Private Investigator License Requirements By State

magnifier with text LICENSE  on the white and red backgroundAs of the last count in 2020, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) surveys showed there were some 33,700 private investigators working throughout the United States. That’s likely a fairly accurate estimate of the number of investigators on the payroll of established firms, working on the claims investigations teams of major insurance companies and for state L&I and revenue agencies investigating workplace injury claims and questionable tax reporting.

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But it’s highly unlikely that the number accounts for all the independently hired gun licensed PIs out there starting with their pro bono cases, free agents that contract with law offices, or moonlighting law enforcement professionals. And it’s even less likely the number reflects all the PIs working in the handful of states out there that still don’t have licensing laws on the books for private investigators.

Every state and municipality that is governed by these licensing laws try to handle the entire process of vetting applicants and issuing credentials so that there is no national database or remaining official count of license holders across the country. It is all the more important that you are well-aware of the private investigator license requirements so that you practice your investigation lawfully. 

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This is a field made up of true investigative professionals who very often have a few years of military experience and most of them come from backgrounds in law enforcement. It’s a profession where diligence and truth-seeking leads to real-time results, and that is something that can’t happen without a lot of integrity and professionalism. 

It may require you to step out of your way and out of our comfort zone to chase the unconventional cases and make means to a justifiable end. It’s also a profession where operating covertly is the key to success, so official counts on the number of people out there doing the work may not let you in on the whole story.

We do know there is serious demand for the services PIs can provide you with, and many PIs are able to be very selective about the cases that they take. This will result in gradually bringing in more people into the profession to take up the slack and do all of the important work of finding the truth even when it’s elusive and even when it seems that you have turned over every stone that has been left unturned. 

This basically means that there are a lot of questions swirling around as new blood considers their options for getting into the field. Knowing the basics does give you a kick-start which is rather more obvious that you would admit to but there are more pressing questions at hand that need to be addressed, such as how to get a private investigator license and what are the specific requirements.

You’ve got questions, and we’ve got answers to some of the most common questions people ask when they are looking to hire an investigator, and among prospective PIs looking to break into the field.

Q: Do all states require private investigators to be licensed?

Answer: Up till now, it has been mostly limited to just about 5 states that do not require private investigators to be licensed at the state level:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

However, of those 5 states, 2 have licensing requirements at the local level: Wyoming and Alaska.

Those states without licensure for private investigators at either the state or local level—Idaho, Mississippi and South Dakota—all have active professional associations that have defined bylaws and codes of ethics. Membership in any of these private investigator associations provides you with a clear set of standards for the practice of private investigation.

Further, regardless of the absence of state private investigator license requirements, private investigators operating businesses are always subject to applicable business laws.

Q: What is required to become a licensed private investigator?

Answer: The remaining 45 states (plus the District of Columbia) do permit licenses to its PIs, but they also have their specific state licensing requirements, which include education and experience requirements, application procedures, and renewal procedures. Further, a select number of states may allow private investigators to carry concealed weapons but that is only possible after going through mandatory firearms training, certification, and certification renewal that gives you the license to carry firearms as well as provide you with a legitimate certificate of your training. 

However, because each state has their own legislation regarding the practice of private investigators and private investigative businesses, licensure requirements and these licensing processes vary from state to state.

Generally, minimum requirements for state licensure include: 

  • Being at least 21 (some states have age requirements as old as 25)
  • Possessing a high school diploma or the equivalent
  • Having a U.S. citizenship or residency

Most states also have strict state specific statutes along with particular laws and regulations that may prohibit candidates who may have felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude from becoming private investigators.

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Education and experience licensing requirements may differ among different states. Common education requirements may include possessing an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice or a related program, whereas, the experience requirements may also vary based on a number of factors such as the field in which the experience was obtained. Although, many of these states allow candidates to substitute education for experience so as to meet minimum guidelines for licensure.

Some states, such as Oklahoma, allow candidates with no experience to become licensed, provided they complete CLEET-approved training.

Q. Which state agency or department licenses private investigators?

Answer: State licensure for private investigators is overlooked by various state organizations or agencies.

For example, Arizona private investigator licensure is majorly handled by the Licensing Unit of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, whereas, private investigators in California get licensed through the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

Other states, that include New Hampshire and New Jersey, regulate and license private investigators through the state police, while still others license private investigators through dedicated commissions, such as Tennessee’s Private Investigation and Polygraph Commission and North Dakota’s Private Investigations and Security Board.

Q. What is the process for applying for licensure as a private investigator?

Answer: Most states have a similar process for applying for state licensure as a private investigator, which generally includes the following:

  1. Achieve minimum licensure requirements of the particular state
  2. Achieve required education/experience for licensure
  3. Complete fingerprinting process for background investigation
  4. Complete license application and provide necessary documentation
  5. Pass state examination
  6. Maintain state licensure through continuing education and license renewal

However, some states have an entirely different process for licensure, such as the state of Pennsylvania requiring candidates for private investigators to contact the Clerk of Courts in their county of residence to request a court date and apply for licensure.

Q. Are there any specific requirements for licensure?


Answer: In all states wherein private investigators are licensed, private investigators mostly hold a current and valid surety bond to practice, which protects customers or clients from financial responsibility resulting from fraud or negligence. Specifically, commercial surety bonds, which are designed for non-contract items, are often needed to obtain a license as a private investigator.

Obtaining a surety bond involves pre-qualifying for the bond with a surety bond company or an insurance agent that can issue surety bonds, and signing an indemnity agreement. The minimum surety bond amount for state licensure varies; it may start from $5,000 and in some cases it may exceed, with many states requiring private investigators to hold a surety bond of at least $10,000.

Q. Are state licenses valid across state lines?

Answer: Private investigators may travel to and operate in other states, provided they follow the state requirements for doing so. Many states allow private investigators to cross state lines for private investigative purposes, provided they initiate their investigation in their home state.

However, state licenses for private investigators cannot be transferred to other states, unless there is an exception. There are quite a few states that have entered into reciprocity agreements which means that they mostly allow these private investigators to conduct their business within these states without holding or requiring a separate license. Currently, the following states have reciprocity agreements:

  • California
  • Louisiana
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Florida
  • Tennessee
  • Georgia