How to Become a Contractor in California – How to get your California Contractors License

The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) currently licenses over 290,000 contractors across 44 different classifications in California. If you’re thinking of joining the ranks of CA contractors, you’re in the right place. 

This article will outline how to become a contractor in California step by step, including all of the forms you’ll need to apply. 

Do You Need a Contractor License in California?

If you are working on any building, road, highway, or another structure in CA and the project is valued at $500 or more, you are legally required to hold a California Contractor License. 

Licenses are not required if you are completing work on personal property in most cases. This law also doesn’t apply if you’re only selling (not installing) finished products or materials for a home, such as prefabricated kitchens or finished cabinets.

How to Get Your Contractor License in California

To get your contractor license in California for the first time, you’ll have to apply for an Original Contractor License. When applying, you will choose one classification, all of which are listed on page 4 of the application. 

After submitting all documents, your application will be reviewed by the CSLB. If approved, you will receive information on when and how the Qualifying Party can take the contractor classification exam. 

Once they pass the exam and you pay all required fees, you will receive your license. After this, you can apply to add more classifications to your license. 

Let’s break down each of these steps further.

  1. Complete the Original Contractor License Application

You can complete your application via Easy-Fill online, through PDFs, or by mail-order. Applications must be typed or completed in ink. If a section of the application doesn’t apply to you, write “N/A” – do not leave any space blank. 

An incomplete application will be returned to you, giving you 90 days to complete it correctly and resubmit it. This could extend your application process months into the future, so be sure to go through each section in its entirety before submission.

On your application, the name of the sole owner or the business must match the name on the application exactly. When applying:

  • Choose only one classification for your original application. Detailed descriptions of each classification can be found here
  • Choose your type of business entity (sole owner, partnership, corporation, etc.)
  • Hold the appropriate bond and insurance
    • If applying as an LLC, you will need to hold a $100,000 surety bond, $1 million in liability insurance minimums, and personnel of record from which every person must be fingerprinted
    • All other contractors must have a $15,000 contractor’s bond on file. There are additional bond requirements for certain other individuals listed on page 10 of the application.
    • If you have employees, you must provide Worker’s Compensation
  • Name your Qualifying Party and list their details, including their Social Security Number or Tax Identification Number. This person will be responsible for the experience and examination requirements of your license classification, as well as for the direct supervision and control of the main construction operations
  • Prove your Qualifying Party’s experience through the Certification of Work Experience Form. Qualifying Parties need 4+ years of experience in the last decade in the classification they are applying for. Experience must be for journeyman-level work or above.
    • Up to 3 years of this experience may be credited to a formal educational program or apprenticeship. Qualifying Parties must send sealed transcripts from schools or an apprenticeship completion certificate to receive credit.
    • See page 7 of the application for information on Military experience credits
  • Complete the Personnel Record which lists every person and company apart from the Qualifying Party who will be listed on the license. 
  • Answer all additional questions and sign in all required spaces
  • Pay the application fee
  1. Get Fingerprinted

All listed individuals on the application must be fingerprinted by the CSLB before you receive your license. All prior convictions, even if you pled “no contest” or had the conviction set aside, will be reported by the FBI to the CSLB. 

Part of the application also includes a criminal activity disclosure form that is voluntary. Being convicted of a crime is not immediate grounds for denial of a license; each applicant is reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

Each person listed will receive instructions on how to get fingerprinted once the application is reviewed. 

  1. Take the Contractor’s Exam

When the CSLB receives your application, you will be notified and receive a special PIN. You can use this PIN to follow your application’s processing online.

After your application is approved, the qualifying individual has 18 months to take and pass the appropriate exams. They can take the exam as many times as they need. They must take both the Business and Law Exam as well as a trade exam. 

  1. Receive Your License

Once your Qualifying Party has passed all exams, you will pay the license fee and receive your license. If you need to edit your license because of a change of business name, change of address, license cancellation, or for another reason, see the official CSLB page for all forms and applications.

  1. Add Additional Classifications

Once you have your Original Contractor License, you can apply to add on additional classifications. 

If you ever want to remove a classification from your license, you can also do so through a separate application.

CA Contractor License Reciprocity

If you’re licensed in the same classification in another state, you might be exempt from the CA exams. Your state will need to provide a Request for Verification of License form, which you’ll attach to your application. 

If you passed the exam more than 5 years ago, you’ll still be required to take the Law and Business Exam.

CA Contractor License Fees

Fees associated with contractor licenses in California are as follows:

  • Nonrefundable Original Contractor License application fee: $450
  • Initial license fee for sole owner: $200
  • Initial license fee for non-sole owner: $350
  • Exam reschedule fee: $100
  • Add a single classification to your license: $230

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