How To Get A Contractors License In California
Step by step instructions
Determine the contractors license classification that you want to obtain. What trades do you want to do with your business? Are you a carpenter, plumber, drywall installer, general contractor, etc.? You can only bid on jobs that fall within your licensed classification field. See this page for a complete list of classifications.
Do you meet the qualifications required to apply for that contractors license? The State requires that you have four years of journey-level experience in your trade(s). Journey-level does not mean that you went through a union. It simply means that you are an experienced worker and not a trainee, fully qualified and able to perform the trade(s) without supervision. Note: Self-employed experience will count even if it was working in California illegally. The State would rather you get legal than continue to perform work unregulated. Part-time work (less than 35 hours per week, depending on what part of the government you ask) counts. You simply can only claim it as a percentage of full-time. For example, if you worked half-time for eight years, that would be the equivalent of four years of full-time experience.
Education can also count. It need only be used if you don’t have the required work experience. College or trade school can count for UP TO three years. I emphasize “up to” because a lot of people confuse this as meaning you get three years no matter what degree or certification you receive. What you studied or earned a degree in also plays a big factor. Some of the majors that count the most are: Architecture, Engineering, Construction Management, Business, and Law, subjects that are related to your trade, among others. If your major was in a totally unrelated field, the State can count the months or years you get credit for by counting the units you received for classes that are related.
Fill out the State’s contractors license application form. If you are going to enroll in an exam preparation school, it might be a good idea to do that first since they will help you with this process. The State is very particular as to how you fill it out and will send it back if it needs corrections or has missing data. The first page of the application is basic personal information: name, address, phone, classification, etc. The second page is the personal information of other personnel who have ownership in the company if it is a partnership, corporation or LLC. The third and fourth pages are a series of yes/no questions.
Attached will be Certifications of Work Experience. How many you will need to have signed depends on how long you worked either for yourself or another employer. If you worked four years for yourself or one employer you will only need one form. If your four years was split up between different employers you will need enough forms for as many employers as it takes to show four years. This could be two or more. You can use an employer, fellow employee, fellow tradesman even if they didn’t work at the same company, or just about anyone who had direct knowledge of your employment and experience.
Once the State receives your application they will send you a letter stating that they have received it. This letter will provide a unique Application Fee Number and a PIN you can use to log into their website to track the progress of your applicaion. It will take the State about two to three weeks to process it and then they will mail you a letter upon approval (or you can check online) informing you of when and where your exam will be, usually about three weeks away. If you want to test sooner, you can once you have this notification. They will allow you to show up at any of their exam locations on days that they are testing at the time they are testing and show them the letter that states you have a test in the future. Be sure to call first to verify they are testing in that city on that day and what time to arrive. They typically set you up for a test at the closest location to you but if you want a specific city I suggest you put a note with your application requesting it. If there is a particular day of the week that you would like to test you should indicate that as well. If you are coming from out-of-state you definitely should request a particular city. Otherwise, they will just set your test in any city in California.
With this letter you will receive a Live Scan fingerprinting form that you will need to fill out and take to a Live Scan fingerprinting location. There are a lot. Most USP stores offer it. For a complete list click here. The purpose is to let the Contractors State License Board run a criminal background check on you. Just because you have a criminal background, whether it be a misdemeanor or felony, it will not necessarily prevent you from getting licensed. It depends on the severity and nature of the offense and how long ago it was. Note that traffic citations do not count unless they led to a conviction of a misdemeanor or felony. Note that you must list ALL offenses that you were convicted of from birth, even if they were dismissed, expunged or a juvenile offense.
The exam consists of a Law and a Trade test. If you are getting a C-61, Limited Specialty license, you will only have to take the Law exam. Each test is separate. If you only pass one of them, you will only need to re-test for the part that you failed. There are roughly 100 to 120 questions each, depending on the classification. They give you three and a half hours to take each exam, which is usually more than enough time.
Once you have passed the test you have 90-days to submit the $200.00 License Fee (see Fees) and get a Contractors License Bond. You need a $15,000.00 Bond which typically will cost about $140.00 for the first year for a new licensee with the exception of a C-53 Swimming Pool or a C-39 Roofing contractor. If you want a multi-year bond or are renewing a bond, it depends on your credit. They can range from about $65.00 to $1,500.00 a year to renew.
Get your License Number! It should be issued about three weeks after you pass the exam, pay your License Fee and submit your bond. You can go online to the State’s website every day and get it as soon as it is issued, or you can wait for it to come by mail. Once you know your license number, you are legal to bid on jobs!