The information outlined in this section is designed to give you a general overview of California’s contractor license requirements.
Who can become a licensed contractor?
To qualify to become a licensed contractor an individual must be 18 years of age or older and have the experience and skills necessary to manage the daily activities of a construction business, including field supervision, or must be represented by someone else with the necessary experience and skills, who serves as the qualifying individual.
The contractor or other person who will act as the qualifying individual must have had, within the ten years immediately before the filing of the application, at least four full years of experience at a journey level, or as a foreman, supervisor, or contractor in the classification for which he or she is applying. The experience claimed on the application must be verifiable and individuals who have knowledge of the experience must certify the accuracy of the experience information provided by the applicant (page 3 of the application).
Who must be licensed as a contractor?
All businesses or individuals who construct or alter any building, highway, road, parking facility, railroad, excavation, or other structure in California must be licensed by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) if the total cost (labor and materials) of one or more contracts on the project is $500 or more. Contractors, including subcontractors, specialty contractors, and persons engaged in the business of home improvement (with the exception of joint ventures and projects involving federal funding) must be licensed before submitting bids. Licenses may be issued to individuals, partnerships, corporations, or joint ventures. The CSLB does not issue licenses to Limited Liability Companies (LLC’s).
Is anyone exempt from the requirement to be licensed?
Yes. Here are some of the exemptions:
- Work on a project for which the combined value of labor, materials, and all other costs on one or more contracts is less than $500 falls within the minor work exemption. Work which is part of a larger or major project, whether undertaken by the same or different contractors, may not be divided into amounts less than $500 in an attempt to meet the $500 exemption. Unlicensed contractors must provide the purchaser with the written disclosure in B&P Code section 7048 stating that they are not licensed by the CSLB, or the $500 exemption does not apply and that a citation can be issued for work completed by an unlicensed contractor;
- An employee who is paid wages, who does not usually work in an independently established business, and who does not have direction or control over the performance of work or who does not determine the final results of the work or project;
- Public personnel working on public projects;
- Officers of a court acting within the scope of their office;
- Public utilities working under specified conditions;
- Oil and gas operations performed by an owner or lessee;
- Owner-builders who build or improve existing structures on their own property if they either do the work themselves or use their own employees (paid in wages) to do the work. This exemption is only valid if the structure is not intended or offered for sale within one year of completion;
- Owner-builders who build or improve existing structures on their own property if they contract for the construction with a licensed contractor or contractors;
- Owner-builders who improve their main place of residence, have actually resided there for one year prior to completion of the work, and who complete the work prior to sale. This exemption is limited to two structures within a three-year period;
- Sale or installation of finished products that do not become a fixed part of the structure;
- A seller of installed carpets who holds a retail furniture dealer’s licenses but who contracts for installation of the carpet with a licensed carpet installer;
- Security alarm company operators (licensed by the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services) who install, maintain, monitor, sell, alter, or service alarm systems (fire alarm company operators must be licensed by the CSLB); and
- Persons whose activities consist only of installing satellite antenna systems on residential structures or property. These persons must be registered with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair.
Do I have to reside in California to get and keep a contractor's license?
Does California recognize contractors licenses issued by other states or countries?
No. However, California does have reciprocal agreements with some states that recognize the experience qualifications for certain trades. It is only after the Registrar of Contractors has entered into a reciprocal agreement with the other state and under certain conditions that the Registrar may waive the written trade examination for a contractor licensed in another state. Applicants must still qualify by taking and passing the Law and Business Examination. If you have trade experience or a contractor’s license issued by another state or country and you want to contract for work in California, this experience may be acceptable. In any case, you must apply for and be issued a license by the California Contractors State License Board.
What happens if I contract without a license?
A contractor’s license is not necessary as long as you advertise yourself as an unlicensed contractor, provide your customers with a written statement that you are unlicensed (see Question 3), and never contract for jobs costing $500 or more, including labor and materials.
The Contractors State License Board has established statewide investigative fraud teams that focus on unlicensed contractors and the underground economy. These units conduct stings and sweeps to curtail illegal contracting activities.
Contracting without a license is a misdemeanor. Unlicensed contractors face potential sentences of up to one year in county jail and potential administrative fines from $200 to $15,000. The CSLB filed 1,136 non-licensee citations and referred 854 non-licensees to the District Attorney during the 2001-2002 fiscal year. Stings and sweeps are publicized to ensure maximum consumer education.
Applying For A License
The information outlined in this section is to give you a better understanding of the application process in the state of California.
How do I apply for a contractor's license?
You must complete the following steps:
- Obtain an Application for Original Contractor’s License from any office of the Contractors State License Board, by telephone from the CSLB’s 24-hour automated public information line, (800) 321-CSLB (2752), or via the CSLB Web site, www.cslb.ca.gov;
- Take the time to read and follow carefully the instructions attached to the application. Note especially that if you are applying for credit for experience, all experience and certifications in support of experience must be submitted with the application. No experience verification will be accepted after the application has been accepted;
- Complete the application and all accompanying forms in ink or with a typewriter. Forms completed in pencil will be returned to you. Make sure you sign and date the application;
NOTE: Applicants with a disability requiring special testing accommodations must complete Form 13E-77, Special Accommodation Request For Examination.
- Proofread your application for any omissions. If the Board has to return the application to you for any missing information, your license will be delayed;
- Submit the $250 nonrefundable application processing fee. Note the $50 fee for each additional classification.
You may apply for only one classification which requires passing an examination. After your license is issued, you may apply for additional classifications that you qualify for.
You may only submit an application for more than one classification at a time if you have already qualified for each of the classifications you are applying for.
If you are required to take the examination, take the following steps:
- Submit the application, the application processing fee ($250), and all required documents to:
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826
- Be certain to include your return address on the envelope.
- Do not submit any bonds or the initial license fee with your application. Upon successful completion of your examination, you will be notified to submit the required documents and initial license fee. You must submit ALL required documents together to avoid delays.
If you are not required to take an examination for any classification for which you are applying, you must:
- Submit an application and $400 ($250 for the application processing fee and $150 for the initial license fee);
- Submit a Contractor’s Bond or equivalent in the business name of the applicant, and a Bond of Qualifying Individual or exemption statement for each Responsible Managing Officer or Responsible Managing Employee as appropriate. The Bond of Qualifying Individual must be in the names of the qualifying individuals and the business.
- Submit proof of Workers’ Compensation Insurance, or exemption. If you have no employees, an exemption certificate (Form 13L-50) must be submitted. If the license is qualified by a Responsible Managing Employee, an exemption certificate cannot be submitted.
If you are applying for an inactive license, you must:
- Submit an application, the appropriate application processing fee, and the initial license fee. The same fees are required for inactive licenses as for active licenses.
NOTE: Bonds and Workers’ Compensation Insurance are NOT required for an inactive license.
Will the CSLB acknowledge receipt of my application?
The CSLB will send you a letter of acknowledgment. This letter will contain two important numbers: a nine-digit Application Fee Number and a four-digit Personal Identification (PIN) Number, together with instructions on how to use these numbers to check on the progress of your application.
Your Application Fee Number, also known as your “receipt number,” will also appear on the front of your canceled check, on the Notice to Appear for Examination and on a request for you to submit the appropriate documents and initial license fee. Please retain a record of this number, and use it in all inquiries regarding your pending application.
How long does it take to complete the license application process?
Because there are many factors that affect the time it takes to process an application (type of application, workload, vacancies, etc.), processing times continually change. By using your PIN (Personal Identification Number) and your Application Fee Number to do an Application Status Check, you can obtain information on what date the Board is currently working on in regard to your specific type of application. This information is updated weekly and will give you a good idea of when your application will be pulled for processing.
If no exam is required and all license requirements are met, a license can be issued shortly after being pulled for processing. If an exam is required, you will be given an exam date 4-8 weeks after the date the application is processed and considered acceptable (no corrections or additional information required). Additional time to complete the processing of your application is required after you pass the exam.
How will I know if my application is approved?
After your application is reviewed and deemed acceptable, you will receive either a Notice to Appear for Examination, or, if the examination is waived, a request for documents and the initial license fee. Applications which require no examination can be submitted with the Contractors Bond, Bond of Qualifying Individual (if required), proof of Workers’ Compensation Insurance, and applicable fees.
How can I check on the status of my application?
CSLB will send you an acknowledgment that they received your application. The acknowledgment letter will contain:
- Instructions on how to make inquiries;
- Your application fee number;
- Your personal identification number (PIN) that will give you private access to your application status.
To check on the status of your application, visit CSLB’s Web site, www.cslb.ca.gov, or call the toll-free automated information line, (800) 321-CSLB (2752).
What happens if my application is not acceptable as submitted?
Your application may be returned to you if it is insufficient or incomplete. You must provide any missing information, make corrections, and return your application within 90 days from the date it was returned. If it is not returned to the CSLB within 90 days, your application becomes void. You cannot reinstate it, and you must submit a new application and processing fee if you wish to pursue a license.
If my application is not approved, can you refund my application fee?
No. The fee is for processing the application, whether or not the application is approved. Since each application is filed for processing as soon as it arrives at the CSLB, the fee cannot be refunded.
How do I apply for a joint venture license?
A joint venture license is one that is issued to two or more licensees together (sole owners, partnerships, corporations or other joint ventures) whose licenses are current and active. A joint venture license may be issued in any or all of the classifications in which the members of the joint venture are licensed.
To apply for a joint venture license, you may submit your application to the CSLB headquarters office. The following requirements must be met:
- Each of the licensees participating in the joint venture must show its exact business name and license number as it appears in the records of the CSLB;
- One of the official personnel listed on the CSLB’s records for each participating licensee (the owner, a partner or an officer of the corporation, but not a Responsible Managing Employee) must sign the application;
- Submit the required application filing fee and the initial license fee;
- Submit the appropriate Contractor’s Bond or cash deposit in the amount of $7,500 ($10,000 for the C-53 Swimming Pool classification). The bond or cash deposit must bear the same business name as the pending joint venture. Send the original bond; a copy is not acceptable.
No examination or public posting is required.
When does a joint venture license expire?
The joint venture license will expire two years from the last day of the month in which the license was issued. Each license included in the joint venture must be current and active before the joint venture license can be renewed in active status.
What is cause for suspension of a joint venture license?
If any of the member licenses ceases to be current and active, the joint venture license will be suspended.
The information in this section outlines the experience required to qualify for the California contractor’s examination.
What kind of experience is required for a contractor's license?
At least four years of experience is required to qualify to take the examination. Credit for experience is given only for experience at a journey level or as a foreman, supervising employee, contractor, or owner-builder. These are defined as follows:
- A journeyman is a person who has completed an apprenticeship program or is an experienced worker, not a trainee, and is fully qualified and able to perform the trade without supervision.
- A foreman or supervisor is a person who has the knowledge and skill of a journeyman and directly supervises physical construction.
- A contractor is a person who manages the daily activities of a construction business, including field supervision.
- An owner-builder is a person who has the knowledge and skills of a journeyman and who performs work on his or her own property.
All experience claims must be verified by a qualified and responsible person, such as a homeowner, an employer, fellow employee, other journeyman, contractor, union representative, building inspector, architect, or engineer. The person verifying your claim must have firsthand knowledge of your experience–that is, he or she must have observed the work that you have done–and must complete the experience certification portion of the application.
Are there education requirements for a license?
No. You do not have to meet any education requirements in order to qualify for a contractor’s license.
However, many community colleges and private schools offer instruction in vocational education. For more information, contact the:
California Community Colleges
1102 Q Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
www.cccco.edu OR Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education
400 R Street, Suite 5000
Sacramento, CA 95814
(NOTE: CSLB will not make referrals or recommendations regarding license preparation schools.)
May I substitute any education, technical training, or apprenticeship training for the required experience?
You may receive credit for technical training, apprenticeship training, or education instead of a portion of the required four years of practical experience. At least one year must be practical experience. You must provide written documentation of any training or education claimed in place of experience. Acceptable documentation includes copies of apprenticeship certificates and college transcripts.
How much credit can I expect to receive for technical training, the completion of an approved apprenticeship program, or related college or university education?
The CSLB may credit training, apprenticeship, or education as follows:
- A maximum of 1-1/2 years upon submission of transcripts of the following:
- An A.A. degree from an accredited school or college in building or construction management;
- A maximum of two years upon submission of transcripts of any of the following:
- A four-year degree from an accredited college or university in the fields of accounting, business, economics, mathematics, physics, or areas related to the specific trade or craft for which application is being made;
- A professional degree in law; or
- Substantial college or university course work in accounting, architecture, business, construction technology, drafting, economics, engineering, mathematics, or physics.
- A maximum of three years upon submission of any of the following:
- A Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship from an accredited apprenticeship program or a certified statement of completion of apprenticeship training from a union in the classification for which application is being made;
- Submission of transcripts for a four-year degree from an accredited college or university in architecture, construction technology, or any field of engineering that is directly related to the classification for which application is being made;
- Submission of transcripts for a four-year degree from an accredited college or university in the field of horticulture or landscape horticulture for the Landscaping (C-27) classification.
The information in this section outlines the examinations required to obtain your California contractor’s license.
Is there an examination requirement for a contractor's license?
The qualifying individual for a contractor’s license is required to pass the written Law and Business and trade examinations unless he or she meets the requirements for a waiver.
Under what circumstances is a waiver of an examination granted?
The examination requirement is waived if the qualifying individual meets the following conditions:
- The person is currently the qualifying individual for a license in good standing in the same classification for which he or she is applying; or
- The person has been a qualifying individual within the past five years for a license in good standing in the same classification for which he or she is applying; or
- Within the last five years, the person has passed both the Law and Business examination and the trade examination in the same classification for which he or she is applying.
Are there any additional circumstances under which a waiver of an examination may be requested?
Yes, if the qualifying individual meets either of the two following criteria:
- For at least five years within the immediately preceding seven-year period, the qualifying individual must have been a member of the official personnel listed on the CSLB’s records for any license that was active and in good standing, in the same classification applied for. He or she must have been actively engaged in that licensee’s construction activities during those five years.
- The qualifying individual is a member of the immediate family of a licensee whose individual license was active and in good standing for five of the seven years immediately preceding the application. The qualifying individual must have been actively engaged in the licensee’s business for five of the previous seven years, must be applying in the same classification, and the license must be required in order to continue the operations of an existing family business in the event of the absence or death of the licensee.
Special Accommodation Request For Examination In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Public Law 101-336, the CSLB provides “reasonable accommodations” for applicants with disabilities that may affect their ability to take required examinations. It is the applicant’s responsibility to notify the CSLB of alternative arrangements needed. The CSLB is not required by the ADA to provide special accommodations if they are unaware of specific needs. To request special accommodations, submit Form 13E-77, Special Accommodation Request For Examination. Forms are part of the application packet and are also available in any CSLB office.
If I think I am eligible for a waiver, must I complete the experience section of the application?
Even if you think that you are eligible for an examination waiver, you must complete the experience section of the application to document a minimum of five years of journey-level experience.
All experience claims must be verified by a qualified and responsible person, such as an employer, fellow employee, other journeyman, contractor, union representative, building inspector, architect, or engineer. The person verifying your claim must have firsthand knowledge of your experience; that is, he or she must have observed the work that you have done.
Exceptions-you are not required to document your experience if any of the following conditions exist:
- You are currently a qualifier on a license in good standing in the same classification(s) for which you are applying;
- You have been a qualifier within the past five years on a license in good standing in the same classification(s) for which you are applying; or
- Within the last five years, you have passed both the Law and Business Examination and the trade examination in the same classification for which you are applying, and the license for which you took the examinations was not denied due to lack of work experience.
How will I find out if I have to take the examination?
If you have to take the examination, you will be sent a Notice to Appear for Examination.
If you qualify for a waiver, you will be sent a notice requesting the required documents and fees be submitted.
How soon after filing my application will I receive my Notice to Appear for Examination?
Scheduling of the exam occurs after your application is processed and deemed acceptable (See Question 20). You will be scheduled for the exam approximately 4-6 weeks after your application is accepted. You should receive your examination notice at least three weeks prior to the examination.
Where are the examinations given?
To make the examination procedure more convenient for applicants, testing centers are located throughout the state. The seven examination sites are located in San Diego, San Bernardino, Norwalk, Oxnard, Oakland, Sacramento, and Fresno. CSLB testing staff use zip codes to assign applicants to the testing center nearest their business address.
The Notice to Appear for Examination mailed to you will state where you will take your examination, what identification is required, and directions on how to get to the examination site.
What are the major components of the examination?
There are two parts to the examination process. All qualifying individuals must pass the standard Law and Business examination. In addition, qualifying individuals must pass a second test covering the specific trade or certification area for which they are applying, with the exception of the C-61 Limited Specialty Classification. No trade examination is required for this classification.
What does the Law and Business examination cover?
The Law and Business examination consists of multiple choice questions related to business management and construction law. Applicants can find information on the breakdown of the topics covered in the examination in the Study Guide for the Law and Business Examination that is sent to applicants along with the Notice to Appear for Examination.
How can I prepare for the Law and Business examination?
The current edition of the California Contractors License Law and Reference Book is the basic study reference. Copies may be purchased from the Department of General Services, Office of Procurement, Publication Section:
Counter Sales: 1700 National Drive, Sacramento, CA 95834, Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
Mail Order: Please send check or money order (no cash) payable to Procurement-Publications with request to: General Services, Office of Procurement, P.O. Box 1015, North Highlands, CA 95660.
When ordering by mail, include a street address and the recipient’s name. All orders are shipped by UPS and cannot be delivered to a post office box.
Please call for the current price: (916) 928-4630. The California License Law and Reference Book is not sold at any CSLB office. Copies may be available from some specialty book stores. Please check your local telephone directory.
Other suggested study materials are listed in the resource list included in the Study Guide for the Law and Business Examination. These additional resource materials include employer’s guides from state and federal tax agencies, and materials focusing on business management and construction law. The study guide is available on the CSLB Web site, www.cslb.ca.gov, or by calling the 24-hour automated public information line, (800) 321-CSLB (2752)
How can I prepare for my trade or certification examination?
A study guide for each examination is available from the CSLB and will be sent to you with your Notice to Appear For Examination. The study guide (also available on the CSLB Web site) lists the topic areas covered by the examination, shows how each area is weighted, and recommends resource materials to study.
What are the trade examinations like?
All trade examinations consist of multiple-choice questions. You will be informed at the test site about the percentage of correct answers needed to pass each examination. Most examinations include questions that refer to accompanying blueprints and/or booklets containing drawings.
What should I bring to the examination site?
You will need your Notice to Appear for Examination to be admitted to the test center.
You must also bring picture identification (either a current valid driver’s license, Department of Motor Vehicles identification card, or military identification card).
You may also bring a scale ruler. Pencils, scratch paper, calculators and rulers will be provided at the test center.
No personal calculators, cell phones or pagers are permitted in the testing area. All personal items must be placed in common storage area at your own risk. You are advised to leave articles of value locked in your vehicle since the test center staff do not watch the storage area.
How long does the examination take?
You will be given 2 -1/2 hours to complete each examination.
What is involved with the computer-assisted testing (CAT) system?
You will be taking your examination on the easy-to-use computer-assisted testing (CAT) system. No prior experience with computers is necessary–only the space bar and four arrow keys on the keyboard are needed. The test monitor guides all test-takers through a short exercise to help them feel at ease with the computer.
What kind of feedback will I receive?
Successful test-takers are told only that they have passed the examination. They will not be given detailed information about the score.
Applicants who are not successful are told the percentage of questions they answered correctly. In addition, they are given a statement showing how well they did in each section of the test. These sections are described in greater detail in the Study Guide for that examination so the test-taker will know what areas to emphasize in preparing to retake the examination.
If I fail to appear for an examination or fail to pass the Law and Business and/or a trade examination, may I retake the examination(s)?
Yes. If you fail to appear for an examination, you must pay a $50 rescheduling fee. If you fail to appear a second time, your application will be considered void, and you will have to submit a new application with new fees. Your examination may be rescheduled one time without a fee if you provide documented evidence that the failure to appear was due to a medical emergency or other circumstance beyond your control.
If you fail the Law and Business examination and/or your trade examination, you must also pay a $50 fee each time you are rescheduled. You are given 18 months to pass the examinations. If you do not pass within 18 months after your application is accepted by the Board, your application is considered void, and you will have to submit a new application. The void date on an application may be extended up to 90 days if you provide documented evidence that the failure to complete the application process was due to a medical emergency or other circumstance beyond your control.
To file for rescheduling, complete the application on the bottom of the notice informing you that you failed to pass the examination and submit it with the $50 fee to the CSLB. (Please note any address change on this form.) You will be sent a notice informing you where and when to appear for your next examination.
Examination results are good for five years. If you pass either the trade or the Law and Business examination but fail the other, you need only take the examination you failed as long as you retake the examination within five years.
May I review the test questions after the examinations?
No. Test questions and answer keys are not available for review. You may file a written protest or critique of any examination question(s) after you have completed your examination and before you turn in your examination materials to the proctor.
Are there any penalties for disclosing the contents of a state examination?
Conduct which violates the security of the examination includes providing information about test questions to any school, person, or business other than CSLB examination staff; removing examination materials from the examination site (includes writing down examination questions for future use); communicating with other examinees during an examination; copying or permitting your answers to be copied; having in your possession any written material other than test materials provided by the CSLB; or taking the examination on behalf of another applicant.
Penalties for conduct that violates the security of the examination include prosecution on misdemeanor charges resulting in a fine of $500, payment of damages of up to $10,000 plus the costs of litigation, and a sentence in the county jail. You would also be subject to automatic test failure; any fee(s) paid to the State of California would not be refunded; and you would not be allowed to apply for any license classification for a period of one year from your examination date.
What will I receive to show that I'm licensed?
You will receive a wall certificate showing the name of the person or company to which the certificate has been issued, the license number, and the date of issue; and a permanent plastic pocket card showing the license number, business name, classification(s), certification(s) (if applicable) and the license expiration date. The law requires that you display your wall certificate in your main office or chief place of business. You should also make it a habit to carry your pocket card, especially in situations where you think you might be soliciting business or talking to potential customers.
How long before I receive those documents?
You should receive your wall certificate and pocket card within approximately one week of the time your license is issued.