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How to Get a Contractor's License in California

Getting a contractor license is a legal requirement. The CareerStint write-up below will tell you how to get a contractor's license in California.
Buzzle Staff
"Many of the suspects who are caught in sting operations have been unable to get a contractors license because of a criminal background."
― Steve Sands, Registrar, CSLB (Contractors State License Board)

A contractor's job is highly hectic and requires you to possess all the related skills. Contractors work on different construction jobs, often starting out as foremen, journeymen, supervisors, etc. Many of them work on small-time projects, without a license, which gives them a lesser salary and status. In the state of California, the CSLB requires that contractors working on projects costing more than USD 500 be licensed. Many are unaware of this, and continue their jobs without a license. The ones with a related degree are known to apply sooner and stay on the top, demanding high charges. In order to be in the same league, learn how to get a general contractor license in California.
General Requirements
  • You must be more than 18 years of age.
  • You must pass the required State Contractors examinations.
  • You must a file a bond of USD 10,000 with the Registrar.
  • You must have a working capital of USD 2,500, to say the least.

Education and Experience
  • You are required to have a work experience of at least 4 years.
  • This experience could be in any building trade, like a foreman, supervisor, subcontractor, etc.
  • With regards to education, a 4-year degree program in the disciplines of either Physics, Mathematics, Business, Accounting, etc., is a sound choice.
  • If you have this degree, a work experience of 2 years will be sufficient too.
  • Actually, to get this license, the work experience holds more importance than the degree, as with experience, you can rise up the ladder eventually.
If you satisfy the requirements as stated above, you can get a pre-approval from the State to give the exam, which is the main step in obtaining the license.

Step I
  • To begin with, you need to fill up the application form.
  • The application form costs around USD 300 and has to be obtained from the California Contractors State License Board.
  • It can be downloaded from here as well.
  • Fill up the form accurately, with the correct, legal information.

Step II
  • Arrange your documentation properly.
  • Collect all the required certificates, documents, forms, credit reports, liability insurance, etc., and file them neatly.
  • This needs to be submitted along with your form.

Step III
  • You will be informed by the Board once your application is approved.
  • You will be given a suitable date for your exam.
  • Pay up all the fees. Your exam fee is included in the application fee.
  • Your license fee is around USD 180.
  • You also have something called a license bond, which would cost you around USD 100 to USD 120, if you have a good credit rating.

Step IV
  • Now you are all set to give the exam.
  • Actually, you are supposed to give 2 papers - the standard business test and another test that grades you on your classification.
  • Your exam paper will contain questions related to topics, like structure, safety, plans, estimation, core trade, etc.
  • You will have to obtain 72% in order to pass the test.
  • In addition, you will have to give the open book asbestos abatement exam.

Step V
  • You must be wondering how long it takes to get a contractor license in California. This depends on how long it takes for your application to get processed.
  • You can also check the application status online.
  • Once you receive your acknowledgement and give the exam, the license is issued shortly thereafter.

Points to Remember
  • There are different application procedures for qualifying individuals, corporations, LLCs, etc.
  • Your license will be issued based on three classifications:
    1. Class 'A' is labeled as a 'General Engineering Contractor' and includes specialized engineering skill.
    2. Class 'B' is labeled as 'General Building Contractor' and includes the technical know-how of the building and structure trade.
    3. Class 'C' is labeled as 'Specialty Contractor' and includes unique building trades and skills.
  • You are required to have separate certifications for each classification, or if you are going to be working on hazardous substances.
  • A degree is not compulsory, but experience is, and if you have completed vocational school training or undertaken an apprenticeship program, the required certificates need to be included.
  • A joint venture license (if you have applied for one) expires within 2 years.
  • If your application is rejected, you have to apply again within 3 months.

Being a contractor is not an easy job, your profile requires you to resolve multiple tasks in the construction business. Contractors with a license earn much more than those without one, and this process, though time-consuming, is essential in order to rise up the ranks and be in charge of bigger projects. A recent survey deduced that licensed contractors in California earn around USD 70,000. So, if you are one of those contractors who has still not obtained a license, try to secure projects of more than USD 500 and quickly start the application process. Being licensed gives you a status, a credibility, and the legal right to charge more for your work.