How To Become a Licensed Private Investigator in the United States

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

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.

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. Includes sections on training and education, PI associations and more. Buy the eBook at Amazon today for just $2.99.

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).

Services Provided

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

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.

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.


    • 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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here