Ready to become a licensed general 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 getting a California contractors license. A lot of them had conflicting advice - and one website had a 1,000+ page guide on how to get a contractor’s license.
It’s enough to make you wonder: Do you really need to get a general contractor license in CA to start working on construction or home improvement projects?
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 California contractors 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:
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.
You may need to show proof of business insurance to get your license.
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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?
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:
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:
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.
There are three types of contractor’s licenses you can apply for:
Contractors State License BoardP.O. Box 26000Sacramento, 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:
For more information on what to submit with your application or to download any additional forms, you can access them here.
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 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 the CSLB site for free study guides for your trade-specific exam, so you can walk into that exam room with confidence.
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:
Once you've submitted your application, you should receive a letter of acknowledgment from the CSLB. It will include an Application Fee Number and Personal Identification Number. You can use those to check the status of your application on the CSLB website.
It usually takes 3 to 4 months to process the application.
Got more questions about getting your California contractor’s license? Find answers at the official California Contractors Licensing Board website.
I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner - I've had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!
Mariah writes on a number of topics such as small business planning, contractor insurance, and business licenses.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
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