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How To Become a Private Investigator

If you are interested in becoming a private investigator, there many ways to get started. It's important to check with your state's licensing authority to find out what is required to work as an investigator in your state. A number of online courses and training as well as college-level certification programs can help you gain the necessary skills to work as a private investigator. You can also contact your state's private investigator association to find out how to become an investigator.

Some investigators will select a specialty while others will offer multiple services. The most common investigative services include civil investigations and background checks. Selecting a specialty or area of expertise is not necessary when starting out as an investigator, but you may want to read up on the various investigation types before getting started. For information outside of the U.S., read How to Become a Private Investigator in Ontario.

Investigators also offer advice for those looking to join the profession:

"Join your state association, national legislative association and national specialty association(s). In addition to universal fundamentals of public and private records research, basic backgrounds and skip tracing, and communications (i.e. report writing), find 3-5 specific specialties that are interwoven to focus on."

For more tips, view the slideshow to the right.

Who Does An Investigator Work With?

A recent survey revealed that 78% of investigators work with law firms and attorneys, 55% work with individuals, 41% work with private companies, 37% work with insurance firms, 35% work with corporations, and 11% work with other groups.

Below are the percentages of investigators who work with each group:

Investigator Working Relationships

What Backgrounds Do Private Investigators Have?

Private investigators come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have relevant experience, some fall into the profession, and others come into the profession with little to no prior training. The most common background is previous law enforcement experience. Overall, the most common backgrounds of investigators are:

Investigator Background Experience

Average Salary

Private investigators can expect to earn an average salary of:

Average Salary of Investigator

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of a private investigator is $42,870. The states with the top-paying salaries for investigators are Washington with an average wage of $65,460, Virginia with $61,930, and Texas at $61,810.

Requirements to Become a Private Investigator by State

Requirements to become an investigator vary by state. Some states have a variety of eligibility requirements that you must meet to serve as a private eye while other states do not require any specialty licensure. Click on a state below to see the applicable requirements, licensing agencies, and helpful links to become a private investigator in that state.

Top 25 Private Investigator Programs

Top PI Education Programs

A certificate in professional private investigation through an educational course or program can help a prospective investigator gain proficiency in the necessary skills. Read our rankings of the top 25 private investigator education programs.

How PIs Got Started

10 Most Common Specialties of
Private Investigators

To learn more about the most frequently selected specialties of private investigators and what investigators list as primary, secondary, and tertiary specialties, read the 10 most common specialties of private investigators.

Top PI Training Programs

Top PI Training Programs

A training course can prepare an aspiring investigator for with what to expect in the field and educate the experienced investigator on the latest technology and laws. Check out the top private investigator training programs.