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Private Investigator Certification: A Guide to Becoming a Licensed PI

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a real-life private investigator Certification? As a kid, I was fascinated by detective shows and always dreamed of a career as a PI. Well, it turns out it’s not exactly like TV makes it seem. Becoming a licensed private investigator involves meeting strict state requirements, passing exams, getting hands-on training, and finding job opportunities in the field.

In this blog post, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of how to get certified as a private investigator. We’ll look at what PIs do, why you need a license, requirements by state, the licensure process, job prospects, and more. Let’s get started!

What Does a Private Investigator Do?

Private investigators, or PIs, are hired by individuals, attorneys, and businesses to conduct surveillance, perform background checks, investigate fraud, find missing people, and more. They use various tools and techniques to uncover facts and collect evidence.

Some common duties of private investigators include:

      • Conducting interviews to obtain information

      • Searching public and private databases and records

      • Performing undercover work or surveillance

      • Snapping photos or capturing videos to document activities

      • Tracing financial records and transactions

      • Analyzing computer files and mobile devices

      • Preparing detailed written reports of their findings

    It’s an exciting career that allows you to help people uncover the truth while getting paid to solve mysteries!


    Investigator Certification 

    Why Become a Licensed Private Investigator?

    While requirements vary by state, most mandate that you have a PI license to work in the field. Here are some key reasons to get licensed:

        • Increased credibility with clients: Being licensed proves to clients you have the necessary qualifications. This establishes trust in your services.

        • Access to restricted databases: Licensed PIs can access certain private and government databases the public cannot. This allows you to dig up more in-depth records.

        • Ability to own/operate a PI agency: If you want to start your own PI firm, you must be properly licensed.

        • Required by law: Many states make it illegal to work as an unlicensed investigator. Don’t risk hefty fines or jail time.

      Private Investigator Certification Requirements by State

      Every state has its own set of requirements to become a Private investigator certification. That said, most have some common standards:

          • Minimum age: Usually 21 years old or older.

          • High school education: Most states want applicants to have a diploma or GED.

          • Background check: Expect a full criminal history check.

          • Relevant experience: Many require 2-3 years of investigative work experience.

          • Pre-licensing training: Some states mandate completing an approved PI training program.

          • Exams: You must pass a state exam on laws and a general PI exam.

          • Fees: Licensing fees range from $100-$500 depending on your state.

        Specific requirements really vary, so be sure to check your state’s licensing board website. For instance, a few states like Alaska require a college degree in criminal justice.

        Key Steps to Become a Private Investigator Certification

        The exact process differs by state, but here are the typical steps to becoming a Private investigator certification:

        1. Meet Educational Requirements:

        At a minimum, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED. Several states require an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, police science, or a related major. Review your state’s unique educational criteria.

        2. Gain Relevant Investigative Experience:

        Most states want 2-3 years of investigative experience before applying for a license. This can include work as a claims adjuster, police officer, research investigator, detective, or related roles involving evidence collection and analysis. Internships may also count in some states.

        3. Complete Any Mandatory Pre-Licensing Training:

        Some states require applicants to complete an approved PI training program covering topics like surveillance, ethics, evidence handling, and state laws. Common providers include local colleges and private investigation associations.

        4. Submit Your Private Investigator Certification Application:

        Once you meet the prerequisites, submit a completed license application along with any required fees, documentation, fingerprints, and photos to your state’s regulatory agency.

        5. Pass Required Licensing Examinations:

        Expect to take a general private investigator exam testing your overall knowledge. You’ll also need to pass an exam on your state’s PI rules and regulations.

        6. Obtain a Business License (Optional):

        If you want to open your own agency, register your business with the state/city and get any necessary operating licenses.

        7. Pursue Continuing Education:

        Most states require ongoing training hours to maintain and renew your PI license every 1-3 years.

        As you can see, becoming a Private investigator certification involves meeting strict criteria through various steps. It’s a process that takes time and dedication, but it opens up an exciting career.



        Finding Private Investigator Job Opportunities

        Once licensed, there are several paths you can take to start working as a PI:

            • Apply to work for an established private investigation firm to gain experience under veteran PIs. Look for openings on job boards or directly on agency websites.

            • Partner with an experienced investigator who can show you the ropes and share insight. Offer to intern or assist them with cases.

            • Market yourself to law firms, corporations, insurance agencies, and individual clients who commonly hire PIs. Create a website highlighting your services.

            • Consider specializing in a niche like computer forensics, financial investigations, or executive protection to stand out.

            • If properly licensed, open your own PI agency to take direct clients. Slowly build up your caseload.

            • Join professional associations to network with other industry members and stay updated on opportunities.

          With persistence and creativity, you can build a client base and begin an exciting new career as a private investigator!

          Is a Career as a Private Investigator Right for You?

          Before embarking on the licensing process, think about whether this career aligns with your skills and interests.

          Some pros of being a Private Investigator Certification:

              • Flexible schedule with each day bringing new challenges

              • Satisfaction with helping uncover the truth for clients

              • Potential to earn a good living, especially once established

              • Chance to continuously learn new investigative techniques

            Some cons to consider:

                • Can involve long, irregular hours based on case needs

                • Work is usually sporadic, requiring constant marketing

                • Dealing with confrontation when digging for dirt

                • Some clients can be demanding or difficult

              Overall, PI work attracts those who love mysteries, are persuasive, and have an eye for detail. If that sounds like you, it may be the perfect way to put your skills to use!


              Q: How long does it take to get a private investigator license?

              A: Depending on your state’s requirements, it can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to become fully licensed. The process involves meeting prerequisites, applying, taking exams, and more.

              Q: What is the average salary for a private investigator?

              A:  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for private investigators nationwide is around $50,000. Wages can range from $30,000 for entry-level positions up past $80,000 for highly experienced investigators.

              Q: Can you become a private investigator with a criminal record?

              A: In most cases, yes – if the convictions were relatively minor. Violent felonies and major fraud charges will prohibit licensure in many states, however. Disclose your full record and the state will make a determination.

              Q: Do you need a college degree to get a private investigator certification?

              A:  A degree is not mandatory in most states, but it can be very helpful. An Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, police science, or investigation can give you a boost. Some states do require a degree.

              Q: What kind of gun permit do private eyes need?

              A: If you want to carry a firearm on PI jobs, you’ll need to obtain a concealed carry weapons (CCW) permit in most states. This involves passing background checks and firearm safety courses.


              Pursuing private investigator certification opens up an exciting career path helping clients uncover the truth. While licensing processes vary by state, they generally involve meeting experience requirements, passing exams, completing training, and submitting applications and fees. If you’re drawn to investigative work, follow the steps to become a certified PI. With diligence and determination, you can turn your passion into a rewarding profession assisting people and businesses in need.

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