#75: What is Considered a Fair Salary for a Private Investigator?

What is considered fair pay for a private investigator? I saw this topic batted around in a Yahoo forum and I read some interesting responses.  Many employers responded by saying they paid their investigators a handsome sum.  Others told stories of making $8.00 an hour some 20 years ago.  There is always a question of fairness when it comes to a salary in any profession.  In this article I will discuss things to consider when it comes to a private investigator’s pay.


The location where you live and work can have an impact on your salary.  A private investigator in New York or California can initially be paid pay higher than an investigator that is hired on in Texas, due to a higher cost of living.

Base Pay

The foundation of what is considered fair pay begins with what a private investigator makes per hour.  I have heard of starting salaries beginning at $12.50 an hour all the way up to around $22.00 an hour. The base pay can vary depending upon what extras are provided to the investigator.  Some investigators receive company cars, investigation equipment, investigative training and even a company cell phone.  This can offset an investigator’s salary dramatically. A new investigator (new to the field) might start off at $12.50 an hour but receives a gas card, company surveillance vehicle, investigative training and all the investigation equipment needed to do the job.  So initially one might think $12.50 isn’t a great deal of money but when considering all of the perks that come along with the beginning salary it  isn’t that bad after all.  Even if a company was only willing to train a new investigator and begin them at that wage I would consider it.   It’s a great way to get your foot in the door and get fantastic experience which you can take with you.  Investigation companies are more likely to hire you if you come to them with previous experience than without.  Just something to think about.

How Much Travel

I have worked for employers who will actually pay their investigators more if there is a considerable amount of travel involved in a specific area.  For example California is a very long state and even if you are centralized in the state you can find yourself traveling 6 hours south to cover Los Angeles area cases and 3 to 4 hours to travel north to cover the northern area of the state. Compensation could come in the form of a higher salary, increased pay for travel (time) and increased pay in the amount per mile traveled (if this is a company’s form of compensation). Most companies will have their own version for what they deem fair as appropriate compensation for investigators that travel a considerable amount.  Inevitably you will need to decide if you feel that it is fair or not.

Mileage or Gas Card

Compensation for gas is important to a private investigator.  A private investigator will travel a variety of distances each day.  A private investigation company will typically either reimburse the investigator by paying them a designated amount per mile traveled or providing the investigator a gas card.

Mileage Reimbursement

The United States Standard Mileage Rate in 2013 is listed as 56.5 according the Internal Revenue Service’s website.  Before you get excited about that rate I can assure you that you will find very few private investigation companies willing to pay their investigators that amount per mile.  With that being said it is likely that they are charging their clients that amount per mile. It doesn’t sound fair that they would charge their clients 56.5 cents a mile and not pay you that much. By not paying you what they charge their client they remain profitable and pad their bottom financial line which is very normal for business so don’t take it personal. I personally believe that around 40 cents a mile or an amount close to that is a fair amount to be paid.  If you manage to get more than that by the company you work for then you are in good shape.  The main thing to worry about is that the mileage rate you receive compensates you for the gas you use and for normal wear and tear on your personal vehicle.  You want to be able to put aside some money for oil changes, new tires and repairs.

Gas Card

If you get a gas card issued by the company you work for I would say you are in good shape. Having a gas card prevents the private investigator from depending on money that investigators receive for mileage reimbursement.  You never have to worry whether you have enough gas to work a case.  I enjoyed having a gas card issued by my employer because I never had to worry about having enough money for gas and that was one less thing I had to worry about. Even though I am all for having a gas card, I believe there should be some reimbursement for wear and tear on a vehicle which I discuss below.

Wear and Tear on Your VehicleVehicle costs private investigator

If you have a gas card for fuel then there needs to be some compensation for the wear and tear on your vehicle.  The amount of compensation may depend on the amount of travel you have during a pay period or the amount actually worked. My Thoughts –  If you have a gas card and find yourself working 40 hours a week you might be looking for around $200 extra a month in compensation if you use your personal vehicle.

Per Diem

When traveling out of town for extended durations companies typically have a set amount they are willing to reimburse their investigators.  I haven’t personally heard of a company allowing more than around $25.00 a day to be reimbursed by the company. I know this doesn’t seem like a lot of money but in most cases an investigation company isn’t charging the client for food when their investigator is traveling overnight on a case.  Since they can’t charge their client for food they try to minimize their losses. If a company reimburses you more than $25.00 a day then you are in good shape.

moneyTravel Pay

Paid travel time is something to consider when calculating your total compensation with a company.  Most companies will not pay you for the first hour of travel (insurance investigation companies). If you had to travel an 1 ½ hours to your surveillance case, you would only be paid 30 minutes in travel time. The amount paid for your travel will vary from company to company.  It is very common for investigation companies to pay investigators a minimum wage for any paid travel time.  If you are offered more than that I could consider it a pretty good deal. The reason investigation companies don’t pay investigators their normal salary for the traveled time that is paid is because they typically can’t charge their client for the travel. In cases where the company can charge their client for travel time, they typically pay their investigators their normal wage.

Equipment ProvidedCovert Edited

A company that provides equipment is a bit of a rare find these days but they are out there.  If a company provides you equipment (computer, video camera, covert camera, etc..) then it will likely offset your initial base pay.

Cell Phone Compensation

If a company provides you with a company cell phone, consider that into your overall compensation.  If they don’t offer it they might offer you a small amount of money to offset the minutes you use on your personal cell phone for company business.  Typically $20.00 to $25.00 is the compensation for something like this.  This isn’t a deal breaker if it is not offered in my opinion.  Many cell phone carriers offer unlimited phone usage so using your phone for business shouldn’t be an issue.

Internet Compensation

Like compensation for cell phone usage, many companies offer small compensation for your internet usage.  $15.00 or $20.00 might be something you are offered in addition to your base pay. If compensation for internet usage is not offered I would not consider it a deal breaker. You should already have internet access and if you don’t many coffee shops offer it for free.


Many companies offer bonuses for various reasons.  Some offer them for individual performance and company performance. Bonuses are fun to get when you are doing a good job for the company.  Performance based bonuses give the employee an extra incentive to go above and beyond on a case. Not a deal breaker if you don’t get one but definitely a bonus if one is offered in the company you work for.


Paid vacation time is a big deal with any company.  Typical paid vacation time varies from 2 weeks paid vacation to no paid vacation. If you are just looking to get your foot in the door with a company and they are not offering you any vacation time then it might be something you have to deal with. Finding a company willing to offer 5 or more days is a pretty good deal.  Consider the vacation time when calculating your total compensation.

Health Insurance

To be honest I don’t know what the state of health insurance will be like in the United States in the near future.  Health insurance used to be a big draw for private investigators and the companies they chose to work for.  In most cases getting health insurance though an investigation company was pretty expensive so I don’t know if this will matter for you when figuring this into the compensation.

Final Thoughts on Fair Salaries for Private Investigators

Every individual looking to become a private investigator is going to be in a different financial position.  Some future investigators will be willing to start at a lower salary to obtain the practical experience.  Others future investigators will have a minimum salary requirements in order to maintain a certain standard of living. When initially starting your career I would say beggars can’t be choosers.  In other words take what you can get.  As time passes you will gain more experience and be more marketable to other investigative companies that be willing to pay you more. If you have been around in the industry for awhile I wouldn’t accept anything less the $17.50 an hour to start.  Of course everything I have previously mentioned will need to be considered with the hourly wage. Personally when looking for a job in the investigative field I have only been worried about 3 things; the hourly wage, mileage amount or gas card and travel pay. When it’s all said and done I hope this gives you some insight as to what fair pay and fair compensation for a private investigator should be.  Fair pay can’t be wrapped up in to just the amount per hour as there are other things to consider when determining what is appropriate.  Feel free to ask questions in the comment area of this article and I will do my best to answer. Thanks for reading, Andrew


  1. The wear and tear on a vehicle is a huge expense, so much in fact that it put me out of the business for the time being. I was making $15 an hour, 20 cents a mile, travel pay if over 120 miles from my home, no health, no company cell (20 cent reimbursent for calls) and providing all my own equipment. I live in Texas, which is a huge state and can take up to 12 hours to drive across. The company I worked for was out of Massachusetts, a small state. I went through 2 cars, and the last car break down was more expensive that the pay I was getting, so I had no choice but to get out. My hope now is to do online/desktop investigations or find a company that still provides a company vehicle to do surveillance.