Cost to Hire a Private Investigator


One of the most common questions I get is – “How much does it cost to hire a private investigator?” Not knowing the costs involved is why people hesitate when they think about hiring a private investigator. The answer to the question is the cost to hire a private investigator varies widely based on such factors as the investigation services you need and the amount of time involved in the case, and other factors. In this article, we’ll talk about how prices are determined and explain what you can generally expect to pay.

Private investigators provide various services that range from very simple to highly complex. So, the first step in hiring a private investigator and assessing the cost is to have a clear understanding of why you need their services. The most straightforward and specific you can be regarding your needs, the better you can nail down the actual cost. 

Investigative services vary widely in their complexity, as do their costs. For example, a missing person search might be as easy as a simple Google search. Or, it could take months or even years of online searching, personal interviews, travel to other states, etc., to locate the person.

List of Factors Involved in the Cost to Hire a Private Investigator

Following is an overview of the costs that may be involved in hiring a private investigator. It is important to understand that not all of these expenditures will be included in every case.


Some private investigators will charge an upfront fee called a retainer. A retainer fee is similar to a deposit, which can be applied toward future work. The retainer amount will vary depending on the agency, market, and type of case. Ensure you clearly understand whether a retainer fee is required and how the money will be applied toward future investigative work.

Flat Fee Pricing vs. Hourly Rate Pricing

Hourly Rates and Fees

Most private investigators charge an hourly rate for surveillance or investigating a cheating spouse.  The total cost is then determined by the hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours worked. Hourly rates are often negotiable, so agree on a price before hiring the PI to do the work. Following are some examples of hourly rates from various hiring sources:

  • According to a study by Angie’s List, the average cost to hire a private investigator in the United States is $50 per hour.
  • According to a study by Thumbtack in 2017, the average cost to hire a private investigator was $70 per hour.
  • According to other industry experts, the average cost ranges between $40 and $200 per hour, depending on the job’s complexity.

Flat Rates and Fees

Private Eyes also charge a flat rate or flat fee for services such as a background check, and missing person locates, court document retrieval, or processing serving. With flat fee pricing, the total price is the same regardless of the hours the investigator spends working on the case.

For example, a private investigator recently told us that he charges anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 for an infidelity investigation.

Market Differences May Affect the Cost to Hire a Private Investigator

The cost to hire a private investigator will vary depending on the market or geographic area being served. Prices will tend to be higher in metropolitan areas due to such factors as licensing, insurance, transportation, office space, etc. You should expect to pay more for a private investigator in markets where the cost of living is expensive, such as New York or San Francisco.

Investigation Experience and Expertise

The cost of hiring a private investigator can vary widely based on the experience level of the private investigator.  A private eye with an extensive career involving military or government intelligence or a career in law enforcement will tend to be more expensive than someone just getting into the business. In theory, those with more experience are more likely to solve your case. Also, they are more likely to solve it in less time.

Expenses and Miscellaneous Fees

Depending on your individual agreement and the needs of your case, a private investigator may ask you to cover any expenses associated with the case. Expenses associated with an investigation case may include supplies, court dues, postage, and communication charges (phone calls, text messages, etc.).

Travel Expenses

If travel is involved during the case, most investigators will charge these expenses back to you. Depending on where the case leads, investigators may travel within the local area, to other states, and even internationally. Examples of travel expenses include:

  • Mileage, gas, and parking fees
  • Tickets for travel via plane, bus, train, boat, etc.
  • Lodging expenditures for hotel rooms
  • Cost of a burner phone or other communication-related costs

Travel expenses can add up quickly. So, be sure to have a very clear understanding of what you’re going to pay for.

Data Retrieval

Many private eyes can access online databases to run background checks and look up information about people. Investigation agencies pay subscription or search fees to access the database and run reports. If your case involves an online database search, it is likely they will pass some of those costs along to you. The charges for these reports will vary.

Other Factors that May Affect Price

Other factors that may affect the price are the number of investigators assigned to the case, the risk involved, the need for specialized equipment, etc.

How to Pay

Another common question I receive is, how do I pay a private eye for their services? Most agencies will allow you to pay in a variety of ways. For example, you can pay by cash, check, or money order. Also, you can pay by credit cards such as Visa, American Express, MasterCard, and Discover. In addition, some agencies can send you an electronic invoice that you can pay online using an automatic debit from your checking account. Of course, these forms of payment will vary depending on who you hire. Be sure to ask upfront about the types of payment they accept.

Hire a Private Investigator

For more information, see our List of Tips for Hiring a Private Investigator. Once you are ready to proceed, visit our Private Investigator Directory to find a list of agencies in your area. Be sure to contact multiple agencies to discuss your situation and get quotes.

Questions and Comments

If you have any additional questions about the cost to hire a private investigator, please 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
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