How to Become a Private Detective in California

California has some of the greatest opportunity for become a private investigator due to the diverse areas and significant size of the state.

Private Investigator / Qualified Manager

Requirements for Licensure

A private investigator is an individual who (1) investigates crimes, (2) investigates the identity, business, occupation, character, etc., of a person, (3) investigates the location of lost or stolen property, (4) investigates the cause of fires, losses, accidents, damage or injury, or (5) secures evidence for use in court. Private investigators may protect persons only if such services are incidental to an investigation; they may not protect property. An individual, partnership, or corporation licensed as a private investigator may employ a qualified manager to manage the business on a day-to-day basis. To be eligible to apply for licensure as a private investigator/qualified manager, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be 18 or older.
  • Undergo a criminal history background check through the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Have three years (2,000 hours each year, totaling 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in investigative work; or a law or police science degree plus two years (4,000 hours) of experience; or an AA degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2 ½ years (5,000 hours) of experience. Experience must be certified by your employer and have been received while you were employed as a sworn law enforcement officer, military police officer, insurance adjuster, employee of a licensed PI or repossessor, or arson investigator for a public fire suppression agency. (Work as a process server, public records researcher, custodial attendant for a law enforcement agency, bailiff, agent who collects debts in writing or by telephone after the debtor has been located, or person who repossesses property after it has been located is not considered qualifying experience.)
  • Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations and surveillance. A copy of the Private Investigator Act will be sent to you; and
  • Upon notification that you have passed the examination, you must submit a licensing fee of $175 to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.

To apply for a Private Investigator license, submit your completed application, two recent passport-quality photographs, a $50 application fee and a Private Investigator Live Scan form signed by the Live Scan Operator. A $32 DOJ fingerprint processing fee and a $19 FBI Fingerprint processing fee must be paid for each applicant at the Live Scan site. Send the application package to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.

Firearm Permit

Whether you work as a private investigator or qualified manager, you may not carry a gun on duty without having been issued a firearm permit by the Department of Consumer Affairs. To apply for a firearm permit, you must complete:

  • A course in the Power to Arrest. The three-hour training covers responsibilities and ethics in citizen arrest, relationship with police, limitations on Power to Arrest, restrictions on searches and seizures, criminal and civil liabilities, terrorism, code of ethics and personal and employer liability.
  • A course in the carrying and use of firearms. The 14-hour (8 hours classroom, 6 hours range) training course covers moral and legal aspects, firearms nomenclature, weapons handling and shooting fundamentals, emergency procedures and range training. The course must be given by a Bureau-certified firearms training instructor at a Bureau-certified training facility. Written and range exams are administered at the end of the course. Costs of training are determined by the training facility.
  • Be a citizen of the United States or have permanent legal alien status. Submit a firearm permit application, an $80 application fee and a Private Investigator License w/Firearm Permit Live Scan form signed by the Live Scan Operator. A $28 Firearm Eligibility application, $32 DOJ fingerprint processing fee and $19 FBI fingerprint processing fee must be paid for each applicant at the Live Scan site. Send the application package to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.

Note: A firearms qualification card expires two years from the date of issuance. An applicant must requalify four times during the life of the permit: twice during the first year after the date of issuance, and twice during the second year. Requalifications must be at least four months apart.


A private investigator who carries a firearm or provides armed bodyguard services must have $1 million in insurance – $500,000 for one loss due to bodily injury or death and $500,000 for one loss due to injury or destruction of property.

To request an application for licensure as a private investigator or qualified manager, call 916-322-4000 or 1-800-952-5210, or visit:

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FROM THE: Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services website

    1. What are the licensing requirements for a Private Investigator?The general requirements for a Private Investigator are:
      • Be at least 18 years old.
      • Three years of compensated experience totaling not less than 6,000 hours in investigative work, while employed by law enforcement agencies, collection agencies, insurance agencies, banks, courts, and other private investigation agencies, etc.
      • A college degree in criminal law, criminal justice or police science can be substituted for part of the experience.
      • Pass a written exam.
      • Undergo a criminal history review.
    2. When does a Private Investigator license become delinquent?The Private Investigator license becomes delinquent 30 days after expiration.
    3. How long after the expiration of my license am I able to renew it?If after three years you fail to renew a delinquent license, you must submit a new application and begin the application process again.
    4. How do I change my business name?To change your business name, you must submit a written request to the Bureau. Submit at least six names for consideration.Note: If you are requesting your existing business name change to another business name other than your personal name, please send a change of business name fee in the amount of $25 with your request.
    5. Can a Private Investigator use a post office box for an address?Yes. A Private Investigator may list a post office box only if mail delivery to the business address is not possible, or if the principal place of business is located at the licensee’s personal residence. This request must be explained in writing. Otherwise, the company must state address by street, number and city. In addition, no licensee shall conduct business from any location other than the location for which a license or branch office registration was issued.
    6. How long does it take to process a new license following a request for a change of name, address or branch office?Approximately four to six weeks.
    7. There has been a change in the type of ownership/entity after receiving the Private Investigator license. What do I have to do?Licenses cannot be transferred or reassigned to new entities. A change of ownership constitutes a new entity. You must submit a new application with appropriate fees. For example, if you apply and become licensed as a sole owner and later decide to form a partnership or corporation, you must apply for a new license. Partners can be added to a partnership license without obtaining a new license.
    8. Can a Private Investigator carry a concealed weapon?Yes. A Private Investigator may carry a concealed weapon on duty if he/she also has BSIS exposed firearms permit, and possesses a concealed weapons permit issued by local law enforcement or:
      • Is a retired peace officer with an endorsement to carry a concealed weapon or
      • Is an active duty peace officer
    9. Must Private Investigators who have concealed weapon permits, also have the Bureau’s exposed weapons permit while on duty?Yes. Even though a Private Investigator may possess a concealed weapons permit, he/she must also complete Bureau-approved firearms training course and obtain the Bureau’s exposed firearms permit prior to carrying and using a firearm.
    10. Can a Private Investigator act as a bodyguard?A Private Investigator may protect individuals. However, he/she may only do so in connection with a case that he/she has been previously hired to investigate.
    11. Must a Private Investigator carry liability insurance?Private Investigators are only required to carry insurance if carrying a firearm. Investigators must maintain a minimum of $500,000 liability insurance for loss due to bodily injury or death and $500,000 for one loss due to injury or destruction of property.
    12. Can a Private Investigator “ambulance chase”?No. Private Investigators are prohibited from soliciting business from anyone who has sustained a bodily injury as a result of an accident or from soliciting business from a family member of anyone who has sustained a bodily injury or death. However, they may solicit business from persons having an indirect interest in the injury, such as the injured person’s attorney, insurance company or employer.
    13. A Private Investigator has been hired to conduct an investigation. Who must he/she divulge information to?A Private Investigator may not release information acquired during an investigation to anyone other than his or her client, unless otherwise instructed by the client. However, if there are any criminal offenses, information may be released to local law enforcement or the district attorney.
    14. Can a Private Investigator do anything that a police officer can do?No. A Private Investigator has no law enforcement authority even if he/she has been hired by law enforcement to perform an investigation. A Private Investigator is an ordinary citizen and can only make citizen’s arrests.
    15. Can an unlicensed person who is working for a licensed private investigator make or distribute business cards?No. An unlicensed person may not use any form of identification which gives the impression that he/she may be licensed.
    16. What type of information must appear on business cards and other forms of advertisements?The name, addresses, and license number of the licensee as they appear in the Bureau’s records.
    17. Can an applicant who has been denied a license or a licensee who has been served an accusation to revoke a license go before the Disciplinary Review Committee (DRC)?No. He/she must make an appeal before an administrative law judge during an administrative hearing. Appeals may be made before DRC only with respect to firearms permits if there are allegations of firearms violations.
    18. How do I prove my investigative experience?The claimed years of qualifying experience must be substantiated by a written certification from the employer, subject to verification by Bureau staff. Only an employer or his or her designated agent may certify this claimed experience.
    19. What if my employer (or certifier) is unwilling to certify my experience?An employer who is a licensee shall respond in writing within 30 days to an applicant’s written request for certification of the applicant’s work experience and either provide the certification or the reason for denial. If the applicant is unable to obtain a written response or reason for denial and the applicant states under penalty of perjury that the employer (licensee’s) reasons for denial are invalid or insufficient, the director may require that the employer (licensee) provide the Bureau with all relevant employment records maintained regarding the applicant. The Bureau will use these records to substantiate the applicant’s employment experience.
    20. Can an employee of a Private Investigator bill clients?No. A licensee is solely responsible for the conduct of his or her business and may not allow anyone to independently advertise, engage clients, and furnish reports or bill clients. All business is under the control of the licensee and must be conducted under the name of the licensee.
    21. Must a Private Investigator’s findings be submitted to the client in writing?Investigative reports must be submitted in a manner agreed upon by the investigator and the client. If there is no agreement, oral reports are as acceptable as written reports. Investigative reports must be submitted to the client upon demand if payment has been rendered. Private investigators must make every effort to ascertain that the information acquired is factual and correct. While the Bureau has no jurisdiction over fees, licensees must provide clients with a fee schedule or reasonable explanation of how charges are calculated should the client question the licensee’s billing.
    22. Can a Private Investigator represent themself as government officials?No. Private Investigators may not present themselves as anyone other than a Private Investigator. The law prohibits the use of any title, uniform, insignia, identification card or any statement which gives the impression that they are connected with any federal or state agency.
    23. Can a Private Investigator enter property without an owner’s consent?No. A Private Investigator may not enter any private building without owner’s consent.
    24. Can a Private Investigator use a badge?No. A Private Investigator may not carry or wear a badge in connection with an investigation since it may mislead others to believe that he or she is a peace officer or other government official.
    25. Once a license is obtained, can the licensee conduct business at a location other than what appears in the Bureau’s records?No. A licensee may only conduct business at the location shown in the Bureau’s records unless he or she obtains a branch office certificate.
    26. How do I notify the Bureau of my change of address?You must notify the Bureau in writing within 30 days of such change. Be sure that you include your license number, name, previous address, the new address, date of birth and Social Security number. Please print information.
    27. I received a 1203.4 dismissal on my conviction. Do I still need to report the conviction on my application?Yes. You must report the conviction.
    28. How Do I obtain a Private Investigator photo identification?Private Investigators must contact PSI at (877) 392-6422. PSI staff will schedule appointments for photos at one of their California centers. The photo identification card costs $6 and is paid to PSI.


California Association of License Investigators





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