private investigator

Want to Be a Private Investigator? A Guide to Opening a PI Business

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

Do you have a secret fantasy of becoming a private investigator? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Here’s a quick guide to opening your own business as a PI.

It’s a Growing Field

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the number of private investigators in the US will increase by 11 percent between 2016 and 2026. Further, an earlier BLS report projects that there will be about 42,000 private investigators in the US by 2020. This represents a 21 percent increase compared to 2010.


Moreover, besides the growing interest in the career, the field itself is growing day by day. Today, private investigators are handling multiple areas that only federal and state investigative bodies tackled in earlier days. Some of these areas include computer forensics, cybercrime, corporate fraud, and trailing missing persons.

You’ll Need Certain Skills

You’ll require special skills and qualities to build a successful business as a private investigator. Naturally, you’ll need courage and integrity.

But that’s just the beginning. You’ll also need much more.

What’s more, once you acquire these additional skills, you can’t expect to immediately begin working for a local car accident attorney, a big-time insurance company, or a suspicious spouse. Before you start conducting private investigations for these and other common types of clients, you’ll need to acquire a Private Investigator (PI) license from your state.

Moreover, the requirements for PI licensure vary from state to state. This article discusses the general licensing requisites and procedures. For requisites specific to each state, you can check here.

Look into Getting Licensed in Your State

The purpose of a private investigator license is to ensure that private investigators conduct their investigations within the bounds of the law. Also, PI’s must meet certain standards.

PI licensing is mostly done at the state level through dedicated licensing boards. Only Idaho, Mississippi, Wyoming, Idaho, and South Dakota do not require licensing at the state level. In these states, standard control is either done at the local level or through active professional bodies.

Some states such as Florida and California have reciprocity agreements in place. The agreements allow investigators to conduct investigations between states without applying for a separate PI license in each of those states.

Do You Meet the Minimum Requirements?

Most states have minimum age requirements for PI licensure, mostly between 21 and 25 years. Your state will also require you to meet the following requirements. Therefore, before obtaining a license, you must:

  • Be a US citizen or a legal US resident.
  • Have no history of felony convictions.
  • Possess a GED certificate or a high school diploma.
  • Not have been dishonorably discharged from the US military.

Do You Have the Experience and Education to Be a Private Investigator?

Educational requirements vary significantly from state to state. While many states have not set minimum educational requirements, it might be prudent to pursue a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. As you pursue your studies, choose classes in fields related to criminal justice. These should give you the necessary working knowledge.

Most states also have experience as a requirement. However, some states will allow you to substitute education for experience. For example, in New Hampshire, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is equivalent to two years of experience.

There Are Other Requirements, Too

Some states will want require you to pass an exam before they will issue you a PI license. Further, in states that allow private investigators to carry firearms, you’ll have to undergo mandatory firearms training to be licensed.

Here’s What You’ll Need When You Apply for a Private Investigator License

You should have the following documents ready for your PI licensure application:

  • A notarized application
  • Education documents
  • Professional experience documents
  • A set of fingerprints for background investigation
  • Professional and personal references
  • Proof of a surety bond

Additionally, you should have money to pay for the fees involved. These fees include application, background investigation, license, and fingerprint fees.

Do You Have the Skills and Traits of a Good Private Investigator?

Not everyone can make a good private investigator. Like any other profession, there is a set of skills that prove invaluable in this line of work. These include:

  • Knowledge of the relevant laws
  • Effective communication skills
  • Computer proficiency
  • Research and surveillance skills
  • Photography skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Patience
  • Organization


Now that you’ve read this guide, what do you think? Would you make a good private investigator? If so, get to it. Start today to build your own private investigator business.