How to Become a Private Investigator in California

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How to Become a Private Investigator in California

Are you interested in a career change?

If this is the case and you also live in sunny California, you should consider a private investigator career.

California is the perfect state for this, but what do you need to do to get your first job?

Check out our guide below for detailed info.

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Private Investigator Requirements and Responsibilities in California

In California, the oversight of these professionals falls under the purview of the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

This implies that investigators in the state must obtain a license to carry out their work.

To secure this license, individuals must successfully pass a test and meet specific criteria.

The licensing prerequisites include:

  • Being at least 21 years old
  • Being an American citizen
  • Maintaining a clean criminal and personal record
  • Applying for the PI licensure test
  • Passing the test
  • Gaining practical experience

Many aspiring private investigators opt to enroll in courses to acquire hands-on experience and deepen their understanding of the profession.

Having prior law enforcement experience can serve as a substitute for formal education.

A minimum of 100 hours of experience is required for aspiring PIs.

The fundamental responsibilities include:

  • Conducting solitary surveillance
  • Recording events from a distance in high-resolution
  • Capturing high-quality pictures from afar
  • Maintaining good health
  • Understanding and addressing the needs of clients

Training for Private Investigators in California

While there is no legal obligation for PIs to undergo formal training, it is a crucial aspect to consider.

For one, it can enable you to command higher client fees.

Secondly, it enhances your ability to perform effectively in your role.

Degrees or courses in law enforcement are particularly beneficial, though other degrees may be accepted.

Specialized classes provide insights into essential equipment, helping you discern between what is necessary and what is obsolete.

Every PI can assemble their own set of tools, including:

  • Maps
  • Computers, tablets, and peripherals
  • Binoculars
  • Cameras
  • Microphones
  • Vehicles (car and/or motorcycle)

Additionally, learning the NATO phonetic alphabet and common terminology is part of the training process.

The California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI)

CALI provides an online Private Investigator Preparation course crafted to ready eligible candidates for the State of California PI License Exam.

The course is thoughtfully curated by a panel of licensed investigators, offering a meticulous step-by-step review along with sample quizzes to equip qualified candidates.

It encompasses comprehensive lesson plans, study materials, and references to vital information to enhance your exam readiness.

Upon completing your registration and course payment, an email containing login instructions for the online course will be dispatched to you within 3 business days.

For cancellations and refund requests, you can send a written notice to the email address of the institution within five business days from the purchase date.

A $50 administrative fee will be deducted, and no refund will be issued after the initial five business days from the purchase date.


This is a training academy offering online courses for future PIs.

There are many classes to enroll in, all of which are meant to make you a better investigator.

You’ll even find some modules that will help you pass the licensing exam.

School Name Address
The California Association of Licensed Investigators (CALI) online
NITA  online
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Becoming Licensed as a Private Investigator in California

Registering for the exam involves associated fees.

Simply initiating the application process for the exam incurs a cost of $125, and the exam itself carries a $100 fee.

However, the application requires specific documents, including:

  • Evidence that you meet the minimum prerequisites
  • A recent photograph of yourself
  • Three sets of fingerprints
  • Form 46

Upon approval for the test and successful completion, you attain licensure as a PI in California.

Yet, your journey doesn’t conclude there; maintaining your credentials involves a biennial process.

Every two years, you continue your education and pay a fee of $300.

For those tardy in renewal, an additional $200 is levied.

Accumulating 16 hours of education during this period is mandatory, with a corresponding record-keeping requirement.

Salaries for Private Investigators in California

Nationally, private investigators pocket an average annual income of $50,902.

In California each year, these dedicated professionals rake in an average of $56,202.

U.S. Labor Statistics show that right now, 4,380 licensed private investigators work in California.

There is a 16.4% projected growth over the following 10 years for private investigators.

For a detailed breakdown of cities offering higher salaries, consult the following table.

Remember that your salary can vary depending on your training and location.

Usually, bigger cities offer better career opportunities for PI’s in this state.

Annual Salary Range:
Annual Salary by Location:
Location Avg. Annual Salary
Santa Clara $63,902
San Jose $63,902
Alviso $63,902
Stanford $63,802
San Mateo $62,802
San Francisco $63,702
Richmond $62,202
Alameda $62,102
San Lorenzo $62,102
Alamo $62,002

Regional Salary in California

Region Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
Bakersfield, CA60$70,230$33.77$190,950$29,120
Fresno, CA50$48,850$23.48$92,540$33,460
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA1,620$59,400$28.56$82,000$34,390
Modesto, CA50$52,160$25.08$87,150$35,640
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA70$54,110$26.02$75,450$34,370
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA280$49,630$23.86$76,350$34,290
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA290$49,550$23.82$74,180$36,660
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA310$56,010$26.93$91,350$35,300
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA590$71,820$34.53$102,820$41,730
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA180$70,040$33.68$104,640$40,100
Stockton-Lodi, CA100$56,070$26.96$87,030$35,490
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA30$59,150$28.44$79,630$37,930
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Private Detectives and Investigators, OCC Code 33-9021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all PIs in California need a license?

The short answer is “yes.”

Where do private investigators work in California?

Private investigators work for:

  • Private investigation and detective agencies
  • As independent contractors

Independent PIs work for:

  • Law firms,
  • Financial institutions,
  • Insurance companies,
  • Corporations,
  • Government agencies,
  • Police departments

What are some of the skills needed by PIs in California?

These skills are some of the most important for a private investigator:

  • Agility
  • Attention to details
  • Physical strength
  • Discipline
  • Knowledgable of laws and regulations
  • Able to drive
  • Comfortable approaching people
  • Able to use technology and databases

USA Private Investigator by State

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Earn your accredited, affordable private investigation career diploma online with Penn Foster!

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