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As part of a highly regulated industry, private investigation (PI) firms must manage three
levels of state licensing requirements: basic business registrations with the secretary of state,
individual private investigator licenses, and private investigation firm licenses.
Before providing services in any state, you must typically register your business with the
secretary of state either by forming a new business entity
or registering to do business as an out-of-state or “foreign” firm.
In both cases, the secretary of state issues a certificate authorizing you to conduct business within that state.
In addition to those general business requirements, more than 80 percent of states require
private investigators to obtain firm licenses. Where required, licenses must usually be in
place before offering or providing services in that state. One unusual aspect of private
investigator licensing is that a few states provide licenses only at the local level.
Firm licenses require appointment of a licensed private investigator in charge.
If the licensed investigator leaves, a new one must be appointed, often within a specific time,
or the license may become inactive.
Professional licenses for private investigators and PI firms are administered by a mix of
state licensing boards, law enforcement departments, and other state agencies.
If your application is approved, the license department issues a Certificate of Authorization.
The application process differs in each state, but generally professional licensing follows SOS registration.
Some states have prerequisites such as getting name approval from the state insurance
department before filing your secretary of state registration. Make sure you research the
entire process before beginning any filings in a new state.
While requirements vary, applications for PI firm licenses typically require:
Proof of incorporation or foreign qualification with the secretary of state
Lists of officers and percentages of ownership
Certified copies of founding documents
Bonds, usually ranging from $5,000 to $10,000
Criminal background checks, including fingerprints and photos of investigators
Information on training, experience, and employment history
Approvals generally take from four to 12 weeks, so it’s important to plan ahead.
Some states have reciprocal licensing agreements that allow licensed private investigators
to work across state lines for a limited time, usually 30 days or less.
The investigator may not establish a business or set up residence during that time.
Most PI firm licenses must be renewed every one to two years. Failure to maintain a
current license can lead to substantial penalties and sanctions. In some cases,
doing private investigation work in a state without the proper license could prevent
you from getting a license in the future.
Fees for Licenses and Renewals
License fees for private investigation firms vary widely.
Initial firm licenses range from as low as $75 in Wisconsin to $1,700 in Minnesota,
while two-year renewals range from $100 in Iowa to $1,000 in Connecticut.
Whether you want to launch a private investigation agency, expand your territory,
or manage your existing licenses more efficiently, our compliance specialists can help.
We’ll take care of the entire process, from research and file preparation to tracking and renewals,
to ensure that your licenses are always in place wherever your next lead takes you.
Ready to license your private investigation firm in a new state?
You’ll find everything you need to get started in this table, including relevant state agencies,
fees, and deadlines for license applications and renewals. Click on “more info” for more
detailed instructions in each state.
$375 for incorporated entities or $200 for unincorporated entities. Combined security and detective agency licenses are available for $375 for unincorporated entities and $750 for incorporated entities.
Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance - Private Investigation and Polygraph Commission
$250 application fee for companies with 1 investigator, $500 for companies with 2-5 investigators, and $1,000 for companies with more than 5 investigators + $38 fingerprint fee. In addition, license fees are either $125, $250, or $500 depending on company size.
Harbor Compliance does not provide tax, financial, or legal advice. Use of our services does not create
an attorney-client relationship. Harbor Compliance is not acting as your attorney and does not review
information you provide to us for legal accuracy or sufficiency. Access to our website is subject to
Filing fees depend on your individual situation. We do our best to calculate your filing fees
upfront and collect those fees today so we can get started. Your specialist will determine your
exact filing fees and invoice additional fees if required.