How To Become a Licensed Private Investigator in the United States

Get a Private Investigator License
Download and complete the necessary forms from the state licensing website.

Get a Private Investigator License

If you want to get a private investigator license, read this helpful guide to learn how to get licensed in any state in the U.S. 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. In general, 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. Due to the nature of their work, 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).

The Private Investigator’s Licensing Handbook: How to Get a Private Investigator License in any State

Think you might be interested in pursuing a career as a private investigator? Browse through the pages of this eBook to learn about the services provided by private investigators, the typical work environment, career outlook and salary range. Plus, learn the basic licensing requirements for each states and where to find more information. In addition, the book includes sections on training and education, PI associations and more. Buy the eBook at Amazon today for just $2.99.

Private Investigator Job Functions

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

Also, PI’s 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. While 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 a Private Investigator License 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. So, 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.



A private investigator license is not required in the State of Alaska. Some individual cities in the state of Alaska such as Fairbanks and Anchorage may have their own licensing requirements. A business license and other requirements may be necessary. Check the individual city websites for more information on licensing, insurance and fees.














Private investigator licensing in the state of Iowa is handled by the Iowa Department of Public Safety, Administrative Services Division. The department contact information is as follows:

Bail Enforcement/Private Investigative/Security Licensing
Program Services Bureau
Administrative Services Division
Iowa Department of Public Safety
Department of Public Safety Building
215 East 7th Street, 4th Floor
Des Moines, IA 50319-0045

Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required. Visit the state licensing website for more detailed and up-to-date information or the Private Investigator’s Licensing Handbook.





Private investigator licensing in the state of Maine is handled by the Maine State Police Licensing Division.  The Maine State Police Licensing Division is also is responsible for licensing professional investigators, investigative assistants, and Professional security companies.

Requirements may change, so please visit the website for the most up-to-date instructions related to the licensing application process. Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required. Check the state licensing website for specific details. See also, the Maine State Law governing private investigators.





Private Investigator Licensing in Minnesota is handled by the Department of Public Safety Private Detective & Protective Agent Services Board. The mission of the Board is to ensure investigative and security service practitioners meet statutory qualifications and training for licensure, and maintain standards set forth in Minnesota Statutes and Administrative Rules. Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required. Check the state licensing website for more information. See also, the Minnesota State Law.




Private Investigator licensing in the state of Montana is handled by the Montana Board of Private Security.

The Board of Private Security provides information pertaining to the licensing and regulation of Security Alarm Installers, Private Security Guards, Security Alarm Runners, Private Investigators, Private Investigator Trainee’s, Process Servers, Certified Firearm Instructors, Resident Managers and, the following related businesses; Electronic Security Company, Contract Security Company, Proprietary Security Organizations and Branch Offices in Montana.

Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required.  Check the Montana state licensing website for more information.



New Hampshire

Private Investigator licensing in the state of New Hampshire is handled by the New Hampshire Department of Safety – Division of State Police – Division of Permits and Licenses. Visit the website for application forms, a list of requirements for obtaining your license, and the laws that govern private investigators in the state. Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required.

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Private Investigator licensing in the state of North Dakota is handled by the North Dakota Private Investigative & Security Board. The North Dakota Private Investigation & Security Board is a governor appointed board that licenses and regulates the Private Investigation and Security industries. The board must consist of not less than five nor more than eleven members appointed for staggered four year terms.

Appointees to the board must be knowledgeable in private investigative or private security matters. A majority of the members of the board must be actively engaged in the private investigative or security profession. The board establishes the qualifications and procedures for classifying, qualifying, licensing, bonding, and regulating persons providing private investigative and security services, including armed security personnel.

Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required.  Check the state licensing website for more information.





  • Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota





Private Investigator licensing in Vermont is handled by the Secretary of State Board of Private Investigative and Security Services. The board ensures that applicants are qualified to obtain a private investigator license in Vermont, sets professional standards for the private investigative profession by proposing legal statutes and adopting administrative rules; investigates complaints of unprofessional conduct, takes any necessary disciplinary action against licensees when deemed appropriate to protect the public interests.

Visit the website above to find information on the laws which govern private investigators, and for helpful resources for applicants, licensees, consumers and employers. Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required.  Check the state licensing website for more information.



Washington D.C.

Private Investigator licensing in Washington D.C. is handled by the District of Columbia Security Officers Management Branch (SOMB), Metropolitan Police Department. Visit the D.C. SOMB website for more specific information on obtaining your private investigator license. Other special licensing requirements such as education requirements, experience requirements, examinations, and insurance may be required.  Check the state licensing website for more information.

West Virginia

Any person or group of people who perform investigative or security guard functions in West Virginia are required to be professionally licensed, unless one of the exemptions specified by the law applies. If you want to become a private investigator in West Virginia, licensing in the state is handled by the West Virginia Secretary of State – Private Investigator Licensing. Visit the state’s website for more detailed information on requirements and exemptions for each license type.

Other special licensing requirements such as education, work experience, professional examinations, and insurance may be required. Please visit the state license website for more information.



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.

Reciprocity Agreements

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. Of course, these agreements are always subject to change. So, please check with the appropriate agency to verify their current status.

Getting Your Business Started

After you obtain a license, start thinking about the next steps. Read our article, How to Get Your Investigation Business Up and Running for helpful tips on getting started. Furthermore, the article covers important steps such as Business Licensing, insurance considerations, purchasing equipment and supplies, how to create an online presence and much more.

If you have any questions about how to get a private investigator license, please leave a comment below.


    • Unfortunately, we do not have such a system. The best course of action is to report the unprofessional/unethical to the licensing bureau in the state where the investigator is licensed.

  1. I’m a graduate in law and social sciences in the U.K. and I’m hoping to live and work in California – so faar I’ve not found details of courses for private investigators.

  2. “Are you unsure about a loved one? Are you concerned he is using you? Are you pregnant with his baby, but worried he is cheating? Did you buy a house together, but he is acting suspicious and isn’t around enough to enjoy it? Do you suspect little Johnny is stealing from Grandma?
    In an exciting new series, our female private investigators will help you find the truth/have the last word for FREE. We are currently casting for an exciting new series that helps victims of cons find closure. Our private detectives will help track down those who have wronged you, and get you the last word. We want to hear your story! E-mail us the details of the story and your phone number to [email protected].”

    • 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Hello,

    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?

    • 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.


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