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Learn how to become an acupuncturist in California

acupuncturists carefully places needles in woman's back

Acupuncturists must be licensed to practice in almost every state. Licensing requirements can vary by location, however, which can make the process of becoming an acupuncturist a bit confusing.

The state of California employs by far the most acupuncturists in the country, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). One thing that makes California’s licensing requirements different is that acupuncturists must take and pass their own state-issued examination.

If you’re wondering how to get your acupuncture career off the ground in California, continue reading to find all the information you need to obtain your acupuncturist license.

In This Article

Requirements for becoming an acupuncturist in California

In order to become an acupuncturist in California, you must apply for a license through the California Acupuncture Board and satisfy the following:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Complete an approved education program
  • Pass an examination administered by the Board
  • Not commit an act that is considered grounds for denial of licensure pursuant to Division 1.5 of the California Business and Professions Code (BPC)
  • Pay an application fee

Education and training requirements

Prospective acupuncturists in California must complete one of the following to satisfy the educational requirements set forth by the Board:

An education and training program that is approved by the Board, all of which are master’s or doctoral degrees

A foreign education training program which is equivalent to the curriculum required at a Board-approved school

A tutorial program (similar to an apprenticeship) in the practice of an acupuncturist that is approved by the Board, consisting of a minimum of 3,798 hours of theoretical and clinical training

All three of these options must include clinical practice hours, which are standard for all Board-approved degrees. All schooling, including clinic hours, must be completed before you can get approval to take the state’s acupuncture examination.

Exam and licensing requirements

Acupuncturists in California must pass the California Acupuncture Licensing Examination (CALE) to receive their license. You can apply to sit for the exam after you have graduated or as you are nearing graduation from your education program. Once the Board verifies your application and everything in it, you will be notified with instructions on how to take the exam.

The CALE is administered electronically at various testing sites throughout the state. The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions. Of those questions, only 175 are scored (25 are pretest items, but they are dispersed throughout the test so you don’t know which they are). You have five hours to complete the exam. When you finish the exam, you can immediately see if you passed or failed but you won’t be given a numerical score.

If you fail the exam, you’ll receive a percentage score in each section in which you are deficient. This is intended to guide you in areas requiring additional preparation for retesting.

The CALE tests you on four content areas:

  1. Patient assessment
  2. Diagnosis and treatment planning
  3. Treatment
  4. Professional responsibilities

Continuing education requirements

California acupuncturists must complete at least 50 hours of continuing education (CE) every two years as a condition for renewing their license. Renewing an acupuncture license also costs $500. Acupuncturists that are renewing a license that has been issued for less than two years can complete fewer hours depending on how long they’ve had their license.

No more than half of the CEUs obtained during the renewal period can be conducted through distance education courses.

If an acupuncturist has not completed all their CEUs by the time they must renew their license, the Board may renew the license anyway and then require that the deficient hours be made up in the next renewal period on top of the existing 50-hour requirement. If they fail to make up the deficient hours by the next renewal, their license will not be renewed until all the hours are made up.

Legal considerations for acupuncturists in California

Transferability: Out-of-state acupuncturists

The state of California does not recognize acupuncturist licenses issued in another state. Acupuncturists licensed in another state that wish to practice in California must apply for a license like normal and pass the CALE. The applicant’s education and training will be evaluated and compared against California standards. If their education does not meet or exceed these standards, the applicant must make up any deficiencies before they can be issued a license.

Applicants that were educated outside of the United States must have their education evaluated by a approved evaluating company to ensure that their education is equivalent to a Board-approved program.

Professional conduct and ethical guidelines

The California Business and Professions Code (Division 2, Chapter 12, Article 4) outlines precisely what actions are deemed as unprofessional conduct, and which could be grounds for the denial, suspension or revocation of an acupuncture license.

Scope of practice

In the California Business and Professions Code (Division 2, Chapter 12, Article 2), it states that an acupuncturist license authorizes the holder thereof: 

  • “To engage in the practice of acupuncture.”
  • “To perform or prescribe the use of Asian massage, acupressure, breathing techniques, exercise, heat, cold, magnets, nutrition, diet, herbs, plant, animal, and mineral products and dietary supplements to promote, maintain and restore health.”

Working as an acupuncturist in California

How much do acupuncturists make in California?

According to the 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics from the BLS, the median annual salary for acupuncturists in California is $75,780. The range of salaries across the state is quite large, with the top 10% of the profession earning $156,000 annually, while the bottom 10% earn $40,930. Your salary depends on a number of factors including your location, experience, reputation and more.

It should be noted, however, that the BLS lacks data for acupuncturists from many states and metropolitan areas across the country, so their data may not be entirely reflective of reality. Here are median salaries for the 10 top-paying metro areas in California:

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Median Hourly Wage$36

Job growth5.3%

Total Employment2,550

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA $106,350 $51,110 $132,360
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA $83,200 $46,800 $133,330
Fresno, CA $79,810 $30,570 $146,800
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $75,780 $40,930 $163,420
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $74,000 $47,760 $156,000
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $61,200 $33,280 $136,380
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA $59,340 $31,830 $102,920

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Finding employment opportunities

According to the BLS, the employment of acupuncturists is expected to grow 5.3% through 2032, slightly faster than the average across all occupations. It’s worth noting, however, that more and more people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for their symptoms, which acupuncture falls under. In fact, the global CAM market is expected to reach over $315 billion by 2027, up from $100 billion in 2021. This could lead to more opportunity for acupuncturists if the demand for CAM treatments does in fact continue to rise.

Data from the BLS indicates that the employment of acupuncturists in California is largest in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento metropolitan areas. Many acupuncturists open their own private practice, however, meaning these self-employed workers are not always captured in the data from the BLS.

Setting up a private practice

Acupuncturists in California that want to set up a private practice must also obtain a business license after they receive their acupuncture license from the Board. To get a business license, you must contact your local municipality or county, whichever is responsible for issuing business licenses (it could be both). This process can vary slightly depending on where you intend to set up your business.

Staying up to date on industry developments and trends

It’s imperative that healthcare professionals stay current with the latest science and techniques to ensure they are delivering the best care to their patients. As an acupuncturist, keeping up with your continuing education requirements is one way to do this. Joining a professional association is also a fantastic option, especially since they can often connect members with various continuing education opportunities.

Below are several professional associations you may want to look into and consider joining:

Getting started

The first step to becoming an acupuncturist in California is to get your education—acupuncture is a highly regulated healthcare profession in almost every state, and California is no exception. Once you’ve obtained your master’s or doctoral degree, you’ll need to take California’s state-specific licensing examination through the California Acupuncture Board. This also goes for acupuncturists that are already licensed elsewhere and want to move to California. Start searching for education programs today to take your first step towards this rewarding healthcare career that has existed for millennia.

kendall upton

Published: September 19, 2023

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton
Staff Writer


Reviewed by:

Tammy Neahusan, Licensing Coordinator

California Acupuncture Board