How to Obtain an Electrical License in California

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Before applying for a California electrical license, you need to decide which kind of license or certification you want. A C-10 electric contractor license is different from electrical certification in California, which is required for the professionals the contractor employs. California's Department of Industrial Relations and the Contractors State Licensing Board have the relevant information online.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

To run an electrical contracting company, you need to pass the C-10 licensing test. Certified electricians are employees, not business owners. To certify, you need enough hands-on experience and classroom time to qualify for the certification test.

California Electrical License Classes

A C-10 contractor places, installs, erects or connects electrical wires, fixtures, appliances, apparatus, conduits and other equipment that generate, transmit, transform or use electrical energy. If you run a California electrical contracting business, this is the license you need. If you're a sole proprietor and C-10 licensed, you can do the same work as a certified electrician without any further licensing or testing.

If you employ electricians to work for your contracting firm, they need certification. Even if they're licensed out of state or coming to California temporarily, the state requires that they sit for the certification test.

An electrician working for other employers doesn't need certification. For example, an electrician working for an electrical sign contractor or a low-voltage electrical contractor doesn't need state certification and neither do electricians working for the state government or a school district.

Becoming a C-10 Contractor

To gain a C-10 California electrical license, you have to sit for the license exam. The state does allow some exemptions — for example, if you've worked for a C-10 contractor for five of the past seven years. The test is a closed-book, multiple-choice exam covering five topics:

  • Planning and estimating

  • Rough wiring

  • Finish wiring and trim

  • Startup, troubleshooting and maintenance

  • Safety

Getting a California electrical license also requires you to take out a $15,000 surety bond. If for some reason you can't complete a project, the state will use as much of the money as necessary to settle things so your clients aren't inconvenienced by your failure.

Electrical Certification in California

Certified electricians include general electricians, residential electricians, fire/life/safety technicians, voice/data/video technicians and nonresidential lighting technicians. You can take the certification for your class if you've had enough work experience. The requirements range from 8,000 hours of job experience for a general electrician to 2,000 hours for nonresidential lighting.

If you don't have enough work hours to qualify for electrical certification in California, you'll need to put in more time. Until you certify, you can earn experience as an electrical trainee. First, enroll in a state school and then apprentice yourself as a trainee under a certified electrician. If your goal is to be a general electrician, you need 720 hours of instructional time and 8,000 hours of experience.

Electrician's Apprentices

An alternative to electrical certification in California is to sign up for a registered apprentice program. State law exempts apprentices from the certification test, but many apprenticeship programs require that you pass the test to graduate.

You can find apprenticeship programs sponsored by trade associations and unions throughout the state. You work under a more experienced electrician on a variety of wiring jobs in a variety of settings, such as residential, commercial and industrial buildings and outdoor above- and below-grade projects. You're paid for your work and will gain the instructional and hands-on experience that will qualify you to take the certification test.

You won't be accepted unless you meet the qualifications for apprenticeship:

  • You are at least 18 years old.

  • You are physically able to perform the work. It can involve climbing, lifting and working in cramped spaces.

  • You must have completed two semesters of high school algebra or one semester of college algebra. Your grade has to be a C or better.

  • You need a valid California drivers' license.