Become a Private Detective through Training and Certification in Wisconsin

There aren’t many jobs that give you the kind of freedom and options that you’ll get as a private investigator. It takes the right kind of mindset and the state-issued paperwork to keep you on the right side of the law, but that combination of character and credentials could set you up for a line of work like none other.

Meet Basic Wisconsin License Eligibility Requirements
Get Fingerprinted
Take and Pass the Wisconsin Licensing Exam
Decide on Carrying Firearms and Meet Wisconsin Requirements
Complete PAWLI

You could land yourself a job with a PI agency tracking cheating spouses or looking for missing persons in Milwaukee, become part of the investigative team with the Unemployment Insurance Division conducting field work to check up on the legitimacy of injury claims, or spend your day sifting through social media accounts behind a desk in the Green Bay offices of an insurance company building cases for insurance fraud.

And, if you got as much of a mind for business as you do for investigations, you could take your career into your own hands by establishing an independent PI agency of your own.

Wisconsin is long on real opportunities in private investigations. With the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development reporting that there were just 330 PIs with active licenses in the state as of 2019, and an additional 30 new licenses expected to be issued each year, you’ll be stepping into a market with a lot of demand and very little competition.

The Wisconsin Department of Regulation & Licensing licenses private detectives throughout the state.



Step 1. Learn the Basic Wisconsin Private Detective License Eligibility Requirements

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

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have a high school diploma
  • Have a criminal record free of any felony convictions (or have any convictions pardoned by the governor or reduced to a misdemeanor)
  • Be employed by a licensed detective or investigation agency in Wisconsin



Step 2. Get Fingerprinted and Additional Documentation

All new private detective applicants in the state of Wisconsin are required to be electronically fingerprinted. After being fingerprinted you must submit a completed application within 14 days. Fingerprinting can be done by scheduling an appointment with L-1 Identity Solutions (866-416-4896). There is also additional documentation that is required but may be different for every applicant.

In addition to your completed application and fingerprint documentation, you will be required to submit a release for Federal Bureau of Investigation information, a color photograph of your face, and a conviction/pending charges form.

*Note: Unless you are covered by the liability insurance of the employing agency, you must obtain a $2,000 bond. You are responsible for obtaining your own insurance bond, the state does not sell bonds for licensing purposes. If you are looking to become an independent investigator, you must apply for a private detective agency license as well. The investigator application can be obtained in person from the Wisconsin DRL or can be downloaded from the department’s website. If you are working independently you must also fill out the “Employer” section of the application. If you owe any back taxes or child support or alimony payments, the application will automatically be rejected.



Step 3. Take and Pass the Wisconsin State Licensing Exam

The most difficult part of the application process for most applicants is the state licensing exam. Once the application, fingerprints, and additional documentation have all been submitted, the Wisconsin DRL will process all of the paperwork and documentation and email instructions to you for taking the licensing exam.

The exam itself is somewhat extensive and covers the information included in the Private Detective Code Book which can be downloaded or obtained by calling 608-264-9419.

It is also strongly recommended that you conduct an interview with a licensed Wisconsin private detective and request a recommendation of other pertinent materials to study for the exam. A list of licensed Wisconsin detectives can be found at the Professional Association of Wisconsin Licensed Detectives (PAWLI) website.



Step 4. Decide on Carrying a Firearm and Meet Wisconsin Requirements

Regarding firearms, the application process is the same whether you plan to carry a weapon or not. However, the state of Wisconsin does have specific administrative rules and codes regarding the carrying of a firearm by licensed private detectives while on the job.

The general conditions relating to carrying a firearm, the training requirements for carrying a firearm, and various agency firearms policies and laws can all be found on the Wisconsin Legislative Documents page of the State of Wisconsin website (



Step 5. Complete PAWLI and Additional Recommendations to Become More Marketable

Wisconsin does not require prior experience in order to become a private detective but training is helpful for the applicant in performing his or her job. There are a number of tech schools in Wisconsin that offer Professional Detective training programs and it is also advised that you conduct interviews and spend time with licensed and experienced detectives in order to become familiar with the day-to-day of P.I. work.

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It is also advised that the detectives you contact be members of PAWLI. These men and women have years of hands-on experience in all facets of private investigation and are more often than not very willing to share that experience and give advice to new and prospective detectives.


Private Investigator Salary Information for Wisconsin*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private investigators in Wisconsin earned an annual, average salary of $42,590 as of May 2019. Get a few years of experience and start building a nice list of success stories for your resume and you’ll likely land yourself among the top 10% here, with an average salary of $63,860.

You’ll need to earn a license through Wisconsin’s License, Permit and Registration Services to become a private investigator, which requires passing a background test and an online examination.

Private Investigator Salaries in Milwaukee and Green Bay

The following BLS stats reveal the median-top 10% salary range for PIs in the Wisconsin’s largest metro areas of Milwaukee and Green Bay:

Milwaukee: $38,770-$63,260 (approximately 130 licensed PIs) 

Green Bay: $40,180-$51,830 (approximately 80 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 Wisconsin Department of 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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