This was originally posted in September 2013, but updated in May 2020 with new information.
Of the 50 states in the United States of America, 45 states (and the District of Columbia) require a private investigator to have a license in order to perform his or her investigative duties.
States that do not require a license:
After a law passed in Alabama in 2013, and licenses became mandatory in Colorado in 2015 (Colorado is a bit of a mess – see below), only five states do not require a private investigator/private detective to have a license:
- South Dakota
** Some Idaho cities have their own licensing criteria, but Idaho has no statewide licensing requirement for private investigators.
States that require a license:
The following states require investigators to have a license:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island***
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
* As of May 2020, Colorado requires a private investigator license; however, the law is scheduled to sunset in September 2020. Colorado started voluntary licensing in 2013. In 2015 it became mandatory.
*** In Rhode Island, private detective licenses are issued by city, each with their own application procedure. (e.g., Cumberland)
What is a private investigator?
While each state has its own definition of a private investigator, in general, a private investigator is someone who is hired for a fee or other consideration to obtain information regarding the habits, conduct, whereabouts, or trustworthiness of people; the location of stolen property; and/or the cause or responsibility of accidents, injuries, or fires. Private investigators can also be tasked to secure evidence for use in a court proceeding or other hearing.
What is required to become a private investigator?
Laws vary by state, ranging from zero years of experience up to six years/10,000 hours of experience. Of the states that require a private investigator to have a license, ten states have absolutely no requirements regarding previous experience, while other states, such as Nevada, require 10,000 hours of experience. Another example is Maine, which requires six years of experience. In most states, at least two years of related experience is required before obtaining a license.