Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Tennessee

Dickson-based private investigator, Renee Brewer, knew from the first day she got her PI license that she wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of the people of Tennessee, but there’s no way she could’ve known she would become recognized as a hero. But that’s exactly what happened in 2017 when she located a child who had been missing for 10 days.

Saving lives and reuniting families isn’t exactly all in a day’s work for PIs, but you would be hard pressed to come up with any other profession outside of law enforcement and emergency services that would even present an opportunity to do profoundly important work like this. Along with the freedom this line of work gives you, a chance to crack cases and solve crimes that have a real impact on people’s lives is a big part of the appeal of a career in private investigations.

And Brewer is far from alone. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, by 2021 the number of licensed PIs in the state is expected to grow to 640. This means that whether you want to focus your career on finding missing persons or investigating fraud, by getting your own agency up and running or finding work with an established firm, you can bet there’ll be opportunities right here in Tennessee.

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


Private investigators in Tennessee are licensed by the Department of Commerce and Insurance’s (TCDI), Private Investigation and Polygraph Commission.  The Commission defines a private investigator as someone who accepts employment or engages in the business to furnish or obtain information having to do with one or more of the following:

  • Wrongs or crimes threatened or done against the U.S. or any state or territory
  • The activity, acts, affiliations, associations, business, conduct, credibility, efficiency, habits, honesty, identity, knowledge, loyalty, occupation, reputations, transactions, trustworthiness, or whereabouts of any person
  • The disposition, location, or recovery of stolen or lost property
  • The responsibility or cause of accidents, damages, fires, injuries, or losses to people or property
  • The securing of evidence to be used before any official body



Step 1.  Meet the Requirements to Obtain a License in Tennessee

You must meet a number of requirements to be able to apply for a license to be a private investigator in Tennessee.  They include the following:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be a U.S. citizen or resident alien
  • Not have been declared incompetent by reason of mental disease or defect (unless you have subsequently been declared competent)
  • License your own company or be affiliated with a licensed PI company in the state
  • Be of good moral character
  • Not suffer from narcotics addiction or dependence or habitual drunkenness
  • Not have practiced deceit, fraud, or misrepresentation



Step 2.  Obtain the Necessary Education and Training in Tennessee

To be a top-notch investigator requires superb analytical skills.  Obtaining formal education in criminal justice is one way to hone these abilities.  You can obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from schools that are found in a number of cities in the state, including Chattanooga, Clarksville, Memphis, Murfreesboro, and Nashville.  In addition, you can also obtain a criminal justice degree from one of the online schools that offer such options.

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Although the state of Tennessee does not specify any particular degree to become a licensed PI, you would benefit from obtaining training in this field.  This will help you be a desirable candidate and is particularly important, since it is common for new PIs to obtain their license as an employee of an agency.



Step 3.  Submit Your Tennessee Application

Once you are satisfied with your skill level, you need to submit your application to the state of Tennessee.  You will need to provide the following items:

  • Application
  • Fees:
    • Application:  $150
    • Fingerprint processing:  $60
    • License:  $100
  • Fingerprint cards (3 sets) or a photocopy of your electronic submission receipt
  • Photographs (2 color passport style)
  • Letter of endorsement/affiliation from a Private Investigation Company
  • Information on criminal arrests, charges, and convictions

You can also apply as an Apprentice.  You will need to have a written notice from the owner or qualifying agent of a licensed company that he or she intends to sponsor you.  This period is limited to six months, and you can only apply once.



Step 4.  Take the Tennessee Examination

After you have submitted your application, you will have to take the state’s examination.  This two hour exam has 50 questions that are drawn from the following:

  • Tennessee Private Investigator Laws & Rules online (60%)
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating (40%)

You will need to study ahead of time, since you are not allowed to bring any study materials into the exam.

As of April 2013, this exam is temporarily unavailable while the Commission is working to get a new proctor to conduct them.



Step 5.  Start Work as a Private Investigator in Tennessee

Once you have passed the exam, the Commission will contact you about your license and the license fee.  Processing time averages three to four months.  You can start work after you have been contacted and granted your license.  It is good for two years.

When you go to renew your license, you will need to have completed twelve hours of continuing education.  You should check with the Commission to see what is acceptable for this training.


Private Investigator Salary Information for Tennessee*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), PIs in Tennessee earned an annual, average salary of $52,410 as of May 2019 – that’s about $2,000 more than the state average. And once you’ve earned equal parts respect and success, you’ll be among the top 10% here who earn $101,970 or more.

To earn a PI  license in Tennessee, you’ll need to be at least 21 years old, pass an exam, and either be affiliated with a licensed private investigator firm in the state or be prepared to license your own

Private Investigator Salaries in Nashville and Memphis

PIs in both the Nashville and Memphis MSAs earn a median salary that’s close to the state average and the national average of $50,510.

The following BLS stats reveal the median-top 10% salary range for PIs working in Tennessee’s major metro areas of Nashville and Memphis:

  • Nashville: $49,200-$99,320 (approximately 370 licensed PIs)
  • Memphis: $49,280-$85,520 (approximately 110 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 Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development 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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