Simple guide to getting a California Contractor License

Published: Feb 10, 2015
Dreams of fortune in the Golden State live on to this day for private contractors. Courtesy Rob Bertholf Flickr.

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 near-inelastic 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.

Who Needs a 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 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 out 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.

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.

If you’re interested in getting a contractor license in California, and would like a free quote for the required surety bond, contact Lance Surety Bonds. Lance Surety Bonds works with a long list of professional and licensed bond companies and we can offer you the lowest rates. Just give us a call at (877) 514-5146 today, or apply online for a free quote!

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Victor Lance is the founder and president of Lance Surety Bond Associates, Inc. He began his career as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving two combat tours. As president of Lance Surety, he now focuses on educating and assisting small businesses throughout the country with various license and bond requirements. Victor graduated from Villanova University with a degree in Business Administration and holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.