Private Investigator License

Congratulations. You have made the decision to begin a career as a private investigator (sometimes known as a private detective).

You are pursuing a position in a growing field, so the chance of finding and landing a job is excellent.Private investigator training and Licensing requirements differ from state to state, thanks to our federal system of government.In some states you can become licensed as an individual, in other states the licensing is done as an agency/business, and some states offer both options.

To see what you need to know for private investigator training and licensing requirements, click on your state.


Depending on the state in which you live, you will be known “officially” either as private investigator (PI) or a private detective, slightly different terms for the same thing.

Private investigators are hired by companies or people to find out information. We are all in need of information, and sometimes it takes the work of a licensed professional to be able to know where to go for that information, or to get through all the paperwork more quickly and efficiently, or to be allowed to access the information. A handful of states will license a PI to carry a firearm, but most do not offer that option.

In many states, experience is required before you can be licensed as a detective/investigator. One way to gain that experience is to work for a private detective agency. In some cases, you will need to get private investigator training as well, either to get that license, or to work (or while working) for the agency. Many private investigators gain their experience in law enforcement prior to going into private practice.


A private investigator (private detective) has a career that involves finding facts and analyzing information relating to legal, financial and personal issues. Services can include verifying backgrounds, tracing missing persons and investigating computer crimes.

Specific duties can include:

  • Interview people to gather information
  • Do various types of searches, using a computer or non-computerized records
  • Conduct surveillance (looking for, following, or watching a person without that person noticing)
  • Collect evidence to present in court
  • Verify employment, income, and facts on a person’s background
  • Investigate computer crimes, such as identity theft and illegal downloads
  • Help in cases of criminal and civil liability, missing-persons cases, and insurance claims and fraud


“Tools” used in the course of PI work today can include computers, phones, listening and viewing devices, and cameras. A car and a good pair of shoes, and a way to take notes (notebook and pen/pencil, a recorder) would also be useful for your investigations.

Some of what you will be doing is making phone calls, interviews, and surveillance time—all in order to gather information.

Computer skills, researching skills, communication skills, observation skills, problem solving skills, honesty, inquisitiveness and resourcefulness are all important tools to have in this type of work environment as well.

Private investigator training is required to use these tools in the right way in investigations


Most private investigator training and learning is actually done on the job.

Many who go into licensed private detective work either come out of positions in the military or with police departments and they have learned the necessary skills on the job. Private investigator agencies will also provide private investigator training to employees.

State professional associations offer continuing education opportunities through the association or can recommend good programs.

Depending on the field of investigation in which you are interested, education in (and a degree or certification in) a variety of fields will be helpful. Business, finance or accounting will be helpful or required for someone working as a financial investigator.  Forensic investigators (computer or otherwise) often learn the business through work with law enforcement, where they can learn how to gather evidence. Computer forensics is now offered in both certificate and degree programs. Because of new technologies and methods, continuing education is important.

Examples of programs that exist that would offer useful skills for private investigators include:

Cal State Fullerton’s program that prepares students to pass certified public accountant, certified fraud examiner and certified valuation analyst exams. These financial skills would useful in investigations looking for financial inconsistencies and wrongdoing in business, and for litigation and divorce cases.

West Virginia University has a program that focuses on financial fraud. Included would be cyber-crime, terrorist finances, and fraud.

Community College of Philadelphia offers a degree in computer forensics.


While these options exist, on the job or classroom training seems to be the preferred choice for most agencies and employers. One good tip would be to talk to local PIs and PI agencies and ask about their background or what program they would recommend.

Schools for Private Investigator Training with online programs include Fox Valley Technical College (in Wisconsin) and Penn Foster Career School (in Pennsylvania) and Detective Training Institute (DTI, in California).


Each state has its own regulations for licensing, which may or may not include experience, education and examination/testing requirements.

Certifications are often available from professional associations. These certifications will give evidence of competency in various areas of investigation.  Two such certificates are (1) the Certified Legal Investigator from the National Association of Legal Investigators (for specialties in negligence or criminal defense investigation) and (2) the Professional Certified Investigator from ASIS International (for specialists in security).

private investigator trainingARMED PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR

The majority of private investigators do their detecting jobs digging for information while sitting at a desk, working the phones or on the computer, or out interviewing sources, or doing surveillance work.

In some states there are provisions in the licensing laws that permit a private investigator to carry firearms. In order to do so, a special license and/or gun permit must be applied for and received. Armed private detectives can have extra responsibilities which include protection services.

States which do have special provisions for armed private investigators include California, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington. Check with your state licensing agency to see what additional requirements they may have to become licensed as an armed private investigator.


Fire investigation is a specialty in the field of investigation work. Many fire/arson investigators work for fire departments or law enforcement agencies. Private fire or private insurance investigators often work for insurance companies.

Every state has educational programs and private investigator training for fire/arson investigation. Many are for fire department or law enforcement employees, but some are for private companies to take advantage of as well.