California Contractor License Guide

The California Contractors License Law & Reference Book requires contractors operating in the state to obtain a contractor license with the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB). Any business or person working to construct or alter a building, parking facility, roadway, excavation, railroad property, or other structure valued at $500 or more (labor/material) is, by law, required to obtain licensure. Those who are exempt from becoming licensed to perform activities are those who:

  • Work on a project where the combined cost (labor and materials, whether purchased by the contractor or the consumer) is less than $500

  • Are government or other public personnel working on public projects

  • Are officers of a court acting within the scope of their office

  • Manage public utilities working under specified conditions

  • Handle oil and gas operations performed by an owner or lessee

  • Sell installed carpets and hold a retail furniture dealer’s license, contracting with a licensed carpet installer to install the carpet and certifying this to the buyer before the installation

  • Are security alarm company operators (licensed by the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services) who install, maintain, monitor, sell, alter, or service alarm systems

    • Note: Fire alarm company operators must be licensed by the CSLB.

  • Are individuals who install satellite antenna systems on residential structures or property (these installers must be registered with the Bureau of Household Goods and Services)

  • Are owner-builders who:

    • Engage in home improvement and 1) the worksite is their principal residence for 12 months prior to completion of the work, 2) the work is performed prior to the sale of the home, and 3) they do not act as the owner-builder on more than two structures during any three-year period

    • Engage in the construction of new single-family residences and 1) do the work themselves or hire employees (paid in wages) to complete the work and do not sell the home for one year after completion; or 2) they hire properly licensed subcontractor(s) to perform the work in their specialty trade and do not sell more than four homes in a calendar year

If contractors are not licensed and engage in work that requires licensure, this can result in misdemeanor charges. Charges can escalate to felonies, depending on the circumstances.

The California legislature enacted licensing laws and regulations to ensure that contractors engage in ethical business practices. It is important to note that one does not need to be a California resident to become licensed as a contractor in California, but California does not recognize other states’ licensure.

Candidates must complete the following seven steps to become a licensed California contractor:

Step 1: Determine Eligibility

Every California contractor’s license requires a qualifier who directly supervises and controls construction operations conducted under said license. In order to be considered for the issuance of a license, candidates must adhere to the following requirements before starting the California Original Contractor’s Application:

  • Be a minimum age of 18

  • Have a Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification (ITIN)

  • Provide proof of four or more years of experience (see the second step for more information)

    • In the state of California, candidates need to show that they have had at least four years of experience in the industry within the past decade. Industry experience can include working as a Journeyman, Contractor Foreman, Supervising Employee, Owner-Builder, or Contractor.

  • The qualifier will need to take and pass the required exam(s) before CSLB can issue a license

Step 2: Verify Work Experience

Once the qualifier has met the basic eligibility requirements, he or she may need to provide documentation of the work experience. Applicants should have this documentation ready to make the process easier. Complete the Certification of Work Experience Form 13A-11, along with the application, to provide proof for this requirement.

If you’ve taken accredited classes at a technical or vocational school, CSLB may grant credit toward your years of experience. The following would be considered:

  • Up to 1.5 years for an Associate of Arts degree from an accredited university

  • Up to two years of credit for a four-year degree in the fields of accounting, architecture (B-General Building classification only), business, economics, mathematics, physics, or areas related to the specific trade or craft

  • Up to three years’ credit for a Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship from an accredited apprenticeship program

To provide proof of such credit, the applicant will need to submit official transcripts.

Military experience also counts toward this requirement. Based on your experience, your application may be expedited.

You’ll need to submit any of the following for review 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

Step 3: Complete the Application

To fully complete the application, applicants must submit various information and documents. All applications require a Social Security number or an individual taxpayer identification number. If a candidate’s business is a corporation or limited liability company (LLC), the business name shown on the application must match exactly the business name as registered with the Secretary of State (SOS).

On the application, the applicant must specify the business entity type.

  • Sole Owner

  • Partnership

  • Corporation

  • Limited Liability Company

NOTE: For personal liability companies, please be aware that there are additional requirements that apply, such as a $100,000 surety bond; $1 million liability insurance minimum; and personnel of record (all individuals in the company on record are subject to fingerprinting).

Applicants will also need to become bonded. The California Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) regulates contractors and requires the principal (contractor) to become bonded in the amount of $15,000. The purpose of a California contractor license bond is to ensure that the public will receive compensation for any damages should the contractor fail to comply with contractor licensing law. Applicants and the surety company must fill out the California Contractor’s Bond Form (13B-1) and attach it to the application.

Contractor license bonds are subject to underwriting, which means the premium the contractor must pay for the bond is dependent on his or her personal credit. Contractors with excellent credit may be approved for as little as $99.

To ensure the bond will be accepted by the Board, applicants must ensure the following:

  • The bond must be written by a surety company licensed through the California Department of Insurance.

  • The bond must be in the amount of $15,000.

  • The business name and license number on the bond must correspond exactly with the business name and license number on CSLB’s records.

  • The bond must have the signature of the attorney-in-fact for the surety company.

  • The bond must be written on a form approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

  • The bond must be received at the CSLB’s Headquarters Office within 90 days of the effective date of the bond.

In light of California Assembly Bill 3126, contractors may provide either the required surety bond, lawful money such as Treasury notes and bonds, or a cashier’s check. Those who submit money or a cashier’s check must also pay a $100 processing fee.


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Lastly, applicants must have a qualified individual who will be need to be listed on the application, as well as complete their part of the licensure process. California Code 42 USC § 12111(8) states that a qualified individual is a person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. This is required for contractor businesses as qualified individuals shall be responsible for exercising that direct supervision and control of their employer’s or principal’s construction operations as is necessary to ensure full compliance.

According to Business and Professions Code Section 7071.9, qualifying individuals must acquire a bond for the issuance of a license, the reactivation of a license, and any maintenance of an actively renewed license. A Bond of Qualifying Individual is required if the license is qualified by a Responsible Managing Employee (RME). A Bond of Qualifying Individual is required if the license is qualified by a Responsible Managing Officer (RMO) who does not own at least 10% of the voting stock of the corporation. If the RMO owns 10% or more of the voting stock of the corporation, he or she must complete and submit a Bond of Qualifying Individual Exemption Certification.

Requirements for the Bond of Qualifying Individual:

If a license has more than one RME or RMO qualifying the license, each qualifier must comply with the qualifier bonding requirements.

  • The bond must be written by a surety company licensed through the California Department of Insurance.

  • The bond must be in the amount of $12,500.

  • The business name, license number, and qualifier’s name on the bond must correspond exactly with the information on CSLB’s records.

  • The bond must have the signature of the attorney-in-fact for the surety company.

  • The bond must be written on a form approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

  • The bond must be received at the CSLB’s Headquarters Office within 90 days of the effective date of the bond.

  • The qualifying individual for a contractor license is required to pass the written Law and Business Examination and a specific trade examination if required (BPC section 7065), unless he or she meets the requirements for a waiver (see Page 9 of the application for exemptions).

With SuretyBonds.com, these bonds are underwritten, and the Qualifying Individual Bond starts as low as $110!

Applicants can get forms and instructions from the CSLB website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752).

Step 4: Submit the Application and Fees

Once the requirements are fulfilled and the application is complete, applicants can submit the application to the California State Licensing Board. The application is for new applicants of all business entity types, including limited liability companies, when experience and examinations are required.

There are currently three ways to complete this form:

Easy-Fill:  Fill out the form online, then print and mail it to CSLB with the appropriate fee.
PDF:  Print a blank form, then fill it out and mail it to CSLB with the appropriate fee.
Order:  Receive a blank form by mail, then fill it out and mail it to CSLB with the appropriate fee.

NOTE: Do not use this form if you have an existing license and wish to add a classification or replace the qualifying individual.

Fees:

  • Original application fee: $450

  • Initial license fee (sole owner): $200

  • Initial license fee (non-sole owner): $350

  • Additional classification (with waiver or joint venture application for original license): $150 (each)


To see a full list of fees required for a specific business entity or what it costs to add a classification or replace the qualifying individual, applicants can see the full fee list here.


Once completed, applicants should send the appropriate fees to:

CSLB Headquarters

Contractors State License Board

P.O. Box 26000

Sacramento, CA 95826-0026

CSLB will then send a letter of acknowledgment, which will have two important numbers that the qualifier should make note of:

  • A nine-digit application fee number

  • A four-digit personal identification number (PIN).

This letter will include further instructions about how to use these numbers to access the current status of your application. The application fee number will also appear on documents relevant to the application process.

Step 5: Get Fingerprinted

Pursuant to California law, all applying for a contractor’s license are required to undergo fingerprinting and submit a full set to the CSLB. This is to enable a criminal background check to be conducted after an application has been accepted by the CSLB as complete or “posted.”

Applicants and other individuals listed on the application will be sent instructions by the CSLB on the specific process to undergo and submit fingerprints, as well as a “Request for Live Scan Service” form (BCIA 8016). Once the third section of the form is completed with the applicant’s information, he or she must take three copies of the completed form to a Live Scan station to have fingerprints scanned and submitted.

Applicants can visit listings of Live Scan locations here. The fingerprint fee is $49 to pay the operator and will include a “rolling fee.” These fees may vary from each Live Scan site, so it important to check locations’ information prior to visiting.

Fees:

  • Fingerprinting fees: $49

  • Dept. of Justice processing fee: $32

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation processing fee: $17

  • Live Scan “Rolling Fees”: Rolling fees are available on the DOJ listing of Live Scan sites

Step 6: Schedule an Exam

The next step is to apply for and pass the licensing exam. The qualifier will have to pass two computer-based exams — a law and business exam and a trade exam — unless he or she meets the requirements for a waiver. The exam can be waived if he or she meets one of the following conditions:

  • He or she is currently the qualifier for a license in good standing (not under suspicion) in the same classification being applied for

  • He or she has been a qualifier within the past five years for a license and is in good standing in the same classification being applied for

  • Within the past five years, this person passed both the law and business exam and the exam in the same classification being applied for

Other waiver provisions defined in Business and Professions Code sections 7065.1, 7065.2, and 7065.3 may also be granted.

For more information on examination requirements, visit here.

Fees:

  • Original application (counts as exam fee and exam or waiver for one classification): $450

  • Re-examination fee: $100

Step 7: Obtain Issued License

All contractors should receive a CA contractor license wall certificate and pocket card within one week of the license’s issuance. Every application is specific when it comes to license issuance requirements related to the business type and personnel, the licensing fee (valid for two years), the necessary bonds, and proof of workers’ compensation and/or liability insurance, if applicable.

Liability insurance can protect you from financial damages incurred by third parties. It typically helps cover the investigation, defense, and settlement from claims relating to:

  • Bodily injury

  • Property damage

  • Personal and advertising injury

You will need to submit this once notified of the request from the California State Licensing Board.

Farm Labor Contractor’s License

Any person who is engaging in the business of farm labor contracting must register with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Set forth by the Rules and Regulations of California contracting, this refers to individuals who:

  • For a fee, employ people to perform work connected to the production of farm products to, for, or under the direction of a third person

or

  • Recruit, supply, or hire workers on behalf of someone engaged in the production of farm products and, for a fee, provide board, lodging, or transportation for those workers, or supervises time, check, count, weigh, or otherwise direct or measure their work, or disburse wage payments to these persons.

Similar to the original contractor’s licensure steps, farm labor contractors must be bonded. Farm labor contractor bonds are to be posted in the amount of $25,000.

With SuretyBonds.com, you can get this bond for as little as $250! Call 1 (800) 308-4358 or click here to get started!

Once bonded, applicants can apply online at the California Department of Industrial Relations and pay a license fee of $500 and a filing fee of $10, pursuant to Labor Code section 1684(a)(4). There shall be an examination to follow as precedent to the original contractor licensure process.

For more information on the documentation to provide, applicants can visit here.

Contractors State License Board Forms and Applications

CSLB Department and Organization list

List of All CSLB Fees