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Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Pennsylvania

You are required to obtain a license to become a private investigator in Pennsylvania.  While the state provides the regulations for getting a license, you will need to get your license from the county you plan to work in.  These are the steps you need to take to do so:

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

The business of being a private investigator in Pennsylvania is defined as investigating any of the following for hire, reward, or any other purpose:

  • Crime or wrongs threatened or done against the U.S. government or any territory or state
  • The conduct, habits, whereabouts, movements, associations, affiliations, reputation, transactions or character of any person, groups, organization, society, association, partnership, or corporation
  • The credibility of witnesses or other people
  • The whereabouts of missing persons
  • The recovery or location of stolen or lost property
  • The origin of, cause, or responsibility for libels, fires, losses, accidents, injuries, or damage to real or personal property
  • The connection, affiliation, or relation of any partnership, person, or corporation with any society, organization, union, or association or with an official representative or member of such an entity
  • With reference to any person or people seeking employment in the place of someone who has gone on strike
  • With reference to the honesty, conduct, loyalty, efficiency, or activities of employees, contractors and subcontractors, or agents
  • Securing evidence to be used before any official business or in criminal or civil trials
  • Furnishing watchmen, private patrolmen, or guards for hire or reward to protect people or property



Step 1.  Meet Pennsylvania Requirements to Obtain a License

You must meet the following requirements to become a private investigator in Pennsylvania:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be at least 25 years old
  • Have three years of experience as a
    • Detective agency employee
    • Law enforcement agent (with a rank higher than a patrolman)
  • Not have been convicted of any of the following:
    • Felony
    • Illegally using, carrying, or possessing a dangerous weapon
    • Making or possessing instruments for burglary
    • Unlawfully entering a building
    • Aiding a prison escape
    • Unlawfully distributing or possessing habit forming narcotic drugs
    • Picking pockets (or trying to do so)
    • Recklessly endangering another person
    • Committing simple assault
    • Soliciting a person to commit sodomy or other lewdness
    • Making threats of terrorism



Step 2.  Obtain the Necessary Education and Training in Pennsylvania

Although the state of Pennsylvania does not have any requirement for education, obtaining formal training in criminal justice will make you a more desirable candidate as you look to fulfill your requirement to work for a detective agency for three years.

In addition, you will need strong analytical skills to work as a private investigator.  An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is one way to obtain such skills.  You can obtain this training from schools located in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, and a number of other cities in Pennsylvania.  Another option is to enroll in one of the online schools that offer training in this area.



Step 3.  Submit Your Pennsylvania Application

Once you have met the requirements to become a private investigator, you should contact your Clerk of Courts to find out exactly how to submit your application and the amount of your county’s filing fee.  The state requires that you submit the following with your application:

  • Fingerprint cards
  • The signatures of five character references who have known you for at least 5 years
  • Passport size photographs (2)
  • Surety bond for $10,000
  • License fee of $200 for an individual

In most counties, the District Attorney will issue your license after a wait of at least 10 days from the filing date.



Step 4.  Start Work as a Private Investigator in Pennsylvania

Once you have obtained your license, the state requires that you post it conspicuously at your place of business.  Also, your county will send you a pocket license card.  You can work as a private investigator for two years before you need to renew your license.

You may wish to join the Pennsylvania Association of Licensed Investigators that provides valuable information and networking opportunities within the state.  There are a number of sources for jobs as PIs in this state, including attorneys, insurance companies, and individuals.



Private Investigator Salary Information for Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania had the fifth highest concentration of private investigator and private detective employment in the county in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry estimated that demand for private investigators in the state will increase 9.7% in the ten year period leading up to 2014.

Of the 2,070 PIs working in the state in 2012, nearly half were located in Philadelphia.  This city had the second highest level of employment of private investigators of any metropolitan area in the country.  Pittsburgh also has a lot of PIs for its size and had the eighth highest employment level for that year.

BLS 2012 salary data for the state as a whole and for selected cities is listed below:

Pennsylvania City
Average Annual Salary
Pennsylvania statewide

The areas outside of cities in Pennsylvania can also be lucrative areas in which to work as a private investigator.  The far western nonmetropolitan area of the state had the second highest wages of any nonmetropolitan area in the country and the fifth highest level of employment.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, nearly 18% of the private investigators in the state were self-employed in 2004.  Fifty three percent of the PIs in the state worked for one of the following three types of industries:

  • Investigation and security services:  30%
  • Department stores:  14.5%
  • Other general merchandise stores:  8.3%

Like most states, Pennsylvania requires a license to work as a private investigator.  In contrast to most other states, however, PI licenses are granted at the county level.  Applicants must be at least 25 years old and have three years of experience working as:

  • An employee of a detective agency
  • A law enforcement agent at a rank higher than a patrol officer

The BLS provides a detailed breakdown of wages by geographic areas and has information on salaries on a number of locations in Pennsylvania.  This is provided in the following table:

Private Investigator Salaries in Pennsylvania

Area name
Annual mean wage
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton PA-NJ
Harrisburg-Carlisle PA
Newark-Union NJ-PA Metropolitan Division
Estimate not released
Philadelphia PA Metropolitan Division
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington PA-NJ-DE-MD
Pittsburgh PA
Far Western Pennsylvania nonmetropolitan area

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