How To Become a Licensed Private Investigator in the United States

How To Become a Licensed Private Investigator in the United States

Learn about Detective Licensing, Training and Education, and Services Provided by Private Eyes

Following is guide that explains how to become a licensed private investigator. This reference guide includes a general overview of the private investigation profession, a state-by-state listing of contact information and website links for obtaining a private eye license, links to training and education courses, and a list of potential services that a detective may provide.

A licensed private investigator is sometimes referred to as a P.I., gumshoe, sleuth and sometimes even a spy.  The terms generally refer to a person who uncovers facts and information, finds missing persons and gathers evidence, usually at the request of a private citizen or a company for which they are employed. Licensed detectives often work for attorneys and lawyers in both civil and criminal court cases. In addition, many professional investigators work for insurance companies to investigate suspicious or fraudulent insurance claims.

Many professional investigators are hired by spouses who wish to obtain proof of adultery or other illegal conduct to establish grounds for a divorce. Collecting evidence of adultery or other bad behavior by cheating spouses and partners is one of the most common and profitable services offered.

Many states require P.I.’s to be licensed and some may be permitted to carry firearms (guns) depending on local and state laws. Some detectives have prior military experience and many worked as a police officer or law enforcement official.  PI’s keep detailed notes and records during each case and often testify in court regarding their observations on behalf of their clients.

Detectives often work irregular hours, especially when conducting surveillance (e.g., sitting outside a subject’s house during early morning hours hoping to get a photograph or video of their activity).

Many PIs provide process serving services, which is the delivery of subpoenas and other legal documents to parties who are involved in a legal case. Many detective agencies specialize in a particular field of expertise. For example, some agencies deal only in skip tracing related to finding missing persons or tracking down debtors. Others may specialize in technical surveillance countermeasures, which involves locating and dealing with unwanted forms of electronic surveillance (for example, an electronically bugged boardroom for industrial espionage purposes).

Increasingly, detectives prefer to be known as “professional investigators”. This may be a response to the sometimes negative image that is attributed to the P.I. profession and an effort to establish the industry to be a proper and respectable profession.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an article in the Occupational Outlook Handbook for Private Detectives and Investigators, that describes the nature of the work, working conditions, qualifications, employment, training and advancement, earnings, job outlook, and related occupations. If you want to become a private detective, this is a great place to begin.

Services, Training, and Reference Material

How to Get Licensed in any State

Following is a state-by-state listing of contact information for obtaining a license, or to find out if a detective is properly licensed.  Some states don’t require a license specifically for private investigations, but may require a business license, or have other legal requirements such as training or professional certifications. Many states require individuals to pass an exam or complete a series of educational courses.

If you conduct business in more than one state, you should consider getting licensed in each state.

State Private Investigator Licensing Requirements

Following is a list of links to pages that provide an overview of the private eye licensing requirements for each state.

Licensing requirements are somewhat different for each state and those requirements may change as new legislation passes. Be sure to check the state’s licensing website for the most up to date information.

Related Articles

How To Become a Licensed Private Investigator in Alaska

Alaska Private Investigator Licensing Requirements A private investigator license is not required in the State of Alaska.  Some individual cities

How To Become a Licensed Private Investigator in Nebraska

Nebraska Private Investigator Licensing Requirements Private Investigator licensing in the state of Nebraska is handled by the Nebraska Secretary of

How To Become a Licensed Private Investigator in New Hampshire

New Hampshire Private Investigator Licensing Requirements Private Investigator licensing in the state of New Hampshire is handled by the New


Write a comment
  1. John
    John 27 May, 2014, 22:32

    I graduated from a PI home study course(legitimate).
    Can I carry the ID/Badge in my wallet with my license?

    Reply this comment
    • admin
      admin Author 28 May, 2014, 01:52

      It is generally considered acceptable to carry such an ID/Badge in your wallet as a means of proving that you have completed professional training in private investigations. However, it should be carried along with a state-issued license. Check with your state licensing agency for specific guidelines regarding IDs and badges.

      Reply this comment
  2. Fred
    Fred 22 October, 2013, 15:46

    I am a Private Invesigator in Florida. I’m thinking of moving to N.C. What do I need to do to obtain a N.C. License? I have had my own Agency for 15 plus years.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ana
    Ana 21 August, 2013, 18:58


    I am a junior college student and aspiring to become a private investigator. I would like to know what would be my next step after graduating with a bachelor in Justice Administration?

    Reply this comment
    • admin
      admin Author 23 August, 2013, 00:55

      The first step would be to understand the requirements for becoming a licensed private investigator in your state. Refer to the list above for more information. Then, begin working toward completing the requirements, which may include various applications, required training courses, and professional exams. In most states, you will likely need to work for a licensed private investigation agency for a period of time. Contact private investigation agencies in your area and inquire about open positions, internships, etc.

      Reply this comment

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