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How to Become a Private Investigator in California

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The California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) licenses private investigators in California. Licensed investigators may investigate crimes and people and collect evidence for trials. California seeks to protect the public by requiring applicants for a private investigator's license to obtain experience and pass an exam and criminal background check. Successful applicants can get a license and work as a private investigator or manage private investigation companies in California.

Obtain at least 6,000 hours of experience in paid investigative work over three years (2,000 hours per year). You may reduce the experience to 4,000 hours and two years if you have a four-year degree in law or police science. You may also reduce the requirement to 5,000 hours over 2.5 years if you have an Associate of Arts degree in justice, criminal law or police science. The types of experience that qualify include the following: sworn law-enforcement officer, military police officer, investigative work under a licensed private investigator or repossessor, insurance adjuster, or arson investigator working for a public fire-suppression agency.

Fill out a Live Scan fingerprint application (See References). The BSIS requires a criminal background check before approving applications for a California private investigator's license. You must fill out a separate fingerprint form if you intend to apply for a weapons permit (See References). As of 2010, the fee is $51 for fingerprints if not seeking a firearms permit and $89 if requesting a permit.

Find a Live Scan center near you and acceptable methods of payment from the Attorney General's website (See References). Each Live Scan center can also assess an additional local fee. Ask for the total fee when you contact the local Live Scan center.

Access the licensing application packet for California private investigators (See References). Fill out the Application for License. Fill out the Personal Identification Form. All owners, partners, corporate officers and the general manager of your business must submit the personal identification form and fingerprints even if they already have a license. Attach two passport-quality photos of 2 inches by 1.5 inches. Fill out the Certificate in Support of Experience if you are applying as a qualified manager and send it to the employers who employed you for your qualifying experience. Have the employers return the form to you. Fill out the Request for Authorization of Business Name if requesting a business name.

Send the application forms, Live Scan receipt and application/exam fee for approval to schedule the required exam. You must also send a firearms permit application if requesting a permit (See Resources). Enter a city in the licensing tool to find an approved trainer and get the trainer to certify your training on the application (See Resources). As of 2010, the fee is $50, but you must send $130 if applying for a California firearm permit. Pay by check or money order to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. Use the following address:

Bureau of Security and Investigative Services P.O. Box 989002 West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002 916-322-4000 bsis.ca.gov

Wait for an examination packet from Psychological Services Industries. Use the materials included to prepare for and schedule the exam. Follow the instructions in the results report if you need to retest. You need to send an additional $175 to the BSIS after passing to obtain your license.


Include endorsed articles of incorporation if applying as a corporation with the Secretary of State. An out-of-state corporation that already filed with the Secretary of State must include its Statement and Designation by a Foreign Corporation (See Resources).