There’s no doubt the CCIE is a difficult exam. There’s also no arguing that the CCIE is expensive. But, it’s also an investment. As with any investment, it’s important to know how much it costs in order to determine whether it’s worth pursuing.
Here’s a look at every expense that you will likely incur while attempting to earn the CCIE, including study material, exam costs, and travel.
The CCIE isn’t your first cert
First, it’s important to remember that CCIE doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Technically, there is no prerequisite to take the CCIE, but no one is going into this exam cold (or at least you shouldn’t). The CCIE is an expert-level certification in a three-part series, and it assumes quite a bit of knowledge. You can gain that knowledge with the recommended (but seemingly low) three to five years of experience or some more entry-level Cisco exams.
If you’re starting with no certs or want a holistic view of CCIE costs, then the CCNA and CCNP should be taken into consideration as well. Here are the costs for Cisco-proctored exams:
- All CCNAs are $300, except for the R&S track.
- ICND1 and ICND2 are $165 each. The combined 200-105 ICND2 is $325.
- All CCNPs are $300.
Add them up — and we get our first number. The recommended exams to CCIE, in certification exam costs alone, are around $650.
Similarly, CCNA isn’t most people’s first certification. Most professionals start with CompTIA or Microsoft exams. So it can be a long road to the CCNA and an even longer road to the CCIE.
The CCIE has two expensive parts
The least expensive way to earn the two-part CCIE is to pass both exams the first time. That’s no small feat, and it’s certainly not the shortest path to success. Years of hands-on experience with large, complex networks is the best way to learn the material. Only once you have achieved that level of experience should you consider taking on this beast of a certification, which starts with the written exam.
Written exam – $450 x times taken
Once you feel ready for the CCIE, you’ll start with the written exam.
The 400-level expert exams (aka the CCIE written exam) are two hours and comprise 90 to 110 questions. Once you have successfully passed the written section of the CCIE, you can make arrangements for the lab exam, which we look at below.
You have 18 months after the written exam to take and pass the lab, and the written exam is good for three years. That’s important because most people take the lab exam multiple times.
Lab exam – $1,600 x times taken
With the CCIE written exam in your rearview mirror, you’re ready for the lab exam, right? Maybe. Believe everyone who tells you the lab exam is tough. In fact, there’s a number floating around the internet that the average CCIE takes the lab portion 2.3 times before passing. At $1,600 per attempt, plus travel and lodging (more about that below), the CCIE lab exam can cost $4,900.
There’s one silver lining here. You can take the lab as many times as you want without taking the written portion again. As long as they’re attempted within the three-year timeframe, the written exam is still valid. Ultimately, there’s no inexpensive way to pass the lab, but the least expensive way to pass the lab is to pass it the first time with the proper preparation with the right study material.
CCIE study material – $100 to $5,000
This is one of the most obvious places to start tallying the costs of studying for your CCIE. It’s also the place that saves the most money down the road. Study material is a potentially big investment.
The costs vary greatly. CCIE boot camps can easily cost $2,200 to $5,000, not including food or lodging. CBT Nuggets CCIE R&S training costs $840 for one year. There are plenty of resources available. None are free. Or at least the good ones aren’t. And if you’re anything like Kim Bartlett, CCIE #52158, you’ll use them all.
CCIE practice lab equipment – $$$
As the folks over at /r/homelab can attest, labs are as expensive as you want them to be. Bare metal has also mostly been replaced by virtual lab environments.
If you are determined to go the DIY, bare metal route, Cisco provides lab equipment and operating system lists for every CCIE exam.
But honestly, unless you already have a lab, it’s easier (and cheaper) to virtualize or use CCIE rack rentals. Pricing varies by provider quite a bit, with some companies charging as little as $0.50 an hour, or $100 per session.
Exam Travel and Lodging – $800 to $1,250 x times taken
Did we mention that Cisco only proctors the exam in eight permanent test centers worldwide? You’ll be traveling to take your exam if you don’t live in one of these cities:
- Bangalore, India
- Beijing, PRC
- Brussels, Belgium
- Dubai, UAE
- Hong Kong, PRC
- Richardson, Texas, USA
- Sydney, Australia
- Tokyo, Japan
Cisco also operates CCIE mobile labs that offer exams for all the technology tracks. But don’t get too excited. The status legend seems to imply dates and locations aren’t immediately confirmed when they’re posted. Open registration doesn’t indicate availability, and they can seemingly be canceled or postponed due to low enrollment or other reasons. They appear to mostly serve international test takers in large metropolitan areas, like Moscow, Singapore, or São Paulo.
The lab exam is a grueling eight hours long and starts at 8:30 a.m. Most people spend the night ahead of their exam. The last thing you want is to walk off a red-eye flight directly into your lab, or risk a delay and miss the start time. For that reason, figure at least one night of hotel accommodations into the CCIE cost, but maybe two.
Example off-season cost (in USD) for Richardson, Texas, location:
Hotel – $200 per night
Coach airfare from New York City – $200 round trip
Coach airfare from Anchorage – $600 round trip
DFW airport taxis – $60 each way
Meals – $66 per day (based on federal per diem)
Total travel cost for two nights: $800 to $1,250
Every travel agenda is different, so it’s hard to put a price on the flight and accommodations, but you can easily go up or down based on how you decide to travel.
Tallying up the Total Costs
Now that we know how much you can expect to spend, let’s add everything up and see how much you should probably start budgeting for.
The cheapest scenario: $2,100
If you pass both exams the first time, already have lab equipment, don’t buy any study materials, and live in Dallas, then the CCIE will cost about $2,100 for exam costs alone.
The rosiest scenario: $3,900
If you pass both exams the first time, virtualize your lab environment, use books and CBT Nuggets to study, and travel cheaply to Dallas, then the CCIE will cost about $3,900.
The study-heavy scenario: $12,000
If you pass both exams the first time, buy or rent lab equipment, use books, CBT Nuggets, and a boot camp, and travel to Dallas, then the CCIE will cost about $12,000.
The three-times scenario: $19,050
If you pass the written the first time, but have to take the lab three times, buy or rent lab equipment, use books, CBT Nuggets, and a boot camp, and travel to Dallas each time, then the CCIE will cost about $19,050.
Want a real-life example? Check out this post a CBT Nuggets Learner Community member wrote on her experience earning her CCIE Security — in money and time.
Finally, there’s one other big often-cited cost of earning the CCIE — your time.
The CCIE will be a full-time second job for at least six months to a year. We saw in great detail in a previous post how much time you should think about investing in your CCIE, and it turns out quite a lot. You’ll have to turn down social engagements and maybe even consider taking a break from your hobbies.
How to Reduce the Cost of the CCIE
There’s no inexpensive way to earn the CCIE, both in time and money.
The cheapest way to pass the exam is to pass the first time, which considerably increases your time commitment in the short term. You need to know the Cisco technology inside and out, and there’s no substitute for experience, hands-on practice, and excellent study habits.
While studying, keep thinking about the bigger picture of what a certification like this can do for your career. The salary increase is sure to help soften the blow after all of your hard work and effort, but there is more than that to think about.
Your career prospects will open up around you, and the opportunities for exciting high-level work will be at your fingertips. The CCIE is a big investment — and when passed, a considerable achievement.