Simple Guide to Getting a California Contractor License

Published: Jul 25, 2022

Dreams of fortune in the Golden State live on to this day for private contractors. Courtesy Rob Bertholf Flickr.


If someone is interested in getting licensed as a contractor in the US, there’s a good chance they’ll always have work if they do it in California. 1 in 8 Americans lives in the Golden State, and the state’s entertainment industry alone provides a solid job market for builders, engineers, and technicians. That’s to say nothing, of course, about the tens of millions of private residences, countless parks, and millions of miles of roads.

California is a private contractor’s dream come true, but there are quite a few steps to complete first. We’ve prepared a detailed guide to getting your California contractor license so you can be fully prepared for everything it entails.

Who Needs a Contractor License?

The licensing process in California is run by the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB), a division of the Department of Consumer Affairs. According to the CSLB, they license 290,000 private contractors in 43 unique licensing categories. Since the Board is in charge of running the licensing program, they’re the group that can revoke licenses in the case of malfeasance or breach of contract.

California state law requires a contractor license for anyone doing jobs with labor and materials valued at more than $500. The state highly encourages people hiring contractors to perform due diligence as consumers by doing contractor license checks, which are easy to do through the CSLB’s website, or by calling their automated service at (800) 321-2752. In order to apply for a license, you’ll first need a U.S.A. social security number.

How Does a Contractor Get Licensed?

In California, applicants must apply to take a state-administered exam in order to demonstrate their knowledge of the field for which they’re applying. However, California has several ways of demonstrating existing knowledge outside of the exam, set down in state law section 7065. If you meet certain requirements, you can be one of the applicants exempted from testing. These include:

  1. You can be exempted from testing if you have at least 4 years journeyman-level experience in the field in which you’re looking to get licensed. Journeyman-level means that you are qualified to work unsupervised, rather than at the apprentice level.
  2. For 5 of the past 7 years preceding the application, you have been listed on another active license in good standing. This is to encourage the presence of experienced individuals in California’s contractor pool.
  3. You may be exempt if the state registrar determines the license being requested is closely related enough to an existing license that you already possess.

Applying For Your License

When filling out the 5-page application, the CSLB stresses that applicants carefully complete each and every section. This is a must. Of the thousands of applications they receive each year, 45% are rejected due to incomplete information.

The surest way to avoid a quick rejection is to fill out everything. There is a $300, non-refundable fee for the application, and another $180 fee if it is accepted.

California General Contractor License Requirements

In order to benefit from a California contractor license, you must meet a number of requirements as set out by the CSLB. License requirements include:

  • Pass contractor’s license exam and pay application fee of $330
  • Provide valid Social Security number
  • Provide California business license and Tax ID
  • Fingerprinting live scan
  • Pass law & businesses exam
  • Pass trade exam
  • Complete asbestos open-book exam
  • Pay licensing fee of £200
  • Organize $1500 surety bond
  • Obtain workers’ compensation insurance certificate
  • Liability insurance

Your Contractor License Bond

If your application is accepted, that’s great news. This means you’re well on your way to becoming a working contractor after you obtain a contractor license bond.

This is a type of surety bond that all 50 states require before contractors can go into business. What is a surety bond? It’s a type of credit extended to businesses in order to protect the public from breaches of contract.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Contractor’s License in California?

The application for a California contractor’s license can take some time to process by the contractor’s state license board, however, by far the most demanding time constraint on your application is the fulfillment of the perquisites before the license application.

Firstly, you will need to have either four years of experience within the construction industry or a college degree with less experience. Additionally, depending on the time you have available and your study preferences, you will need to complete specific trade state exams online or within the classroom.

If these education and work experience requirements are already complete, then gathering the correct paperwork, insurances, and surety bonds can take some organization and a little time. Contact Lance Surety for more information on the State of California’s bonding requirements for contractors today and

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Contractor’s License in California?

The costs associated with obtaining both a general contractor license and a specialty contractor license are relatively low, with a $330 application fee and a $200 license fee being the main commitments. Additionally, active licenses must be renewed every two years at a cost of $450.

On top of this, a contractor’s bond must also be factored into the total cost. This annual cost can vary depending on your credit score, and you should contact Lance Surety today to discuss how we can negotiate the best rates for you and your contracting business even if you have bad credit.


Do I Need a Contractor's License to be a Contractor in California?

Any construction business or individual that engages in any kind of work that aims to alter a building, highway, road, parking facility, railroad, excavation, or other structure in California must obtain a contractor license if the total cost exceeds $500. An unlicensed contractor cannot participate in such construction projects.

How Hard is it to Get a Contractor's License in California?

Generally speaking, obtaining a license is not a difficult process once you have completed the prerequisite education and experience. However, it is extremely important that you correctly file all of the required paperwork in order to ensure your application is not rejected due to an incomplete application.

Additionally, depending on the type of contractor you wish to practice as, the educational and experiential requirements may extend all the way up to a college-level degree and beyond.

How do I Get a Contractor's License in California With No Experience?

It is extremely rare that any business, contractor, or subcontractor can get a license number if they have zero experience within the industry. However, if you have completed a college degree in a specialist field it may be possible.

Having said this, the purpose of a contractor license is to prove that tradesmen and contractors have a certain level of experience and expertise in the industry so that higher standards of service can be delivered.

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About Lance Surety Bonds

Lance Surety Bond Associates, Inc. is a surety bond agency based out of southeastern Pennsylvania that is able to write all surety bond types in all 50 states. We are dedicated to servicing all of our customers' surety bonding needs throughout the country and guarantee competitive rates, timely responses, and unparalleled customer service.

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