How to Become a Private Investigator in Oregon

Silhouette of investigator following footprints

A career in private investigations can take you down an adventurous road converging at a number of paths, and in Oregon, that can mean some pretty interesting work!

Maybe you’re looking to contract your services to attorneys working for civil litigation cases…uncovering evidence of marital infidelity to be used in divorce or child custody cases…or investigating the all-too-common occurrence of insurance fraud – even after years in the business, any PI will tell you that it is almost really stunning what people think they can get away with.

As astounding stake-outs may seem, they aren’t just the stuff you see in movies – it’s how most investigations in the real world get it done! That, and the busy hours of sifting through social media for a perfectly self-documented admission of guilt. 

You’d be amazed – or maybe you wouldn’t – at how people bust themselves for everything from L&I injury claim fraud to trafficking in stolen goods to cheating on their spouse, simply because they can’t resist the temptation to brag about it on Facebook. 

This has made the most popular social media platform become the most popular tool for PIs, and an interesting apt place to start an investigation when you live in the Silicon Forest. 

Whatever your goals, Oregon is the place to settle the roots and set up shop. According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, the number of upcoming positions for private investigators is expected to grow at an impressive rate in the coming years. 

You might want to consider this opportunity before you make your move: In 2016, around 560 PIs were working in Oregon; by 2026, this number is projected to swell to 650, representing a 16% increase! This is an opportunity you would not want to miss at any cost.

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

Private investigators in Oregon are licensed through the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST). The DPSST offers a broad definition of what it means to be a private investigator, granting PI licensure to any qualifying individual or business for conducting investigations to gather information about:

  • Crimes or wrongdoings or threatening against the government
  • The identity, habits, conduct, business, occupation, honesty, integrity, credibility, knowledge, trustworthiness, efficiency, loyalty, activities, movements, whereabouts, affiliations, associations, transactions, acts, reputation, or character of any person
  • The location, disposition, or recovery of lost or stolen property
  • The cause of or responsibility for fires, libels, losses, accidents, damages, or injuries to persons or property
  • Evidence to be used before any court, board, officer, referee, arbitrator, or investigation committee

Now that you are well aware of what it takes to be a PI, let’s uncover how to become a private investigator in Oregon through the following steps:


Step 1.  Meet Oregon Requirements to Obtain a License

You must meet several requirements to be able to become a private investigator in Oregon. These include:

  • Being a U.S. citizen
  • Being at least 18 years old Having the following verifiable experience performing investigative work: 
  • 1,500 hours 
  • Substitution of up to 500 hours of education



Step 2.  Obtain the Necessary Education and Training in Oregon

Before you can become a licensed private investigator in Oregon, you will need to have 1500 hours of experience performing investigative work or you must have either a  combination of work experience along with 500 hours of job-specific education. 

You will have to contact a detective agency or a private investigator to offer them your services as an apprentice.

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You can reduce the time you will need to work by 1/3 by obtaining advanced education. Three hours in class counts as one hour of allowable experience.  Also, having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice would help in making you a sought-after candidate for jobs in the investigative field!

Obtaining a degree in criminal justice will help to hone your analytical skills and also help you learn about the legal system that you will have to navigate. You can obtain this training from schools located in cities such as Portland, Salem, Eugene, or Gresham.  

Another option is to enroll in online training that is offered by several accredited institutions.


Step 3.  Submit your Oregon Application

When you apply for your license, you will need the following items:

  • Fees made out to DPSST (no personal checks or cash)
    • Background check and exam fee:  $79
    • License fee:  $550
      • Those who have returned from active military status are exempt
  • Application (PS-1)
  • Letters of reference (3 professional)
  • Fingerprint cards
    • Sealed with affidavit (PS-4) in a tamperproof bag
  • Photographs (2 electronic taken within last six months)
  • Bond or insurance:
    • $5,000 corporate surety bond or
    • $5,000 errors and omissions insurance, showing individual licensee
  • Resume (clearly showing education, qualifications, and work experience)
  • Professional Code of Ethics for PIs (PI-27)

You can expect the process to take 4 to 8 weeks.



Step 4.  Take the Oregon Examination

Once your application packet has been processed, the state will notify you of your registration to take the PI Proficiency exam. Once you have been approved for the exam, you can call 503-378-8531 to make an appointment to take the exam. 

You must study for this exam far in advance to increase your chances of passing. This exam will cover statutes that PI’s need to have a fair share of knowledge on while conducting investigations in Oregon. 

Make sure that you extensively research the following statutes prior to your exam date as these Oregon Revised Statute chapters will be covered: Oregon statutes Chapter 9, 40, 135, and 161-167.

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There are two phases in the examination process:

First, you will be given an orientation that covers general licensing requirements and standards. Following this, you will be given a lunch break. You will have to take the exam immediately afterward.

This open-book exam will provide you with all the resources, you will be given a combination of 50 true/false and multiple-choice questions. Copies of the Oregon Revised Statute and Administration Rule that are relevant to the exam will be provided to you. You are not allowed to bring your own material.

You will have to attain a score of 86% to pass, and you will be given up to three tries to pass it. If you do not pass during these three attempts, you will have to wait another year to take it again.



Step 5.  Start Work as a Private Investigator in Oregon

Once you pass your exam and receive your license, you will be ready to start work as a licensed private investigator. Your license will be valid and good to go for two years.

You may want to join the Oregon Association of Licensed Investigators, Inc. In addition to opportunities for networking, you can obtain such benefits as a discounted website for your business.

During the time period for which your license is valid, you will have to obtain 32 hours of continuing education. Two of these hours must be given to ethics. You can obtain this education from a variety of places, including:

  • Attending:
    • Educational institutions
      • Up to 20 hours can be obtained online
  • Conferences and seminars
  • Computer seminars
  • Publishing an article or a book
  • TV and radio appearances
  • Reading:
    • Non-fiction books relevant to investigation
    • Professional/technical manuals

To determine exactly what qualifies for continuing education credits, you can review the continuing education guidelines in Division 61 section 259-061-0260 of Oregon’s Administrative Rules. You must submit a summary form of this education when you apply for your renewal.

To be sure your renewal is processed in time, you should apply at least two weeks before the expiration date of your license. If you turn in your renewal package late, you will have to pay a $25 late fee. 

You will have to retake the exam and go through another background check if you apply for your renewal more than 30 days past the expiration date. It is illegal for you to work as a PI in Oregon after your license expires.

How to become a private investigator in Oregon might as well be clear to you now but to pursue a career path, you need to know more than just that, and the range of salary matters a lot when it comes to deciding on a career for yourself.


Private Investigator Salary Information for Oregon*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), The median average annual wage for private detectives and investigators is $67,476 in 2021.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $96,950.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for private detectives and investigators in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • Finance and insurance: $63,190
  • Government : $61,630
  • The investigation, guard, and armored car services: 48,620

Oregon Private Detectives and investigator annual wages chart

Private investigators in Oregon must be licensed through the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST). 

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, must show proof of at least 1,500 hours of experience as an investigator (up to 500 hours may be substituted for college credit), and must pass a written exam. 

Other requirements include passing a criminal background check, obtaining at least $5,000 liability insurance as either a surety bond or errors and omissions insurance, and submitting three professional letters of reference.

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PI licenses must be renewed every two years upon completion of at least 32 hours of continuing education.

Private Investigator Salaries in Portland/Vancouver, Bend and Salem

Nonmetro areas had an overall annual mean wage of $42,490, compared with $54,820 in metro areas. Private Investigator Salaries in Portland, Vancouver, Bend, and Salem

The average salary for a private investigator in:

  • Portland $21.22 per hour 
  • Vancouver $27.43 per hour
  • Bend: $26.02 per hour 
  • Salem Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA):  $27.03 per hour


During this time, Portland PIs earned an average annual salary of $69,573. With both coming in well above the state average of $54,820 in the metro area, it’s easy to see why it’s beneficial to kickstart your career in one of the state’s major metro areas.

*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.

*2021 job growth projections and occupation and wage range from the State of Oregon Employment Department are aggregated through the U.S. Department of Labor-Sponsored resource, Projections Central. Conditions in your area may vary. 

All salary and employment data accessed September 2021.

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