Professional Engineering License (PE)

Learn more about what a PE license is and why this accredidation is important.

What is the difference between an Engineer and a Professional Engineer

For the United States and Canada, Professional Engineering (PE) is the exclusive designation (recognized by law) that allows capable individuals to present themselves to the public as “Engineers,” as per regulatory requirements.

Licensure for engineers in government, academia, and multinational corporations has become increasingly significant. As of 2022, all 50 US States (+Washington, D.C.), and all 13 political divisions in Canada require engineers to be individually licensed before practicing or soliciting business.  Even for those not looking to pursue their own business ventures, many federal, state, and municipal agencies stipulate that these positions must be filled by registered professional engineers.  Particularly those considered higher level and responsible positions (under the fiduciary liability standard).

In plain language, not having PE licensure will most likely become an employment barrier.  Especially for high-level engineering positions, as it is often a prerequisite for entry (more on this below).

National Society of Professional Engineers

To get a PE license, engineers must complete four steps to become a registered Professional Engineer (PE):

  1. Graduate from an ABET-accredited engineering curriculum.
  2. Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.
  3. Work as an engineer for a minimum of four years.
  4. Pass the Professional Engineering (PE) exam (NOTE:  Engineers cannot take the PE exam without first passing the FE exam).

Accordion to the NCEES and PEO’s website, a Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) license may be obtained by international students.

To be registered, engineers must:

  • be at least 18 years old.
  • be of good character (i.e. repeated or impermissible felony charges and/or violation of academic honesty codes) .
  • achieving the stipulated academic requirements for licensure.  This means, holding an undergraduate engineering degree from an Engineering Accreditation board (EAB)-accredited program.  Or, possessing equivalent qualifications that are documented.
  • attain the engineering work experience requirements.  This means, demonstrating at least 48 months of certifiable, acceptable engineering experience.  This often includes the supervision under a registered professional engineer.
  • successfully complete PEO’s National Professional Practice Examination for Canadian students.  For US students, completing the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE).

No, the PE exam is not an open book exam.  While recent regulations have shifted the exam from traditional pen-and-pencil to computer-based (CBT), external resources are not available.  Moreover, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) released the PE Civil Reference Handbook in April 2022 in preparation of moving the PE Civil exam from paper-pencil and open-book to a computer-based (CBT), closed book exam.

The 8-hour long, 80-question PE exam is considered to be amongst the most difficult of the professional certification courses. However, as with any exam, adequate preparation in terms of studying, training, and tutoring will improve your likelihood of passing on first attempt.

  • On average, pass rates for most PE exams are ~65-70% for first-time test-takers.  This, of course, differs from year to year.

This differs from industry to industry as well as by region.  For example,  candidates working in the manufacturing industry.  Here, experience is not required under the guidance or a professional engineer.  However, a PE must be employed by the firm.  Check with your local jurisdiction to determine what is required for you.

This answer here is different/contingent upon the type of engineer, local regulation, and personal sentiment.  However, PE licensure is not a requirement for many engineering jobs.  For example, in electrical engineering, a PE license might be preferred, but is generally not a necessary condition of employment.  It must be determined by the individual engineer if the certification merits the rigor of PE requirements.

To become registered, there are a number of qualifications engineers must meet, including completion of a four-year college degree, working under a Professional Engineer for at least four years, passing two intensive competency exams and lastly, earning a license from their state’s licensure board.

Over a century ago, anyone could work as an engineer without proof of competency. In order to protect the public health, safety, and welfare, the first engineering licensure law was enacted in 1907 in Wyoming.  Now, every state regulates the practice of engineering.

Granting of “PE” Status

Here, the goal is to ensure public safety by granting only Professional Engineers (PEs) lawful authority. This status, Professional Engineering (PE) Licensure, includes fundamental abilities.  For example, signing and sealing engineering plans and offering their services to the public.

  1. To a prospective client, possessing a PE means you’ve got the credentials to earn their trust.
  2. To an employer, it signals your ability to take on a higher level of obligation.
  3. Among your colleagues, it demands respect.
  4. To yourself, it’s a symbol of pride and measure of your own hard-won achievement.

PE’s shoulder the obligation for not only their work, but also for the lives affected by that work.  Therefore, PE’s must hold themselves to the highest ethical standards of practice.

Yes, foreigners can take the PE exam outside the country.  In recent years, in fact, it has become more typical for people outside of the US or CA to be interested in obtaining the PE.  Fortunately, the regulations have adapted or loosened accordingly.

In addition, the candidate(s) who take the US licensing exams overseas may work for international companies that require the credential.