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How to Become a Private Investigator in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania private investigators, also known as PI's, are licensed to conduct investigations for both individuals and private institutions. The duties of private investigators parallel, in some ways, those of police detectives. In the state of Pennsylvania, PI's are permitted to locate missing people, track and trace an individual's whereabouts, conduct asset research for divorce and custody hearings, and assist with investigations for insurance companies. Licensing for PI's in Pennsylvania is handled by the county court that has jurisdiction over where the PI intends to work.

Complete three years of employment in the investigative or detective fields of law enforcement. This requirement can be met in several ways, including working as a police officer above the rank of patrolman, a sheriff's deputy or a military investigator. You will need to obtain at least two professional letters to verify your professional experience and submit them to the court with your application packet.

Submit two passport photos with your application. You can get your passport photos taken at local drug stores, mailing centers or your local post office.

Contact you local insurance agent to obtain a surety bond for $10,000. A surety bond is a type of insurance that protects your client in the event you do not complete your assignment. Submit a copy of your bond with your application.

Obtain a cashier's check or money order in the amount of $218 for your license application filing fee. Contact the clerk of the court nearest you to verify current licensing fees and accepted forms of payment. Be sure to save your money order receipt as evidence of payment.

Have two sets of fingerprints taken at a local law enforcement agency. You may need to set up an appointment first, depending on the agency you use. Send both sets of fingerprints plus a check or money order in the amount of $17.50 to:

Pennsylvania State Police Department Headquarters Research and Investigation Division 1800 Elmerton Avenue Harrisburg, PA 17110

The state police will conduct a check of your background and criminal history. The results will automatically be sent to the court when available; processing times may vary.

Request a minimum of five letters of reference from individuals you have known personally for at least five years. These letters should attest to your positive character traits and abilities. Each individual that writes a letter must reside in the county where you want to work. Each letter must be notarized by the individual who writes it. Keep the original letters for your records and submit copies.

Call your local court and speak with the clerk to obtain instructions on how and where to obtain an application for a Pennsylvania private investigator license. Some courts have the applications available to fill out online; others require you to obtain an application in person. Fill out the application completely and accurately and submit it, along with the filing fee, letters of experience, letters of reference and surety bond to your local county clerk of the court.

Attend your licensing hearing, which will be arranged by the court administrator after your background check results and application packet have been reviewed. During this hearing, the judge will review your application (petition) and your other licensing documentation. It is at this hearing that you officially become a private investigator. You will receive your license certificate and identification card at the end of the hearing if the judge decides to license you as a Pennsylvania private investigator.


The state of Pennsylvania delegates each county to regulate and license private Investigators. Check with your local court for further information on the application process for your location. Licensing fees may vary for each county. Make all checks payable to Commonwealth of Pennsylvania unless instructed otherwise.