How to Earn a Private Investigation License: Info & Requirements

Sep 11, 2019

The requirements for a private investigator's license vary widely, and those interested in pursuing a career in this field should check the licensing requirements for their state. Some states require private investigators to have a degree in law or criminal justice as well as prior experience working in this field. Earning licensure typically involves taking additional training courses and passing an exam.

Essential Information

Private investigators collect information for court cases, insurance investigations and other reasons determined by their clients. In many states, private investigators must be licensed. Requirements for licensure vary by state, but candidates are often required to complete approved training courses and pass an exam to become licensed private investigators.

Required Education Varies by state; some states require a college degree in law or criminal justice, while others have no education requirements
Exam Requirements Most states require candidates to complete training and pass an exam
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 8% increase for private detectives and investigators
Median Salary (2018)* $50,090 for private detectives and investigators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Private Investigator Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private investigators are professionals who are hired by individuals or organizations to gather information and uncover facts. They perform a variety of investigations, ranging from basic background checks and searches for missing persons to investigations into suspected criminal activity. While a significant percentage of private investigators are self-employed, law firms, insurance companies, financial institutions, retail stores and private investigation agencies may also employ them.

Although many private investigators have career experience in law enforcement, they normally don't have special police powers. Unless they are specifically licensed to do so by their state, private investigators may not carry firearms or make arrests. Additionally, private investigators must abide by all relevant property and privacy laws when conducting their investigations.

According to the BLS, private detectives and investigators made a median annual income of $50,090 as of May 2018. The highest salaries went to those working in District of Columbia, Alaska and California, where the average wages ranged from around $67,970 to $72,190 per year. The BLS projects a job growth of 8% for private detectives and investigators between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than average.

Private Investigator Licensing Requirements

The licensing requirements for private investigators vary widely from state to state. For instance, Colorado law does not have licensing requirements, while California has extensive licensing requirements before someone can operate as a private investigator. Some states require private investigators to have a college degree in a subject related to law or criminal justice and documented experience in law enforcement or working under a licensed private investigator.

In general, states that license private investigators require applicants to be a minimum age, have their criminal records reviewed, take training classes and pass an exam. Certain educational institutions offer courses or certificate programs that teach aspiring private investigators the basic skills required for success in the field, such as surveillance techniques, investigative Internet research and interview methods.

Some states, like New York, also require applicants to form a business entity as part of licensure. Insurance is not always a requirement for obtaining a private investigator license. However, it is available and is a way for private investigators to protect themselves from expenses related to accidental property damages or personal injuries that may occur in the course of an investigation.

Private investigators are hired by individuals or companies to investigate personal or professional matters. They may need to do surveillance, interview witnesses and analyze information as part of their investigation. Although not all states require private investigators to be licensed, those that do may require applicants to have a degree in law or criminal justice and law enforcement experience in addition to completing training courses and passing an exam.

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