Yes, you can become a Private Investigator without a PI license. In "most" jurisdictions, there are little to no requirements to work unlicensed under a fully licensed Private Investigator. So, you won't be able to work as a PI for yourself but you can work as a Private Investigator for a PI agency.
It is recommended that you first learn how to perform investigations relevant to the PI industry, such as single person surveillance for insurance fraud files. The fact that individuals can work as unlicensed Investigators does not mean that their quality of investigations is less than licensed Investigators. In fact, due to poor industry standards, having a PI license does not make you a qualified Investigator. The poor industry standard come from the non-relevant experience most, if not all, jurisdictions require of you to become a licensed Private Investigator. This non-relevant experience can be education degrees and non-PI investigative experience.
Unlicensed PI Experience
An industry standard flaw most jurisdictions have is regulations regarding law enforcement experience. Most jurisdictions allow you to obtain a PI license if you have law enforcement experience. Some jurisdictions also accept non-PI investigative experience to obtain a PI license. The problem with jurisdictions requiring previous investigative experience is that there is no such thing as equivalent Private Investigator experience. Sure, a career in law enforcement will gain you some transferable skills to bring to the Private Eye world. However, an investigative career outside of PI work will not provide you the skill-set to perform what we do the most: single person surveillance for insurance fraud investigations. Furthermore, PIs typically obtain all evidence via quality and litigious video. This is uncommon for most other investigative careers. Being a police officer will not make you a good PI the same way being a PI will not make you a good police officer.
Legal Knowledge PI Courses
Some jurisdictions also require you to take an approved PI licensing course. However, these courses typically focus on what laws you need to be aware of. This is of course useful, but new Private Investigators still need to learn how to perform investigations. The required courses do not focus on what we do most: single person mobile surveillance. Often, these courses do not not even mention single person mobile surveillance. If you are becoming a PI, you need at least 100 hours of surveillance experience to be able to perform safely and meet client's high standards.
Another requirement issue is the acceptance of post-secondary degrees. These degrees that are accepted for PI licensing are typically in the criminal justice field. However, some jurisdictions accept any post-secondary degree. The issue is, having an educational degree will offer almost no help to you in the Private Investigation industry.
Novel Data Investigative Learning offers the only Private Investigator education courses that focuses on mobile surveillance and understanding the PI industry. For more information on PI education, click here.
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About the Author
Peter is an Instructor & Co-Founder of NDIL with over 14 years as a Professional Private Investigator. Peter has spent more than a decade conducting investigations and security operations throughout the world, primarily for corporations, law firms, and government agencies. Peter has assisted in the creation of numerous investigative & security training programs in various capacities.