Ready to become a licensed contractor in California, but not exactly sure where to start?
I get it. When I was researching this article, I came across hundreds of Google search results for becoming a contractor in California. A lot of them had conflicting advice - and one website had a 1000+ page guide on how to get a contractor’s license.
It’s enough to make you wonder: Do you really need to get a CA contractor’s license to start working on construction or home improvement projects?
Why You Need a Contractor’s License in California
If you’re already doing contracting work without a license, it might seem like you don’t really need one right away. And according to California state law, you don’t need a contractor’s license if you’re working on a project that doesn’t cost more than $500 in labor + materials.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But if you don’t have a contractor’s license, you’re missing out on a lot of work. We’re talking about high-end residential projects, commercial properties, and anything else where a customer might prefer to work with someone who has a contractor’s license.
If you’re wondering why it makes such a difference, think about it from your client’s perspective: they’re asking you to work on their home or their business property. That’s why they have a really strong interest in making sure they’re hiring the best contractor for the job. A contractor’s license:
- Shows that you’ve been approved by the state
- Demonstrates you know what you’re doing
- Gives you more prestige than someone without a contractor’s license
- Shows that you’re licensed and insured in case something goes wrong on the job
It’s pretty similar to how you hire subcontractors or anyone else who works with your business or in your home. You don’t want to hire just anyone who walks in off the street. You want someone you can trust with your business since that’s ultimately your name on the line.
Hopefully, that convinces you why you need a general contractor’s license in California. But that still leaves us with one question:
How do you get that license in the first place?
How to Get a Contractor’s License: General Requirements in California
Check off the basics.
There are a few general requirements for getting your contractor’s license in California, including:
Your age. You have to be 18 or older in order to become a contractor.
Your SNN. You’ll need a valid Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification (ITIN).
4+ years of experience. Here’s the catch - in California, you need to show that you’ve had at least four years of experience in the industry, and that experience has had to have happened in the past ten years. Industry experience can include working as a:
- Supervising employee
If you’ve taken accredited classes at a technical or vocational school, you may be able to use these credits towards your years of experience. For example, if you went to school to become an electrician and took two years’ worth of classes, that counts towards this requirement.
Keep in mind that you’ll be asked to provide the names of people who can verify your work experience, so don’t be tempted to make it up.
Important note: Military experience also counts towards this requirement, so be sure to mention that you’re a veteran when applying for your CA contractor’s license. Based on your experience, your application may be expedited.
You’ll need to submit any of the following with your contractor’s application:
- Copy of DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty)
- Copy of Enlisted Record Brief (ERB)
- Copy of Officer Record Brief (ORB)
- Copy of DD-2586 (Verification of Military Experience and Training)
- Copy of Joint Service Transcripts (military transcripts)
- Sealed, official educational transcripts of civilian education
Look out for exemptions.
California’s pretty good about giving people plenty of exemptions for applying for a contractor’s license. The most common exemption is for people who are looking to renovate their own homes or properties that they have personally purchased.
Apply for your specific license class.
There are three types of contractor’s licenses you can apply for:
Class A: General Engineering Contractor. This contractor is someone who has specialized engineering knowledge and skill, and primarily engages with fixed works.
Class B: General Building Contractor. This contractor most closely resembles the standard definition of a general contractor, as they deal with any structure built, being built, or to be built, that requires as part of its construction the use of at least two unrelated building trades or crafts.
Class C: Specialty Contractor. There are 42 (!!) separate “C” license classifications for contractors whose construction work requires special skill. If you want the full list of special skills that would fall under this license requirement, check out page 9 of the official CSLB guide.
Submit your application and fees.
Contractors State License Board P.O. Box 26000 Sacramento, CA 95826
Keep in mind you don’t have to mail the application if you choose to fill it out online. Just give yourself plenty of time to do it, as you can’t save and return to a partially completed application.
Make sure your application contains the following:
- Certification of Work Experience
- $330 application fee (check, money order, and credit cards are accepted; cash is also accepted at the Sacramento office)
For more information on what to submit with your application or to download any additional forms, you can access them here.
Take your exams.
Bad news: There are some exams involved in getting your contractor’s license. As soon as you submit your license application and fees, you’ll be sent a “Notice to Appear for Examination” in the mail. This letter is usually sent out about three weeks before you need to take the test; it’ll have all the information you need on where to go and how long the test you’ll take.
Here’s some insider info about the exams: The first one you’ll need to pass is the California Business and Law exam, which contains pretty straightforward questions pertaining to on-the-job safety, business finances (like how to set up a budget), and contract requirements.
If you already have experience in the contracting industry, it should be a pretty simple exam to pass. If, however, you want to prep before walking into the exam room, check out the official California Business and Law Exam study guide.
Some contractors may need to take exams specific to their trades, like landscaping, plumbing, or roofing. Check out this site for free study guides for your trade-specific exam, so you can walk into that exam room with confidence.
Submit your license fees and other required documents.
After you get a notification that you’ve passed your exam, you’ll need to submit the following to the Sacramento address listed in a previous step:
- $200 license fee
- $75 per additional license you’re requesting
- Proof that you hold contractor’s bond
- Proof of workers compensation insurance or an exemption if you don’t have any employees
Got more questions about getting your California contractor’s license? Find answers at the official California Contractors Licensing Board website.
Once licensed, don’t forget to run a contractors insurance quote to ensure you’re covered.
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