How to Get a Private Investigator License in California

How to become a licensed private investigator in California
Learn how to get a private investigator license in the state of California

This article explains how to get a private investigator license in California. It provides resources to help you get licensed, join an association and get the training and education you need.

State Licensing Authority

Private investigator licensing in California is handled by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Contact the department using the contact information below or visit the website for more detailed information.

Physical Address – 2420 Del Paso Rd., Ste. 270, Sacramento, CA 95834
Licensing Address – P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798
Phone – (916) 322-4000 or (800) 952-5210
Fax – (916) 575-7290

General Requirements

The following is general licensing information. Please visit the website listed above for specific licensing information, application forms, insurance requirements, fees and any special licensing requirements. The applicant must:

  • Be 18 year of age or older.
  • Undergo a criminal history background check. The check will be performed by both the California Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  • Have at least three years (2,000 hours each year, for a total of 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in the field of investigative work; or
  • have a law degree or have completed a four-year course in police science, plus two years (4,000 hours) of experience; or
  • have an associate’s degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2 ½ years (5,000 hours) of experience.
  • Experience must be certified by your employer and have been received while you were employed as a sworn law enforcement officer, military police officer, insurance adjuster, employee of a licensed PI or licensed repossessor, arson investigator for a public fire suppression agency, or an investigator for the public defender’s office.
  • Please note that work as a process server, public records researcher, custodial attendant for a law enforcement agency, bailiff, agent who collects debts in writing or by telephone after the debtor has been located, or person who repossesses property after it has been located is not considered to be qualifying experience.)
  • Pass a two-hour multiple-choice exam which covers laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations and surveillance. A copy of the Private Investigator Act will be sent to you.
  • Once you are notified that you have passed the examination, you must submit a licensing fee of $175 to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002. Please be sure to check the website first, as the fee amount may change.

Remember, visit the website for the most up to date licensing requirements. Also, Buy the Private Investigator’s Licensing Handbook (eBook) at Amazon for just $2.99.

State Private Investigator Associations

Associations are a great resource for both aspiring and existing P.I.’s. We highly recommend joining a state or national association to take advantage of the training, resource and networking opportunities offered by such organizations. They can be a great source of business through information and case sharing. Also, they are a great way to stay informed of legislative changes and legal issues.

California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI) – CALI is the largest private investigator association in the world. Joining the association will allow you to take advantage of their broad membership base to network and learn from others.

Certified Investigative Professionals – Certified Investigative Professionals Inc. ® (CIPI), is a membership organization consisting of investigative professionals and affiliates, whose mission is to promote a standard of excellence among individual investigators, enhance public confidence in the profession, and represent the industry in business, education, and political forums

California Associate Photocopiers and Process Servers (CCAPPS)

Training and Education

Training Resources – Improve your chances of getting licensed by completing a certificate or degree program, training course, or home study course. Learn what options are available to get the investigative knowledge necessary to get licensed.

Find a Job

If you’re looking for a job as a private investigator, use our California Directory of Private Investigators to contact agencies in your area. Contact multiple agencies and inquire about open positions.


If you have any questions about how to get a private investigator license in California, post a message below.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


  1. I have lengthy work history in Property Management , and Secret Shopping. I am also a Registered Server of Process in Riverside County., Ca. In All three of these affiliations I have done extensive Background Checks(private and Corporate) Profile Development, surveillance and stakeouts. , as a result, several appearances in Court as the follow through. Worked closely with County Agencies, Private Attorneys, State Case Managers and Law enforcement Officers.. Private Investigation was a large part of my function. Where does this position me as experience for Licensing? Please advise .

  2. I was curious if an individual served 5 years in the USMC & 17 years of hospital security with guard card might count towards experience ?

    • Yes. I believe that California allows time spent in the military to count toward the experience requirement, as long as you can provide proof. Check with the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Security & Investigative Services for the most up to date list of requirements. The website is linked in the above article.

  3. I have 21 years working for Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and 16 as an emergency response child abuse investigator. I am interested in bring my experience and broadening my scopes investigation selection towards the private domain.

    • Great to hear you are considering pursuing a career as a private investigator in California. Visit the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (see link above) to get information on how to begin the licensing process. California requires that you have at least three years (2,000 hours each year, totaling 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in investigative work. Your 16 years as an emergency response child abuse investigator may satisfy that requirement. Best of luck to you in starting a career in the private sector.

  4. I, already have my Criminal Justice,Diploma: Private Investigator Diploma:Fireman investigation experience,Department Security Manager,with bomb threats calls experience,investigate building damaged. I, need to work for Company’s for the requirments.


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