How to Become a Private Investigator in California | Schools, Requirements

Following people and being all creepy around them doesn’t make you a private investigator. In fact, that is where you mess it all up. To become a professional private agent, aside from the level of finesse, you also need a legal license that you can successfully get if you know how to go about it.

In this post, we have explained the step-by-step procedures you must take to get a Private Investigator in California license.

California has the highest level of private investigator employment in America. That means you will have many job opportunities available once you have a California license as a private investigator.

So, if you are passionate about building this career, we will advise you carefully to read this post without skimming.

Remember, we are not telling you this because we want to keep you long here, we just want you to get nothing but the best, which is our utmost priority.

This post provides information on how to become a private investigator in California, laydown procedures for getting a private investigator’s license, and much more.

You can quickly scroll through the table below to get an overview of all this post entails.

Who is a Private Investigator?

According to Wikipedia, a private investigator is a person who individuals or groups can hire to undertake investigatory law services. Private investigators often work for attorneys in civil and criminal cases.

In other words, a private investigator, also known as a private detective or agent, is a person who digs into things, finds facts, and analyzes information about legal, financial, and personal matters. 

This person can work either as full-time staff or contract staff with private detective firms, police departments, private businesses, attorneys, organizations, and individual clients.

Generally, private agents perform pre-employment background checks, look into accusations that someone has been stealing money from a company, or prove/disprove infidelity in a divorce case.

What are the Roles of a Private Investigator?

There are lots of job activities private investigators engage themselves in. For instance, some focus on process serving, the personal delivery of summons, subpoenas, and other legal documents to parties in a legal case. 

Aside from that, other jobs Private Investigators do include:

Private Agents gather the information that can be used for important things like evidence. They achieve this through interviews, private investigations, and carrying out surveillance. Also, they interview people when conducting a background investigation. They achieve this by pretending to be someone else or going undercover.

They also make different types of searches using a computer or non-computerized records. Using the computer and other gadgets helps them get their jobs fast and quickly. More so, they make use of a variety of tools when researching the facts in a case.

They use tools like records of a person’s prior arrests, telephone numbers, social networking-site details, and emails.

PI as they are sometimes called when investigating a case carries out surveillance. They do this either by keeping a watch on someone’s office, home, or sphere of contacts. Moreso, they sometimes take a photograph or video of the person of interest.

Private Detectives can investigate the cause of different crimes, invest People, causes of accidents, fires, injuries or losses, a missing person, lost or stolen property, or secure evidence for use in court.

To be honest, to become a Private investigator, you must have a keen eye, excellent observation skills, and an analytical mind.

Why Do You Need to Become a Private Investigator in California?

You should consider California for numerous reasons if you want to become a private Investigator.

To start with, California is one of the biggest states in America with a wide scope of Private Agent’s job opportunities. As a result of that, there is a high demand for PIs. That means once you become a private investigator with a California license, you are sure of securing a legal job immediately.

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Interestingly, you can work with Fortune 500 companies to vet potential investors and business partners. Also, they can work with insurance companies and employers to verify on-the-job injury claims.

Also, getting licenses in California won’t be difficult in any way be the state alone has approximately 450 licenses expected to be issued every year to help meet up with the high demand.

In addition, becoming a private investigator in California really pays well. According to BLS, California, the average annual salaries for private detectives at the median level ranges from $79,640-$122,410 which is above the state average of $64,110.

What Education Qualification do You need to become a PI in California?

Before you can become a private detective in California, you must have the following education or academic qualifications.

  • Have either an undergraduate or associate degree in police science, criminal justice, or criminal law.
  • You must have had professional investigation experience. Either you have worked with the police or the CIA for 24 months.
  • You must have passed the written state exam organized by California PSI.
  • Also, having a training certificate in private investigations can help you, although it’s optional.

What are California Private Investigator License Requirements?

Getting a license in California to practice private investigation requires specific requirements. These requirements are your age, background, education, training, and experience under a licensed PI.

Let’s take a look at some of the requirements;

  • First, you must be 18 years and above.
  • You must submit a criminal history fingerprint check to prove you have no criminal convictions.
  • If you have any financial history that shows you are bankrupt, you may not get a license.
  • Bonding isn’t requisite in California; protecting your business against liability can be essential.
  • Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations, and surveillance.

Note: California does not have stipulations regarding military discharge. Also, there is no provisional licensure in California.

What Skills Are Required to Function as a Private Detective?

If you have all the basic educational requirements without the required skills to work as a private detective, you can mess yourself up.

To be an exceptional and professional PI, it is expected you have particular skills. With these skills, you can go for this profession.

Some of the key skill sets required to become a private detective in California include;

  • Effective Communication Skills
  • Computer Proficiency
  • Sound knowledge of the law
  • Photography skills
  • Organization
  • Patience
  • keen eye,
  • Excellent observation skills
  • Analytical mind

Where Can Private Investigators Work?

With the aforementioned skills, private Investigators can work in so many places. Some of the areas are as follows:

  • Computer forensics services
  • Personal protection services
  • Undercover investigations
  • Supplier, vendor, and employee screening programs
  • Crisis intervention services
  • Pre-employment screenings
  • Personal investigations
  • Retail loss and prevention
  • Criminal investigation services
  • Polygraph services
  • Missing person services

How much does a Private Investigator make?

According to 2025 BLS stats, the average annual salary for private investigators in California was $64,110. But you will earn higher if you have an impressive resume and a few years of experience. In short, the top 10% earn an average salary of $106,300.

The following BLS stats reveal the median-top 10% salary range for PIs working in California’s major areas:

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach: $79,640-$122,410 (approximately 620 licensed PIs)
  • Fresno: $85,440-$103,030 (approximately 60 licensed PIs)
  • San Francisco, Oakland: $73,980-$123,010 (approximately 320 licensed PIs)
  • Sacramento: $47,930-$75,000 (approximately 500 licensed PIs)
  • Riverside-San Bernardino: $61,680-$87,750 (approximately 130 licensed PIs)

How Long Does It Take to Become a Private Investigator?

To become a private investigator in California, you must complete a 4 years degree in Criminal Justice degree from an accredited university or have 2 years of work experience in law enforcement at a federal, county, state, or municipal level agency.

How to become a Private Investigator in the state of California?

This section will meticulously show you how to become a private investigator. Furthermore, you will learn how to follow each step accordingly. So, the required steps you need to fulfill to become a medical scribe include;

  • Get the required Education Qualification or Experience
  • Fingerprint Verification in California
  • Include a Quality Passport
  • Carefully Fill out and Submit California’s Application Packet
  • Go for the California Private Investigator Examination
  • Purchase Insurance for your Private Investigation Company

#1. Get the required Education Qualification or Experience

This is the first step to becoming a private investigator in California. Just like every other profession requires a specific education qualification before you can practice, so also is private detection.

Either you get an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, law, or police science, or you go for an associate degree that will take you two years to complete.

Aside from the degree, you can train in that field for three years. Here, working with the police or any other investigation agency will help you.

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Then if you have a firearm permit and need a PI license, you must pass an 8 hours course on “Power to Arrest.”

Note: send your application and other accompanying documents via email to BSIS, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.

#2. Fingerprint Verification in California

This is another step you must take to become a private detective in California. BSIS uses these fingerprints to do a criminal background check.

After getting your educational degree, you must complete the Live Scan Fingerprint Application. You can do this in any of the centers in the country. You can choose Los Angeles or San Diego, with the highest fingerprint centers.

#3. Include a quality Passport

In filling out your application form, you must submit it with a quality passport. The charges are like $15 in some locations.

#4. Carefully Fill and Submit California’s Application Packet

This step is very important because you cannot get the license if you make any mistake. So, you have to be very careful.

Before you fill out the application, you must be above 18 years. And the following documents must be included;

  • Application Form
  • Personal Identification Form
  • Certificate in Support of Experience
  • Authorization of Business Name (if applicable)
  • Two Passport-Type Photos (2”X 1-1/2”)
  • Firearms Qualification and Firearms Permit Application (if applicable)
  • Live Scan Receipt
  • Check or Money Order for $50 ($130 if requesting firearms permit)

#5. Go for the California Private Investigator Examination

Once your application is approved, you will receive a call or mail from Psychological Services Industries, a handbook, and other study materials you need to study for the exam.

The exam is a 2 hours multiple-choice exam covering terminology, laws/regulations, civil/criminal liability, evidence handling, and surveillance. Then if you pass the exam, you will pay off a fee of $175 to receive the license.

#6. Purchase Insurance for your Private Investigation Company

Whether you are a sole proprietor, LLC, or Corporation, you must have company insurance. Most companies purchase Errors and Omissions Insurance in the amount of $1,000,000.

However, California requires an LLC to carry a 1,000,000 general liability insurance policy and insurance to cover each qualified manager in a company.

The Certificate of Liability should be submitted to the Bureau by the insurer or the insurer’s agent or broker electronically to [email protected] or by mail to P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798.

#7. Begin Working as a Private Investigator in California

Depending on your experience, you will be ready to solicit your services to:

  • Investigate Crimes
  • Locate Missing People
  • Investigate Fires
  • Conduct Insurance Investigations
  • Conduct Surveillance
  • Work as a Private Investigator legally

What can cause the Denial of Private Investigator License?

Even with you applying rightly, the Director of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Live Scan may deny you a PI license if you fall into any of the under-listed categories;

  • Have a criminal record behind your motivation for applying.
  • Have committed any act involving dishonesty, fraud, or deceit with the intent to benefit himself or herself or injure another substantially.
  • Also, if you have committed any act which, if done by a licensee of the business or profession in question, would be grounds for suspension or revocation of the license.
  • Gave a false statement of fact required to be revealed on the license application.
  • Had a license that is under suspension.
  • Finally, if you have been refused a license or had a license revoked, or been an owner, partner, corporate officer, managing member, or qualified manager of any business that has been refused a license or had a license revoked by the Bureau.

What schools can help you become a Private Investigator in California?

One of the major criteria for getting a private investigator’s legal license is having a two-year associate’s program or a 4-year bachelor’s program in a criminal justice-related area is helpful to aspiring private detectives and investigators.

And to get any of these degrees, you must attend a university or college. That is why California, a state in America with the highest employment rate of private detectives, gave room for most of the top universities and colleges offering required courses.

This is to help give students passionate about building a career as private detectives the desired opportunity. And also to fill up the high demand.

So, if you want to know where in California to study criminology, police Science or any related course that can help you get a license in Private Investigation, check out the list of schools below;

  • University of Southern California
  • University of California-Davis
  • Chaffey College
  • University of San Diego
  • University of Phoenix-California
  • Carrington College-Sacramento
  • UEI College-Fresno
  • UEI College-Bakersfield
  • United Education Institute-Huntington Park Campus
  • UEI College-Gardena
  • Southwestern Law School
  • United Education Institute-Encino
  • UEI College-Riverside
  • United Education Institute-Chula Vista
  • Santa Barbara Business College-Santa Maria
  • Abraham Lincoln University
  • California Aeronautical University
  • Carrington College-Citrus Heights
  • University of California-Berkeley
  • Carrington College-San Leandro
  • Santa Barbara Business College-Bakersfield
  • Carrington College-Pleasant Hill
  • United Education Institute-UEI College San Marcos
  • Carrington College-Stockton
  • Humphreys University-Stockton and Modesto Campuses
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Lets take a brief look at some of these schools

#1. University of Southern California

Address: Los Angeles, CA 90007, United States

One of the best Schools that can help you become a Private Investigator in California is the University of Southern California.

The University of Southern California is a small premier research institution founded in 1880 in Los Angeles. It has a total student enrollment of 47,310, a graduation rate of 92%, and an acceptance rate of 13%.

Basically, this school offers several programs, including business, law, film, engineering, occupational therapy, pharmacy, and medicine.

Studying criminology or any of its related fields at USC Gould School of Law can help you get a private investigator’s license. And when it comes to employment, it has the largest private employer in Los Angeles. This university can be difficult because of its low acceptance rate.

Read More

#2. University of California, Berkeley

Address: Berkeley, CA, United States

The University of California Berkeley is another top school for private investigators wanting to get an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in the required programs.

UC, Berkeley is a public research university established in 1868; It has a total student enrollment of 42,501, a graduation rate of 92%, and an acceptance rate of 15%, making it one of the most highly competitive universities in the United States.

Basically, this university offers 184 Academic Departments and Programs, which are organized into 14 colleges and schools. One of the 14 schools at this university is the School of Law, with 97% of employment rate and a school’s bar passage rate of 91%, which is very impressive.

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#3. University of San Diego

Address: 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110, United States

Another private investigator school that is worth attending in California is University of San Diego.

The University is a private Roman Catholic research university established in 1949. It has a total student enrollment of 9,073, a graduation rate of 78%, and an acceptance rate of 52% which makes it a bit easier for you to get into.

Basically, the university offers more than 80 degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, which are housed in 9 undergraduate and graduate schools, including the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and School of Law. 

This school also offers a Master’s in Law Enforcement and Public Safety Leadership, which is ranked 19th in the country for best online graduate criminal justice programs, according to U.S. News & World Report.

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#4. Abraham Lincoln University

Address: 100 W Broadway #600, Glendale, CA 91210, United States

Abraham Lincoln University is also among the top schools for private detectives who are working towards getting a license.

This university is an unaccredited for-profit online university based in Glendale, California founded in 1996. It a small institution with just a total student enrollment of 217. However, it has an acceptance rate of 81% which makes it the least selective.

Basically, ALU offers online Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees, plus diplomas and certificates, in Law, Criminal Justice, Paralegal Studies, Business Administration, General Studies, and Information Technology, among other fields.

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#5. Chaffey College

Address: 5885 Haven Ave, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91737, United States

The Chaffey College is among the top California Private Detectives and Investigators schools you should consider if you are working toward getting a private investigator license.

This college is the oldest public community college in California founded in 1883. It has a total student enrollment of 22,969, a graduation rate of 22%, and an acceptance rate of 100%, making it one of the easiest colleges in California to get into.

Basically, Chaffey offers two-year associate in art or science degrees in academic or vocational fields, one-year certificates of achievement, and transfer programs that meet the lower-division requirements for a baccalaureate degree to be obtained at a four-year college or university.

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Are Private Investigators Training Programs Necessary?

Yes, of course. They are very important. In short, training programs are a major part of becoming a private investigator. That means for you to get the required skills that can help you build an exceptional career as a PI, training is needed.

Although getting a degree is very important, the truth is that it won’t provide you with the required skills. But, training will.

Currently, there are 45 states in America that require state licensing to become a private investigator and another 3 states that require licensing at the local level. But before that can happen, the applicant is expected to have some experience or pre-licensure training.

And this training can be done in two ways; obtain the skills needed to work as a private investigator and satisfy some or all of the education/experience requirements for state licensing.

Some of these training programs are 40-hour, while some are 60-hour training courses designed specifically to prepare students for their state’s PI exam.

Let’s take a look at some of the private investigator training Program

  • Training in Use of Force Laws and Code
  • Firearms Training
  • Non-Lethal Weapons Training
  • Pursuit and Evasive Driving
  • Surveillance and Surveillance Equipment
  • Investigative and Legal Training

FAQ on How to Become a Private Investigator in California

To become a private investigator, you must have the following skills;

Effective Communication Skills
Computer Proficiency
Sound knowledge of the law
Photography skills…..

A private investigator is a person who digs into things, finds facts, and analyzes information about legal, financial, and personal matters. 

According to BLS, California, the average annual salaries for private detectives at the median level ranges from $79,640-$122,410 which is above the state average of $64,110.

To become a private detective in California, following the steps below

Get the required Education Qualification or Experience
Fingerprint Verification in California
Include a Quality Passport
Carefully Fill and Submit California’s Application Packet
Go for the California Private
Investigator Examination
Purchase Insurance for your Private Investigation Company


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