So you want to become a private investigator?

In this article you will learn the steps I took to become a qualified and reputable private investigator.

It was a Tuesday when I received a task to attend the Royal Court in London to collect some legal documents. The instruction was that I should go to an upper floor within the building and tell the clerk who I am and the case reference number.

I entered this immense and prestigious law building filled with history and took the elevator to the upper floors. There it was a small desk with a lady behind the counter and another male sitting in the waiting room.

I explained the female I’m there to collect some documents and gave her the name of the Respondent along with Case Number.

While the women left to search the envelope with legal documents which were collected for personal service, the male looked at me amazed and asked: How did you got in this line of work?

The question took me by surprise as I don’t have an answer ready. Nor it is an easy answer. It took a couple of years of work and planning to be able to collect those documents.

But how did I became a private investigator?

At 17 years old I started working as a security guard at a retail shop. Very soon I found out that I was good at observing people behavior and knowing what they are up to long before they would steal anything or kick off. Also, my inquisitive nature has helped me to ask the right questions while trying to investigate thefts and in interviews and didn’t let me take things at face value.

Later, when I joined the prison service here in the UK, the skills gathered over a decade of in filed work were invaluable in dealing with criminals and finding out the truth behind lies and deceive.

Before I tell you how to become a private investigator I want to clarify there is a difference between becoming a private investigator and being a competent private investigators.

I have dealt with plenty qualified private investigators that lack some of the most fundamental virtues such as integrity and trustworthiness.

Some qualified Pi’s have very poor craftsmanship which is probably resulted due to a lack of infield experience and references from work. One must be able to ‘walk the walk’ in order to accumulate enough experience in order to become competent.

Anyway, back to how to become a private investigator.

Here’s how.

The private investigation industry is heavily unregulated and full of rogue agents. These so called “private investigators” are perpetuating as private investigators and look genuine at first glance. They have fancy websites with thousands of pages covering every keyword possible.

To become one of these private investigators is not difficult. You need a name and an website. And you are a private investigator.

Easy doesn’t it? And scary.

It’s a lot more difficult to be a security guard for example. To be a security guard you need to sit 3 days of training and pass an exam, and then apply and get an SIA licence which can take months.

Instead, to be a private investigator one doesn’t literally needs any qualification or license. You can make a business card and write on it you are a private investigator and then theoretically you are one.

But let’s say that you don’t want to be a rogue private investigator you want to be a genuine qualified private investigator.

In this case the first thing you need to do is take and pass a Level 3 Course in Professional Investigations. There are a couple of providers out there such as the Institute of Professional Investigators – IPI

I personally was trained and will highly recommend the Association of British Investigators own tutor Kevin Regan of Burton Regan Investigations.

Once you have taken the course and pass the exam then I suggest to apply to become a member of the Association of British Investigators – which is the only Association endorsed and recognized by the Law Society of England & Wales and is an Approved supplier by The Law Society of Scotland.

They will call you for an interview with a panel of highly reputable private investigators that are at the top of the ABI. Pending that you pass the interview with the panel and depending on your previous investigative experience they could grant you provisional or full membership within the Association.

Once your membership has been approved you can then advertise yourself as a credible investigator which was assessed externally and then take the necessary steps to promote yourself and earn business.

How much business is our there for private investigators?

There is business out there for private investigators but the competition is fierce. There are many highly established private investigation agencies that have been trading for many years and they have the most regular clients.

Regular process serving work for example, is more important than actual ‘one off’ private investigation work because it provides constant cash flow until bigger investigative jobs come in.

What work do private investigator take?

Private investigators conduct an extremely varied array of investigative jobs and below are a few we conduct on a regular basis.

Process serving – receiving legal documents and then personally serving them onto the person named on the paperwork usually called the Respondent.

Other private investigation jobs are

Enquiry agent – knocking on doors to gather intelligence e.g who lives at a certain address

Surveillance – gathering video and photographic evidence. This can be in matrimonial and infidelity cases, fraud, employment etc.

Tracing – finding out a subject address and contact information’s usually in debt recovery cases. Our trace service also known as people finder, for example in case of a lost relative such as a child that left home, missing people to reconnect them, in inheritance cases etc.

Background checks & Due diligence – verifying information’s using open sources also known as Open-source intelligence (OSINT) and with specialist databases to which we have legally access to. This is a desktop investigation and we provide a report following the background checks.

How much can you charge as a private investigator?

Private investigation fees are varied depending on the difficulty and type of the case, location, number of hours and agents required to work etc.

For example, fees for process serving vary between £90 to £250 depending on the process servers.

Regarding process serving just a quick note here. There are many process servers out there but not all process serving agencies are also private investigators.

There is a difference between a qualified private investigator and an unqualified process server.

Most private investigators are process servers but not all process servers are private investigators. I think it’s worth knowing this.

Anyway back to the fees.

Surveillance is charged anywhere between £25 per hour to £55 plus expenses such as mileage, parking, congestion charge etc.

We specialize in surveillance and there are a couple of other surveillance operatives out there that can do a pretty good job. I suggest you look at their evidence videos to understand what is required to be a successful surveillance operative.

A trace can cost anything between £45 to £1,500 depending on the type and depth of trace. Some agencies offer a No-Find No Fee tracing service.

We charge just around £200 for a trace and our trace is one of the most complex and in-depth trace in the investigation industry because the databases that we are using are paid accounts with specialist access for private investigation agencies.

Is it worth being a private investigator?

After a couple of years in the industry I think the work itself is very rewarding however, there is a big challenge ahead especially when you just starting out.

You must be capable to learn on the go and adapt quickly to any situation that may arise and take the correct decisions at key times in order to get the positive result. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the private investigation work any mistake can prove very costly for you and your client and can potentially also lend you in prison. Therefore, the investigation industry it’s like a sword sharp at both ends.

Not to mention dealing with the business aspects because you are an entrepreneur in your own right once you establish your own agency.

There are plenty of expenses and work is scarce because no one knows you and/or want to risk their reputation with some rookie investigator. Unless you are fully prepared financially to wait until you will have enough work to support yourself then probably the best way is to work for another agency and then go from there. Or, work part time until you establish yourself however, the ABI doesn’t allow part time members as far as I am aware at the time I wrote this article.

You are either in or out. There is no middle in the private investigation industry.


The security and investigation sector, Like any other industry, has it’s pro and cons for being part of it.

If you are thinking to become a private investigator I suggest you weight both sides of the coin and see which sides wins.

As I said the work can be very rewarding but there is a big mountain to climb ahead.

If you think you got what it takes to be a private investigator then go by all means go ahead. I wish you best of luck in your investigation career. Don’t forget to hit me up if this article was of any help to you.

Article Written by

Cezar Ionica MABI

Private investigator

Bravo Investigations

0208 123 9239

info at