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Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Tennessee

These are the steps that you need to follow if you want to become a private investigator 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 (TCDI).  It has a special commission for investigations:  the Private Investigation and Polygraph Commission.  They define a private investigator as a person 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 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.

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), 190 private investigators were employed in Tennessee in 2012.  The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development projects a growth rate of 1.5% a year in the period from 2008 to 2018.  Ten new openings a year are projected, along with an additional twenty jobs produced by people leaving the workforce in the state.

The BLS indicates that private investigators in Tennessee made a median annual salary of $52,990 in 2012.   Salaries are higher for experienced professionals.  Those in the top 10th percentile earned $87,970 a year in 2012. 

Salaries for private investigators in selected cities in Tennessee are listed below:

Tennessee City
Average Annual Salary

A license is required to become a private investigator or private detective in Tennessee.  Applicants must be at least 21 years old to obtain their license from the Department of Commerce and Insurance.  They must either be affiliated with a licensed private investigator firm in the state or be prepared to license their own company.

Once an application has been submitted, it is necessary to take a two hour examination to become a PI.  Licenses are good for two years.  There is a requirement for twelve hours of continuing education to get it renewed.

Private investigators in Tennessee work in a number of different industries.  Loss prevention for retail stores is a commons source of jobs.  These PIs work both to protect the stores from shoplifting and from employee theft.

A number of private investigators are self-employed.  Individuals are frequently customers, since concern about infidelity is a common problem, as is tracking down missing relatives or friends.

Information on the PIs that were licensed and employed in Tennessee in 2012 is provided by the BLS.  A detailed breakdown of employment levels, and various percentiles of annual and hourly wages is presented in the following table.

Private Investigator Salaries in Tennessee

Area name
Annual mean wage
Memphis TN-MS-AR
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin TN

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