How to Get a Private Investigator License

By January 6, 2016Private Investigator

I’m often asked how to become a private investigator. It’s a hard question to answer because people come to this profession with so many different kinds of experience. Many have a law enforcement background, but some don’t. A much simpler question to answer is: how do you get a private investigator license? A license doesn’t guarantee you success, but it’s one of the steps to becoming a private investigator.

private investigator license

The exact steps to getting a license will vary from state to state, so first I’m going to walk you through the the steps in a few of the states where we have offices. First I’ll tell you how to get a California private investigator license, followed by New York, and finally you’ll learn how to get a New Jersey private investigator license.

Getting a California Private Investigator License


To get a California private investigator license you need to apply through the Bureau of Security & Investigative Services. First, you must be be 18 or older and undergo a criminal history background check. This seems easy enough, but the experience requirement is the real challenge: you must have at least three years of compensated experience in investigative work; or have a law degree or completed a four year course in police science plus two years of experience; or have an associate’s degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2 ½ years of experience.

If you meet all those requirements, you must pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations and surveillance. Then if you pass, you still have to pay a $175 fee!

Getting a New York Private Investigator License

To get a New York private investigator license, you have to go through the Department of State’s division of licensing services. The requirement for getting a New York private investigator license is 25, a lot older than just 18 for a California private investigator License. You also have to have at least 3 years of experience and pass the private investigator examination. Once all that is done, you still have to pay a hefty $400 fee. Ouch.

Getting a New Jersey Private Investigator License


Obtaining a New Jersey private investigator license requires the filing of an application with the Superintendent of the NJ State Police. The application can be found here. The application can be denied for a number of reasons, including criminal convictions, bad moral character, practicing fraud or deceit, or even for violating the New Jersey wiretapping act!

Whatever your state requires, remember that being a successful investigator requires not just licensure, but experience and training. So if you still think it sounds easy after reading this, think again.

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