Cost to Hire a Private Investigator

How much is it 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 the main reason 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 a wide variety of services that range from very simple to extremely 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 clearest and specific you can be regarding your needs, the better you will be able to 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 amount of the retainer will vary depending on the agency, market, and the type of case. Make sure 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 services such as 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 be sure to 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 conducted by Angie’s List, the average cost to hire a private investigator in the United States is $50 per hour.
  • According to a study conducted 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 complexity of the job.

Flat Rates and Fees

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

For example, a private investigator recently shared with 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, and 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 have to 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

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 have access to online databases to run background checks and look up information about people. Investigation agencies pay either subscription fees 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

If you need 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


  1. Can you share a pi directory for Roseburg Oregon to see if my husband is breaking the restraining order with my teenage child?

  2. Can a private investigator, by virtue of being licensed, gain access to records that are limited in their general dissemination such as a death certificate, specifically Colorado? Nevada? NY?

  3. I would like to inquire about services concerning following a possible cheating husband who left almost 3 weeks ago and moved in with another female. I am wanting to find out if he is in a relationship with her or if she is letting him live there due to he took our English Bulldog with him. I am disabled and on a fixed income so I can’t afford much. Thank you. This is in South Carolina

  4. I need to hire a PI or nodyguard to escort my wife to a business meeting one day this Summer in Malaysia . She is to meet with a man to recover money he owes her and refuses to see her if I accompany her . I do not trust him but she is determined to meet with him . I relly want to protrect my wife . If anyone out there can assist I will be very grateful . Thank you for your resonse . JRS

  5. I would like to hire someone to locate people from public real estate records. I need them to get a confirmed phone number and a completed questionnaire.

  6. My husband and I would like to hire an investigator in the Southwest Georgia area for email hacking and to inquire about your rates.

    • Hi I would like to locate a good friend who has moved to Buffalo recently. I have been unable to reach him. Also the place where he works at for information purposes.

  7. I am inquiring to hire a PI to help gain child visitation order and end a guardianship. Reason to believe that the guardians are endangering these kids by having them around a child molester.

  8. I would like to inquire about surveillance services on a possibly cheating husband. The investigator should be reside in buenos Aires or cordoba. I want to ask about hourly flat rates in pesos.
    Respond via email only.


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