Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Illinois

A welcome sign at the Illinois state line

Though Illinois has long been a beacon for private investigators looking to tackle big-city cases involving industrial espionage or political corruption, there are just as many opportunities for PIs in Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, and Joliet looking to get into the field to do the bread and butter investigations work PIs are known for – things like catching a cheating spouse in the act when their partner suspects marital infidelity, checking up on parents in child custody disputes, and looking into insurance fraud. 

There’s been more than one person busted for disability insurance fraud after claiming a back injury and then bragging to their friends on Facebook about their weekend getaway, complete with zip lining and parasailing pictures.

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

Just as social media ushered in a whole new way to catch people in the act of doing things they shouldn’t be, the #MeToo movement has helped create an environment where people are paying attention and sexual harassment is no longer something that’s being ignored. 

This has prompted many companies, universities, and government agencies to get to the bottom of harassment claims instead of brushing them off. PIs are called in to handle many of these cases using their patented blend of discretion and rock-solid investigative skills.

According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, 880 PIs were working in Illinois in 2019 – that’s a pretty uncrowded market for a state this size. The relatively small number of PIs in Illinois is likely a result of the state’s stringent requirements for licensure, which has helped weed out anybody looking to skirt the law and earn a quick buck in the field. Instead, private investigators in Chicago and throughout Illinois enjoy a solid reputation for being reliable and trustworthy, and often have more cases than they can handle.

The Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is responsible for licensing private investigators in Illinois. Be prepared to come to the table with at least three years of experience/post-secondary education and a clean criminal record if you want to earn licensure here. Here’s all that you need to know about how to become a private investigator in Illinois:



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.

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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), the average annual salary for private investigators in Illinois was $65,670 as of May 2020. The real money in this field comes to those who have earned their share of experience and built a reputation for getting the job done, with the top 10% here earning an average of $91,420 during this time.

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To qualify for licensure as a PI in Illinois, you’ll need to show proof of at least three years (out of the last five years) of experience as a full-time private detective or a full-time investigator with a local, state, or federal governmental agency.

If you completed an associate’s degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related field, you’ll be able to substitute it for one year of experience; if you completed a bachelor’s degree, you can substitute it for two years of experience.

If you want to be licensed to carry a sidearm on the job, you’ll also need to be at least 21 years old, and you’ll need to show proof of completing the forty-hour firearms training course within the last two years.

Private Investigator Salaries in Chicago

As expected, the salary range (median-top 10%) for PIs in the Chicago metro area came out above the state average at $60,390-$95,480. As of May 2019, there were about 820 licensed PIs working in the Chicago area.

As of May 2020, the PIs in Chicago earn about $66,950 more than in other parts of the state, while those in the top 10% earn about $13,000 more. 

*May 2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics Salary and Job Market Figures for Private Detectives and Investigators reflect state data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

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