Whether burning up the open road in search of a missing person, compiling evidence for a child custody case, or performing debt collection services as a hired gun, a career in private investigations checks all the boxes in terms of pay and opportunities to grow a successful business – all while giving you plenty of chances to put some serious miles under your wheels in this great state and have fun doing it.
The Montana Board of Private Security Officers and Investigators, which operates through the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, regulates and licenses private investigators and private investigator trainees. As of May 2020, the Board licensed just 170 private investigators throughout the state, which means you’ll have plenty of space to forge your own career path here without bumping up against the competition too much.
Step 1. Meet Minimum License Requirements in Montana
Before applying for a license as a private investigator in Montana, you must first ensure you meet the minimum requirements for licensure, as set forth by the Montana Board of Private Security Officers and Investigators:
- You must possess a high school diploma or the equivalent.
- You must be at least 21 years old.
- You must be a citizen of the United States or a permanent resident of the United States.
- You must have no felony convictions or convictions involving moral turpitude or the illegal use or possession of a dangerous weapon.
- You must have no dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military.
- You must not suffer from alcohol or narcotics addiction or dependence.
- You must be willing to undergo a background investigation and fingerprint check by the Montana Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Step 2. Meet Experience and Education Requirements for Licensure in Montana
You must possess at least 3 years of education or experience before you can apply for a private detective license in Montana. You may qualify for licensure through a combination of experience, education, and training, but education and training cannot exceed one-half of the experience required. You may meet the experience qualification through the following activities:
- Employed as a private investigator or held security of authority to conduct a private investigation business
- Employed as an investigator, detective, special agent, or peace officer of a local, county, state, or federal government
Many individuals seeking careers as private investigators often first pursue a degree program in criminal justice, public administration, sociology, or a similar field to obtain knowledge in the criminal justice system and achieve professional recognition and advancement.
If you qualify through a combination of experience and education, you must be able to provide proof of your education through the submission of transcripts, diplomas, seminar certificates, course completion certificates, or similar documentation.
Step 3. Apply for Private Investigator License in Montana
Once you have determined that you meet all of the requirements for licensure, you must apply for a private investigator license by completing the Application for Private Investigator and submit the following documents:
- $250 application fee* (or $150 application fee* for a private investigator trainee)
- $20 examination fee*
- Proof of commercial general liability insurance (which includes personal injury and errors and omission coverage) of at least $500,000
- A passport-style photograph
- Copy of driver’s license or birth certificate for proof of age
- Copy of birth certificate or U.S. passport or immigration card for proof of citizenship or permanent legal residency
- Copy of diploma or GED certificate
- At least three references not related by blood or marriage
- Copy of DD-214 (if you served in the military)
- Proof of education/experience
- Copy of current firearms certificate (if applicable)
*Check or money order made payable to the Montana Board of Private Security
The Board will mail you fingerprint cards, a self-addressed envelope, and instructions for obtaining your fingerprints. You can obtain your fingerprints from most local enforcement agencies. Once you have your fingerprints completed, you must send the completed card and a check and money order for $27.25 (made payable to the Montana Department of Justice) to:
Montana Criminal Records
303 North Roberts
Post Office Box 201403
Helena, Montana 59620
Step 4. Sit for Montana’s Examination for Private Investigators
Once your application has been approved by the Board, you can expect to receive a letter qualifying you to sit for the private investigator examination, which includes information on Montana laws and regulations regarding the private investigation business.
You may take the exam at the Board’s office in Helena or a local job service location. You must contact the Board to notify them of the location where you will be taking the exam at least one week before your scheduled exam date.
Step 5. Qualify for a Firearms Endorsement in Montana
If you will carry a firearm as a private detective, you must meet the firearms endorsement requirements through the State of Montana, which include completing a Board-approved firearms training course, applying for the endorsement by completing an online application, and paying the $50 application fee.
Note: You must first be licensed as a private investigator in the State of Montana before you can apply for a firearms endorsement, and you must maintain your license to maintain your firearms endorsement.
Step 6. Get to Work in Montana
Once you have completed the examination, you will receive your license as a private investigator in Montana. You may choose to join a professional association, such as the Montana Association of Private Investigators (no active website found) or the United States Association of Professional Investigators, or obtain professional certification through an association such as ASIS International, which offers the Professional Certified Investigator designation for private investigators with at least 5 years of experience.
Step 7. Keep Your Montana License Current
To maintain your private investigator license in Montana, you must renew your license on an annual basis and pay the renewal fee of $175. You can complete your renewal online.
If you have a firearms endorsement, you must also renew that on an annual basis and pay the renewal fee of $50.
Private Investigator Salary Information for Montana*
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, private investigators in Montana earned a median salary of $71,531 as reported in May 2020, which is an impressive 18,000 more than the national average of 53,331 for this occupation.
To become a private investigator or private detective in Montana, you’ll need to be licensed through the Montana Board of Private Security Patrol Officers and Investigators. To do so, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old, and you’ll need to submit proof of 5,400 hours (three years) of investigative experience. You’ll also be expected to pass an examination and show proof of liability insurance.
If you want to carry a firearm, be prepared to complete a firearms training program that has been approved by the Board.
Chances are good that your career in private investigations in Montana will include running your own PI firm, but there’s plenty of good opportunities with state and local governments here, too, where you can earn a steady paycheck through work in investigations and security.
*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.