There is a difference between working for yourself as a private investigator and working for an already-established private investigator agency. If you are considering private investigations as a career, you must first figure out whether you would like to conduct investigations by opening your own business or by working under an established agency. In some states, you might not have a choice in the beginning. You might have to work under an agency before you can branch out on your own. For those of you who want to work for an agency or who are required by state law to do so, I would encourage you to contact individual agencies to inquire about their specific requirements. If you want to work for yourself, read on.
The first step in becoming a private investigator is to check out licensing requirements in your state. I live in Missouri, but am only ten minutes from Kansas, so I decided to become licensed in both states. That wasn’t necessary for me to do, but I chose to since I am working directly with some Kansas attorneys. It would have been just fine for me to obtain my Missouri license and work under that authority.
My work primarily consists of sitting behind a computer and talking on the phone. So if I have a client living in New Jersey who has asked me to find his birth mother who he suspects currently lives in Colorado, but gave birth to him in Kentucky, I don’t have to be licensed in New Jersey, Colorado, or Kentucky in order to conduct my investigation.
The question of whether private investigator state licenses are valid across state lines is more pertinent for a private investigator who physically conducts investigations in a state in which he or she is not licensed. A PI can travel across state lines to conduct investigations as long as he or she is following that state’s requirements. Many states allow private investigators to cross state lines as long as they initiated their investigation in their home state. Also, some states have reciprocity agreements that allow private investigators to conduct investigations between states with no limitations. The important take away here is to check with each state in which you are unlicensed before you conduct any investigations there.
Because private investigators are licensed state-to-state, it is extremely important to research the requirements in your state and any state in which you will physically be conducting investigations. Forty-five states require private investigators to become licensed by some kind of state licensing board. The five holdouts are Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming. However, both Alaska and Wyoming have licensing requirements at some local levels. Also, Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota do have professional associations with defined bylaws and codes of ethics. It should be noted that all states require private investigators who are operating businesses to adhere to applicable business laws.
Many states are similar in their requirements for private investigator licensure. Some are more strict than others. Some states require experience, others do not. The level of experience also differs. Some allow education to substitute experience. Many states require candidates to sit for an exam that generally covers PI rules, regulations, and laws. As a general rule for all states that require PI licensure, candidates must be at least 21-25 years of age, be a United States citizen or legal resident, possess a high school diploma or GED, have no felony convictions or other convictions involving moral turpitude, and have no dishonorable discharge from U.S. military.
The private investigator application process generally includes some kind of written application, a fingerprinted background check, supporting documentation, proof of liability insurance, and associated fees. The fees can vary. I paid $500 for my Missouri license, not including fingerprinting and passport photo fees. I paid only $250 for my Kansas license, also not including related fees. I had to travel to Jefferson City to sit for an exam in Missouri. The exam in Kansas was one I printed off the Internet and filled out on my own time, then mailed in. So the requirements really vary from state to state.
Next week, I will conclude this blog post with my personal licensing experience story.