California CSLB General Building Contractor License Guide

In California, general building contractor licenses are an essential requirement for professionals looking to establish themselves in the construction industry. Obtaining and maintaining a valid license ensures compliance with state laws, protects consumers, and enhances the credibility and professionalism of contractors. This article aims to provide a detailed understanding of the licensing process, associated costs, insurance requirements, and more, based on information from the California State License Board (CSLB).

What is a general building contractor?

A general contractor is defined as a contractor whose primary business involves the construction, support, shelter, and enclosure of various types of structures, requiring the use of at least two unrelated building trades or crafts. However, someone who only supplies materials without using them in the construction process is not considered a general contractor.

Who needs to be a licensed general contractor in California?

According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board (CSLB) page, individuals and businesses in California who want to construct or alter buildings, highways, roads, parking facilities, railroads, excavations, or other structures must be licensed if the total cost of the project exceeds $500.

What happens if I contract without a license?

Contracting without a license is a violation of California law and can result in steep fines. The penalties for violating this law can range from a potential sentence of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine, along with administrative fines ranging from $200 to $15,000 for first-time offenders, to subsequent violations that can result in fines of 20 percent of the contract price or a $4,500 fine, and a mandatory 90-day jail sentence for the unlicensed contractor.

Requirements to be a general contractor in California

The CSLB has some requirements for contractor hopefuls in order to become a general contractor in California. These requirements include

  • Completed examination application and $330 fee
  • California business license and Tax ID (if LLC or Corporation)
  • Fingerprinting Live Scan
  • Completion of “Law and Business” exam
  • Completion of secondary trade-related exam
  • Completion of the asbestos open-book examination
  • Initial licensing fee of $200
  • Contractor license bond or cash deposit of $15,000
  • Bond of QI (if applicable) of $12,500
  • Certificate of Workers’ Compensation Insurance or Certification of Self-Insurance of Workers’ Compensation from the Department of Industrial Relations
  • LLC Employee/Worker Bond (if applicable)
  • LLC liability insurance (if applicable)

Types of general contractors in California

California, being one of the most populous and urbanized states in the US, has a licensing system that classifies general contractors into three distinct categories: Class A, Class B, and Class C. Each class has its own limitations, qualifications, and areas of expertise. Understanding these differences is crucial for both aspiring contractors and property owners looking to hire a contractor for their projects.

Class A General Contractors

Class A contractors are the highest-rated and most comprehensive category. As such, they possess the broadest range of construction capabilities, enabling them to handle projects of any type or size. Class A contractors are licensed to work on both individual projects exceeding $500,000 and are also permitted to take on projects over $750,000 per year.

Class A contractors have experience in handling complex projects such as commercial buildings, hospitals, schools, and public works projects. Their expertise extends to all major construction trades, including plumbing, electrical, and structural construction. They are also equipped to handle multiple subcontractors and manage large-scale projects efficiently.

Class B General Contractors

Class B general contractors possess intermediate-level qualifications. They are licensed to undertake projects up to $500,000 individually and up to $750,000 collectively within one year.

Class B contractors typically specialize in commercial and residential construction projects, including apartment complexes, residential homes, retail spaces, and small business developments. They have experience in managing medium-sized projects and coordinating subcontractors, but their scope may be more limited compared to Class A contractors.

Class C General Contractors

Class C general contractors are the most basic classification within the California licensing system. They are authorized to work on projects up to $200,000 individually and $500,000 collectively within one year.

Class C contractors typically manage residential projects, including home remodelling, minor repairs, and renovations. This class often focuses on smaller-scale construction jobs, but they can also handle small commercial projects.

Class C contractors may have expertise in a specific trade (up to 42 in the state of California), such as carpentry, plumbing, or electrical work. However, they may need to hire subcontractors for more specialized aspects of the project.

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How to obtain a general contractor license?

To become a licensed general building contractor in California, there are several steps to follow, as listed below.

  1. Qualification: Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have a minimum of four years of journey-level experience in construction work.
  2. Examination: Applicants must pass two exams: the Trade Exam (related to general construction) and the Law and Business Exam (concerning state laws and regulations).
  3. Application: Submit an application, fees, and required documentation to the CSLB.
  4. Fingerprinting and Background Check: Provide fingerprint samples for a background check by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  5. License Issuance: If all requirements are met, the CSLB will issue the general building contractor license.

How fast after I complete my application can I get my general contractor license?

The timeline for getting a general contractor license in California can take about three weeks for approval to take the exam, and the exam results are received immediately. It typically takes less than two weeks to receive the wall certificate and pocket license card.

How much does it cost to get a CA general contractor license?

Obtaining a general building contractor license involves several expenses.

These typically include:

  1. Application Fee: The current application fee is $330.
  2. Examination Fee: Each exam has a fee, currently set at $83 each.
  3. Surety Bond: A $25,000 surety bond (or alternative financial security) is required.
  4. Fingerprinting Fee: The fingerprinting fee is approximately $50.
  5. Other Costs: Additional expenses may include study materials, test preparation courses, and notary fees.

How long are general contractor licenses good for?

General contractor licenses in California need to be renewed every two years. The renewal process involves submitting a renewal application, paying the renewal fee, and ensuring that the business name matches the records of the CSLB and Secretary of State.

General contractor license reciprocity in CA

Reciprocity requirements for general contractor licenses in California apply to individuals with licenses from Arizona, Louisiana, or Nevada. The licenses must match the state's Reciprocal Classification List and should have been held for at least five years. The process for verifying the license and applying for reciprocity is usually faster than applying for an initial general contractor license.

Insurance coverage requirements for general building contractors

General building contractors in California must typically acquire the following insurance coverage:

  1. Workers' Compensation Insurance: This coverage is mandatory if a contractor employs workers. It safeguards against injuries and protects against potential lawsuits.
  2. Liability Insurance: General liability insurance protects contractors against property damage or injury claims caused by their work.
  3. Bonding: A contractor license bond ensures financial protection for clients if the contractor fails to meet contractual obligations, providing an avenue for compensation.

Who needs a contractor license bond?

Any contractor who wishes to obtain a license, reactivate a previous license, or renew their existing license must obtain a contractor license bond in the state of California.

What are the requirements for a contractor license bond in California?

According to the CSLB, a contractor license bond must meet all of the following state requirements.

  • The bond must be written by a surety company licensed through the California Department of Insurance.
  • The bond must be in the amount of $25,000.
  • The business name and license number on the bond must correspond exactly with the business name and license number on the CSLB's records.
  • The bond must have the signature of the attorney-in-fact for the surety company.
  • The bond must be written on a form approved by the Attorney General's Office.
  • The bond must be received at the CSLB's Headquarters Office within 90 days of the effective date of the bond.

How much do I have to pay for a contractor bond in California?

The cost of a contractor license bond depends on two numbers: the bond amount, which is $25,000 in California, and the premium rate, which is a personalized percentage of the bond amount that a contractor must pay to obtain the bond. This premium rate is often determined by multiple factors, the most important being the contractor’s credit score.

To get a contractor license bond, a contractor does not need to pay the full bond amount, but rather only the premium, which is calculated as: 

Premium = Bond Amount ($25,000) * Premium Rate

In California, the premium rates for the contractor license bond ranges from 0.5% to 5%, depending on the bondseeker's creditworthiness. This translates to a range of premiums between $125 to $1,250 per year, renewed annually. 


Acquiring a general building contractor license in California is a critical step for professionals in the construction industry. The licensing process involves meeting specific qualifications, passing exams, and fulfilling various requirements set by the California State License Board (CSLB). Costs associated with licensing encompass fees, insurance premiums, and bonding requirements. By obtaining a license, contractors enhance their credibility, protect consumers, and ensure compliance with state regulations. Remember, this article provides general information and should not substitute guidance from the CSLB or legal professionals.