Want to become a private investigator, PI, private detective or licensed private investigator?
Learn what it takes to land private investigator jobs in any state.
From private investigator courses to job descriptions, you can learn everything that you need to know about this exciting career.
Private Investigator Job Requirements
You might not know it, but there are some licensing requirements for this career. In fact, a total of 42 different states require you to be licensed. In addition, some cities even require you to hold a city license for the job.
States where you cannot become a licensed private detective are:
- South Dakota
Obviously, the licensing requirement means that there is a little private investigator training required of you. You may even need to look into attending private investigator schools depending on the state where you want to work.
To give you an idea of what is involved, let’s look at the requirements to be a private investigator in California. In this state, the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Security and Investigative Services handles all of the licensing. To get licensed, you must meet the following requirements in California:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Submit an application with your $50 application fee, two passport-size photos and $32 DOJ fingerprint processing fee and a $17 FBI fingerprint processing fee.
- Submit to a full background check, including criminal background check, with the FBI and California Department of Justice
- Pass a two-hour multiple-choice licensing examination in the state
- Have at least three years (2,000 hours each year, totaling 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in investigative work; or have a law degree or completed a four year course in police science plus two years (4,000 hours) of experience; or have an associate’s degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2 ½ years (5,000 hours) of experience.
- Pay the licensing fee of $175 if you pass the exam
- Get a firearm permit in the state, if you want to carry a firearm
- Get a tear gas permit in the state, if you want to carry tear gas
- A private investigator who carries a firearm, has employees who carry firearms, must have at least $1 million in insurance — $500,000 for any one loss due to bodily injury or death and $500,000 for any one loss due to injury or destruction of property.
note that the requirements above are just for California and specifics vary by state.
Becoming a PI once you get licensed (if required in your state and/or city) is a fairly simple process. You just need to find a detective agency or investigative agency to hire you. Of course, if you have some experience you may want to branch out on your own but it can be helpful to work with another agency before taking that step. Basically, as soon as you are licensed (if required) you are legally recognized as a private investigator in the state.
You may be wondering if you need prior work experience in the law enforcement field in order to work as a private detective. As you can see from the California state requirements to be a private investigator up above, this is not something that is required but can definitely help you along your career path. As a result, you will find that many PIs have experience working in law enforcement or in the military. This is especially advantageous if there is training in investigative procedures.
Can Anyone Be A Private Investigator?
If you have seen the HBO series Bored To Death, then you might be wondering if just anyone can be a private investigator. Of course, you could have this question even without seeing that television show because you might just be interested in being a private detective for a job.
As you may already know, this job is not for everyone and not just anyone can decide to be a private eye. As fun as that might sound, it is actually a good thing that this is the case because you do not want just anyone to be able to investigate you and other people, right?
Most states require licensing in order to work as a private investigator. And, in order to get licensed you have to meet all of the requirements set forth by the state where you want to be licensed. These requirements vary slightly from one state to the next, but you can usually count on some things to be the same.
You usually have to be at least 18 years old and submit to a full criminal background check. As you can imagine, this rules out working as a private detective if you have a criminal record. The exception to this is if you are in one of the states that does not require licensing.
To be licensed (in the states that require it), you also usually either need background in the military, law enforcement, criminal justice or schooling in those subjects or at a private investigator training program. You will need to check with your state for specific requirements.
Remember, anyone can work as a private investigator in the states where licensing is not required.
Pay: Private Detective Average Salary
If you are interested in a rewarding career as a private investigator, then you might be wondering what type of income that you can expect with this career.
One important thing to remember is that your take home pay as a private detective will vary depending on if you are working alone in your own agency or if you are working for someone else in their agency. Obviously, you can charge more and therefore earn more if you are your own boss.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at everyone who works in this industry to come up with an idea of how much money you can earn working as a private investigator. What they found is that the median annual wage of private detectives and investigators was $42,870. This number is accurate of their most recent study, which was May 2010.
When you look at all of the salary data that they have, you can see a range of pay for working private eyes. That range shows that the lowest 10 percent of people working as PIs earned less than $25,760 per year, and the top 10 percent of the private detectives earned more than $74,970 per year.
Of course, there is more to the salary than just the take home pay rate for a private investigator. You also want to take into account the working condition of a private detective.
Normally, this job requires work irregular hours because of the need to conduct surveillance and to contact people outside of normal work hours. You may need to work early mornings, evenings, weekends, and holidays. In addition, you might also have to work outdoors, or from a vehicle, in all kinds of weather.