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.
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 examination
- 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.
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 including:
- Standards of practice
- Laws, statutes, and rules – federal, state, and local
- Information gathering and analysis
- Trial preparation
- Disciplinary provisions and procedures
- Private Investigator skills
Passing score requirements range from 70% to 85%. Each state provides specific test designs for licensing candidates.
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.
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)!