Getting PCI certified can be a lengthy process, demanding months of manual work preparing for an assessment.

Compliance automation software can significantly reduce this timeline. By automatically collecting evidence and monitoring your tech stack, it cuts preparation time for an assessment by hundreds of hours.

In this article, we'll outline the different stages of PCI compliance and how long it takes to get certified both with and without automation.

PCI DSS compliance timeline

Assessment Preparation: Months 1 - 4

  • Step 1: Determine PCI level
  • Step 2: Define PCI scope
  • Step 3: Perform a risk assessment and gap analysis
  • Step 4: Design and implement policies and controls
  • Step 5: Document and collect evidence

RoC or SAQ: Months 5 - 8

  • Step 6: Security controls and business processes are assessed in an external audit or SAQ reviewed by a QSA or internal party
  • Step 7: Remediation is performed against controls not in place
  • Step 8: Receive or complete your attestation of compliance, valid for one year

Monitoring and Continuous Improvement: Months 8 - 12

  • Step 9: Continuously monitor your compliance environment
  • Step 10: Perform regular recurring tasks throughout the year

Recertification: Month 12

  • Step 11: Complete an RoC or SAQ annually 

How long does it take to get PCI DSS compliant?

How long it takes to get PCI compliant depends on the size of your company,the complexity of how you manage cardholder data, and the bandwidth you have available to implement PCI DSS controls. 

A small-to-medium-sized business can expect to be audit-ready in an average of four months, then through the assessment process in six months. Larger organizations might require eight months to a year, or more.

Those four months of audit preparation typically involve scoping your CDE, conducting a risk assessment and performing gap analyses, designing and implementing controls, training staff, and preparing documentation and evidence.

The assessment process can take 2-3 months, depending on whether you’re completing a full report on compliance audit or self-assessment questionnaire. If you’re a Level 1 merchant or service provider, then you’ll be audited by a third-party QSA firm and provided an RoC that details your organization’s cardholder data environment, PCI DSS controls, and detailed description of the implementation of these controls.

If you don’t fall into those categories, then you’ll complete an SAQ. You can have the SAQ reviewed by a QSA to determine your organization’s compliance status with PCI or self-attest.

Pre-audit phase: Months 1-4

During this time, you’ll determine which compliance level you fall under and whether you’ll need a RoC or SAQ. You’ll also define the scope of your CDE to determine all the components that need to be included in scope per the PCI DSS standard. 

Next you’ll need to perform a risk assessment to identify and mitigate potential risks that could impact your cardholder data environment. You may also choose to hire an outside consultant or review the prioritized approach tool to perform a gap analysis and provide guidance on how you can meet PCI requirements. 

The assessment prep stage is also where you’ll need to prepare documentation, including writing security policies, implementing technical and operational controls, and training your staff for PCI security awareness. 

Assessment phase: 1-2 months

There are two possible assessments an organization will have to undergo for PCI compliance: an external audit or a self-assessment.

If your organization is completing an external audit for a level 1 assessment, the QSA will create a summary of findings detailing the controls in place and documentation provided during the audit stage within a report on compliance. 

If your organization is completing a self-assessment questionnaire (SAQ), then you as an organization will attest to your own compliance. An external auditor can attest against your SAQ if a third-party audit is required.

How compliance automation streamlines PCI DSS certification

The traditional process for getting PCI compliance requires a ton of manual work. You have to collect and organize hundreds of pieces of evidence, write over a dozen policies, track down who hasn’t completed PCI training and policy reviews, and complete a slew of other tedious, time-consuming tasks. 

Secureframe makes the entire process way more efficient. We help companies achieve their PCI DSS certification in a fraction of the time.

Here's how:

Automated evidence collection

Our platform automatically collects evidence for many of PCI’s technical requirements. Secureframe also ensures you stay secure by alerting you when controls fall out of compliance and providing details regarding how to fix them.  

Policy templates

Instead of trying to write complex and specific policies from scratch, you can choose from our library of PCI DSS security policy templates, customize them, and publish them to your employees for review. The policies are all created, reviewed, and approved by former auditors and compliance experts.

Audit prep dashboards

Assign PCI security awareness training and policy reviews to your team and track that they’ve completed these tasks through one dashboard.You’ll get a real-time view of what controls are passing and what steps you need to take in order to become PCI DSS compliant.

Continuous monitoring

Continuously monitor your PCI controls to ensure you’re protecting cardholder data throughout the year using our 125+ integrations.