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Microsoft rolls out big certification renewal, expiration changes for 2021

Eric Pulsifer
Eric Pulsifer

2021 is bringing with it some radical (and welcome) changes to the way Microsoft handles certification expiration and renewals. 

Starting later this year, new Microsoft role-based and specialty certifications (that includes all Azure-related certifications beyond the Fundamentals level) will expire after a year. Previously, certs were good for two years. But — here comes the good news — certs can now be renewed online for free. To keep your cert active, just do the free renewal within six months of your cert’s expiration date. You can keep doing this for an additional year at a time in perpetuity. Let’s unpack that a bit.

2021 Azure certification changes at a glance

  • Previously, Microsoft role-based and specialty certifications expired after two years. You would then have to retake the exam(s) to get recertified.
  • Starting June 2021, certifications are valid for one year, but they can be renewed online for free.
  • The renewal window begins six months before the cert expires. During this window before the cert expires, you can take a free online assessment.
  • No matter when you renew your certification within the six-month renewal window, the cert’s validity will be extended one year from its initial expiration. (For example, if you earned your cert in June 2021 and you passed your free renewal assessment in December 2021 — at the very beginning of your renewal window—your certification would now be valid until June 2023.
  • Want the best of both worlds old and new? Certifications earned before June 2021 will be both valid for two years and eligible for the new renewal process once that rolls out in February to March 2021.

Looking to keep up with all things Azure? Check out our series Azure This Week.


Azure cert renewal and expiration FAQs

  • When do Microsoft Azure certifications expire?
    • Starting June 2021, role-based and specialty certs will expire after one year — not two. Certs earned before June 2021 will stay valid for two years from the date earned.
  • When can Azure certifications be renewed?
    • These certs can be renewed (for free) as early as six months before they expire starting in February 2021. If you keep up with your renewals, there’s no need to pay for or pass the original exam (or exams) again.
  • How do I renew my Azure certification?
    • To renew certifications, visit the Microsoft Certification Dashboard. You’ll also receive multiple emails when you’re eligible to renew.
  • How does the Azure certification renewal process work?
    • When you renew a certification, it adds one year to the validity of your cert’s initial expiration date. For example: if today were six months before your cert was set to expire, you could renew your certification and have a new certification expiration date 18 months from today.
  • What happens if I don’t pass my Azure renewal assessment?
    • You can retake your assessment as many times as you need to pass. You just have to pass it before your cert expires.
  • What happens if my Azure certification expires?
    • Basically, you travel back to life circa 2020, which is a bit of a bummer for a few reasons. If your cert expires, you have to earn your certification again the (relatively) old-fashioned way: by passing the related exam(s).
  • I have other questions.
    • That’s not a question. But keep on reading below for more info, or swing on over to the Microsoft site for some more details.

Microsoft to offer free annual certification renewals

Microsoft announced it will begin offering free certification renewals late last year. This means no need to retake your certification exam again . . . so long as you stay on top of your renewals. 

If you have an active cert expiring within six months, you can renew that cert for another year by passing a renewal assessment on Microsoft Learn. The renewal process is slated to begin rolling out between February and March 2021.

Here are the details straight from Microsoft:

“Rather than having to retake scheduled exam(s), the renewal assessment can be completed online on your own time, and anytime within six months before your certification expires. After you pass the renewal assessment, your certification is extended by one additional year from the current expiration date; this can be done annually.”

The major cloud providers are now all offering online certification exams, but streamlining the approach further with a quick, free refresh option should be a welcomed change to cert-holders who have previously proven their Azure prowess. (Add another point to the list of reasons why you should pursue Azure certifications.) 

Azure certs to expire after one year

The above change is paired with the move to slash certs’ validity from two years to one year after earning them. The change applies to role-based and specialty certs, which basically means all the Azure cloud certifications other than the three Fundamental-level certs (among others). The new one-year expiry deal will begin with all newly earned certifications after June 2021.


Which Microsoft azure certification is right for me?
Not sure which Azure certification is right for you? Plot your Azure certification path with this handy-dandy blog post.

Why the change?

Microsoft says these changes align to how quickly cloud technology changes, adding: “…renewing certifications on an annual basis validates skills and ability to perform in job roles are relevant in the market.” The company believes the change will better ensure certificate holders are keeping pace with the latest in cloud tech while “reducing the stress, complexity, and cost of keeping your certification active.”

Which certifications does this apply to?

The changes apply to more than 30 role-based and specialty certifications. (If you have a cert in something related to Azure with an exam that starts with “AZ,” this is you.*) This big batch of certs includes the 10 Azure-related role-based certifications — ranging from the Azure Administrator Associate to the Azure Solutions Architect Expert — and the two Speciality certifications: the Azure IoT Developer Specialty and Azure for SAP Workloads Specialty. 

*Note that the three Azure fundamental-level certifications aren’t included. Those don’t expire. (So, no sweat for those pursuing introductory-level certifications like the popular AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals certification.)

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Ready to level up your Azure skills?

There’s never been a better time to learn Microsoft Azure skills. Through the end of February, ACG is celebrating all things Azure with a stacked selection of free cloud courses, including our uber-popular AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals course.

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