participate as an Architect Intern in the NCARB’s Intern Development Program or IDP. You will have to find employment opportunities at this time that provide the right conditions for you to meet the training requirements of the program. You may want to use the database of participating firms, compiled by the California Architects Board, to find an employer who can help you satisfy the intern requirements (See the Important Links section).

Improvements to IDP led the California Board to eliminate the Comprehensive Intern Development Program (CIDP) requirement previously needed to acquire a license. Effective March 29, 2012, the CIDP is no longer a requirement for licensure in California. This means that candidates who are in various stages of the examination/licensure process and who were previously required to complete the CIDP as a a condition of the license will not have to complete the program and submit CIDP Evidence Verification forms to the Board (see the IDP Rollover Guide in the Important Links section for more information.

To satisfy the IDP requirements you need to earn 5,600 qualifying training hours (3,740 core experience hours and 1,860 elective experience hours). Acquiring 5,600 training hours will take you two and a half years of full-time work to complete if every hour counts towards your program. Obviously, the program can take much longer for some people to complete.

Your experience in architectural practice outside the US can meet only some of the IDP training requirements. The maximum credit allowed for foreign experience in architecture is 1,860 training hours if you worked under the supervision of an architect not registered in the US or Canada.

The IDP spreads 5,600 training hours across four skill categories and one elective category. Each category has a minimum number of units you must earn in it.

  • Category 1: Pre-Design – 260 hours
  • Category 2: Design – 2,600 hours
  • Category 3: Project Management – 720 hours
  • Category 4: Practice Management – 160 hours
  • Electives (your choice across any set of categories) – 1,860 hours

Total: 5,600 hours

You can earn these credits in different types of settings or workplaces. Some of these are limited in the amount of training units you can earn in them. The ideal training setting would be to is participate in IDP as an Intern in a traditional full-service firm, under direct supervision of a registered architect, with an opportunity to gain experience in all 4 training categories.

You will work directly with National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) during your period as an architectural intern. NCARB uses an online system called the Electronic Experience Verification Reporting system, called e-EVR, to build your record of required experience. IDP participants use e-EVR to create, track, and seek approval of experience reports. Once a supervising architect approves an experience report you submit, that report will be registered in your NCARB record (see the IDP Guidelines in the Important Links section for more information).

After you complete the Intern Development Program (IDP) the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) will confirm your status and explain next steps.


Testing is another major step in your process. The Architect Registration Exam or ARE is also managed through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). However, you must apply for eligibility to take the ARE through the California Architects Board. You can apply to start taking the ARE as soon as you complete 5 years of relevant education and/or work experience and are enrolled in an IDP program. A complete ARE eligibility application needs to have all the following components:

  • An ARE Application for Eligibility Evaluation (See Important Links section)
  • A $100 eligibility review fee
  • Employment Verification Form
  • Foreign Education Evaluation, accompanied by certified copies of transcripts

After the California Architects Board receives all the necessary documents, they will review your file for ARE eligibility. If you are eligible, they will mail you an Eligibility Notice as well as contact NCARB for you. Then, NCARB will mail you an Authorization to Test and the ARE Guidelines. Your ARE eligibility remains valid as long as you are active in the examination process, which means you take (pass or fail) at least one division of the ARE every five years. If CAB determines you are ineligible for testing, they will tell you the amount of verified education and/or work experience you have to date.


The CSE is a structured oral examination that lasts approximately 1.5 hours. The CSE was developed based on a statewide survey of practicing architects and is intended to focus on California-specific aspects of practice. Beginning in 2011, the test will change formats and will be administered as a computer based written and multiple-choice test.

In order to be eligible for the CSE, you must verify the following:

  • One additional year of work experience under the direct supervision of a U.S. licensed architect [Note: This additional qualifying year is on top of those accumulated in preparation for and completion of the ARE and IDP]
  • Successful completion of the IDP
  • Successful completion of the ARE within the past 5 years


Once you have passed the CSE, the California Architects Board (CAB) will send you and Application for Licensure. You need to complete the application and send it to CAB, along with the licensing fee of $200. Approved licenses are usually issued three weeks after CAB receives the completed application.


The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) and the California Supplemental Examination (CSE) are the exams required by the California Architects Board for a Licensed Professional Architect.


The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) 4.0 is administered by a testing company called Prometric, which has test centers nationwide (there are 20 in California). Candidates have many scheduling options including center location, time (subject to available seats), and testing order for the 7 testing areas, called Divisions. You take one Division per testing session at a cost of $210 each. Rescheduling an appointment costs $35. Scores are usually available within a month of testing and are reported to the California Architects Board (CAB) who then informs the candidate. If you fail a Division you must wait six months before retaking it. You must pass all divisions within a 5-year timeframe.


The ARE 4.0 Test is computer-based. It is comprised of 7 Divisions, each with a section of multiple-choice questions and another section with “vignettes” – situational problems that require you to interact with graphics. The descriptions that follow are Division Statements quoted from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) website. The timeframes are the duration you should set aside for each exam, although the tests may take less time.

Programming Planning and Practice – 4 hours

“The application of project development knowledge and skills relating to architectural programming; environmental, social, and economic issues; codes and regulations; and project and practice management”

Site Planning and Design – 4.5 hours

“The application of knowledge and skills of site planning and design including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management”

Building Design and Construction Systems – 5.5 hours

“The application of knowledge and skills of building design and construction, including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management”

Schematic Design – 6 hours

“The application of knowledge and skills required for the schematic design of buildings and interior space planning”

Structural Systems – 5.5 hours

“Identification and incorporation of general structural and lateral force principles in the design and construction of buildings”

Building Systems – 4 hours

“The evaluation, selection, and integration of mechanical, electrical, and specialty systems in building design and construction”

Construction Documents and Services – 4 hours

“Application of project management and professional practice knowledge and skills, including the preparation of contract documents and contract administration”


See Important Links for ARE 4.0 exam information and free study resources. Study resources include software simulations to familiarize you with test content and are very important to practice prior to your testing appointments.


The California Supplemental Exam is currently administered by the California Architects Board. It costs $100 to take the exam. It is designed to assess knowledge of California-specific aspects of practicing architecture.

The test covers the following areas:

  • Context and Pre-Design
  • Regulatory
    • California State Laws, Code, Regulations, and Standards
    • Other Laws, Codes, Regulations, Standards, Agencies and Entitlements
  • Management and Design
  • Construction

For specific definitions of the above terms, study materials, and a complete list of 55 knowledge and ability statements to be tested, please refer to the CSE homepage, which can be found in the Important Links section.


Evaluating your foreign degree and achieving licensing as a Registered Professional Architect in California depends on many factors including:

  • The completeness of your educational and professional records (the more documentation, the better)
  • The efficiency of your home country’s system in compiling and transmitting your university records
  • The quality of your relationships with architect mentors and their responsiveness to your requests to certify your experience
  • Your performance on all 7 Divisions of Architect Registration Exam (ARE)
  • Your performance on the California Supplemental Examination (CSE)
  • Your free time and money to spend on the process

We provide two hypothetical scenarios to show some of the variety of results that immigrant professionals may find when they seek to become architects in California. Please consider these scenarios as two examples out of many possibilities. Your experience will vary.


StepMore Efficient Scenario

Approximate Time and Cost
Less Efficient Scenario

Approximate Time and Cost
1. Establish NCARB RecordYou open your NCARB record online and renew it 2 times later in the licensing process

You open your NCARB record online and renew it 5 times later in the licensing process

2. Degree EvaluationYou have a very detailed documentation of your architectural education

Your documents do not require translation

4-6 months + $1,700 - $2,000
Your documents need to be gathered and translated

You pay for your Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) foreign degree evaluation to be reconsidered once when you submit extra documents

12 -14 months + $2,800 - $3,000
3. Meet Educational DeficienciesYour Education Evaluation Services for Architects foreign degree evaluation identifies deficiencies that you can meet by taking just 4 university courses (12 credit hours)

9 - 12 months + $3,600 - $4,000
The evaluation identifies several course deficiencies that take you 2 years to complete

2 years + $7,000 - $7,400
4. Intern Development ProgramYou begin the IDP and receive credit for 1,600 training hours based on your prior work experience

You complete your IDP efficiently in 2 1/2 years

30 months
You begin your IDP and receive credit for only 800 training hours based on prior work experience

Your complete your IDP with interruptions over 5 years

5 years
5. Qualify for ARE and CSE and PassIt takes you 6 months to pass all divisions of Architect Registration Exam

6 months + $1,500

Pass CSE on first try + $100
It takes you 10 months to pass all divisions of Architect Registration Exam; you fail two divisions and must retake them

10 months + $1,900

It takes you an extra 6 months to pass the CSE because you failed the first time

6 months + $200
6. Apply for and receive licenseYour license application is approved 3 weeks later by CAB

3 weeks + $200
Your license application is approved 3 weeks later by CAB

3 weeks + $200
More Efficient Total

About 5 years and $8,300
Less Efficient Total

About 10 years and $13,400


Preparing for licensing takes a significant amount of time, money, and effort. Some architects choose to seek lower-level positions on the road to their longer-term licensing goals. A job with fewer responsibilities but the ability to participate in the IDP program may offer some distinct advantages:

  • Build job security
  • Polish technology skills
  • Adapt to the US workplace culture in a lower-pressure environment
  • Have more energy left over to focus on preparing licensing exams.

You should be honest with your employer about your long-term plans and be sure that they understand how you can contribute to their company’s objectives.


A position as an Architectural Detailer requires mastery of CADD software. If you do not have these skills you can take specific training courses at a technical school. Most US-educated CADD Detailers have only a technical school education, so you will seem very overqualified by comparison. If this is a job you want in order to become licensed, be honest about your long-term goals.


Green building is a growth area in the architectural field and LEED certification administered by the US Green Building Council is the accepted standard for evaluating green building – design that focuses on more efficient use of resources such as energy, water and materials – and rehabilitation projects. You may wish to consider getting the steps to become certified to assess projects as a LEED professional.


If your prior experience included managing architectural projects, and you have particularly strong communication and organizational skills, you may want to consider qualifying for Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute. The PMP is a widely recognized credential that can support a background in architecture very well. It is one way to work actively in the architecture field without having to hold professional licensure.



Your California architect licenses will expire at midnight on the last day of the your birth month in odd-numbered years and must be renewed every two years.

You will receive notices by mail to renew approximately 60 days before your license expires. To renew your license, you must complete 5 hours (only 2.5 hours if your license expires between 12/31/09 – 12/31/10) of qualified coursework in disabled access to buildings, complete and sign the License Renewal Application, and pay the $300 renewal fee.


State and national associations for architects provide opportunities for professional development and networking. They also help set acceptable working conditions for the industry and give information and opinions on policy in California and across the US Their websites may offer useful orientation to the licensing and examination process, including test preparation. Their employment networks, however, are typically restricted to licensed professionals.


  • American Institute of Architects California


  • American Institute of Architects (you can join as an Associate Member while earning your license)


To receive reciprocal licensure in California a candidate must meet the following requirements:

  1. Hold a current and valid license or registration in another U.S. jurisdiction.
  2. Provide verification of eight years of experience pre- or post-licensure through either work experience or a combination of work experience and education.
  3. Provide evidence of completion of the NCARB Intern Development Program (if licensed less than three years).
  4. Successfully complete the California Supplemental Examination (CSE).

California does not accept reciprocity for foreign licensed architects.


NCARB Certification is an elite credential that is highly regarded in the United States. About 1/3 of licensed architects go on to become certified by NCARB. It is not a license to practice architecture across the country – it shows that an experienced professional architect has met a high standard of education and practice. Many states consider NCARB certification as meeting their criteria for education and experience, but each state can ask for other requirements before issuing a license. The state of California has a special licensing application process for NCARB-certified architects with active license in another state.

Most architects who become NCARB-certified only do it once they are well established as a Licensed Professional Architect in one or more US states. For foreign-educated professionals this is done through the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect (BEFA) Program.

If you received your architectural schooling outside the US, you can get licensed in multiple states by pursuing certification through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). This is an additional process that can help you meet licensing requirements of more states. As a foreign-educated architect you may be able to get NCARB certification by participating in the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect Program.

In order to qualify for the NCARB Certification and the Broadly Experienced Foreign Architect Program you must:

  • Have graduated with a professional architecture degree from an architecture program which is officially recognized in your home country
  • Have worked at least seven years in responsible control and unlimited practice as an architect in the country in which you are credentialed. “Responsible control” means that you have had full authority as an architect on a project and that your independent professional judgment has been involved in all of its technical aspects
  • Hold current enrollment or licensure as an architect in a country other than US and Canada which 1) keeps formal records for licensing enforcement and discipline and 2) offers some degree of reciprocal credentialing for US architects
  • Have your foreign education evaluated through EESA-NCARB, meeting the high-level NCARB Educational Standard and addressing any deficiencies found

Fees exceed $7,000 and include services such as evaluation of your foreign degree, creation of an NCARB online Record, compilation of a special experience dossier, and a final interview.

To appeal your foreign degree evaluation by Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) is to explain reasons why you think EESA’s judgment of your architecture program is incorrect, and to request that the decision be reviewed. You can only appeal your evaluation one time.

(BS for Bachelor of Science or BA for Bachelor of Arts): in the US, a four year university degree. An equivalent degree in another country may take either 3 or 4 years.

Documents that authorities accept as proof that you have learned specific skills (from courses, study, or practice) and are qualified for certain types of job responsibilities. Examples of credentials are a university degree, a certification, or proof of participation in training.

Licensure by endorsement is the method used for architects who already have a valid license from another US state. This guide only considers your first US license.

Longer, more intensive degrees than 4-year bachelor programs. These include the B.Arch, typically five years, and M.Arch, usually between 1.5-3 years.

An agreement between states in which the licenses and credentials of one state are accepted for professional practice in another state. For example, a nurse in the state of X can also work as a nurse in the states of Y and Z without any new training or tests.

The process of asking Education Evaluation Services for Architects (EESA) to look at new documentation in evaluating your foreign degree in architecture. Reconsideration costs $200 each time.

Your university’s official record of the subjects you studied and your grades.








Foreign degree evaluation is a very important process: your efforts here can result in significant savings of time and money by minimizing the gaps in comparing your degree to its US equivalent. Invest the time and money early to facilitate this process. Wherever you can, provide additional documentation about your program of study, such as syllabi, course descriptions, or a portfolio from your student years. These can help EESA-NAAB make the most of your degree evaluation.


If your evaluation by the Education Evaluation Services for Architects of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (EESA-NAAB) identifies several deficiencies but you still want to qualify for licensing, you should get counseling on your options. You need to evaluate whether it is better to make up the deficiencies on a course-by-course basis at a less expensive school, or whether it is a better long-term investment for you to back for further education in a US architectural degree program


Be your own advocate throughout the licensing process. Seek clarification about questions and concerns directly from official sources. If you feel your degree has been misinterpreted or you do not understand a fine point of the state regulations, organize your questions, contact Education Evaluation Services for Architects of the National Architectural Accrediting Board (EESA-NAAB) or the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), and ask for assistance.


Build professional networks; consider temporary or contract employment in your field to build your reputation; be prepared to start at lower levels and prove your ability. To compete successfully you should work to keep up to date in workplace technologies such as computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and Excel; perfect your communication skills for professional emails, reporting, and client contact; learn how to discuss your past work experience in terms of skills you can transfer to new projects, and develop a portfolio of work that highlights your skills. If you are overqualified for positions, be prepared to explain how the position will help you become established in a way that shows long-term benefit to the employer

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