Some people find that they have a natural proclivity for investigating. Skeptical minds that tend to analyze situations and people in search for hidden truths often wonder about the requirements to become a private investigator. While there are many television shows that make it look relatively easy to start poking around in the private lives of others, the path to a career as a private investigator often involves a licensing procedure, on the job training and, in some states, college courses relating to criminal justice.
One of the first questions that people ask is if a license is needed to become a private investigator. The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’. In the United States a PI license is needed to practice in 42 states. The only states that do not issue a license are Wyoming, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, and Colorado. A license is also not required in Alabama or Alaska, although some cities in both states do require investigators to have a license. In all 50 states, including those that either do not issue a private investigator license, do not require a private investigator to be licensed, or even those where a license is required, a business license may be further required in order to operate in those states.
To work in highly specialized fields, like computer forensics, many investigation firms require that a licensed investigator undergo additional training even though there is no licensing involved in that specialty. Also, if an investigator chooses to carry a firearm she or he must adhere to the same licensing requirements as other civilians in that state.
States like California have very strict requirements for an investigator to become licensed, such as being over the age of 18, having a minimum of 6000 hours of combined related college education and experience, passing a rigorous criminal background check, and passing a two-hour exam with a satisfactory score. Although this requirement is not unreasonable, it is considered more difficult than being licensed in a state where there are either no private investigator licensing requirements or where the requirements are not as strict. For instance, in Hawaii a person interested in becoming a licensed private investigator need only be over the age of 18, have a high school education or its equivalent, pass a criminal background check, and have four years work experience in the field under another investigator before applying for a license.
Though not a requirement in every state, most private investigators do have some prior college education and many even have college degrees. Others have a background in either the United States military or law enforcement. However, nationwide, the majority of private investigators actually learn their career by on the job training. Most typically start off assisting another investigator before becoming licensed or before starting their own firm after they are licensed.
Since licensing requirements vary by state, anyone interested in more detailed information on how to become a private investigator is advised to contact their local law enforcement agency, their State Department of Public Safety, or their particular State Division of Licensing.