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How to Get a General Contractor License in California

5-minute read

Getting a general contractor license CA means you can legally start working on projects, like this tradesperson working on a ceiling.
Mariah Bliss

Mariah Bliss

25 September 2020

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 becoming a contractor in California. A lot of them had conflicting advice - and one website had a 1,000+ page guide on how to get a contractor’s license.

1,000 pages!

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?

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.

Applying for a CA Contractor’s License?

You may need to show proof of business insurance to get your license.

That’s where we come in. Compare free insurance quotes for policies as low as $25.95/month.*

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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?

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:

  • Journeyperson
  • Foreperson
  • 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.

Once you’re ready to submit your application (you can download it here and mail it out, or just fill it out online), you should mail it to CSLB’s Sacramento headquarters at:

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 the CSLB 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. Don't forget to read our guide on getting a California business license as well!

* Monthly payment calculations (i) do not include initial premium down payment and (ii) may vary by state, insurance provider, and nature of your business. Averages based on January - December 2020 data of 10% of our total policies sold.

Mariah Bliss

Written by

Mariah Bliss

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!

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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