How much does a private investigator cost?

The cost to hire a private investigator will depend on the service needed. Some services are billed at a flat rate and can start as low as $50.00. Other services require an hourly rate. Hourly rates can vary greatly depending on the service rendered, the service area, the investigator’s level of expertise and other mitigating factors. Hourly rates typically start out at about $75.00/Hour on the lower end and typically average $100.00-$125.00/Hour. Some services can be more.

Is there a special degree or certificate needed to become a private investigator?

Generally speaking, there is no degree or specific education needed to become a private investigator. Each state has their own rules and regulations governing the licensing of private investigators. For the state of CA, no degree or special education is required; however, the state does require that you have “qualifying experience.” The state of CA requires 6000 hours of experience, which can be obtained through a law enforcement career, military experience, insurance/claims adjuster experience, or working under the guidance of a licensed Private Investigator; however, certain degrees, such as a law degree or criminal justice degree, may count as a portion of your hours. For more information, please visit: https://www.bsis.ca.gov/

Is it legal to put a GPS tracking device on someone’s car?

If you are not a registered owner of the vehicle (listed on registration or title to the vehicle), it is NOT legal to place a GPS tracking device on someone’s vehicle without their consent. Please refer to CA Penal Code 637.7: https://leginfo.legislature.ca

Is it legal to record conversations?

In the state of CA it is not legal to record conversations without the consent of the parties involved. There are some exceptions, such as public gatherings. Please refer to CA Penal Code 632: at this link.

What authority does a private investigator have?

Generally speaking, private investigators have no more rights or privileges than ordinary citizens. While a private investigator may work in conjunction with law enforcement, they do not have any of the authority bestowed to law enforcement. Please refer to the link below for a list of things a Private Investigator can NOT do.  https://www.hg.org/private-inv

Can a private investigator skirt or break the law to obtain evidence?

The answer is an emphatic “NO!” Doing so would undermine the integrity of case and potentially harm the client, as well as put the investigator, their business and potentially others at risk of criminal and/or civil penalties.

Are investigations confidential?

Generally speaking, yes, they are; however, there are some caveats. If your case is one that is going to court/trial there are considerations to be taken in order to keep the details of your investigation out of the hands of the opposing party. Please refer to the link below for an article by Diligentia Group on Protecting Privilege and Confidentiality With a Private Investigator.

What types of investigations can private investigators conduct?

Private investigators can investigate just about anything so long as they are abiding by the law. Private investigators essentially gather “information” and/or “facts” regarding the case at hand. There are numerous resources and methods for doing this. Common areas of investigation for Private Investigators include: Civil Investigations, Criminal Investigations, Corporate Investigations, Due Diligence Investigations, Infidelity Investigations, Child Custody Investigations, Background Investigations, Locate/Skip Tracing Investigations, Witness Investigations, and much more. Please refer to the link below for an article by Diligentia Group on 101 Things a Private Investigator Can Do.

Does a private investigator have to be licensed in a particular state in order to conduct an investigation there?

Not necessarily. In order to conduct business as a private investigator in a given state you must abide by their rules and regulations. Most, if not all states require that you obtain their state license in order to establish a business or take on new cases within that given state. However, if an investigation originates in a state where the Private Investigator is licensed and that investigation takes them into another state, that investigator is typically free to continue/conduct the investigation so long as they abide by all applicable laws. One should confirm individual state laws and reciprocity practices.

Can I hire a private investigator to conduct surveillance of a person if that person has a restraining order against me?

No, you can NOT hire a private investigator to conduct surveillance of a person who has a standing Restraining Order against you. This is spelled out within the terms of the Restraining Order and would be in direct violation of it.


Below are the requirements to become a private investigator in the state of California. 

  • You must be 18 or older.
  • Undergo a criminal history background check through the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  • Have at least three years (2,000 hours each year, totaling 6,000 hours) of compensated experience in investigative work; or
  • Have a law degree or completed a four-year course in police science plus two years (4,000 hours) of experience; or
  • Have an associate’s degree in police science, criminal law, or justice and 2 ½ years (5,000 hours) of experience.
  • Experience must be certified by your employer and have been received while you were employed as a sworn law enforcement officer, military police officer, insurance adjuster, employee of a licensed PI or licensed repossessor, arson investigator for a public fire suppression agency, or an investigator for the public defender’s office. (Work as a process server, public records researcher, custodial attendant for a law enforcement agency, bailiff, agent who collects debts in writing or by telephone after the debtor has been located, or person who repossesses property after it has been located is not considered qualifying experience.)
  • Pass a two-hour multiple-choice examination covering laws and regulations, terminology, civil and criminal liability, evidence handling, undercover investigations and surveillance. A copy of the Private Investigator Act will be sent to you; and
  • Upon notification that you have passed the examination, you must submit a licensing fee to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, P.O. Box 989002, West Sacramento, CA 95798-9002.


  • What is your background/experience? (I.e. Law Enforcement, Military, Private Sector, Attorney, etc.)
    What do you specialize in?
  • Do you subcontract your cases?
  • Who conducts the physical surveillance? What is their background/experience?
  • What licenses do you hold?
  • What associations do you belong to?

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