Learn about Detective Licensing, Training and Education, and the Services Provided by Private Eyes
Following is guide that explains how to become a licensed private investigator in the United States. This reference guide includes a general overview of the private investigation profession, a state-by-state listing of contact information and website links for more information on applying to become a private eye, links to training and education courses, and a list of potential services that a detective may provide.
What is a Licensed Private Investigator?
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.
Most 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 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 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
- View a list of potential services provided
- Private Investigator training courses for increasing your knowledge and skills
- List of Private Investigation Training books
- View Salary and Wage information
- List of Jobs and Careers
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.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington D.C.
- West Virginia
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.
Some states have reciprocity agreements that allow P.I.’s to do investigative work in both states. Currently, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia have reciprocity agreements. These agreements are subject to change, so please check with the appropriate agency to verify their current status.