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:

  • Alaska*
  • Idaho**
  • Mississippi
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

*Although there is no licensing requirement in the state of Alaska, certain cities (such as Anchorage and Fairbanks) do have their own private investigator licensing requirements.

** 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:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado*
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania**
  • Rhode Island***
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
Do Private Investigators Need to be Licensed 2020

* 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 Pennsylvania, private detective licenses are issued by county, each with their own application procedure. (e.g., Lehigh)

*** 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.

Additional resources:

Pursuit Magazine 

Mechanic Group

Harbor Compliance

PI Now

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Chris Brogan (a prolific blogger and business owner, in case you haven’t heard of him) wrote a piece a few weeks back about waiting seven minutes at a local restaurant without anyone bothering to acknowledge him.

What did he do? He walked out. And went to McDonald’s, which served him in less than the seven minutes he waited in the other place.

The point of his story was that being local doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. It just means it’s local.

Private investigators for years worked local. The work revolved around following disenchanted spouses, surveilling people collecting disability, conducting in-person interviews or visiting the scene of an accident.

Being local counted.

Much of that work still exists, but the game has changed.

Ultimately, what private investigators sell is information. While information is still obtained by following people, conducting interviews and visiting the scene, so much more information is available at our fingertips.

Investigators have access to hoards of information through investigative databases, public records, social networks and a network of other sources.

Interviews can be conducted by telephone or even via Skype.

You can find just about anyone from the comfort of your computer.

I personally conducted hundreds of interviews last year, none of which required me to leave my computer. In fact, many calls were made from thousands of miles away from my office.

I’ve identified hundreds of witnesses and long-lost family members with nothing more than a laptop, a telephone and a couple of investigative databases.

In fact, over the last several years, I have rarely had to leave my office to do my work, meet a client or interview someone.

Of course, being local still counts, but it counts less and less.

Most of our clients have never met us. Nor do they want or need to.

They have come from as far away as Australia and Pakistan and San Francisco seeking information from all over the United States and all over the world.

It didn’t matter that we weren’t local.

It mattered that we were good.

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