Are you thinking of launching a construction business in California? If you want to work on construction projects that cost more than $500, you’ll need a California contractor license. This statewide license is necessary for constructing or modifying buildings, highways, roads, parking facilities, railroads, excavations, and any other construction projects in the state.
Becoming a licensed contractor gives you a competitive advantage, as you can market yourself to new clients as a trustworthy partner. It’s a sign you have state approval and the necessary know-how. The license allows you to work on larger commercial and residential projects too. We'll take you through the process of getting your contractor license in California.
#1. Get to Know the Types of Contractor Licenses
While you can perform work below $500 as an unlicensed contractor, getting licensure is a great business move—so you can work on larger projects and gain the trust of your customers.
So how do you get your license? Your first step is to research the different types of California contractor licenses. They are issued by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) at the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
The license classifications for general contractors include:
- Class A: General Engineering Contractor—engineering and technical specialist
- Class B: General Building Contractor—general contractor who can hire subcontractors and specialty contractors for larger projects that require the work of at least two trade specialists
The license classification for specialty contractors is:
- Class C: Specialty Contractor—contractors with special skills in a certain field
You can choose among 43 different Class C subclassifications corresponding to specific trades. They include carpentry contractors, HVAC specialists, roofing contractors, electricians, swimming pool contractors, and the like.
#2. Find Out the Contractor Licensing Requirements
You’ll have to meet slightly different criteria for each of the license classifications. However, some of the requirements apply for all license types, such as:
- Proof you’re 18 years of age
- Your Social Security Number or Individual Taxpayer Identification (ITIN)
- Information about the owners and the business entity
- Information about the Qualifying Individual (who meets the work experience criteria)
- Certification of Work Experience form for the Qualifying Individual
After you submit the license application to the State of California, there’s still some work to do. You’ll also have to:
- Undergo fingerprinting
- Pass the state exam
- Get a $15,000 surety bond
- Get workers’ compensation insurance for hiring employees or an exemption if you won’t employ other people
#3. Meet the Training and Experience Criteria
California has strict rules for the professional experience required of contractors.
You’ll need to show at least four years of experience as a journeyperson, foreperson, or supervising employee in the field. This has to be from the last ten years. Proof of experience is necessary for the Qualifying Individual on your application, which can be either you or another person who has the required experience.
If you have completed training in an accredited school or an apprenticeship program in the construction industry, that may count as up to three years of experience. You’ll need to include the names of tutors or specialists who can confirm your training or work.
You can also get credits for meeting this requirement if you have military experience and training. You’ll need to provide your relevant records and transcripts.
#4. Submit Your Contractor License Application
Once you have collected all the required documents, it’s time to fill in and send your application. You can do this online or by mailing it to:
California Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826
The fees you’ll have to pay include:
- $330 application fee—at the time of applying
- $200 license fee for a two-year term—once you’re approved
- $75 license fee for any additional license you’re applying for—once you’re approved
If you apply for one license, the total cost of your California contractor license will be $530.
#5. Pass the Exam and Get Your License
If your application is complete, you’ll receive a Notice to Appear for Examination. You’ll have about three weeks before the exam date—time to get ready!
You’ll then have to pass the California Law and Business exam. Some of the topics covered include construction safety, project contracts, and budgeting and finances. Don’t forget to check out the Board’s Study Guide for preparation tips.
Applying for a specialty license? You’ll also have to complete a trade exam. You’ll need this for your electrical, roofing, HVAC, and other types of specialty contractor licenses. Good news: if you have a corresponding contractor license in Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, or Utah, you may qualify for a reciprocity waiver for the trade exam.
Once you pass the exams, the Board will issue your license. You’ll receive your certificate and card within one week. Then you’re ready to start your work as a licensed contractor.
Time Tracking and Payroll for California Contractors
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