To obtain a contractor license in California, individuals or businesses involved in construction, alteration, or other related activities must complete an exam administered by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB). The CSLB requires all contractors, including subcontractors and specialty contractors, to be licensed before submitting bids for any project valued at $500 or more. Licenses can be issued to individuals, partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies, or joint ventures.
Before applying for the examination, you need to be aware of these factors.
Certain individuals or projects may be exempt from licensing requirements if they meet specific criteria. Exemptions include projects with a total cost of labor, materials, and other expenses that is less than $500, work performed by employees who are paid wages and do not have control over their work, public personnel working on public projects, and individuals involved in selling or installing finished products that do not become a permanent part of a structure, among others.
Contractors who deal with asbestos or other hazardous substances must meet additional requirements and regulations imposed by the United States Department of Labor, Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), and the CSLB. These contractors must complete an asbestos open-book examination and a comprehensive asbestos abatement exam. They must also be certified by the CSLB and register with the Asbestos Contractor Registration Unit of DOSH. Similarly, contractors involved in hazardous substance removal work must be certified by the CSLB and pass a CSLB certification examination.
Contracting without a license is considered a serious offense in California. Penalties for unlicensed contracting can range from misdemeanors to felony charges, depending on the circumstances. The CSLB actively pursues violators and conducts regular stings and sweeps to target the underground economy. The penalties for unlicensed contracting can include fines, jail time, and even state prison sentences.
Licenses can be issued to individuals, partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies, or joint ventures. The license belongs to the individual licensee, the registered partnership, the registered corporation or limited liability company, or the joint venture parties.
To apply for the contractor license exam, applicants must complete the Original Exam Application and adhere to the instructions provided. Applicants can only apply for one license classification at a time, and after receiving their original license, they may apply for additional classifications if needed. The application must be filled out in ink or typewriter, with all relevant sections completed and signed.
Below, we’ve detailed the specific steps to apply for the exam:
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826-0026
To qualify for the examination, applicants must have a minimum of four years of experience in the specific classification they are applying for. Depending on the classification, however, the CSLB may require more than four years of experience. Experience at a journeyman level, as a foreman, supervising employee, contractor, or owner-builder, is recognized as valid experience.
The CSLB defines the above four categories as follows:
Verification of experience must be provided by a qualified and responsible person who has firsthand knowledge of the applicant's work. Documentation of experience may also be required.
Educational requirements are not obligatory to qualify for a contractor license, but educational credits can be applied towards the required experience. Read more about this here.
If an exam application is deemed insufficient or incomplete, it will be returned to the applicant for correction. The applicant must provide the necessary information, make corrections, and resubmit the application within 90 days. Failure to do so will void the application, requiring the submission of a new application and processing fee to pursue a license.
Once your exam application has been accepted, here’s what you can expect.
First, you will receive a packet for Fingerprinting Live Scan (see Step 5). You will be sent a Notice to Appear for the Examination, which should be received at least three weeks before the exam date.
Disability and testing accommodations
If you have a disability and require special testing accommodations, you must complete the Special Accommodation Request for Examination form 13E-77. This form can be found in the application packet or at any CSLB office. The CSLB will provide reasonable accommodations in compliance with the ADA, but it is your responsibility to inform them of your needs.
If you need a translator for the exam, you must notify the CSLB in writing and obtain approval in advance. Include your Application Fee Number in the correspondence.
Where are examinations held?
Examinations are held at PSI Exams locations throughout the state, offering testing six days a week. Self-scheduling can be done through the PSI Exams website using the information provided in the Notice to Appear for Examination.
What to bring to the examination
You must bring picture identification (driver's license, DMV ID card, or military ID) to the examination site.
Pencils, scratch paper, calculators, and scale rulers will be provided at the test center. Personal calculators, cell phones, pagers, and electronic devices are not allowed in the testing area.
Do I need computer experience for the test?
The examination is conducted using the computer-assisted testing (CAT) system, which is easy to use and does not require prior computer experience.
How long does each exam take?
Each examination has a time limit of 3 ½ hours. It is important to arrive on time to avoid losing your seat to another candidate.
When will I know whether I passed or failed?
Test-takers receive their score results immediately after the test. Pass/fail information is provided, but no detailed score report is given for successful test-takers. Unsuccessful test-takers receive a statement indicating their performance in each section of the exam, allowing them to focus on areas for improvement when retaking the exam.
What happens if I miss the exam?
If you fail to appear for an examination, a $100 rescheduling fee must be paid.
What happens if I fail the exam?
If you fail the Law and Business and/or Trade examination, a $100 fee is required for each rescheduling attempt. You have 18 months from the acceptance of your application to pass the exams. Failure to do so will result in the application being voided, and a new application with new fees must be submitted.
The void date on an application may be extended by 90 days if a medical emergency or uncontrollable circumstance prevented the rescheduling of the exam and is supported by documented evidence.
I failed my exam. How do I reschedule it?
To reschedule an examination, complete the application on the notice of failed exam and submit it with the $100 fee to the CSLB. The CSLB will notify you of your eligibility to schedule a new exam through PSI Exams.
How do I cancel an exam?
There are three ways to cancel your exam, according to the CSLB website:
If you need to cancel an examination, you must notify PSI Exams at least 24 hours before the exam date. Failure to do so may result in a void application. The $100 rescheduling fee may not be required for first-time cancellations, but subsequent cancellations will incur the fee.
Can I review the test questions after my test?
Test questions and answer keys are not available for review. You may file a written protest or critique of any examination question(s) after completing the exam but before submitting your materials to the proctor.
Are there any penalties for disclosing the contents of a state examination?
Disclosing examination content is a violation of exam security and carries penalties such as fines, payment of damages, jail time, automatic test failure, no refund of fees, and a one-year license application ban.
How long are exam results valid for?
Exam results are valid for five years. If you pass one exam but fail the other, you only need to retake the failed exam within five years.
According to California law, individuals applying for a contractor license must submit their fingerprints for a criminal background check. The fingerprints are compared with the records of the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine if there is any criminal history.
All applicants for a license, as well as officers, partners, owners, and responsible managing employees, must be fingerprinted. Individuals with an existing CSLB license who are not making any changes to their license, and applicants for a joint venture license, are exempt from fingerprinting.
Once CSLB has accepted a complete application, each individual listed on the application will receive instructions on obtaining and submitting fingerprints, along with a "Request for Live Scan Service" form (BCII 8016). The applicant information section of the form must be completed in full, and three copies of the completed form should be taken to a Live Scan station for processing and submission to the DOJ and FBI. Live Scan fingerprinting services are offered at most local police and sheriff departments, as well as public Live Scan sites. A list of Live Scan locations can be found at: https://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints/locations.
For out-of-state applicants or those without access to a Live Scan facility, hard copy fingerprint cards will be used.
Out-of-state residents will have the cards automatically generated and sent after their application has been accepted. California residents without access to a Live Scan facility can request hard copy fingerprint cards through CSLB's automated telephone system. After receiving the cards, they must take them to a U.S. law enforcement agency to have their rolled fingerprints taken. The completed cards, along with the required processing fee of $49, should then be sent to CSLB for submission to the DOJ and FBI.
It is important to note that processing hard copy fingerprint cards takes much longer than Live Scan fingerprinting, typically three to six months or longer.
Now that your application has been approved, it’s time to start studying for your exam. It’s important to first understand how the exam is structured to know how to succeed.
The examination process consists of two parts. All qualifying individuals must pass the standard Law and Business examination. Additionally, except for the C-61 Limited specialty classification, qualifying individuals must pass a second test specific to their trade or certification area.
The Law and Business examination consists of multiple-choice questions related to business management and construction law. Applicants can find a breakdown of the covered topics in the Study Guide for the Law and Business Examination, which is provided to applicants along with the Notice to Appear for Examination.
The California Contractors License Law & Reference Book is the primary study reference. It is available for purchase from LexisNexis/Matthew Bender. CSLB offices do not sell this book. The Study Guide for the Law and Business Examination includes a list of other recommended study materials. These resources include guides from state and federal tax agencies, as well as materials focusing on business management and construction law.
A study guide specific to each examination will be provided with the Notice to Appear for Examination. These guides outline the topics covered in the examination, their weightage, and recommend additional resources for study.
All trade examinations consist of multiple-choice questions. The test site will inform you about the minimum percentage of correct answers required to pass each examination. The examinations are developed with input from industry experts, and some may include questions referencing blueprints or booklets containing drawings.
Upon passing the examination, you will receive a bond and fee notification form at the testing site. This form will detail the documents you need to submit to fulfill your issuance requirements. The requirements may include the following:
It is important to note that some applications may undergo formal investigation. The license can only be issued if the application is accepted and approved, even if the qualifier has passed the exam. Instructions on checking the application status during an investigation can be found in the acknowledgment letter.
From Step 7, you’ll see that you need to obtain two bonds after you’ve passed your exam.
To obtain a contractor license, you need to submit either a contractor's license bond or information on alternative options instead of a bond to the Registrar. The bond amount required is $25,000. Additionally, you might need to provide a separate Bond of Qualifying Individual or information on alternatives if you have a Responsible Managing Employee or Officer. However, if the RMO certifies that they own at least 10 percent of the corporation's voting stock or equity, they may be exempted from the Bond of Qualifying Individual requirement.
You can purchase bonds from your insurance agent or from licensed private holding companies authorized by the California Department of Insurance. The CSLB does not issue bonds. SuretyNow is a surety broker company that offers competitive rates, excellent customer service, and reliable bonds!
The bond duration can be determined based on your agreement with your insurance agent or bond company representative. Typically, bonds are issued for one to three years. At the end of that period, the bond can be canceled, or the bond company may require another premium to extend its validity.
By using your Application Fee Number and the provided PIN (Personal Identification Number) from your acknowledgement letter, you can check the status of your original exam application.
Hopefully, Step 9 has told you that your application has passed. You’ve gone through the complicated and tough process of qualifying for the exam, applying for it, studying for it, and taking it; and finally, you’ve passed! Take some time to celebrate your success.