Private Investigator Exam

A Private Investigator is an
individual who conducts investigations and performs detective work on behalf of
a client. Private Investigators can be freelance or employed by a company,
government institution, or law enforcement agency.


Licensing requirements for Private Investigators varies by state and may require licensing at the state or local level. Licensing requirements may include passing a certification examination and obtaining a surety bond and general liability insurance.

Forty-five states require Private
Investigators to be licensed through the appointed state government office. In
Texas that governing board is the Texas Department of Public Safety, and in
Colorado, that licensing board is the Department of Regulatory Agencies Office
of Private Investigator Licensure.  Even
the five states that do not require state licensure may have local requirements
for licensure.

Of the 45 states requiring
licensing of private investigators, 25 states require private investigator
candidates to take a licensing exam at the state or local level.

Additional requirements

Minimum requirements for licensure
differ dramatically between states. Some states require formal training or
education, and some require extensive experience. Generally, minimum license
requirements include citizenship or legal resident, high school diploma or GED,
no felony convictions, and no dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Military.

Generally, formal education is not
required, but often individuals interested in pursuing a career as a private
investigator will obtain either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in Criminal
Justice.  If you want to work as a
private investigator for a company, specific education and experience are more
than likely required.

Registration and costs

Each state has different
requirements. Often registration steps include:

  • Meet your
    state’s basic Private Investigator requirements
  • Fulfill
    education and experience requirements
  • Pay applicable

    • License
    • Payment of fees
      including application fee, license fee, background check, fingerprints, firearm
      permit, surety bond, and liability insurance
  • Meet other
    state or local imposed requirements

Fees can range from $50.00 for the
application fee to $1450.00 for the license fee, depending on the state.
Additional initial fees that can increase your costs include fingerprinting,
background checks, and firearm permits.

Test design

If you live in one of the 25 states
that require an examination, follow the state’s registration instructions to
register for the Private Investigator examination.

The Private Investigator license
examination varies from state to state, just like the eligibility requirements.
Some tests have 18 questions, while some tests have 150 questions. Some of the
states or local authorities allow the candidate to take the test at home, while
some require the use of a testing center. Some tests are computer-delivered,
and some are paper and pencil. The point is, you will take the exam that your
state requires and the impetus is on you to ensure you follow the requirements
to obtain your Private Investigator license.

The design of the exam is to assess
your knowledge of proper investigative techniques, and applicable federal, state
and local laws and regulations. All exams share similar content areas

  • Standards of
  • Laws, statutes,
    and rules – federal, state, and local
  • Ethics
  • Information
    gathering and analysis
  • Trial
  • Disciplinary
    provisions and procedures
  • Private
    Investigator skills

Passing score requirements range
from 70% to 85%. Each state provides specific test designs for licensing

States that do not require state-level licensing

Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, South
Dakota, and Wyoming do not have Private Investigator licensing requirements at
the state level. Instead, the local governing boards determine the requirements
for licensing.

Reciprocity agreements

Eight states that offer reciprocity: California, Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia. The agreement allows licensed Private Investigators in these states to transfer their license between state lines.

How Can I Prepare for the Private Investigator Exam?

We believe that different learning styles require different tools for success. We have compiled a list of the best study guides, flashcards, and practice tests that we’ve found on the market. Some of these guides have review videos, for you visual learners out there. Others have practice tests, which have been proven to increase student scores by a whole letter grade (in some cases more than that)!

Top Study Guides: 

Best Flashcards: 


Last Updated: November 9, 2023