top of page

Let's Talk


Our privacy promise: We will not sell / use your contact information outside our agency.

Is It Legal to Hire a Private Investigator in California? A Comprehensive Guide to Licensing, Services, and Hiring Tips

If you're contemplating hiring a private investigator in California, you might be curious about its legality. The straightforward answer is yes, it is legal to hire a private investigator in California. This article will delve into the laws regulating private investigators in California, outline what you can expect from a licensed professional, and provide guidance on hiring the right investigator for your needs. If you're considering hiring a private detective, read on for a comprehensive overview.

two private investigators from Spade & Archer looking out window at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco California
People want to know if hiring a California private investigator is legal. The answer is yes!

Important Consumer Information About Hiring San Francisco Private Investigators

First, it is our distinct pleasure to answer the question about whether it is legal to hire a California private investigator.

Next, as you already know, it is completely legal to hire a San Francisco detective agency. But the question is how and why? We will answer that forthcoming.

Private investigators have been licensed in California since the 1920's, and have become a staple of Hollywood with hundreds of movies, TV shows and books written all about the California private detective.

Hence, our name, Spade & Archer, taken from The Maltese Falcon movie of 1941.

Legal Requirements for California Private Investigators

In California, private investigators must adhere to specific regulations to operate legally. The California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) oversees the licensing process. To become a licensed private investigator, the following requirements must be met:


Applicants must demonstrate a minimum of three years (equivalent to 6,000 hours) of investigative experience or an equivalent combination of education and experience in fields such as criminal justice or law enforcement. This ensures that candidates have practical knowledge and skills in conducting investigations.


Candidates must pass a rigorous written examination administered by the BSIS. This exam tests their knowledge of investigative techniques, legal statutes, and regulations relevant to private investigators and security guard companies. The exam ensures that investigators are well-versed in California laws and best practices.

Background Check:

A comprehensive background check is mandatory for all applicants. This includes submitting fingerprints for a Department of Justice and FBI background check to ensure that the applicant has no disqualifying criminal history. This step helps maintain the integrity and trustworthiness of the profession.


Private investigators must provide proof of insurance or a surety bond to protect clients and the public. The minimum bond amount required is $5,000. This financial safeguard ensures that clients are compensated in case of any wrongful actions by the investigator.

For more detailed information on these requirements, visit the California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

Scope of Investigations

Licensed private investigators in California are authorized to conduct a variety of investigations. These include:

  • Criminal Investigations: Assisting in uncovering details or evidence related to criminal activities. They may work with attorneys or law enforcement to build cases or find new leads.

  • Missing Persons: Locating individuals who are missing or have lost contact with family or friends. This can include runaway children, estranged family members, or individuals who have disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

  • Insurance Fraud: Investigating potential fraudulent claims. This often involves surveillance and gathering evidence to verify or refute the legitimacy of an insurance claim.

  • Civil Matters: Handling cases involving personal injury, theft, property disputes, and other civil issues. They gather evidence that can be used in civil court proceedings.

  • Personal Matters: Investigating sensitive issues such as infidelity, child custody, and other domestic concerns. They provide factual evidence that can be critical in personal or family-related legal matters.

Private investigators must stay informed about privacy laws to ensure that their investigative methods comply with legal standards. Unauthorized surveillance or data collection can lead to legal repercussions for both the investigator and their client.

Confidentiality and Professionalism

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of the private investigation profession. Licensed investigators are bound by strict confidentiality laws, meaning they cannot disclose information obtained during an investigation without the client's explicit consent, unless required by law enforcement or court order. This protects clients' privacy and sensitive information.

When you hire a licensed private investigator, you can expect a high level of professionalism and thoroughness. They will utilize their expertise and resources to gather the information you need while maintaining the confidentiality of your case. Professional private investigators also adhere to ethical standards and avoid conflicts of interest to ensure impartiality.

How to Hire a Private Investigator

Hiring a private investigator involves several steps to ensure you find a qualified and trustworthy professional:

  1. Verify Credentials: Check the investigator’s license status with the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. This will confirm that they are legally allowed to practice and have met all state requirements.

  2. Check References and Reviews: Look for online reviews, testimonials, and ask for references from previous clients. This can give you insight into their reliability, success rate, and professionalism.

  3. Interview Potential Investigators: Ask about their experience, areas of expertise, and methods. Discuss your case and see how they propose to handle it. This will help you gauge their suitability for your specific needs.

  4. Understand the Costs: Private investigation services can vary widely in cost. Make sure you understand their fee structure and get a written estimate. Discuss any potential additional costs that might arise during the investigation.

  5. Clarify Confidentiality: Ensure that the investigator understands the importance of confidentiality and is committed to protecting your privacy.


When you hire a licensed private investigator in California, you gain a professional ally who can provide valuable insights and help navigate complex situations. Whether you're dealing with a legal matter, a personal issue, or need assistance with an investigation, a licensed PI offers peace of mind with their experience and dedication to confidentiality.

For more information or to verify a private investigator's license, visit the California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. If you need assistance with an investigation or have any questions, please feel free to contact us for a free initial consultation.


bottom of page