TLDR: Californian Contractors are businesses or individuals who construct or alter any building, roads, and other structure located in the state of California. There are about 290,000 licensed contractors in 44 different classifications. This article walks you through step by step how to get your contractor licenses in California
Step 1: Figure out if you need a contractor license
If the total cost (labor and materials) of a single contractor project is $500 or more, contractors engaged in the business of home improvement must be licensed before submitting bids. If you are required to have a license but don’t get one, there are serious penalties. First time violations for contracting without a license implicates a misdemeanor charge, which could result in a maximum prison term of six months, and/or a fine of up to $500. Furthermore, an administrative penalty ranging from $200 to $15,000 may also be levied. Subsequent violations result in more penalties. A second conviction could indicate a 20% of the contract price of the work or a $4,500 penalty. Additionally, the unlicensed contractor could be put in jail for no less than 90 days
The following scenarios may exempt the contractors from licensing
- A project for which the combined value of labor, materials, and all other costs on one or more contracts is less than $500.
- A worker who receives wages, and is typically not engaged in operating an independent business, and lacks the authority to direct or control the execution of their work or make final decisions on the outcome of a project.12
- Personnel who are employed in the public sector and are working on projects that are funded and carried out by the government or other public entities.
- Court officials performing their duties within the boundaries of their official responsibilities.
- Public utilities work
- Oil and gas operations performed by an owner or lessee;
- Individuals who own a property and undertake construction or renovation activities on the same property, using their own labor or their employees who receive wages.
- Sale or installation of finished products that do not become a fixed part of the structure;
- A retailer of carpets who possesses a license to sell furniture, and subcontracts the installation of the carpet to a licensed carpet installer.
- Individuals who operate a security alarm company, authorized by the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, and provide services such as installation, maintenance, monitoring, sales, modification, or repair of alarm systems. Fire alarm company operators, on the other hand, must obtain a license from the CSLB.
- Individuals who are solely engaged in the installation of satellite antenna systems on residential properties or structures, and are required to be registered with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair.
Step 2: Figure out what license classification you need
California contractor licenses are categorized into different classifications. Each classification is a particular trade. You can add as many classifications to your license as you wish. However, more classifications would mean more tests
Business & Professions Code Section 7055. For the purpose of classification, the contracting business includes any or all of the following branches:
Class "C" Specialty Contractor's License Classifications. You may obtain a license in any of the classifications listed below. For a detailed description of these classifications, click on the corresponding link.
Step 3: Figure out if you qualify for a contractor license
- Be 18 years of age or older
- Have a social security number
- Have the experience and skills for your area of the construction business, or you must have someone else who have the necessary experience and skills, who would be your qualifying individual
- Possess 4 years of expertise at the journey level, or have served as a foreman, supervisor, or contractor in the relevant classification.
Step 4: Obtain industry experience if you don’t yet have it
Need to possess a minimum of four (4) years of experience in the contractor classification you are applying for. Experience credit is awarded exclusively for work performed at a journey level or in a supervisory capacity as a foreman, contractor, owner-builder, or supervising employee.
- A journeyman refers to a competent and seasoned worker who is capable of performing the trade independently, without any supervision. This is in contrast to a trainee, helper, laborer, assistant, apprentice, or any other similar position. Alternatively, a journeyman could also be someone who has finished an apprenticeship program.
- A foreman or supervising employee is an individual who possesses the expertise and abilities of a journeyman and is responsible for the direct supervision of physical construction activities.
- A contractor is someone who holds a valid California contractor's license, has previously been licensed as a contractor in California, or is personnel of record on a California license. They may also be a licensed contractor from another state. A contractor possesses the required expertise to oversee the day-to-day operations of a construction business, including field supervision.
- An owner-builder is an individual who possesses the knowledge and abilities of a journeyman and carries out construction work on their personal property. To demonstrate their experience, owner-builders are required to fill out and submit a Construction Project Experience form for each project they undertake.
Step 5: If you don’t have the necessary industry experience, you can obtain educations and trainings to fulfill the industry experience requirements
Even though education requirements are not required to qualify for a contractor license, You are eligible for a credit of up to three (3) years for technical training, apprenticeship training, or education that contributes towards the four (4) years of mandatory experience in the category for which you intend to obtain a license.
At least one year of the four years of required experience must be practical experience.
CSLB may grant the following credits for the particular training, apprenticeship or education:
A maximum credit of 1.5 years for an Associate of Arts degree from an accredited school or college in building or construction management
A maximum credit of 2 years for any of the following
- A 4-year degree from an accredited college or university in accounting, architecture (specifically for B classification), business, economics, mathematics, physics or areas related to the specific trade or craft of the application
- A law degree
- Substantial accredited college or university course work in accounting, architecture, business, construction technology, drafting, economics, engineering, mathematics, or physics
A maximum credit of 3 years for any of the following
- Completing an apprenticeship from an accredited apprenticeship program or an union in the classification of the application (examples apprenticeship programs)
- Four-year degree from an accredited college or university in construction technology/management, or a field of engineering related to the contractor classification
- Four-year degree from an accredited college or university in the field of horticulture, landscape horticulture, or landscape architecture for the Landscaping (C-27) classification or the field of interior design for the Painting and Decorating (C-33) classification
You can obtain vocational education from your local community colleges and private schools
Step 6: Applying for the Examination
Complete the Application for Original Contractor's License;
- This application is for a brand new license. This is not used for adding a classification or replacing the qualifying individual of an existing license. View a sample "Application for Original Contractor License."
- The Certification of Work Experience form 13A-11 must be used to report and confirm the journey level work experience. No additional experience verification will be accepted after the application has been accepted;
- Complete the application and all accompanying forms in ink or with a typewriter. Do not complete the form with a pencil;
- Submit the application, the $450 application processing fee, and all required documents to:
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826-0026
- Make sure you include your return address on your envelope because CSLB will mail your forms and letters to complete
Step 7: Study for the Exam
- Standard Law and Business Examination. This section contains multiple choice questions related to business management and construction law. The topic is covered in this study guide
- Test covering the specific trade or classification area for which the applicant is applying. This section also only contains multiple choice questions.
Step 8: Wait for feedback receipt from CSLB
After receiving your application, CSLB will mail you a letter of acknowledgement. In this letter, you need to note two important numbers: an Application Fee Number and a four-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) Number.
You can use both numbers to check on the progress of your application via the application checker on the CLSB site.
Step 9: Wait for the Fingerprinting Live Scan Packet and Notice to Appear for Examination
Once your exam application has been accepted, you will receive two documents in your mail
- Fingerprinting Live Scan Packet
- Notice to Appear for Examination. This document provides detailed information regarding the scheduling of your exam on the PSI exams website.
Step 10: Sign up for the exam
Step 11: Get Fingerprinted via Live Scan
After an exam application has been accepted by CSLB, instructions will be sent to each applicant for obtaining and submitting fingerprints and a “Request for Live Scan Service” form (BCII 8016).
The applicant must complete the applicant information section and take three copies of the completed form to process your fingerprinting at a Live Scan station. You can get your fingerprinting processed at most local police and sheriff departments and public Live Scan sites. A listing of Live Scan locations is available on the California State Department of Justice website.
Step 12: Take and Pass the Exam
Exams are performed by PSI. PSI has locations throughout the state and offers testing six days a week.
You need to bring a picture ID (a valid driver’s license, Department of Motor Vehicles ID card, or military ID card)
You will be taking your exam on the computer-assisted testing system
Personal calculators, cell phones, and other electronics prohibited in the testing area
The test taker will have 3- 1/2 hours to complete each examination
You will be told that you pass the exam before you leave the test site.
After you pass the exam, you will be given a bond and fee notification form at the site, which tells you the items needed to meet your license issuance requirements
If you failed to pass, you can still reschedule the test. You are given 18 months to pass the examinations after which your application will be void.
Step 13: Pay your initial licensing fee
An initial licensing fee of $200 for Sole Owner and $350 for Non-Sole Owner may be charged. The fee is in addition to the application fee paid when you filed your application. It covers the license for two years
Step 14: Get your Contractor’s Bond or Cashier’s check
- All contractor needs to post a $25,000 contractor license surety bond or cashier’s check
- If the contractor license is qualified by a Responsible Managing Employee (RME), then a bond of qualifying individual may also be required
- If the license is for an LLC, a $100,000 LLC Employee/Worker’s Bond is also required
Step 15: Get your Insurance, if required
- If you have employees, you may need to purchase Workers’ Compensation Insurance or Certification of Self-Insurance of Workers Compensation from the Department of Industrial Relations
- If the license is for an LLC, a $1 Million Liability Insurance for licensees with five or fewer members is required. Furthermore, an additional $100,000 is required for each additional number, not to exceed $5 million total.
Step 16: Complete the asbestos open-book examination
The purpose of the examination is to make contractors aware of the risks of asbestos and so they know how to respond appropriately to situations where asbestos may be present. This link will give you more details about the exam.
Step 17: Receive your license certificates and display the wall certificate in your main office
There are two forms of license certificates:
- Wall certificate: shows the name of the individual or company to whom the license has been issued, the license number, the classifications held, and date of issue
- Plastic pocket card: shows the license number, business name, classifications and the expiration date of the license
To whom is a license issued?
The license can be granted to an individual, partnership, corporation, limited liability company.
What happens if my exam application was returned to me?
Your applicant is returned to you if it is insufficient or incomplete. You should provide missing information, make corrections, and resubmit your application within 90 days since the date your application was returned. If you don’t resubmit your application to CSLB within 90 days, it becomes void. You would have to submit a new application and processing fee if you want a license
Is the application fee refundable?
The application fee is not refundable as soon as it is received by CSLB.
Where are the examinations given?
- Tests are conducted at PSI Exams. PSI has locations throughout the state and offers testing six days a week.
- The Notice to Appear for Examination the applicants receive on the mail provides detailed information regarding PSI exams schedule
When will I know if I passed?
- Upon completion of the test, candidates receive their score results before leaving the test site. Those who pass the examination are informed of their success. Unsuccessful test-takers are told the scores they perform in each section so they know where to work on to pass the exam the next time
How do I reschedule an examination?
- To request for rescheduling, complete the application on the bottom of the notice informing you that you failed the exam and submit it with the $100 fee to the CSLB. You will be sent a notice informing you that you are again eligible to schedule an exam through PSI Exams.
What is the difference between an active and an inactive license?
- The individual holding an active license is authorized to carry out work in the categories listed on the license. As long as the license is active, the licensee must keep a current contractor's bond, a Bond of Qualifying Individual (where applicable), and maintain workers' compensation insurance coverage (where applicable)
- If a license is inactive, neither bond nor insurance is required to be active
What can I show to prove that I am licensed?
There are two documents that you can show to proof you are licensed (details in the step 16 above)
- Wall certificate
- Plastic pocket card
How long is a license valid?
A contractor's license is first issued for a duration of two years. The license will expire after two years from the last day of the month in which it was issued. If renewed on active status, licenses can be renewed for two years at a time. If renewed on inactive status, licenses can be renewed for a duration of four years.
Where can I find all the application forms?
You can find all the information from the CLSB website. We've linked the specific section for you here.