CA PI 16429


February 1, 2010

Information on Licensing Requirements for Private Investigators, or
How to Become a PI

Private investigation is one of the fastest growing fields out there, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They expect the number of private investigators to rise by 20% from 2008 to 2018. Every state has different requirements and regulations for private investigators.  This article pertains solely to California.

Private investigators are regulated under the Business and Professions Code, Sections 7512 - 7574. Section 7521 defines a private investigator:

"[A] person...who, for any consideration [i.e. payment] whatsoever engages in business or accepts employment to furnish or agrees to furnish any person to protect persons...or engages in business or accepts employment to furnish, or agrees to make, or makes, any investigation for the purpose of obtaining, information with reference to:
  (a) Crime or wrongs done or threatened against the United States of America or any state or territory of the United States of America.
  (b) The identity, habits, conduct, business, occupation, honesty, integrity, credibility, knowledge, trustworthiness, efficiency, loyalty, activity, movement, whereabouts, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of any person.
  (c) The location, disposition, or recovery of lost or stolen property.
  (d) The cause or responsibility for fires, libels, losses, accidents, or damage or injury to persons or to property.
  (e) Securing evidence to be used before any court, board, officer, or investigating committee.
  For the purposes of this section, a private investigator is any person, firm, company, association, partnership, or corporation acting for the purpose of investigating, obtaining, and reporting to any employer, its agent, supervisor, or manager, information concerning the employer's employees involving questions of integrity, honesty, breach of rules, or other standards of performance of job duties."

It is a crime to perform private investigation services without a license. There are very few exceptions to the law. The punishment is a $10,000 fine or one year in jail, or both the fine and jail time. It is also illegal to knowingly hire an unlicensed investigator.  The penalty is a $5,000 fine and/or one year in jail. B&P Code Section 7523:

"(b) Any person who violates any provision of this chapter or who conspires with another person to violate any provision of this chapter, relating to private investigator licensure, or who knowingly engages a nonexempt unlicensed person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of five thousand dollars ($5,000) or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

(d) Any person who: (1) acts as or represents himself or herself to be a private investigator licensee under this chapter when that person is not a licensee under this chapter; (2) falsely represents that he or she is employed by a licensee under this chapter when that person is not employed by a licensee under this chapter; (3) carries a badge, identification card, or business card, indicating that he or she is a licensee under this chapter when that person is not a licensee under this chapter; (4) uses a letterhead or other written or electronically generated materials indicating that he or she is a licensee under this chapter when that person is not a licensee under this chapter; or (5) advertises that he or she is a licensee under this chapter when that person is not a licensee, is guilty of a misdemeanor that is punishable by a fine of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment."

Private investigators are regulated by the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, BSIS. Any person may report suspected unlicensed activity directly to the BSIS here:

BSIS Acting Chief Connie Trujillo reports that there are 9898 licensed investigators in California as of January 1, 2010. Becoming a private investigator is not an easy undertaking; it requires at least a minimum of a three years of work before you can apply for your own license.

There are four main requirements for licensing. These are:

One must be at least 18 years old to obtain a private investigators license.  However, you can begin your training prior to your 18th birthday. 

Potential private investigators must have at least three years, and not less than 6000 hours, of compensated experience in investigative work. This must be done in the employ of a law enforcement agency, collection agency, insurance agency, bank, court, or another private investigation agency. This is basically on-the-job training and education. Process serving and public records research do not count towards these 6,000 hours.

Note: A college degree in criminal justice, criminal law, or political science can be substituted for part of the experience.  An Associate's degree can be substitute for 6 months, or 1,000 hours of experience. A Bachelor's degree counts for one year, or 2,000 hours of training/experience.

Written Exam
After one had completed three years of investigative work, and is over 18, one can sit for this two-hour, multiple choice test.

Criminal Background Check
LiveScan - $50 application fee, $32 DOJ processing fee, and $19 FBI Fingerprinting processing fee. The director of BSIS may approve an applicant who has been convicted of a minor offense, but it is at the director's discretion. To deny a license, the crime committed must be considerably related to the duties of a private investigator.

After you pass the exam, you must submit a licensing fee (currently $175) to the BSIS. The license must be renewed every two years. There are additional requirements for carrying a firearm. For more information, please visit the BSIS at


California Business and Professions Code, Section 7512-7574.
California Department of Consumer Affairs, BSIS. Frequently Asked Questions - Private Investigators
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private Detectives and Investigators,@ Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition

Copyright 2009 Gailey Associates, Inc. CA PI 16429 California Professional Private Investigators