Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Oregon

A career in private investigations can take you down any number of paths, and in Oregon, that can mean some pretty interesting work.

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

Stake-outs aren’t just the stuff of movies – it’s how most investigations get done. That, and hours 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 platforms among the most popular tools for PIs, and a fitting place to start an investigation when you live in the Silicon Forrest.

Whatever your goals, Oregon is the place to put down roots and set up shop. According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, the number of new positions for private investigators is expected to grow at an impressive rate in the coming years. There were 560 PIs working in Oregon in 2016; by 2026, this number is projected to swell to 650, representing a 16% increase.

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 to conduct investigations for the purpose of gathering information about:

  • Crimes or wrongs done or threatened 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


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
    • A 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 experience performing investigative work.  You will have to contact a detective agency or a private investigator to offer them your services as an apprentice.

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 make you a more desirable candidate for jobs in the investigative field.

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Obtaining a degree in criminal justice will also help you learn about the legal system that you will be navigating and help to hone your analytical skills.  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 a number of 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 it.  You should study for this exam ahead of time to increase your chances of passing.  Oregon statutes Chapter 9, 40, 135, and 161-167 will be covered.

There are two phases in the examination process.  First, you will be given an orientation that covers general licensing requirements and standards.  You will be given a lunch break and then will take the exam immediately afterwards.

This open book exam has a combination of 50 true/false and multiple choice questions.  Copies of 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 a year to take it again.



Step 5.  Start Work as a Private Investigator in Oregon

Once you passed your exam and received your license, you will be ready to start work as a licensed private investigator. Your license will be good 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 need to obtain 32 hours of continuing education.  Two of these hours must be in 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.


Private Investigator Salary Information for Oregon*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private investigators earned an annual, average salary of $54,290 as of May 2019, which is about $4,000 more than the national average for this profession. The top dogs here (the top 10%) earned an average salary of $73,670 during this time, which gives you plenty of reasons to start making a name for yourself in Oregon.

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.

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

According to 2019 stats from the BLS, the Salem metro area was ranked ninth in the nation for its annual mean salary of private investigators.

The following BLS stats reveal the median-top 10% salary range for PIs in Oregon’s largest metro areas:

  • Portland: $62,640-$86,680 (approximately 110 licensed PIs)
  • Bend: $49,080-$54,030
  • Salem: $68,810-$73,670 (approximately 80 licensed PIs)

Salem PIs earned an average salary of $68,810 during this time, which was just slightly higher than those in the Portland metro area, who earned an average annual salary of $62,640. With both coming in well above the state average of $54,290, it’s easy to see why it’s beneficial to kickstart your career in one of the state’s major metro areas.


*Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which private investigators work. BLS salary data represents state and MSA (metropolitan statistical area) average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. 

2019 job growth projections from the State of Oregon Employment Department are aggregated through the U.S. Department of Labor-Sponsored resource, Projections Central. Employment conditions in your area may vary. 

All salary and employment data accessed May 2020.

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