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Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Illinois

You can use this guide for step-by-step information that will teach you how to become a private investigator in Illinois:

Determine your Application Route in Illinois
Qualify for the PI Exam and License in Illinois
Meet the Private Investigator Training Requirements in Illinois
Submit a Complete Application for Licensure in Illinois
Take the Illinois PI Exam
Working in Illinois

Illinois has a well-developed procedure for becoming a licensed private investigator. Working as a PI in the Land of Lincoln offers you the opportunity of big-city cases in Chicago involving industrial espionage or uncovering political corruption. Of course, the more typical urban and rural assignments include investigations into fidelity, insurance fraud, or the location of persons in cities like Aurora, Rockford, and Joliet.



Step 1. Determining Your Application Route in Illinois

You can apply for a license for private investigator jobs in Illinois based on either set of qualifications:

  • Experience
  • Education and experience

Once you meet the training requirements, pass an exam, complete the rest of the application materials, and are successfully licensed you will have the following options:

  • Work for another private investigator
  • Go into business as a sole-proprietor
  • Enter into a PI partnership
  • Form a PI corporation
  • Form a PI limited liability company (LLC)



Step 2. Qualifying for the PI Exam and License in Illinois

Based on Experience

If you are applying for a PI license exam based on your experience you will need to submit proof of working for three of the past five years in any one of the following:

  • As a full-time private detective
  • As a full-time investigator in any one of the following:
    • Federal, state, county, or city law enforcement department
    • State’s Attorney’s or Public Defender’s office
    • Military police, also must submit DD 214

Based on Education and Experience

You can also qualify for a PI license by meeting certain private investigator school requirements in Illinois. If you have an associate’s degree in law enforcement or a related field this may substitute for one year of qualified experience as mentioned above. Having a bachelor’s degree in a field related to law enforcement will substitute for two years of qualified experience as mentioned above.

Certificate programs and degrees in related subject areas will not only reduce the required prerequisite years of work experience required but also give you a solid grounding in crucial aspects of the private investigations field. The following majors can also be advantageous to improving your career mobility towards a field such as law enforcement:

  • Psychology
  • Criminal Justice
  • Business
  • Forensics
  • Law
  • Public Administration

Other Minimum Requirements

You must also be able to meet the following minimum requirements to be eligible for private investigator jobs in Illinois:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Either no felony convictions or 10 years have passed since your sentence was completed
  • May not be a registered sex offender
  • Must be of good moral character
  • Be psychologically and physically fit for the duties of a private detective
  • Have no narcotic or alcohol addictions



Step 3. Private Investigator Training Requirements in Illinois

Completing the 20-hour Training Course

You will also need to complete a private detective training course before or within 30 days of hire. This must be administered by a qualified instructor who provides information in:

  • Illinois laws and statutes
  • Arrest and control techniques
  • Identification of terrorists and terrorist organizations
  • Use of force including lethal and non-lethal
  • Public relations and civil rights

Within six months of employment you will need to complete an additional eight hours of training in a pertinent subject. To prove you have completed the necessary training you will need to submit your basic training certification.

Completing the 40-hour Firearm Training Course

If you are otherwise legally able to carry a firearm and choose to do so while working, you will need to complete a qualified 40-hour firearm training course that includes:

  • 20 hours of classroom instruction including:
    • Law and the use of force
    • Law, private police, and law enforcement reporting
    • Fire prevention
  • Range instruction in:
    • Combat shooting
    • Double-action shooting
    • Positioning

If you have already completed a similar course you may be eligible to submit a waiver of firearms training.



Step 4. Submitting a Complete Application for Licensure in Illinois

Along with your complete application for licensure based either on experience or experience and education, you will also need to submit the following to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the agency responsible for issuing your license:

  • Criminal background check
  • Proof of a $1 million liability insurance policy
  • $291 examination fee
  • Once you are eligible to be licensed you will be notified of the licensure fee
  • Fingerprints and authorization for a background check with the Illinois State Police
  • If you are choosing to carry a firearm you will need to submit either your firearm training certification or a waiver of firearm training if you have already completed comparable training



Step 5. Taking the Illinois PI Exam

You can register for your PI exam as part of your application for licensure or online. The exam is administered by the private vendor Continental Testing Services and includes an evaluation of your knowledge in the areas of:

  • State and federal laws
  • Practice and licensing requirements
  • Analysis, presentation, and reporting
  • Case management
  • Gathering evidence and information

The vendor provides a practice test and study guide and you should also know the Illinois laws regulating private investigators:



Step 6. Working as a Private Detective in Illinois

You can renew your license online, which expires on May 31st every three years. Every year you will need to complete eight hours of refresher training or classes in a relevant area and must also maintain your good moral character qualification.

You may find additional tips on how to become a private detective by joining professional organizations such as the Associated Detectives and Security Agencies of Illinois (ADSAI). Here you can also find advice, networking opportunities, and legal updates among fellow professionals in your field.



Private Investigator Salary Information for Illinois

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 1,050 private investigators were employed in Illinois in 2012.  Illinois’ Worknet Center states that the field of private investigation is one of the top 50 fastest growing occupations in the state.  About 110 job openings are expected each year.

The state of Illinois projects the percentage of job growth of private investigators to be greater than 15% in the following areas:

  • Bloomington area:  28.8%
  • Champaign area:  26.3%
  • Will County:  22.4%
  • Cook County:  22.0%
  • Springfield area:  20.5%
  • Lake County:  16.7%
  • Northwest Illinois area:  16.7%
  • DeKalb-Elgin-Aurora area:  16.0%

The average salary for private investigators in Illinois was $40,550 in 2012 according to the BLS.  PIs with experience who were in the top tenth earned $66,960 that year on average.  Over half of the private investigators in Illinois are located in the Chicago metropolitan area.  They averaged $44,740 a year with the top earners making a salary of $71,250 on average.

Employment was also high in the nonmetropolitan area of west central Illinois with the area having the greatest concentration of jobs of any nonmetropolitan area in the U.S.  The 100 investigators in this area averaged $23,880 a year with the top earners making $30,310.

Licensing is required for private investigators that work in Illinois.  Applicants must pass an exam before they can apply to the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation for a license.  At this time, they must have proof of having at least $1 million in liability insurance.  Licenses are valid for six years in Illinois.

Additional requirements must be fulfilled to work as an armed PI.  Applicants must be at least 21 years old and have completed a forty-hour firearm training course within a two year period before applying.  They must also provide their social security number that will be used to check records confirming that there are no tax or child support liabilities.

Detailed information on the hourly and annual wages of private investigators in different areas of Illinois is available from the BLS.  Their salary and employment data on Illinois is shown below.

Private Investigator Salaries in Illinois

Area name
Annual mean wage
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville IL Metropolitan Division
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville IL-IN-WI
Lake County-Kenosha County IL-WI Metropolitan Division
Estimate not released
St. Louis MO-IL
West Central Illinois nonmetropolitan area

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