Private Investigator License

Whether you want to actually be a private investigator, or simply write intelligently about a character who is one, you need to know about licenses and licensing requirements.

Private investigators are required to be licensed in most states.  The actual licensing requirements vary considerably from state to state.  Typically, the private investigator is licensed in the state in which he both resides and does business. 

Before we get to specific requirements, let's start with a definition.  With the advent of internet searches this is an important topic, because lots of people do research and "investigate" things.  Some people charge to "investigate" things.  Does that make the person a private investigator?

Again, we have to go on a state-by-state basis here, because the rules are written into the laws of each state.  We'll take the Commonwealth of Virginia as an example:  According to the Code of Virginia § 9.1-138, "a 'private investigator' means any individual who engages in the business of, or accepts employment to make, investigations to obtain information on (i) crimes or civil wrongs; (ii) the location, disposition, or recovery of stolen property; (iii) the cause of accidents, fires, damages, or injuries to persons or to property; or (iv) evidence to be used before any court, board, officer, or investigative committee."

Another interesting aspect of the licensing of private investigators is that some states have an experience requirement, much like an apprenticeship.  Consequently, if the hero of your novel lives in New York and one day decides to quit his job with Verizon as a product manager to become a private eye, he won't be hanging out his own shingle any time soon; he will, instead, spend years working for someone else.  Of course, he could also consider moving to another state.

What if a private investigator lives and works in Georgia, but has a case that requires him or her to do some work in North Carolina?  Most states have reciprocity agreements with nearby states.  In this example, we find that North Carolina has reciprocal licensing agreements with six other states, including Georgia. To quote: "These agreements allow currently licensed private investigators from states to come into North Carolina for a specific period of time (30 days maximum, except for Tennessee, which is 15 days) to work a case which originated in their home state. Likewise, licensed North Carolina investigators may enter that state to work a case originating there. Investigations exceeding the time limits must be handled by a private investigator licensed in the particular state."

It's easy and inexpensive to find out what the licensing requirements for private investigators are in your state.  Simply go to the state's official website, and poke around.  As an alternative, there is such a thing as picking up the telephone and calling someone in your state government.  We don't see any need to pay good money for one of those books that offers to tell you the licensing requirements for private investigators in all 50 states; the information is basically free on the internet.  We'll also provide links on this page as time allows.


New Mexico - Private Investigator Licensing is handled by the New Mexico Private Investigations Advisory Board.  Rules are as follows:


A. The department shall issue a license as a private investigator to an individual who files a completed application on a form provided by the department, accompanied by the required fees and who submits the following:

(1) proof of age indicating applicant is at least twenty one (21) years of age (copy of birth certificate, driver’s license, state issued identification card, or baptismal certificate); 16.48.2 NMAC 3

(2) two (2) completed fingerprint cards, a completed verification of fingerprints form, a notarized authorization for release of information form and the prescribed fee for a state and federal criminal history background check;

(3) proof of successfully passing a jurisprudence examination to be administered by the department;

(4) a surety bond in the amount of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) executed by a surety company authorized to do business in this state on a form prescribed by the department; however, private investigators who provide personal protection or bodyguard services shall maintain general liability insurance in the amount not less than one million dollars ($1,000,000) in lieu of the surety bond required by the provisions of this paragraph; and

(5) proof of experience that has been acquired within the five (5) years preceding the filing of the

application with the department which shall consist of not less than 6,000 hours of actual work performed in:

(a) investigation for the purpose of obtaining information with reference to a crime or wrongs done or threatened against the United States;

(b) investigation of persons;

(c) the location, disposition or recovery of lost or stolen property;

(d) the cause or responsibility for fire, losses, motor vehicle or other accidents or damage or injury to persons or property; or

(e) securing evidence to be used before a court, administrative tribunal, board or investigating committee or for a law enforcement officer.

B. Years of qualifying experience and the precise nature of that experience shall be substantiated by written certification from employers on a form provided by the department and shall be subject to independent verification by the department as it deems warranted. In the event of inability of applicants to supply such written certifications from employers in whole or in part, applicants may offer other written certifications from others than employers covering the same subject matter for consideration by the department. The burden of proving necessary experience is on the applicant.

C. Pursuant to Section 61-27B-34 of the act, all applicants for initial issuance, reinstatement or renewal of a license in New Mexico shall be required to be fingerprinted to establish positive identification for a state and federal criminal history background check.

(1) Blank fingerprint cards shall be obtained from the department.

(2) Fingerprints shall be taken:

(a) under the supervision of and certified by a New Mexico state police officer, a county sheriff, or a municipal chief of police;

(b) by comparable officers in the applicant’s state of residence if the applicant is not a resident of New Mexico; or

(c) at the discretion of the department, by a private agency or individual qualified to take and certify fingerprints, provided the agency submits to the department written authorization or proof of training from any of the agencies referenced in subparagraphs (a) and (b) above.

(3) Completed fingerprint cards shall be submitted to the department with a check, money order, cashiers check or credit card for the prescribed fee and made out to the private investigations advisory board.

(4) The department may issue a provisional license until an applicant’s background check has been successfully completed.

D. Proof of successfully completing mandatory firearms training required by NMAC. [ NMAC - Re-pr & A, NMAC, 09/24/08]

For more information on private investigator licenses in New Mexico, visit


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Private Investigator License