How to Become a Private Investigator


Last updated on March 7th, 2023

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Have you ever wondered how to become a private investigator? We’ll cover the steps required to become qualified and exactly what you can expect from the job.

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Being a private investigator sounds amazing right? I think a lot of us have probably wondered what it would be like to be in this line of work at some point. Covering exciting cases, adrenaline charged chases, high-speed car pursuits… well that’s what the movies would have us believe.

Anyway, we’re here to uncover the truth and tell what you can expect from this line of work. We’ve put together a guide to becoming qualified and we also tell just how much money you can expect to make.

This is how to be a private detective, as told by

How to get a private investigator license

Like any job that comes with a social responsibility and isn’t exactly safe, there are a few hoops to jump through. In this section we take you through the steps.


1. Get acquainted with your local licensing laws.

The first important step is to check with your state’s particular licensing authority to find out exactly what is required to become an investigator in your area. Each state has different laws and requirements and it’s important you get up to speed with the rules in yours. A simple Google search should give you the information that you seek.

Actually, not every state requires a license. There are 5 states that don’t require licensing at state level, these are:

  • Idaho
  • Alaska
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming
  • Mississippi

However, these states do have professional associations that have codes of ethics that you must adhere too (like any other business).

You can see a list of contact details for professional associations by state here.

2. Meet the minimum requirements for licensure.

As we discussed in the previous step, each state has different licensing requirements.

Generally speaking they each have specific levels of education and experience that you must match. Some also require mandatory firearm training and certification.


Education-wise, it is reasonably common to find that you need an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice (or something related).

Experience is much harder to gauge and some states will allow a more experienced candidate to progress in lieu of education. Oklahoma, for example, allows licensure with no experience. However, an approved CLEET course (Council on Law Enforcement Education & Training) must be completed.

Experience doesn’t always mean serving in the police though. In some states, experience working for a private detective agency as a trainee counts too.

The minimum requirements in most states are:

  • At least 21 years old (sometimes 25)
  • Possess a high school diploma or equivalent
  • US citizenship or at least residency
  • No felony convictions or misdemeanours involving crimes of moral turpitude

3. Choose your area of specialty

While some private investigators will offer a range of specialized services, some choose to concentrate on just one or two and become known in that area.

Bail enforcement agents (bounty hunters) are probably the most famous thanks to Dog the Bounty HunterBut more common and slightly less dangerous options exist, such as background check investigators and due diligence investigation.

It’s wise to consider your ‘niche’ as early as possible and focus your licensure effort around this goal.

4. A brief run-through of the licensing procedure

Don’t expect this to be a 100% accurate depiction of the process, but generally speaking this is what you can expect to happen.

  1. Meet the minimum experience and education requirements for your state.
  2. Submit a background/criminal record check.
  3. Submit any other documentation (firearm license etc.)
  4. Pass the examination

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5. An example: How to become a private investigator in Texas

We’ve given a lot of general outlines but nothing specific to an actual state. In this section we take you through the actual application and licensure process for Texas, as told by the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators.

In Texas, private investigators are regulated by the Department of Public Safety. They set the rules and you better be sure you’re licensed or you’ll have criminal proceedings lodged against you.

Basic license qualifications in Texas

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Criminal history requirements:
    • No felony convictions
    • No Class A (or equivalent) misdemeanors
    • No Class B misdemeanors within last 5 years
    • Not currently under indictment or being charged with any felony or Class A or B misdemeanor
    • No existing mental issues or mentally debilitating diseases
    • No dishonorable discharge from US armed services or dismissal for prohibitive offences
    • Not registered as a sex offender

Meeting these requirements allows you to be hired by a licensed private detective agency as a licensed private investigator.

However, these basic requirements don’t allow you to run your own agency. To operate your own investigation agency you need a qualified manager that has relevant experience.

In order to operate your own agency in Texas you need to meet one of the following criteria:

  1. 3 consecutive years of relevant investigational experience.
  2. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice (or related subject) and 6 months of relevant investigational experience.
  3. An associate’s degree in criminal justice (or related subject) and 12 months of investigational experience. The associate’s degree may be substituted for a relevant course recognized by the State of Texas. This must consist of at least 200 hours of classroom time and include topics like: private security administrative rules, and the Privacy and Security Act

Once these requirements have been met, an exam must be passed with the Private Security Bureau.

This person is then able to operate their own agency and hire and train private investigators of their choosing.

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How much does a private investigator make?


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for private detectives and investigators was $50,700 per year in 2017. The median hourly rate was $24.38.

To put that in perspective, the annual median wage for all workers in the US for 2017 was $37,690.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics continue by stating that there were 41,400 registered private detectives in 2017.

They expect the growth rate of the profession over the next 10 years to be 11%. This would create approximately an extra 4,400 jobs in the industry over the next 10 years. The average growth rate for all employment is just 7%.

These statistics point to a healthy future in the private investigation world. The growth rate can be attributed to increasing security concerns in the modern world. An increased demand for professionals in the area is going to increase job competition but also earning potential.

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If you enjoyed this article then you might like our post on the top monoculars next, or even our latest post on the most famous spies throughout history.

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Thomas S.

With a background in government supply and a keen interest in emerging technologies, I have developed a passion for the realm of stealth technology. My expertise lies in analyzing the latest advancements in spy gadgets and high-tech products, with a particular focus on those available to the public that offer a modern-day James Bond experience. Through my work, I strive to uncover the most cutting-edge innovations in the field and provide valuable insights to fellow enthusiasts and industry professionals alike.

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