Looking to become a licensed contractor in California? While the process and requirements necessary to become a licensed California contractor are extensive, this guide is meant to provide a rough outline of the general process. It should be noted that the steps and requirements for obtaining a contractors license can change without notice and contractors should carefully familiarize themselves with the Contractors State License Board’s (CSLB) published manuals for specific rules, guidelines and exceptions necessary in obtaining a license. With this in mind, below is a short description of the 7 steps to getting a contractor’s license in California.
Step 1: Meet the Basic CA Contractors License Requirements
Individuals looking to become licensed contractors must first meet several preliminary requirements as required by the Contractors State License Board. Below is a partial list of some of the basic California contractor license requirements that are necessary:
-Be at least 18 years of age
-Have the skills and experience necessary to manage a construction business or be represented by someone who does (Responsible Managing Employee)
-4 years of verifiable journey level and above construction related experience. Advanced education and college experience can be used to satisfy a portion of the experience requirement.
When must a contractor be licensed? While there are a few exceptions, individuals generally must be licensed by the CSLB if they intend to contract for construction work in California for any job that exceeds $500 in total value including labor and materials. Contracting without a license in California is a misdemeanor subject to fines up to and exceeding $15,000.
Step 2: Understand California Contractors License Classifications
The next step for aspiring contractors is to decide upon a license classification. There are three broad groupings of contractor license classifications including the following:
Class “A” General Engineering License- This license is required for contractors that require the use of specialized engineering knowledge and skills.
Class “B” General Building Contractor- This classification is for contractors engaging in general structure building that utilize two or more unrelated specialty skills. A general building contractor is not allowed to take contracts involving only a single specialty skill in some circumstances. For specific details, potential contractors should contact the CSLB.
Class “C” Specialty Contractor- There are 41 specialty trade licenses under the class C license classification such as drywall C-9, electrical C-10, plumbing C-36 etc.
Browse a complete list of all the contractor license classifications and descriptions.
Step 3: Complete an Application
Next, potential contractors should obtain a California contractors license application by downloading this application. The application should be typed or completed in ink- NOT pencil. Make sure the application includes details of all pertinent experience and is signed and dated where indicated. Incomplete applications will cause delays. Once completed, applications and supporting documents should be sent along with payment to the address shown on the application.
Please see below for fee schedule.
How Much Does It Cost To Get A California Contractors License?
Here are some of the basic fee’s at the time of this writing:
Original Application Fee: $300
Initial License Fee: $180
It’s important to note that some contractors may be able to waive the required examination if they meet certain criteria. To see if you meet these guidelines please read about the qualifications.
Step 4: Wait For CSLB “Application Letter of Acknowledgment”
Upon receipt of your application, the CSLB will send you a letter of acknowledgment stating they have received your application. Included in this letter will be a nine digit application number (fee number) and a 4 digit pin number. To check the status of your application with this info as well as any pending requirements, use this CLSB resource and enter your application and pin number.
Also included in the acknowledgment letter will be a request for a live scan that involves finger printing and background checks with the FBI and Department of Justice. You can Google a live scan station nearest you, or you can view a comprehensive list of live scan locations in California.
Most applicants want to know, how long does it take to get a contractors license in California? While the acknowledgment letter indicates the CSLB has received your application, it will still take up to a few weeks for them to process it. View a complete list of current CSLB processing times.
Step 5: Wait For The “Notice to Appear For Examination” (or Waiver)
After your application has been approved, you will receive a letter of notice to appear for examination or an exam waiver if applicable. Exam testing centers are located across California and instructions on scheduling for the location nearest you will be provided in the letter.
It should be noted that some applications are sent for further investigation by the CSLB, which may extend processing beyond your completed exam. If this occurs and you have passed your exam, you will still have to wait for the investigation to complete prior to being eligible for a license. Common reasons for lengthy investigations may involve verifying your experience among other items.
Applications that are eligible for an exam waiver can submit final documentation including a license bond (obtainable by getting a quote on the top right of this page), a bond of qualifying individual if applicable (we also provide these), completing the workers compensation requirements and paying required fee’s.
As a side note regarding license bond requirements, most surety’s electronically file California contractor license bonds with the CSLB on your behalf. If the bond is purchased from our agency, please do not provide a copy of the license bond with your application even though it is requested by the CSLB as this will slow processing times for your application. The CSLB will only accept a notarized copy of your bond which is provided by our surety partners to the CSLB electronically.
Step 6: Pass Exam & Wait for Your Application to Be Approved
Upon the completion of your exam, you will be notified if you passed or failed the exam before you leave the exam site. For those that pass, step 7 will be the final step before a license is issued.
Step 7: Upon License Approval, Submit Final License Requirements
Upon having your license approved, prospective contractors should provide the CSLB with a copy of their license bond (read step 5 carefully), a Bond of Qualifying Individual (BQI) if necessary, proof of workers compensation (or an exemption form), as well as any applicable fee’s. Once issued, the CSLB will provide a wallet ID card in the mail and you will be able to see a license number instead of an application number on the CSLB website link mentioned in step 4 that was used to check the status of your application. Your contractor’s license number will generally be 6 digits in length instead of 9 as with the application fee number.
As mentioned earlier, the process of obtaining a contractors license is more involved than the brief outline as presented in this article. For more information on becoming a licensed contractor in California, please download the pdf, CSLB Blueprint For Getting Licensed In California, or visit the CSLB website at https://www.cslb.ca.gov/.
Lastly, even with this guide and the materials provided by the CSLB, obtaining a license in the fastest, most efficient way possible can often be expedited with the help of a license application processing professional. There are many providers of such services who can help with the processing of your application for a fee.
Best of Luck!
By Jeremy Schaedler