Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in South Carolina

In early 2020, a conference was held in Columbia that brought in law enforcement and PIs from around the region to address the sex trafficking epidemic plaguing the city. Keynote speakers highlighted the work of a PI who has focused her career on rescuing human trafficking victims. For many in the field this kind of rewarding work makes a career in private investigations about far more than just a paycheck and bragging rights.

From Columbia to Charleston, the state’s busy metro areas have more cases opening up daily than the private investigators here can handle. According to the SC Department of Employment and Workforce, there were just 200 PIs licensed to conduct investigations in the state as of 2019. But a steady rise in demand means more job prospects for this elite group of professionals for the foreseeable future.

This spells good news for anybody that has what it takes to learn the ropes and try their hand in private investigations, whether that means starting an independent agency from the ground up or joining a team of investigators by getting onboard with one of the established firms located throughout the state.

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


The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) licenses private investigators in the state. Earning a license entitles you to:

  • Operate a private investigation or private security business or entity
  • Perform or employ others to pursue investigative activities
  • Charge fees for private investigative services



Step 1.  Meet the Requirements to Obtain a License in South Carolina

You must meet a number of requirements to become a private investigator in South Carolina.  They include the following:

  • Be at least 18 years old (21 if armed)
  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • If you are a veteran, you must have one of the following discharges:
    • Honorable
    • General under Honorable
    • Uncharacterized
  • Not have been convicted of one of the following crimes:
    • Felony
    • Crime of moral turpitude
  • Not have a pending criminal charge that would disqualify you
  • Not currently holding a position that would be a conflict of interest
    • Exception is law enforcement officers that work unregistered for Premise Companies under the Moonlighting statute



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

To get a license to operate a PI business, you need to have a substantial amount of experience or training.  These include either:

  • Three years of employment as a full time sworn police officer employed in an investigative capacity
  • Equivalent amount of experience while a registered employee of a licensed PI business
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Formal training in criminal justice can be applied toward the experience requirement.  The amount of credit that each degree provides is as follows:

  • Certificate for study of PI:  Six months
  • Associate’s degree:  Six months
  • Bachelor’s degree:  One year
  • Graduate degree:  One and a half years

Criminal justice degrees are available from schools in Charleston, North Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and other cities in South Carolina.  Another way to obtain such degrees is by enrolling in one of the online schools that offer criminal justice training.



Step 3.  Submit Your South Carolina Application

Once you have obtained the required training, you can submit your application for a new private investigator’s business license.  You obtain the forms you need from the state’s website.  You will need to provide the following items:

  • Application (signed and notarized)
  • License fee:  $350 money order, cashier’s check, or company check made out to SLED
  • Fingerprint cards (2 complete sets)
  • Photograph (color taken within the past 3 months)
  • Surety bond for $10,000
  • Statement from your county’s Clerk of Court’s office that you do not have any outstanding civil judgments
  • Forms:
    • PD/PS-9
    • Disclosure of Principal(s)
    • Qualifications
    • DD-214 (if you have served in the military)
    • Copy of a sample contract



Step 4.  Start Work as a Private Investigator in South Carolina

After 4 to 6 weeks, you should receive your license and you can start work as a private investigator.  There are a number of different types of jobs that you can take as a PI in South Carolina.  Civil and defense attorneys, insurance companies, and some individuals employ private investigators.

The requirements for being an armed PI differ depending on your experience.  If you are a retired law enforcement officer, you do not need a permit to carry a gun in South Carolina.  If you are a resident of the state and meet the standards for a Concealable Weapons Permit (CWP), you can carry a handgun anywhere in the state except where prohibited by state or federal law.

Your license will be good for one year.  To renew it, you will need to have 12 hours of continuing education credits that have been verified by SLED during the 24-month period before your renewal.

This can include college, correspondence, or self-study programs.  SLED offers seminars that count towards this requirement, and at least 4 hours of the training must be presented by SLED or approved in advance in writing.  You will have to provide proof of your education when you submit your renewal.


Private Investigator Salary Information for South Carolina*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private investigators in the state earned an annual salary of $53,570 – that’s about $3,000 more than the national average. And if you think that sounds good, consider what you can make after you’ve gotten comfortable and built yourself an impressive client list. The BLS reports that the top 10% here earn an average salary of $75,340.

A license from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is required to be a private investigator or private detective in the state. To qualify, you need to be at least 18 years old or 21 if you want to work as an armed PI.

In addition to liability insurance in the form of a $10,000 surety bond, you’ll need to bring at least three years of experience as an investigative sworn police officer or registered employee of a private investigator business to the table.

The good news is that if you’ve gone the extra mile and earned some type of post-secondary education, you can use it to satisfy part of the experience requirement:

  • Certificate or associate’s degree: 6 months
  • Bachelors: one year
  • Graduate: one and a half years

If you want to carry a firearm as a PI, you’ll also need to secure a permit, unless you are a retired law enforcement officer.

Private Investigator Salaries in Greenville

The following BLS stats reveal the median-top 10% salary range for PIs in the Greenville MSA:

Greenville-Anderson: $57,910-$94,550 (approximately 40 licensed PIs) 

*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 SC Department of Employment and Workforce 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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