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How Much Do Private Investigators Cost In California?

Updated: Oct 19

If you have found yourself on this page, you're likely exploring the option of contracting the services of a private investigator in California. Whether dictated by personal or professional circumstances, engaging a competent private investigator can be a worthy investment of your finances. While the efficacy of private investigators is known, many potential clients grapple with understanding the cost involved. Since private investigation is an intricate field, there is no standard pricing, and the fee can vary based on various determinants. To begin, understanding these factors is essential.

two gas pumps in desert. California private investigator.
Much like fuel prices, where you are and the quality of the services will dictate the cost of a California private investigator.

What You WIll Learn

Expenses tailored to your requirements

There are many variables that affect a private investigation.

Hourly charges by California private investigators

Get an idea of what it cost per hour.

Flat rate private investigator prices

What is the difference and how it can benefit you.

Understanding retainers

What is a retainer and why are they necessary?

Why the desparity in costs between California private investigators?

Learn what factors create price differences.

Selecting the right private investigator in California

Why it is important to match the job with the PI's skills.

Understanding the costs of a California private investigator

Delve a little deeper.

What does a private investigator cost in Los Angeles?

Is the price different between the various parts of LA?

What does a private investigator cost in San Francisco?

Is San Francisco more expenive for a PI than a Los Angeles private investigation.

Examples of California private investigator costs for flat rate cases

Learn what types of cases a resonable flat rate can be charged.


What are some questions people ask about California private investigation cost?

Understanding the Expenses Tailored to Your Requirements

Common services such as surveillance, background analysis, pre-marital assessments, bug sweeps, or insurance inquiries generally involve straightforward investigative procedures. These services usually take less time and resources, hence might be less expensive compared to more involved cases like financial fraud or locating missing individuals. The intricacy and confidentiality level required in these services often escalate the overall charges. Most private investigators charge an hourly rate starting at around $125 per hour nationally.

Private investigators provide a vast array of services adaptable to your exclusive needs, leading to a wide spectrum of costs.

Hourly Charges by California Private Investigators

Typically, private investigators prefer an hourly billing system, given the unpredictable nature of their assignments. If you've hired a detective for surveillance services, then It is reasonable to anticipate an hourly charge, as surveillance activities might span hours, days, or potentially longer. However, it is possible to set a financial boundary to avoid unforeseen expenses. You and your investigator can agree on a budget, ensuring any additional costs are discussed beforehand.

Across the U.S., hourly rates fluctuate between $99 and over $400, influenced by factors such as experience and the complexity of the services, including digital forensics. In California, the median hourly fee is roughly around $155, with most clients spending between $155 and $200.

Fixed Rates for Private Investigators

Many clients prefer a flat fee structure, which provides an estimated total cost for simpler tasks like background checks or document retrieval. This option eliminates surprises in the billing, including all necessary expenses and taxes within a predetermined fee range, which could span a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Whenever possible, an ethical California private investigator will create flat rate package pricing. See more on Understanding California Private Investigator Costs below.

Understanding Retainers

Most private investigators necessitate a retainer fee, a preliminary payment acting like a deposit for the services to be offered. This payment is a reflection of the anticipated workload and the nature of the services desired. Note that retainers are not fixed fees and might require adjustments based on the evolving demands of the task at hand.

Why Do California Private Investigators Demand a Retainer or Deposit?

Speaking for this private investigator, in the early days it was all done on a promise. Then agreements were put in place in order to enforce any promises made. From that point, neither one's promise or written agreement was adhered to. Therefore, we put retainers on all investigations.

People will hire you, then attempt to change their mind (which is fine) and not pay you (not fine). Because human nature is very dishonest and unethical, a retainer or deposit is made prior to the commencement of the anticipated fees and costs.

Why the Disparity in Costs?

Much like medical professionals or lawyers, private investigators also have a varying fee structure influenced by elements like expertise, tools employed, reputation, and geographic location. Highly reputed professionals with advanced technology at their disposal generally command higher fees. It is imperative to approach incredibly low charges with caution, as they might indicate a compromise on quality and expertise.

Selecting the Right Private Investigator

While the price is a significant factor in your decision, it should not be the sole determinant. Opting for an investigator based purely on lower costs might end up being a more expensive mistake in the long run due to potential incompetence. Conduct a thorough research, seeking reviews and testimonials from past clients to assess the work ethics and accomplishments of a potential private investigator. Entrust your case to a licensed and experienced professional to ensure satisfactory results.

Remember, when hiring a private investigator in California, it is crucial to prioritize expertise and reliability over simply seeking the lowest bid to guarantee a successful outcome.

Understanding California Private Investigator Costs

In the realm of private investigation in California, understanding the nuances of the cost involved is pivotal. While various services come with different price tags, here we focus on two specific services - locating a person and asset investigations. Let's delve deeper into real case scenarios where services start at a competitive rate of $416.

files on a shelf
As with any profession, there are varying degrees of complexities that affect the price of a California private investigator

Private Investigator Cost In Greater Los Angeles

The cost to hire a private investigator in Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley, is also the same in Orange County or other neighboring areas.

In fact, the cost to hire a LA private investigator, for most in-house, desktop investigations is the same as hiring a private investigator in San Francisco or any other California major metropolitan area. The fees we share as examples as you read on are for anyone who contacts us nationwide.

But, if you want to know an hourly fee, some private investigators are $125 per hour, and some over $250 per hour. This detective agency is $200 per hour.

What Does a San Francisco Bay Area Private Investigator Cost?

If it is a flat rate matter, which most of our cases are, then you pay the same as a client contacting us from any other location. We don't charge you more to conudct your San Francisco Bay Area private investigation than we would if you were in Los Angeles.

Where costs can be different is when your matter gets complex and needs to go outside the bounds of a flat rate investigation. Inquiries that require complex analytics, and have many other facets are usually billed at an hourly rate. Our San Francisco Bay Area private investigation fees per hour are $200, however, if it is a complex cyber investigation or cybersecurity matter then our rate may be $400 per hour.

Our Los Angeles investigation fees are the same as our San Francisco fees as both areas are major metropolitan markets.

Why California Private Investigators Never Advertise Their Prices

If you have looked at enough California private detectives, you will notice 2 out of 10 (if you're lucky) will have prices on their websites.

Why is this?

For one, most will say that there are too many variances in each case to quote a price. This is hogwash. You can give fair starting prices to the consumer without it hurting your business. Most are afraid that their competition will undercut them, so they do not share prices.

It is true that there are many variables in a case. That should not stop a PI from at least having some starting prices to help you determine if it is even right for you in the first place. A discussion around your needs and around that price can ensue and some sort of agreement reached.

California Locating a Person - Case Specific Examples (Starting at $416)

When it comes to locating a person, the complexities can vary greatly, and so can the costs. Here are some case scenarios where the services start at $416:

Simple Case (Starting at $416):

In a straightforward case where the individual has left minimal traces and has not actively tried to hide their location, a private investigator can use basic tools and databases to find them. This process usually involves analyzing social media activities, public records, and possibly reaching out to acquaintances.

Moderate Complexity (Starting at $1200):

When the person has taken moderate steps to conceal their whereabouts, the investigator might need to employ more advanced techniques, such as surveillance and fieldwork, interviewing witnesses or acquaintances, and employing more time-consuming and resource-intensive methods to track them down.

High Complexity (Starting at $1800):

Here, the individual has potentially used sophisticated means to cover their tracks, requiring a highly skilled investigator employing a range of tools including cyber forensics to find the person. This might involve an extensive amount of time, a network of contacts, and specialized skills to locate the individual.

California Asset Investigations - Case Specific Examples (Starting at $416)

Asset Investigations (Starting at $416)

Understanding and uncovering assets involves a meticulous approach where investigators dissect financial trails and hunt for hidden assets. Here are various case scenarios with services initiating at a base rate of $416:

Basic Investigation (Starting at $416):

In simpler cases, private investigators might be able to locate assets through a preliminary search of public records and online databases to find properties, vehicles, or business affiliations tied to an individual.

Moderate Investigation (Starting at $1000):

A step up in complexity, this involves a deep dive into financial records, possibly uncovering hidden assets through a meticulous analysis of bank transactions, tax records, and more. It could involve legal assistance to access certain confidential documents.

Comprehensive Investigation (Starting at $2500 and above):

At this level, the investigator engages in exhaustive research, possibly involving international assets, intricate business holdings, and offshore accounts. The investigation might require a team of experts including forensic accountants to unearth concealed assets and understand the complete financial picture of an individual.

Background Checks Including Address and Criminal History (Starting at $416)

In-depth background checks that encompass both address history and criminal records can vary vastly in terms of complexity and hence the cost. Let's explore some case examples with a starting rate of $416:

Basic Background Check (Starting at $416):

This service includes a rudimentary check of public records and online databases. The investigator would provide a detailed report of a person’s address history and any criminal records available in public databases.

Intermediate Level Check (Starting at $1000):

Taking a step further, this involves a more comprehensive analysis, including verifying the information with local law enforcement agencies, neighbors, and possibly previous employers to give a fuller picture of an individual's background.

Advanced Background Check (Starting at $1500 to $2500):

This level of investigation delves even deeper, utilizing advanced investigative techniques to uncover hidden or obscured information. It may involve court record searches, prison record searches, and even interviews with acquaintances to gather a complete criminal and address history.

Factors That Can Increase the Cost of Background Checks

  • Depth of History: The more historical data you require, the more time-consuming the investigation becomes, leading to a higher cost.

  • Location and Accessibility: Sometimes, records might be in different states or even countries, which can add to the cost.

  • Special Requests: Asking for specific details such as financial history or detailed criminal records can increase the complexity and cost.

License Plate Registration and Vehicular Related Research (Starting at $216)

Vehicular research, including license plate registration investigations, can be essential in various cases including tracking a person or understanding someone's financial status. We give this as an example because it is a commonly asked for service by our agency. Here are case examples with a starting point of $216:

Basic Vehicular Research (Starting at $216):

This involves obtaining information linked to a license plate or VIN from public databases. The PI can find details about the owner, address, and possibly the vehicle's financial status.

Intermediate Vehicular Research (Starting at $400):

In addition to the basic details, this tier includes a more detailed analysis of a person’s driving history, accident reports, and possibly tracking the vehicle's movements over a period of time.

Advanced Vehicular Research (Starting at $600 to $800):

This highest tier of service offers a full spectrum analysis which could involve physical surveillance of the vehicle, understanding its connection to other individuals, and even uncovering assets or properties linked to the vehicle.

Local Economy Affects California Private Investigator Cost

With anything, what is going on around a business will affect the cost of what you are purchasing. Barista Magazine report that the average cup of coffee in San Francisco is $3.60. But I bet it won't cost that much in Joplin, Missouri. The same is true for California private investigators. Depending on what part of California, the expertise and the complexity of the case, will afect the price of the investigation.

Gas prices, local housing prices, will likely play into what a private investigator charges you for mileage. The detective's house payment or office rent will also affect what you are paying. If it is a firm, what they bill is directly affected by how many partners there are, what each partner demands for an hourly rate, and how much support staff there is.


We can't speak for everyone, but after decades in the private investigation business, we have a pretty good idea of what it cost to hire a California private investigator. Whether it’s understanding someone’s background in depth or carrying out vehicular related research, it’s clear that private investigator services in California come with a spectrum of costs based on the complexity of the task at hand. Starting from $416 for detailed background checks and $216 for vehicular research, one can choose a service tier that suits their needs and budget. It is always recommended to consult with professionals to get a precise quote for your specific case. Remember that investing in a skilled investigator can potentially save you from larger troubles down the line.

FAQ: Hiring a California Private Investigator

How much does it cost to hire a private investigator for a day in California?

A: The daily rate for a private investigator in California can range from $400 to $1600 or more, based on a variety of factors including the investigator's experience, the complexity of the case, and the geographical location of the services.

What factors influence the daily rate of a private investigator?

A: Several factors influence the daily rate, including:

  • The investigator's experience and expertise

  • The geographical location where the services are rendered

  • The complexity and nature of the case

  • The urgency of the case

  • Additional costs such as travel expenses, database access fees, etc.

What types of cases do private investigators handle?

A: Private investigators handle a wide array of cases such as:

  • Surveillance

  • Background checks

  • Corporate investigations

  • Locating missing persons

  • Asset searches

  • Infidelity investigations

How is the daily rate of a private investigator calculated?

A: The daily rate is typically calculated based on the investigator’s hourly rate, multiplied by a standard working day (usually 8 hours). It might also include flat-rate services for certain tasks, retainer fees for long-term projects, and miscellaneous expenses incurred during the investigation.

Do private investigators offer flat-rate services?

A: Yes, some private investigators offer flat-rate services for tasks with a clearly defined scope, such as background checks or asset searches. It is always best to discuss and confirm the rate structure before commencing with the services.

Are there any additional costs to be aware of when hiring a private investigator?

A: Besides the daily or hourly rate, be prepared for potential additional costs such as transportation fees, accommodation costs, and fees for accessing specialized databases or resources. It is advisable to discuss these potential expenses beforehand to avoid surprises in the billing.

Can I hire a private investigator on a retainer basis?

A: Yes, many private investigators work on a retainer basis, especially for long-term projects. The retainer is an upfront fee agreed upon before the initiation of the services.

What should I consider while choosing a private investigator?

A: When choosing a private investigator, consider their experience, expertise, licensing, and reviews or testimonials from previous clients. Also, ensure they are familiar with the legal boundaries to avoid any legal complications in the future.

Are private investigators licensed in California?

A: Yes, private investigators are required to be licensed in California. It’s crucial to hire a licensed investigator to ensure professionalism and adherence to legal standards.

Can a private investigator guarantee results?

A: While private investigators can leverage their expertise and resources to work towards achieving the desired results, it is ethical and professional not to guarantee results due to the unpredictable nature of investigations.

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