Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in North Carolina

North Carolina map overviewFrom coastal beach towns where cheating spouses go to disappear for the weekend, to the metros of Charlotte or Raleigh where fraudulent L&I claims are more common than you would believe, having the right combination of character and credentials, along with a knack for uncovering critical details to get at the truth, will always make private investigators a hot commodity.

Take, for instance, a case in Raleigh in 2019. A man hired a private investigator to investigate his wife based on suspicions that she was cheating. The information the PI uncovered not only proved the man’s suspicions right but also allowed him to secure a $750,000 judgment against his ex-wife’s lover on the grounds of “alienation of affection.”

If you’re ready to lay down roots here and get a career in private investigations off the ground, you’ll be in good company. North Carolina is among a handful of states set to experience double-digit growth in the number of PI licenses issued in the coming years based on demand projections. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, there were just 770 private investigators in the state in 2016; by 2026 the number is projected to increase by 14%.

There’s a lot of demand out there for investigative services, and even with the profession slated for strong growth in the coming years, there’s relatively little competition. That makes it a pretty appealing line of work to get into.

Before, heading onto how to become a private investigator in North Carolina, you must know what a private investigator is expected to do:

Meet North Carolina Requirements to Obtain a License
Obtain the Necessary Education and Training in North Carolina
Submit your North Carolina Application
Start Work as a Private Investigator in North Carolina


Private investigators in North Carolina are licensed through the North Carolina Department of Justice. North Carolina state code recognizes private investigators as anyone who contracts out investigative services that involve any of the following:

  • Investigate crimes or wrongs against the U.S. or its states or territories
  • Determine the details of any person’s business or personal dealings and character
  • Identify the location, recovery, or disposition of stolen or lost property
  • Determine responsibility or cause of events such as fires, libels, accidents, injuries, damages, etc.
  • Secure evidence that will be used before a court, officer, board, or investigative committee
  • Protect individuals from death or serious bodily harm



Step 1.  Meet North Carolina Requirements to Obtain a License

To become a private investigator in North Carolina, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
    • 21 years old to be an armed PI
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Have U.S. citizenship or be a resident alien
  • Be of good moral character 



Step 2.  Obtain the Necessary Education and Training in North Carolina

Before you can apply for a license to be a private investigator in North Carolina, you need to have three years of experience conducting investigations with one of the following:

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  • A private person, association, firm, or corporation or a contract security company
  • Any U.S. Armed Forces, federal, county, state, municipal law enforcement agency, or another governmental agency

This is the equivalent of 3,000 hours of training. One way in which to gain some of this experience is to obtain a criminal justice degree. This will help you learn how to become an effective and lawful private investigator and give you the analytical training to help experienced investigators pursue their cases. You can get this type of training from schools located within North Carolina or from online schools that offer degrees in criminal justice.

Close up of a graduation diploma

You will get the following credits towards your experience requirement to become a private investigator in North Carolina for these degrees:

  • Associate’s: 400 hours
  • Bachelor’s: 800 hours
  • Graduate: 1200 hours

If you are applying to carry a firearm as you work, you will need to complete the training required for armed security guards in 12 NCAC 07D .0807. You will only have to complete the first four types of classroom instruction for unarmed security guards:

  • The Security Officer in North Carolina
  • Legal Issues for Security Officers
  • Emergency Response
  • Communications

If you do not have the required training to become licensed as a PI in the state, you can apply to be an Associate and work under the supervision of a fully licensed PI in North Carolina.



Step 3.  Submit Your North Carolina Application

Once you have obtained the required training, you need to submit your application to the North Carolina Department of Justice. You will need to provide a number of different pieces of information when you apply for your license. The application and other required forms are available from the departmental website. You will need to submit your:

  • Application (for armed or unarmed registration)
  • Fingerprint authorization card
  • Photograph of head and shoulders were taken within the past six months
    • Email to [email protected]
    • Named like Doe.Jane.Sarah.1234.Licensee.jpg
      • Full name with your last name first
      • First four digits of your social security number
      • Type of license
    • Credit check from Equifax run within the past 30 days
    • Checks or money orders made out to the Private Protective Services Board
      • $150 non-refundable application fee
      • $38 for your fingerprint check
    • Proof of education (high school or college diploma or GED)
    • DD214 if a veteran or discharged
    • Release of record form that has been signed and notarized
    • Signed information form for the SBI Release of Records
    • Personal reference questionnaire filled out by each of your references

For registration as an armed private investigator, you will also have to submit the following:

  • Financial liability insurance certificate
  • Certificate of completion of unarmed training and firearms training

You will also need to have a criminal record check for each county that you have lived in for the past sixty months.  They must be from the Clerk of Court or else from approved online vendors listed at the website of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

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If you have any questions, you can contact the North Carolina Private Protective Services Board Licensing Unit at 919-788-5320.



Step 4.  Now that You are a Private Investigator in North Carolina

Once your application has been accepted and you have been granted a license to work as a private investigator in North Carolina for two years, you will be given a pocket identification card. You must have this card on you at all times when you are working as a PI.

If you choose to carry a firearm as you work, you are subject to additional requirements from the state. You will have been issued a firearm registration permit that you will need to carry with you. If you are approached or addressed by a law enforcement officer, you are required to let them know that you are carrying a firearm and have a valid permit.  You will have to renew this permit annually.

After you are done conducting an investigation, you are required to provide a written report to each client within 30 days that details your findings. You must keep a copy of this report.

There are continuing education requirements that you need to fulfill to keep your PI’s license. You need to have at least 12 credit hours of training that has been approved by the Private Protective Services Board during your two-year period of being licensed.  Ways to receive this credit include the following:

  • Attending a complete meeting of the Board
    • 1 credit per meeting; maximum of 4 credits per renewal period
  • Obtaining formal education in any of the following from an accredited institution:
    • Crime prevention
    • Criminal justice
    • Ethics
    • Finance
    • Forensics
    • Investigation
    • Law
    • Security profession
      • 1 credit per hour; not to exceed 8 hours
      • Only 6 credits allowed for online courses per renewal period
  • Conferences or seminars of the North Carolina Association of Private Investigators

You will have to turn in proof of your continuing education credits when you submit your license for renewal. You need to have a report for each course signed by the instructor that includes the following:

  • Your name
  • The date the course was completed
  • The number of hours taken

These are the legalities that you must adhere to as this is the most vital part of knowing how to become a private investigator in North Carolina.


Private Investigator Salary Information for North Carolina*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private investigators in North Carolina earned an annual, average salary of $60,710 as reported in May 2020, which puts them right in line with the national average of $60,100. Get a few years of experience under your belt, though, and you’ll likely be earning closer to $98,000, the annual average for the top 10% in the state.

Private investigators in North Carolina must hold a license from the NC Department of Justice. To qualify for licensure, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old (or 21 if you want to carry a firearm in the line of work), you’ll need to pass a criminal background check (going back five years), and you’ll need to show proof of at least three years (3,000 hours) of experience as a law enforcement official or as an investigator with a private person/company.

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And if you’ve gone the extra mile and earned a post-secondary degree, you can substitute some of those experience requirements and get your license even sooner:

  • Graduate: 1200 hours
  • Bachelor’s: 800 hours
  • Associate’s: 400 hours

Private Investigator Salaries in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Gastonia, and Concord

According to May 2019 statistics from the BLS, Raleigh was ranked first in the nation for its average salary of PIs with around Raleigh: $80,330-$131,690 and with approximately 40 licensed PIs.

Reporting an average annual salary of $80,330, Raleigh PIs beat out both the Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia and Fayetteville metro areas by more than $25,000. Raleigh also came out on top among the top earners in the field (top 10%), reporting an annual, average salary of $131,690 for PIs in the top bracket.

However, according to 2020, the following BLS stats provide a glimpse into what PIs in the median-top 10% salary range with a median salary of $56,596 in Fayetteville:

  • Fayetteville: $75,460-$100,214 

*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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