How to Become a Private Investigator for Free

by Jared Lewis; Updated September 26, 2017
Private investigators gather information and evidence.

Private investigators are professionals who work alongside law enforcement officials or offer their services to corporations, attorneys or individuals who need their professional investigative and data collection skills for a specific task. Becoming a private investigator can be accomplished with no cost to you if you use your ingenuity and have a little know-how already at your disposal. Private investigators must have excellent research and interpersonal communication skills to conduct their job properly.

Step 1

Visit the website of your state's licensing board. Determine the licensing requirements for your state so you will know exactly what you need to work toward in order to become a private investigator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all but seven states require that private investigators be licensed. The states of Wyoming, Alabama, South Dakota, Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi and Colorado do not require a license.

Step 2

Obtain post-secondary training in private investigative services, police science or forensics at a school accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. While it is true that it costs money to go to these schools, you can have your education paid for through financial aid. Apply for scholarships and federal financial aid. If you can demonstrate financial need and meet all of the criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education, you may be eligible for Federal Pell Grants or other need-based aid. This will take care of your tuition costs.

Step 3

Apply for positions with private investigation agencies in your area. If you live in or near a larger city, this will be easier to do, since many metropolitan areas have multiple private investigation agencies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most private investigators receive their training for their careers through on-the-job training. If you have some level of post-secondary education and can find an agency that will be willing to pay for your licensing fees, you can gain your training and become an investigator at no cost to you. Employers who take on trainees and agree to pay their licensing fees may require that you make a minimum service commitment to stay with their company for several years. The trade off for you is that you get to have a career as a private investigator and have no out-of-pocket expenses of your own.

2016 Salary Information for Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators earned a median annual salary of $48,190 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, private detectives and investigators earned a 25th percentile salary of $35,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $66,300, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 41,400 people were employed in the U.S. as private detectives and investigators.

About the Author

Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.

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