Building a business in private investigations in Virginia is, as they say, like shooting fish in a barrel. After all, you can’t go wrong when you’ve got the Washington D.C. metro area as your investigative playground.
For example, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, part of the Department of Defense, the government agency charged with performing background investigations on U.S. government personnel and contractors, is located in our nation’s capital, along with a handful of field offices throughout Virginia, including Herndon and Alexandria. (Currently, security clearances are the responsibility of the Office of Personnel Management, but the DoD will assume this responsibility by October 2020).
Outside contractors perform about 65% of all security clearance investigations, which is where you come in as a private investigator. If your background includes military or police work, chances are you’ll be among Virginia’s PIs being scouted by the DoD, insurance companies and corporations. Best of all, as a contractor, you’ll manage your own career while still reaping the benefits of steady government work.
The Virginia Workforce Connection reported 1,280 PIs in the Arlington-Alexandria-Washington D.C. MSA as of 2019, earning it a fourth place position for its employment of PIs during this time. But there’s no risk of oversaturation in this market. That’s because, as of 2019, DoD contractors and government employees were working their way through a backlog of no less than 410,00 background investigations, so even with a lot of new PIs entering the market here, there’s plenty of work to go around.
Even better news is that salaries for PIs here are just as impressive as the job opportunities. In fact, according to May 2019 stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), PIs in the Washington D.C. area earned more than investigators anywhere else in the nation, at $69,790.
The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services oversees the private investigator verification and application process.
In the state of Virginia, a private investigator is defined as any of the following:
- A person who performs the duties of a private investigator or advertises themselves as such
- A person who investigates or agrees to investigate, on a contractual or employment basis, crimes or civil transgressions or the location of stolen property
- A person who investigates the cause of accidents, fires, or other incidents (Materials collected during the course of a private investigation can be used as evidence in a hearing before a court, board, or any other kind of investigative or judicial committee.)
- A person who provides personal protection services to another person or group, including protection from bodily harm and death
Step 1. Learn the Basic Virginia Private Investigator License Eligibility Requirements
In order to become a private investigator in the state of Virginia, you must meet the following basic requirements:
- You must be 18 years of age or older.
- You must achieve successful completion of all precursory training requirements for applicable registration categories.
- Be a citizen or legal resident of the United States.
Step 2. Get Fingerprinted and Complete the Initial Training Requirements
The initial training requirements to become a private investigator in the state of Virginia include 60 hours of entry level training which involves the following topics:
Orientation – The orientation section includes information on applicable Virginia codes, ethics and signs of terrorism.
Law – The law section includes the topics of basic law, criminal and civil law, evidence and privacy.
General investigative skills – The General investigative skills section includes the topics of surveillance, research, interviewing, and more.
Documentation – The documentation section includes the topics of photography, audio recording, courtroom testimony and general communications.
Types of investigations – The types of investigations sections includes the topics of accident, insurance, background, as well as fraud and financial.
Note: The topics of law, general investigative skills, documentation, and types of investigations all include a practical exercise, which does not count toward the required 60 hours.
Applicants must submit an initial registration application form along with the nonrefundable application fee and a completed fingerprint card.
The fingerprint processing application also must be submitted along with the applicable processing fee.
Exam – The Virginia licensing exam must be taken and successfully passed before you can become licensed. Your training course will provide you with instructions on how to enroll for the exam when you are nearing completion.
Optional Education – Though Virginia does not have education requirements to practice private investigations, many prospective private investigators choose to complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration in investigations or a related major as a way to gain a foundation of knowledge in the field of investigations, and to better prepare for success on the license examination.
Step 3. Firearms Endorsement (optional)
The firearms endorsement requirements must be completed for those applicants who plan to carry or have access to a firearm for the purposes of their private investigation duties.
The Firearms Endorsement page of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services has more information including the various types of firearms that are permissible and the requirements for each.
Step 4. Insurance, Bonding, and Additional Required Forms
Virginia requires all private investigator firms to carry a surety bond in the minimum of amount of $100,000. This requirement only applies to those wishing to establish a company, not to individual private investigators. $300,000 in liability insurance is also required of private investigator firms.
Applicants who are already registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services but who want to include additional categories on their registration are required to complete an Additional Registration Category mandate. Information for additional categories can be found on the Additional Registration Category page.
Applicants who have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor with the exception of minor traffic violations (i.e. speeding, parking tickets, etc.) in the state of Virginia are required to fill out and submit a Criminal History Supplemental Form which can be found on the Criminal History page. This requirement also applies to those who have been the subject of military court martial.
Step 5. Continuing Education
Your private investigator’s license will be valid for 24 months from the date of issue. In order to renew the license you must be able to prove that you have completed at least 8 hours of state sanctioned continuing education (CE). Here is a list that the state has furnished of CE courses.
Also, you may wish to join the Private Investigators Association of Virginia to keep up with industry news and continuing education opportunities.
Private Investigator Salary Information for Virginia*
According to the BLS, the annual, average salary for PIs was $47,700. Among those with considerable experience and a reputation for excellence, the average annual salary tops $96,010.
Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services requires a license to become a private investigator in the state. To qualify for licensure, you must be at least 18 years old and you must complete at least sixty hours of entry-level private investigator training. If you want to work as an armed PI, you’ll need to meet the standards for firearms endorsement and provide documentation of firearms training.
Private Investigator Salaries in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Roanoke and Richmond
Outside of the Washington D.C. metro area, the largest number of PIs have a home base in Richmond. However, the highest earners at the median level are in Roanoke.
The following BLS stats indicate what PIs in the median-top 10% salary range are earning in Virginia’s largest metro areas:
- Virginia Beach-Norfolk: $59,090-$89,790 (approximately 70 licensed PIs)
- Roanoke: $65,090-$78,890 (approximately 30 licensed PIs)
- Richmond: $43,520-$75,220 (approximately 470 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 Virginia Workforce Connection 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.