How to Become a Private Investigator in California

California may just be the most glamorous state in which to work as a P.I. After all, it’s the home of the classic noir novels and stories of authors like Raymond Chandler. Of course, the real work of a private detective is often not glamorous, but it can be exciting and rewarding.

From tracking down fugitives to finding missing persons, to investigating infidelity allegations, even helping law enforcement research computer crimes or conducting background checks, there’s always something new for PIs. This page will outline the steps to become a licensed investigator in California.

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California Private Investigator License Requirements

When studying how to become a private investigator in California, the state does require licensure by the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, under the auspices of the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Licensure requires a specific set of requirements including age, background checks, examinations and and experience under a licensed PI.
How to become a private investigator in california

Minimum requirements

  • Age: You must be 18 to be a California PI.
  • Provisional Requirements: There is no provisional licensure in California.
  • Criminal Background Check: You must submit to a criminal history fingerprint check to prove you have no criminal convictions.
  • Military Discharge: California does not have stipulations regarding military discharge.
  • Financial History: There are no California financial history requirements.
  • Mental Health Evaluation: California doesn’t require psychological evaluation.
  • Insurance Needed: While bonding isn’t requisite in California, it can be essential to protect your business against liability. If you carry a firearm, however, you will need separate licensure and a $1 million insurance bond.
  • Automatic Disqualifications: California doesn’t have automatic disqualifications.

Education and Experience

  • Degree: You must complete a law degree, four-year police science degree, or associate’s degree in police science, criminal justice or criminal law, plus experience.
  • Experience: Three years of professional investigative experience are needed if you don’t have a degree. With an associate’s you’ll need 2.5 years’ experience, and with a four-year degree, 2 years of experience.
  • Written Exams: The state has a written exam which is administered by PSI. The state provides a study guide for the exam.
  • Training Courses: A certificate in private investigations can help to fulfill some of the training requirements.

Forms needed for Detective License in California

  • Fees required: Fingerprinting will cost $32 for the DOJ and $17 for FBI printing, in addition to any local scanning fees. There is also a $50 application fee, followed by a $175 fee for licensure after you pass your exam.
  • Registration needed: Your application packet will include a personal ID form, support of your experience, business name authorization (if any), two photos (passport-sized), and a receipt of your fingerprint scan.
  • Maintaining Your PI License: Unless you carry a firearm, there are no renewal requirements for a PI license in California.

California Private Investigator Salary and Job Outlook

U.S. Labor Statistics indicate that currently, there are 4,380 licensed private investigators operating in California. On average, they make $55,420 a year. With a 16.4% projected increase over the next several years, this is a great state to put down roots as a PI.

Helpful California Links and Resources

California Private Investigator Fact Sheet

Private Investigators Regulations, Fee Schedules and Information

Private Investigator Application Packet

Education Programs for Private Investigators in California

  • Homeland Security, AA
  • Criminal Justice, AA
  • Homeland Security, BA
Keiser University eCampus
  • DEM - Emergency Management
Capella University
  • BS - Criminal Justice
Capella University
  • MS - Cybersecurity
Capella University
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice – Public Administration
  • JM: American Legal Studies
  • JM: General
  • JM: Health Law
  • JM: International Legal Studies
  • JM: Special Student (Non-Degree Seeking) - Legal Studies
  • LLM: International Legal Studies
  • MPA: Law & Public Policy
  • MS: Criminal Justice
  • MS: Criminal Justice: Forensic Psychology
  • MS: Criminal Justice: Homeland Security
Liberty University - Online
  • PhD in Criminal Justice - Online Teaching in Higher Education
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Homeland Security
  • PhD in Criminal Justice - Emergency Management
  • PhD in Criminal Justice - Global Leadership
  • PhD in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security Policy and Coordination
  • PhD in Criminal Justice - Law and Public Policy
  • PhD in Criminal Justice - Public Management and Leadership
Walden University
  • DBA - Criminal Justice
  • DBA - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Criminal Justice
Northcentral University
  • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
Northcentral University
  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice: Advanced Counterterrorism & Homeland Security concentration
  • MS in Criminal Justice: Public Safety Administration concentration
Southern New Hampshire University - Online
  • Associate in Science Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with concentration in Criminology
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with concentration in Homeland Secu
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with concentration in Legal Studies
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with concentration in Police Admini
  • BS Criminal Justice w/conc Human Services
  • BS Criminal Justice w/conc in Corrections
  • Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security
  • Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security with concentration in Secure Programming
Southern New Hampshire University - Online
  • AA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
Saint Leo University - Online
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration
  • Master - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration
  • CTU - Criminal Forensics
Colorado State University - Global