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Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Washington

A Washington state private investigator license can be obtained by following the steps outlined below:

Meet Washington State Basic Eligibility Requirements
Apply Directly to a Private investigator Firm in Washington
Complete the Washington Licensing Application and Pay the Application Fee
Complete the Washington State Exam

You must have a private investigator license if you work for a PI agency in Washington providing investigative services, escort or bodyguard services, or if you offer property loss prevention services.

PI licenses are issued to qualified candidates through the Washington State Department of Licensing.

To become licensed as a private investigator in the state of Washington you must meet basic license eligibility requirements and secure a position with a Washington State licensed PI agency.

Once you are affiliated with a state-licensed agency, you can apply for your own license, which will involve paying an application fee and submitting a fingerprint card to be used in a background check, and which will remain on record with the state.


Step 1. Meet Washington State Basic Eligibility Requirements

In order to become a private detective in the state of Washington, you must meet the following basic requirements:

    • Be over 18 years old (21 if carrying a concealed weapon)
    • Be a United States citizen or resident alien
    • Have employment with, or an employment offer from, a properly licensed private investigator firm
    • Be free of any criminal convictions that directly relate to the duties you will perform as a private investigator

Washington State offers four different kinds of private investigator licenses:

Licenses in any of these four categories requires 4 hours of preassignment training in EACH of these areas:

  • Legal Powers and Limitations
  • Evidence
  • Report Writing
  • Courtroom Testimony
  • Confidentiality/Privilege
  • Court Systems (Federal, State, County and Municipal)
  • Common Sources of Public Information
  • Activities that Violate Criminal Statutes
  • Permissible Purposes of Reports


Step 2. Apply Directly to a Private investigator Firm in Washington

The state of Washington is different from many states in that it does not require you to obtain a private investigator’s license in order to apply for employment. In fact, to obtain licensure in Washington you must have either already obtained employment, or at least have obtained an offer for employment. This means you do not have to obtain your license in order to begin looking for employment.

An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, law or related fields are very well suited to preparing private investigators for prereassignment training, examination, and ultimately, the job itself.

You must decide if you would like to carry a firearm in the line of duty, which will require a Washington state firearms certificate from the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. If you decide to apply for a firearm permit, and you are going to work with an agency, you can submit your firearm application through the agency itself.

If you are going to work for yourself, or become an employer, you must submit the application yourself, and pay the fee as shown below.



Step 3. Complete the Washington Licensing Application and Pay the Application Fee

The application for Washington state private investigator licensure can be found here.  The fees can be paid in the form of either a check or money order and are as follows:

  • $600 for an agency application in which the principal will be unarmed
  • $700 for an agency application in which the principal will be armed
  • $200 for unarmed private investigator
  • $300 ($200 + $100) for armed private investigator. This fee represents the unarmed investigator fee of $200 plus an extra $100
  • $25 for the certified trainer exam

It is always best to use a fingerprint card that is produced or endorsed by the state. This will help to avoid any delays in the case the fingerprint card you select is not supported by the state. Also, it is highly recommended that you go to a sheriff’s office, or police office, in order to have your fingerprints professionally recorded.



Step 4. Complete the Washington State Exam

Washington does not require a formal education to obtain your PI license, though, many prospective Private Investigators choose to obtain an associate degree in criminal justice or related fields in order to help bolster their knowledge and competency and to help better prepare them for the state exam.

The Washington state private investigators exam is broken down as follows:

  • (45%) How Washington law applies to private investigators – Includes questions on privacy, campaign finance, the Washington criminal code, and more
  • (30%) Federal laws – Includes questions on the Federal Privacy Act, Freedom of Information Act, Federal Wiretapping Act, and more
  • (7.5%) Court systems – Includes questions on the Judiciary itself, as well as Judiciary procedures, and more
  • (10%) Legal procedures and definitions – Includes questions on the Washington State criminal code, civil procedures, evidence, and more
  • (7.5%) Other resources of public information – Includes questions on Code reviser’s office, worldwide locator, computer databases, Federal and state laws which can be found on the internet, and more

Washington has provided the following resources to help you:

The International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators (IASIR) provides information about state and local licensure and requirements

The Council on Licensure, Enforcement, and Regulation (CLEAR) is an international organization of professional and
occupational professionals dedicated to helping with issues of licensing and regulation.


Private Investigator Salary Information for Washington

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 310 private investigators were employed in Washington state in 2012.  They had an annual median salary of $67,900 with those in the top 10th percentile earning $100,530 a year.

Salaries from the BLS for selected cities are listed below:

Washington City
Average Annual Salary

Seattle has a high concentration of private investigators with slightly more than half of the PIs in the state being based out of that area.

Employment prospects for PIs are good in Washington state.  The field of private investigation is projected to grow 1.2% a year from the second quarter of 2012 to that of 2014 according to Washington’s Employment Security Division (ESD).

The ESD provides a breakdown of projected annual growth rates for that period in different workforce development areas of the state:

  • Northwest:  3.9%
  • Seattle-King County:  1.0%
  • South central:  1.7%
  • Spokane:  1.4%

Washington state requires a license from it’s Department of Licensing to become a private investigator or private detective in the state.  Applicants must be at least 18 years old.  They must have a job offer or already be employed by a licensed private investigator company in order to be able to apply for this license.  An examination is also required to be able to become a PI in Washington state.

The requirements to get a license to be an armed PI in the state are more stringent.  Applicants must be at least 21 years old and have a current firearms certificate from the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission.

Salary information from the BLS is available for private investigators who worked in Washington state in 2012.  A detailed breakdown of hourly and annual wage percentiles for selected cities is provided in the table below.

Private Investigator Salaries in Washington

Area name
Annual mean wage
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro OR-WA
Seattle-Bellevue-Everett WA Metropolitan Division
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue WA

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