How Do I earn a Private Investigator’s License?

A mystery resulting from a crime, unethical act or just a misunderstanding may go unsolved if it were not for the efforts of a private investigator. These people can work independently with clients to search out evidence in civil and criminal matters, or they can partner with companies like insurance agencies to investigate fraudulent financial activities. While television shows and mystery novels glamorize careers in private investigation, it can be a very dangerous job which should only be undertaken by those with the right training and skills. Subsequently, most state governments require that those credentials and skills be verified through a licensing process. Although specific licensing requirements vary by state, here are some criteria for the licensing of private investigators that are common among many states.

Certified Investigative Experience

All licensed private investigators must be at least 18 years old and must have either verifiable experience or education that directly relates to the position. Most states require that the prospective investigator have at least three years of experience working in investigative positions with law enforcement, military law enforcement, insurance companies or law offices. The positions must total 2,000 hours per year, and they must have been paid work experiences. Applicants for a private investigator license must have their former supervisors to certify the type and quantity of work performed by the applicant that related to the private investigation field.

Education and Training

While on the job experience is often one of the best assets of private investigators, most states will waive part of the experience requirement in lieu of appropriate education and training. For example, private investigators who have a law degree and two years of investigative experience can meet the requirements for licensure. Alternately, private investigators who have an associate degree in police science or criminal justice can meet the licensing requirement if they also have two and a half years of experience.

Exam and Background Check

The role that private investigators play in society warrants that a certain amount of trust be placed with them so that they can do their jobs effectively. It is the responsibility of the state in which they intend to operate to make sure that these individuals are trustworthy and competent. One of the ways that most states’ laws help to protect the public from licensure of unqualified people is to require a comprehensive examination. The exam covers the national and state laws and regulations pertaining to evidence handling, liabilities in criminal and civil matters and under cover surveillance of people. Additionally, applicants must undergo a criminal background check conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice.

Proof of Insurance

Some private investigators can conduct their business without the use of weapons. However, many feel the need to carry firearms for their own protection or for the safety of those that they are hired to protect. When that is the case, private investigators must apply for a permit to carry a gun, pay additional processing fees and carry adequate insurance. Since the right to carry firearms also comes with the chance that someone will incur bodily injury or that property will be damaged, the insurance requirements for these people are not inexpensive. For example, some states require that private investigators carry at least a million dollars of insurance that is evenly divided between loss of property and bodily injury or death.


Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota and Wyoming are the only states that do not have licensing requirements for private investigators according to PI Magazine. A private investigator operating in one of those states can also start a private detective agency without encountering as many barriers to entry as those found in other states.