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How Much Does a Private Investigator Cost?

private investigator cost

Before you hire a private investigator for any reason, it’s important to understand how much a private investigator costs. There are a couple of factors that can impact the cost of a private investigator such as whether they charge a flat or hourly rate, the type of service, and whether they ask for a retainer. Before hiring an investigator, it is important to be knowledgeable in pricing and expectations. If you need to find a trustworthy investigator, start by searching on PInow.

Flat or Hourly Rate

Some private investigators will offer their basic services for flat fees, such as:

Investigators charge flat fees for these types of services as they are straightforward and rarely stray from standard procedure. The investigator has likely measured the amount of time to complete these services which leads to a predetermined, flat price.

For bigger jobs such as locating persons, infidelity cases, or anything involving in-depth research or surveillance, most private investigators charge an hourly rate. Hourly prices range from $40-$200 per hour with the average being around $99-$150 per hour. The amount of time that your investigation can last could range from 2-8 hours (or potentially more) depending on your case and needs. Some investigators will reduce this price per hour if you’re hiring them for a higher number of hours.

This cost doesn’t include additional costs such as equipment and travel fees like gas or hotel stays. Mileage expenses average around $.59 per mile. Renting a GPS tracker usually costs $50-$75 a day and often photos and videos also cost a flat fee. Challenges in the field could also potentially raise fees. If this is the case, your investigator should notify you of the changes and why they’re being implemented. Sometimes, the cost of equipment is already factored into their hourly fee so be sure to ask about any extraneous charges of which you may be unaware.

Type of Service

How much you pay for a private investigator largely depends on the type of investigation you require. Expenses typically rise the more time and resources an investigator pours into research, surveillance, and other investigative tactics. While some investigations simply require basic research from behind a computer, others require surveillance and are more prone to complications.

Common types of investigations and their prices include:

  • Locating a person - $300-$600
  • Infidelity surveillance - $300-$1000
  • Locating birth parents or children - $100-$700
  • In-depth research - $300-$600


Similar to lawyers, private investigators will often ask for a retainer, or an upfront cost. Most investigators who ask for retainers will charge against your retainer and refund anything extra. Retainers can vary from $1,000-$5,000 depending on your specific case. For example, data research may require a deposit of $500 while an infidelity case may be closer to $5,000. Criminal defense work may require a retainer of $1,000-$3,500.

If you are using a private investigator's services through an attorney, the private investigator will usually not ask for a retainer as long as the attorney acknowledges responsibility for ensuring payment of the private investigator's invoices.

Why a Professional Investigator is Worth it

It might be tempting to hire a cheaper, less experienced investigator, but keep in mind that an inexperienced investigator could potentially take longer to complete the same case that a professional could complete within half the time. The results may also not be of a high caliber or usable in a court case if the need arises. In the end, hiring a professional investigator who knows the ins and outs of investigation, from the law to equipment, will more likely save you time, money, and worry.

Before you hire a private investigator, consult with them about their cost and how long they expect your case to last based on the answers you need. Often, these initial consultations are free. Also, be sure to have a detailed contract and conclude the case with an itemized list of expenses and records of activities so the associated charges are clear. Your investigator should also inform you of any extra expenses that arise during the investigation.

While hiring a private investigator can be daunting and prices may seem to add up, a quality investigation can successfully answer your questions. Peace of mind and discovering the truth is often worth the cost of hiring a professional private investigator.

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