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How much does it cost to hire a private investigator?

Are you seeking answers to a burning question? Do you need to protect your interests or find peace of mind? hiring a private investigator might be the solution. But before you take that step, let’s break down the costs and services so you can make an educated decision on what’s best for you. 

Finding a private investigator that will fit within your budget is important, as their rates can vary significantly. Private investigator prices will vary from state to state and by experience level. In general, the cost for hiring a private investigator ranges from $60 to $150 per hour. However, some highly experienced and elite private investigators in major metropolitan areas may command higher rates exceeding $250 per hour.


To ensure you find an investigator suitable for your needs and budget, be sure to obtain quotes from multiple providers detailing their rates, estimated hours required for your case, potential expenses, and any retainer fees that may be required upfront. Taking the time to carefully evaluate pricing can help avoid unexpected costs.


Surveillance pricing

Surveillance is one of the most common services offered by private investigators. It involves discreetly observing a person’s activities to gather evidence. (Generally to build a legal case against someone) .


Typically in California surveillance costs about $150 per hour. Costs can increase for complex cases, so it’s important to note that you should speak to an investigator about your case and see what their estimate is.


The length of the surveillance investigation depends on each case and the objectives of the case. It could range from a few hours to days or even weeks. It’s best to set a budget in mind before going about hiring a private investigator. 


Surveillance is typically used in infidelity investigations. Child custody cases locating a missing person investigating suspicious behavior and corporate fraud or theft investigations.

Corporate investigations

A business may hire a private investigator for a variety of reasons, including theft, fraud, and background checks. 


The cost of a corporate investigation will vary greatly. But they will normally start around $150 per hour and can increase based on the complexity of the case. 


Be open with your private investigator about the length of the case and give as many details as possible about your case. Oftentimes private investigators will give a lower hourly rate for a longer investigation length.

Hourly rates

The most common billing method for private investigators is to charge an initial hourly rate plus travel and equipment expenses. 


Discuss with your private investigator the details of your case and see how long they expect the case to last. You will want to talk about how many days and how many hours per day they will be working so you can get a clear idea of what is going to cost. 


There are other billing methods that Private Investigators can use, such as daily rates, and contingency fees. If you are interested in any alternative payment methods. We recommend getting quotes from several private investigators for the best possible rate.

how much does a private investigator cost per day

The daily rate for hiring a private investigator can vary considerably depending on several factors:

The daily rate for hiring a private investigator can vary considerably depending on several factors:

Experience Level:

  • Newly licensed PIs may charge $200-$500 per day
  • Experienced investigators with 5-10 years under their belt typically charge $500-$900 per day
  • Elite, highly credentialed PIs can command $1,000-$1,500+ per day


Type of Investigation:

  • Basic investigations like background checks or survelliance may be on the lower end ($300-$700/day)
  • Complex fraud, forensic accounting, or criminal defense cases are usually higher ($800-$1,500+/day)



  • Rural or low-cost-of-living areas will be on the lower end of rate ranges
  • Private investigators in major metro areas tend to charge premium rates


Travel Requirements:

  • If travel is required, daily rates will increase to cover transportation, lodging, meals, etc.
  • $100-$300+ per day in travel expenses is common


Additional Expenses:

  • Supplementary charges for equipment, document fees, subcontractors, etc. may apply
  • These can add $50-$500+ per day depending on the circumstances


As a general rule, you can expect to pay between $500-$1,200 per day for an experienced private investigator handling a typical local case. But complex affairs in major cities can easily run $1,500-$3,000+ per day with expenses.

What are retainers and how are they calculated?

Many PIs require some upfront retainer (e.g. $1,000-$5,000) to begin work. The retainer is used to for upfront costs and also shows to the investigator you are financially able to pay them should they finish the investigation.


Each Private Detective’s retainer is going to be different, but highly sought-after experts can charge higher retainer fees.


One way an Investigator may charge a retainer could be to estimate the length of the investigation and charge the total estimated investigation cost upfront. Any of the retainer that was not used in paying the Private Investigator for the case, will be refunded at the end of the case.


Another way retainers are calculated is based on the projected scope:

  • For smaller Cases (e.g. $1,500): Retainer may be 50% of projected total
  • For Medium Cases ($5,000 – $15,000): Retainer is commonly 25-35%
  • Larger, Complex Cases ($25,000+): Retainers are typically 10-20% of the potential billables


Retainers ensure the investigator’s availability, cover initial expenses, and provide payment security for the client. Any unused retainer funds are refunded at the end of the matter.

So in summary, costs can range tremendously based on the specific investigation needs, from a few hundred dollars up to six-figure sums for the most complex, long-running cases.

Travel expenses

Most private investigators will charge for gas mileage, hotels, flights, and more. This can build up the cost of an investigation making one Private Investigator cost more than another. For private party investigations, or individuals looking to hire a PI, Nolan Enterprise does not charge mileage which will make your investigation considerably more affordable.


Most states in the US require PIs to obtain a license in order to legally work as a PI. The licensing requirements exist to ensure basic standards of professionalism, training, and adherence to laws are met. 


If you expect your investigation to span across multiple States, it’s important to ensure that you double-check with your investigator that they are licensed in each state they’ll be working. 


Working with an unlicensed PI could make any evidence or information they obtain inadmissible and court or legally questionable.

how much do private investigators charge per Investigation?

While something like a simple background check or locating a person may cost from $300 to $1,000, Surveillance or infidelity cases, which involves following someone around for long periods of time can range from $1,500 to $5,000. The cost of Complex fraud, Corporate theft, and other corporate investigations can cost $10,000 to $100,000+.


Short term cases spanning days or weeks will be on the lower end and Long-term, multi-month investigations increase in cost significantly as well as travel, equipment, document fees, subcontractors etc.


The overall cost is calculated based on the investigator’s rates, the expected hours required, expenses, and the complexity of the matter. Many provide flat fee packages for common cases as well. Be sure to ask your investigator about a flat fee package.

how much do private investigators charge in CA?

California has a wide range of prices for private investigators ranging from as low as $60 an hour to as high as $250 an hour. On average you can expect to pay $150 per hour for a private investigator in California.


Experience will play a big role in hiring a private investigator. Less experienced investigators are more likely to charge less such as $60 an hour, while more experienced, investigators will not be afraid to charge upwards of $150 and $200 an hour.


Well daily rates for private investigators are a less common form of payment, they might be used in cases such as Short time assignments (1-2 days), background checks, asset investigations, and long-term investigations (1 or more months)

PI daily rates can range from $500 to $1,500+ per day.

Any costs for travel accumulated during the investigation for the investigator to solve case are considered travel fee fees. This can include: 

  • Plane tickets 
  • Gas mileage 
  • Hotel rooms 
  • And more

A contingency fee is an arrangement where the private investigator will only get paid if they achieve a successful outcome in the case. This is an uncommon form of payment for private investigators, especially in the state of California. Here is why:

  • Financial risks for the PI: Private investigator. Spend time and resources investigating and a contingency fee could mean that they will not receive any form of payment for their work. This makes it financially risky for them and less likely to be an option. 
  • Legal restrictions: In some states, contingency fees may be prohibited which would prevent PIs from working with a contingency.

Many cases do exceed $1,000. This is especially true for investigations that require extensive surveillance involve witness interviews or record checks or uncover complex financial matters. If your case involves following someone around across state lines requires specialized equipment like GPS, and tracking devices, or demands the expertise of a team of investigators, the cost will naturally be higher. However, at Nolan Enterprises, we work diligently to find ways to keep your investigations affordable.


When you get on the phone with us for your free case evaluation we will discuss your budget constraints up front and create a tailored approach to maximize results while staying within your financial limitations.

Reputable private investigators should maintain strict confidentiality regarding their clients’ cases. They should have measures in place to protect sensitive information and ensure discretion throughout the investigation process.

Private investigators must operate within the bounds of the law. They have access to certain public records and databases, but there are limitations on the information they can legally obtain or the methods they can use.

The duration of an investigation can vary significantly based on the case’s complexity, the amount of information needed, and any challenges encountered during the process. Some investigations may take a few days, while others can span weeks or months.

Yes, private invesigators are sometimes called to court to testify in court or provide evidence for legal proceedings. They should follow proper protocols for collecting and preserving evidence to ensure its admissibility.

Nolan Enterprises will help you prove your case in court if necicary, providing you all the needed legal documents for your case to stand in court.

Private investigators must operate within the legal boundaries set by state and federal laws. Restrictions may include limitations on surveillance methods, obtaining certain types of information, and adhering to privacy laws.

Providing the private investigator with as much relevant information as possible, setting clear objectives, and maintaining open communication throughout the process can increase the chances of a successful investigation.

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This guide will go over the most asked questions about hiring a Private Investigator and some important things to consider when you are thinking about hiring a PI.

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