If your goal is to become a detective, you need to decide if you'll be a police detective or a private detective. Both have benefits and drawbacks, but you may find that private detectives can earn more money, as standard police salaries limit police detectives.

Each state will be a little different for both positions. Even different police departments will have varying requirements to join the force, so ensure that once you've reviewed the general steps, you look at your specific state or city.

Follow along as I go through the requirements for each position, and you can decide what the best option for you will be. If you'd like to be a private investigator, we also have a guide to starting your own business. 

How to Become a Police Detective

For most police departments, you will need to be a police officer first and then be promoted into the police detective position. This could take three or more years before you're eligible, and in some cases, you may never become a police detective. 

Police detectives make on average $105,000 per year. Of course, your length of service will play a factor in your salary, as will which department you work for.

Age Requirements

You may need to meet specific age requirements, 21 - 35 years old for most departments. 

Education Requirements

Education requirements will often be at least an associate's degree, and even better if that degree is an associate's degree in criminal justice. You can often bypass this requirement if you were in the military.

If your city or area has a high percentage of people speaking another language, it will benefit you to learn that. Languages such as Spanish are in high demand in certain cities, and it may make the difference in you or someone else getting the position.

You will also need to complete a police academy course, which can take between 6 months to 1 year to complete.

Work Experience

Once you're a police officer, you'll have the opportunity to do further training, work on specific task forces, and put in extra work. The most crucial component will be to let your superior officers know that your goal is to become a police detective as they will need to make the recommendation for your promotion.

Key items to stay on top of your police detective goal:

●     Stay physically fit.

●     Write detailed reports.

●     Volunteer for task forces or extra duty.

●     Continue your education in any areas such as investigation or criminal justice.

Becoming a Police Detective

Becoming a police detective opens up investigative opportunities you may never get as a private detective. However, the requirements and time it takes to become a police detective can be pretty long, and there is no guarantee that you'll be promoted once you've put the time and energy into the role.

So the time it takes should be considered before you go down this path, as should the salary restrictions you'll have throughout your career when compared to the earning potential of private detectives.

How to Become a Private Detective

Private detectives can work in many different fields, either for another detective agency or even for a corporation. However, the core objective is to perform investigation for private citizens in aid of a specific goal.

Many private detectives will work in agencies, allowing corporations or private citizens to hire them to investigate something. In some cases, this could be a cheating spouse or involve finding a missing person that the police have given up on. You could work for someone or build your own agency.

Other private detectives will work for lawyers to gather evidence and information on specific cases. They may also work for insurance agencies to investigate whether somebody is committing insurance fraud.

The earning potential for a private detective is exponential, either through taking on many different clients in an agency or by working for more prominent corporations that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a good private detective.

The requirements to be a private detective vary from state to state and even within different cities.


Age requirements can be none or range from 19-25 years old. If there are no licensing requirements within a state for a private detective, then there are also no age limits being enforced.


No specific education will be required, but you may need to pass a state private detective examination. You may also need to complete this exam every few years to ensure you're up to date on all requirements and information.

Work Experience

You may need up to 3 years of work experience before becoming a private detective. This can include working for a licensed private detective full-time or other similar investigative experiences with a government or police agency.

If your goal is to work for a large corporation, you may need to consider getting experience before they will consider you. Nobody will hire a brand new private detective to handle significant and complex cases.

How Do You Apply For Private Detective Roles?

When you're first starting, the best thing would be to approach private detective agencies to see if they are hiring anybody, even for junior support roles. You will need some initial experience and guidance on the job.

Many of the standard job websites, such as Indeed.com, also advertise for private detective opportunities or similar roles that allow you to get experience or get your foot into the door of big corporations or larger agencies.

Which States Have No Licensing Requirements

There are currently five states with no requirements to be a private detective. The other 45 states have varying requirements from different ages to how much experience you need, and even additional licenses for different types of private detectives.

  1. Alaska
  2. Idaho
  3. Mississippi
  4. South Dakota
  5. Wyoming

Final Thoughts

Private detectives have much lower requirements to enter the field and have a higher earning potential than police detectives. If you already have some experience in related areas, such as previously being in the military or have gone through criminal justice training, then your opportunities will open up, and jobs will come a lot easier.