How to Become a Private Investigator

PI requirements by state

If you landed on this page, chances are you want to become a private investigator. Congratulations! You are about to enter a rewarding and challenging career.

But how do you go about it?  How do you become a private investigator?

In this article we have condensed the process into three simple steps.














Keep in mind, however, laws and requirements change from state to state.  Some states may be more strict about their requirements, thus increasing the number of steps you have to take to become a private investigator, while other states may not ask for much.

Use the steps below as a general guideline, and always go over your state's requirements before making any assumptions.

Don’t worry! Below you will find links which you can use to learn about specific requirements in your state.

Let’s dive in!

​Steps to Becoming a Private Investigator

1

Find out your state's requirements to become a private investigator

Do not skip this step no matter what!

But before we jump into state specific data, let’s talk about “minimum requirements.”

Before you apply for a license, each state expects that you meet a minimum criteria. This criteria involves (but is not limited to) the following points:

  • Age
  • Moral Character
  • Legal Status
  • Criminal Record
  • Mental Capacity
  • Substance abuse history
  • Various other requirements

If you think about it, it makes sense for the basic requirements to establish minimum age, as no one wants 16-year-old “armed private investigators” roaming around the city!

Now that we have an idea of the minimum requirements, let’s go over state-specific requirements.

Click on your specific state on the table below to learn more about private investigator requirements by state:

Private Investigator Licensing by State

STATE

Must Meet Minimum Requirements

Higher Education Requirements?

Work Experience Requirements

License Required?

Additional Requirements

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For additions or modifications to the State Licensing list, please contact us at: admin[at]lowkeypi[dot]com

Explanation of Table Headings:

  • Minimum Requirements: Refers to age, legal status, high school education, criminal record, etc.
  • Higher Education Requirements: Refers only to whether an associate's or bachelor's degree is required to get a license.  (See step 2 below for further explanation)
  • Work Experience Requirements: This section makes note only if your state requires work experience.
  • License Required: These cells are check-marked only if your state requires a PI license.
  • Additional Requirements: These cells will be checked if your state lists additional requirements to get licensed. Examples: fingerprinting, firearms training, state specific training, liability insurance, surety bonds, etc.

If a state offers experience credits in lieu of education, the “education and experience” cells will both be highlighted for that particular state. Other terms for education/experience may apply. Please review your state’s requirements for more information.

2

Meet your state's education and/or work experience requirements

First and foremost, you should be aware that almost all states require a license in order to become a private investigator. Exceptions to this rule, at the time this article was published, are: Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

​Your state may require specific training and/or coursework to be completed before a license is issued to you.

State-Specific Coursework/Training vs. Higher Education:

You should also be aware that the educational requirements to become a private investigator/detective do not necessarily entail a higher education degree. In fact, the educational requirements to become a PI often revolve around getting state-specific coursework/training to obtain a license.

This coursework does not equate to an associate's or bachelor's degree.

You can pay for state-specific training, and licensing fees for a fraction of what an associate's or bachelor's degree would cost you.

In states where higher education is mentioned within their requirements, you are given the flexibility of getting work experience credits in lieu of education. Go over your specific state’s requirements for more details.

Here is our list of schools that offer private investigator training or relevant coursework​.

Minimum Required Education:

Most states require that you at least have a high school diploma, or its equivalent (GED), in order to apply for a PI license.

Experience Requirements:

Aside from education, many states require work experience before you can apply for a private investigator license. The number of years of experience varies from state to state, and in some cases you will get credit towards experience if you have worked in a similar industry, and/or if you have a college degree.

Resources:

Andrew from PI Advice wrote a useful content piece about ways to build up your experience to land a job as a private investigator. This article is worth reading.

Larry Kaye, also provides excellent advice in the following video:

3

Get your private investigator license (may also need: certifications and registrations)

The final step is to get your PI license. To do so, you have to meet the requirements described above, and you then have to prepare to pass your state’s (or accrediting body/agency) private investigator exam.

You should also keep in mind that in order to get a PI license, your state may also ask you to have fingerprints taken, to have firearms training, to get liability insurance, and/or to take additional training courses such as “powers to arrest.”

As previously stated, not all states require a license to operate as a PI, so make sure to go over your state’s requirements.

Last but not least:

​Maintain Your Private Investigator License

Once you get a license, make sure to keep up with your continuing education requirements (CEU), and/or renewal requirements. These CEU requirements are also state-specific.

FAQS

How long does it take to become a private investigator?

This question doesn't have a "one-size-fits-all-answer" - think about it for a moment - every state has different regulations that determine how long it will take you to become a private investigator.

In states were you must have a bachelor degree in order to become a private investigator you should account for 4 years of education. Other states may not require a bachelor degree to work as a PI, however; they may ask for "x" numbers of years of "hands on experience" which should be met prior to acquiring your private investigator license.

So, how long will it take you to become a private investigator? It all depends on your states requirements. See the table above, and follow your state's link to get more details.

Do you have to have a license to be a private investigator?

In most states, you can't become a private investigator without a license. At the time this article was published, only 4 states don't require private investigators to be licensed.  Those states are:

    • Idaho
    • Mississippi
    • South Dakota
    • Wyoming

Keep in mind, that even though these states lack specific licensing requirements, each one has its own professional associations with its own set of professional rules.


​Private Investigator Salary – how much do private investigators make?

So, time to answer the big question: how much do private investigators make? In order to properly understand the figures presented below we must first understand the concepts used by the Bureau of Labor & Statistics (BLS), which is the government agency in charge of collecting occupational employment statistics.

  • Mean wage: This is another way to say “average wage
  • Percentile wages: The percentile wage estimate is the value of a wage below which a certain percent of workers fall.
  • Median: The 50th percentile is called the Median.

It is also important to note that private investigator salaries vary depending on location and industry.

According to the most recent data (2014) gathered by BLS.gov, the annual average salary for this occupation is $52,880, or $25.43 per hour. 

The top paying states for this occupation are:

  • Nebraska – $66,800
  • New Jersey – $63,520
  • Alabama – $59,640

These figures represent annual mean wages.

Private investigator national percentile wage estimates are as follows:

PI percentile wage estimates

 

OR, in plain English:

  • 10% of PIs earn less than $27,000, therefore 90% of PIs make more than $27,000.
  • 25% of PIs earn less than $34,530, therefore 75% of PIs make more than $34,530.
  • 50% of PIs earn less than $44,570, the other 50% earns more than $44,570.  This is the median, represented by a dark green in the chart above.
  • 75% of PIs earn less than $63,370, therefore 25% of PIs make more than $63,370.
  • 90% of PIs earn less than $85,560, therefore 10% of PIs make more than $85,560.

Too Long, Did Not Read (TLDR)

Becoming a private investigator doesn't have to be complicated. Follow the steps below:

  • Find out your State's licensing Requirements
  • Meet your State's Education and/or Work Experience Requirements
  • Get your Private Investigator License (May also need: Certifications & Registrations) Once you get a license, you are ready to start working as a PI.

That’s not the end of if it, though; don’t forget to keep up with your continuing education courses according to your state’s requirements.

​Do you have questions, comments? Or perhaps you still have question on how to become a private investigator? Feel free to contact us. (Follow the same link to submit edits, additions, etc.)

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