How to Become a Private Investigator in Wisconsin

Private detective looking at map on a pegboard

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 become a private investigator, but it’s one of the most rewarding careers you could ever get into. You’ll have the ability to take on cases by yourself, work for multiple clients at once and conduct investigations all over the state (and even outside of the state, if you wanted).

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However, the first step of knowing how to become a private investigator in Wisconsin is to understand the basic requirements you’ll need to meet. 

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



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

The first requirement you’ll have to meet when you’re looking for answers to how to become a private investigator in Wisconsin is to meet the basic eligibility criteria defined by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Service.

To become a PI in Wisconsin, you must – 

  • be at least 18 years old or older.
  • be able to read, write and understand English.
  • not have any felony convictions (in Wisconsin or elsewhere).
  • have no misdemeanor convictions related to theft, fraud, or perjury within the past 5 years (in Wisconsin or elsewhere).
  • have not committed any crimes in the last 20 years that would be considered felony offenses (in Wisconsin or elsewhere, depending on how long ago it was).
  • be sponsored/employed by a PI agency in Wisconsin.
  • not have any misdemeanor convictions for assault or harassment within the past 3 years (in Wisconsin or elsewhere).
  • be a United States citizen (or permanent resident if you are not a citizen)
  • be able to provide proof of your legal right to work in the United States (if you are not a U.S. citizen).
  • have no outstanding tax issues with any state or federal government agencies.


Step 2. Get Fingerprinted and Additional Documentation

This is the next step if you’re looking at how to become a private investigator in Wisconsin. 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 (877-614-4364). There is also additional documentation that is required but may be different for every applicant.

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In addition to your completed application and fingerprint documentation, you will be required to submit a release for Federal Bureau of Investigation information (Form #2687), 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 education and training will vary depending on how much experience you already have as an investigator. Most people complete at least a 100-hour course. Such a course on how to become a private investigator in Wisconsin will teach you things like:

  • How to handle investigations?
  • How to protect the integrity of your findings?
  • How to gather information through different techniques? 
  • How to prepare evidence?
  • How to file all necessary paperwork with local and state authorities?

The exam itself is somewhat extensive and checks for 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.

If you’re wondering how to become a private investigator in Wisconsin, another thing you should know about is 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 several 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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Another thing we recommend you do when you’re looking for how to become a private investigator in Wisconsin is to contact 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 salary of $51,840 as of May 2020. 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 annual mean wage range for Private Detectives and Investigators in Wisconsin’s largest metro area of Milwaukee:

  • Milwaukee: $51,690 (approximately 130 licensed PIs) 

Wisconsin is expected to create 111,926 new jobs between 2018 and 2028. With 3.5% growth, the employment in the state is projected to increase from 3.2 to 3.3 million jobs.

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% in Wisconsin, with an average salary of $92,270. Thus, being one of the most lucrative offers and reasons to work as a Private investigator in Wisconsin.


 *May 2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics Salary and Job Market Figures for Private Detectives and Investigators reflect state data, not school specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

*2021 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 September 2021.

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