If you’re embarking on the exciting journey of becoming a licensed contractor in the Golden State, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about getting and maintaining a California contractors license – from who requires it to the nitty-gritty details of the application process.

Who requires California contractors licenses?

In California’s dynamic construction industry, having a contractor license is not just a badge of honor but a legal requirement. The Department of Consumer Affairs Contractors State License Board (CSLB) requires contractors in the state to be licensed. Whether you’re a general contractor overseeing major construction projects or a specialty contractor focused on a specific trade, you need a license to operate.

Who needs a California contractors license?

Anyone constructing or altering any building, road, highway, railroad, parking facility, excavation, or other structures in California for projects that cost $500 or more (including labor and materials) must be licensed. All contractors, subcontractors, and specialty contractors engaged in home improvement must also be licensed before submitting project bids. See details.

Specialty vs. General Contractors

A general contractor can work on any type of construction project and oversee the entire project, while a specialty contractor is limited to a specific trade or scope of work. Specialty contractors must have a license for their particular trade, such as plumbing, HVAC, or electrical work. Your license classification will depend on your area of expertise.

Here are the main categories of Licensing Classifications in California (see the CSLB website for more information):

  • (A) General Engineering Contractor
  • (B) General Building Contractor
  • (B-2) Residential Remodeling Contractor
  • (C) Specialty Contractor 

Why is a license required?

The CSLB mandates licensing to ensure contractors possess the necessary skills, knowledge, and financial responsibility to perform quality work. It’s a way of protecting both consumers and the construction industry, promoting fair competition and high standards.

How to Get a California Contractors License in 7 Steps

Now, let’s break down the steps to obtaining your California contractors license.

1. Choose a license classification.

The first step in obtaining a California contractors license is to choose the license classification that is right for you. There are over 40 classifications to choose from, including general, electrical, plumbing, concrete, solar, roofing, swimming pool, and well drilling contractor (to name a few). Choose the classification that best matches the type of work you do.

2. Make sure you meet the minimum requirements.

Each license requires a “qualifier” who fulfills these minimum requirements:

  • Is at least 18 years old
  • Has four years at a journey level or as a foreman, contractor, owner-builder, or supervising employee in the trade they’re applying for (see website for details)
  • Has a valid SSN or ITIN
  • Has the experience, skills, and knowledge to manage the day-to-day operations of the construction business

Be prepared, as the qualifier, to also take and pass an exam before qualifying for your license. Ensure you have documentation of your work experience ready for review in case you’re randomly selected for review by the Board.

3. Complete the application packet.

The qualifier must assemble a comprehensive application packet, including proof of work experience, education, and financial statements. You’ll find all forms and applications on the CSLB website.

4. Submit your application and fees.

Once you’ve completed the application, you can submit your documents and the required fees to the Contractors State License Board. There’s a mandatory $450 fee for contractor license applications (as of 2022).

  • Contractors State License Board
  • P.O. Box 26000
  • Sacramento, CA 95826

5. Complete a background check.

If your application is approved, you will be notified and required to submit fingerprints for a criminal background check. 

6. Pass the licensing exam.

One of the final steps in obtaining your license is passing two exams: a trade exam and a business and law exam. These test your knowledge of business and construction law in the state and trade-specific practices.

7. Get your license!

Once you’ve passed your exam, you must pay an initial license fee, obtain a surety bond, and provide proof of liability and/or workers’ compensation insurance.

  • $200 initial license fee for a sole owner
  • $350 initial license fee for a non-sole owner
  • $150 for each additional classification 

Surety Bond Requirements

A contractor license bond is required for all California contractors. The bond protects the public and project owner from financial loss if the contractor fails to complete a project, pay for materials or labor, or fulfill another obligation. The bond guarantees that contractors follow industry rules, regulations, and building codes and serve the public ethically and legally. The requirement for California contractor license bonds is $25,000 (increased from $15,000 in 2023).

Get your bond today!

Other Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a license cost?

There’s a mandatory $450 processing fee for contractor applications plus a licensing fee of $200 for sole owners and $350 for non-sole owners.

How much does a bond cost?

The cost of a surety bond varies depending on the contractor’s credit score, the type of bond, and the amount of coverage required. Generally, a contractor license bond costs between 0.75% and 10% of the total bond amount. So, if you need a $25,000 bond and your rate is 1%, you would pay $250.

Can I transfer my contractors license to California from another state?

California has reciprocity agreements with Arizona, Nevada, and Louisiana. If licensed in one of these states, you can get your California contractors license more quickly and may be exempt from the trade exam requirement. Other out-of-state contractors may also apply for a California license if they meet the qualifications listed previously.

What happens if my license or bond expires?

Your contractor’s license and bond must be renewed regularly. If your license or bond expires, you cannot work as a contractor until you renew. Operating with an expired license is illegal and can lead to misdemeanor charges. Keep everything up to date to maintain your good standing.

Get the Bonds You Need for Your Contracting Business

Contact the ZipBonds team to apply for your surety bonds today. We offer thousands of bonds, including contractor license bonds and construction bonds. You can reach us by calling (888) 435-4191 or emailing support@zipbonds.com. We’ll help you get bonded as quickly as possible!