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California Contractors License

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General contracting and construction are one of the largest industries in the State of California. The Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB) receives approximately 25,000 applications per year. The CSLB is responsible for regulating the construction industry and issuing licenses to qualifying individuals and businesses. Any person or business working on a project worth $500 or more in labor and materials must hold a General Contractor’s License, also called a Class B license.

A Class B license in the State of California permits general contractors to build or remodel structures used to shelter, support or enclose people, animals, materials and belongings, or moveable property that requires construction using two unrelated building trades or crafts, according to the CSLB.

The CSLB is responsible for reviewing applications and administering examinations. They ultimately decide if the person or business applying has the skills and experience necessary to operate as a general contractor in the State of California.

*The CSLB’s Investigative Fraud Team performs regular stings and sweeps to make sure that those performing general contracting work in the State of California are properly licensed.

Overview of Requirements

  1. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age.
  2. Applicants must have at least 4 years of work experience or corresponding education.
  3. Applicants must have $2,500 in operating capital.
  4. Applicants must file for a bond worth $12,500 in addition to holding worker’s compensation and general liability insurance.
  5. Applicants must obtain and fill out the CSLB’s Application for Original Contractor License and provide all requested documentation.
  6. Applicants must pass a 2-part exam covering Business and Law, and topics pertaining to their trade, unless otherwise noted by the CSLB.
  7. Applicants must undergo an FBI background check and fingerprinting.

Work Experience and Education

The CSLB requires that applicants have 4 full years of general contracting experience before applying for their general contractor’s license. Acceptable work experiences include working as a journeyman, supervisor, foreman, contractor or owner-builder.

  • A journeyman is an experienced worker or someone who has completed an apprenticeship program. They are able perform their trade without the need for supervision.
  • A foreman or supervisor has the experience to perform their trade while also monitoring a crew of people.
  • A contractor is someone who has the ability to manage daily construction business activities in addition to supervising their crew in the field.
  • An owner-builder is a person with experience equivalent to a journeyman or foreman, but also owns the property on which they work.

Along with the application, the CSLB requires proof of the applicant’s work experience from their previous employer. Work experience documentation must be easily verified and prove that the work occurred within the past 10 years. These documents can come from clients, building inspectors, union representatives, architects, engineers or anyone with first-hand knowledge of the applicant’s skills and experience.

Unlike some states, The State of California does not have an education requirement to apply for a general contractor’s license. However, education, in the form of technical training or apprenticeships, can be used in place of work experience as long as the applicant also has one full year of hands-on experience in the field. Technical training and apprenticeship programs are offered through vocational and private schools in the State of California.

When education takes the place of work experience, the applicant’s training and apprenticeship credits are proven through certificates and copies of transcripts. The applicant must also provide documents proving their field experience along with the application.

*On the application, the CSLB refers to person who meets these requirements as the “qualifying individual.” If the person applying does not meet all of the above qualifications, they must be represented by someone who does. This representative is called “the qualifier,” and must meet all the requirements set forth by the state.

Operating Capital, Bonds and Insurance

Before applying for a general contractor’s license, applicants must have $2,500 in operating capital. Operating capital takes into account the applicant or business’ current assets after subtracting any liabilities.

Additionally, the applicant must file a cash deposit or contractor’s bond for $12,500 with the Registrar. The CSLB does not issue these bonds. Bonds can be purchased from any insurance agent or private holding company that is licensed by the State Department of Insurance. The CSLB will ask the applicant for their bond or cash deposit once they have passed their general contractor licensing exams.

In order to activate their license, general contractors are required to hold general liability insurance and worker’s compensation coverage. These insurances are essential to maintaining and renewing a general contractor’s license. General contractors who do not have employees are exempt from obtaining worker’s compensation coverage.

Where to Obtain the Application for Original Contractor License
In Person From any CSLB office in the State of California
Online Download Official Application
By Phone 1-800-321-CSLB (2752) :: 24 hour automated information line

Submitting an Application

Carefully read and complete the entire application using blue or black ink. A computer or typewriter may also be used to complete the application. Do not use pencil.

Read and follow all the directions before completing each section of the application. When making a mistake, it is best to start over. Applications with misprints, scribbles and scratched-out items are not accepted. Failure to properly complete the application results in problems that can delay a license up to a few weeks or even months in some cases.

All information reported on the application must be truthful and accurate. Failure to report accurate and truthful information will result in a denied application.

The CSLB does not accept additional documentation once the application is submitted unless otherwise requested. Therefore, be sure to submit all requested documentation along with the application. This includes credit reports, financial statements and proof of work experience and/or education. Remember that verifiable documentation is needed for any and all work experience or education listed on the application.

Submit the completed application and documentation, along with a $300 processing fee to:

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

*The $300 processing fee covers both the application and exam fee, and is non-refundable.
*The State of California only allows applicants to apply for one classification at a time, in this case, a Class B License.

Application Review Process

The CSLB issues a letter of acknowledgement once they receive the application. This letter contains an ID number and four digit pin that allows the applicant to check on the status of their application. An approved application is also called a ‘posted’ application.

If the CSLB needs any further info, the applicant will receive a letter asking them to resubmit their application along with the requested information or documentation. The applicant will have 90 days to resubmit this information before the application is void. Once void, the applicant must start the process over again, including submitting another $300 in processing fees.

If the application is approved, the state will issue a notice to appear for the exam. Applicants will have approximately 3 weeks in between the time that they receive their notice of approval and their scheduled exam date.

Once approved, applicants will also receive instructions for fingerprinting. The CSLB requires that all applicants go through an FBI background check and be fingerprinted before obtaining their general contractor license.
It is important that applicants spend their time studying for the exam while their application is under review.

*All applicants must take the Business and Law and trade exam, unless otherwise noted by the CSLB. If the applicant qualifies for a waiver of exam, they will receive a notice requesting additional licensing fees.

The Examination Process

The examination is broken into two parts:

  1. The Business and Law Exam: which covers topics such as construction law and business management.
  2. The Trade Exam: which covers topics such as estimating, plans, framing, specifications, safety and structural components.

The CSLB will send study guides for both sections of the exam. Study guides are sent along with the notice to appear for the exam. Be sure to look these materials over thoroughly. It is better to over-prepare than under-prepare for the examination.

Additional study materials are available on the CSLB website at www.cslb.ca.gov. Online courses that help applicants prepare for the exam are also available.

Arrive on time on the scheduled exam date. Bring any requested materials, as specified on the notice to appear for the exam. Proper identification includes a valid driver’s license, ID card or military ID.

The exam is composed of 100 questions and takes approximately 2 ½ hours to complete. Examinees need a score of at least 72% to pass the exam. Before examinees leave the testing center on the day of the exam, they are told if they have passed or failed. Passing scores are not reported. Passing results are good for up to 5 years.

Scores are provided for those who fail the exam. Those who fail have an 18 month period where they can retake and pass the test. At the bottom of the notice of failure there is an application to file for rescheduling. Submit the application along with a $50 rescheduling fee to the CSLB. A $50 exam fee will apply for each subsequent exam retake during the 18 month period.

Receiving a License

Upon passing the exam, there is an additional $180 licensing fee.

Licensed general contractors will receive a wall certificate and a plastic wallet card. The State of California requires licensed general contractors to keep their wallet card on hand at all times when conducting business. General contractors are also required to display their wall certificate in their office or primary place of business at all times.

Table of Fees

*Required for all Applicants that must take the Exam
Fee What is it For? When is it Due?
$300* Application Processing and Exam Upon submitting the application
$50 Scheduling an Exam Retake When submitting the application for an exam retake
$180* Licensing Fee After passing the Business and Law and Trade exam
$400 Licensing Fee for those who qualify for a waiver of the exam Upon receiving a notice of waiver for the examination from the CSLB
$300 Reactivating an Inactive License At the time of inactive license reactivation
$300 Active License Renewal When submitting the application for license renewal
$450 Renewing an Expired Active License When submitting the application for renewal of and Expired Active License
$150 Renewing an Inactive License When submitting the application for renewal of an Inactive License
$225 Renewing an Expired Inactive License When submitting the application for renewal of an Expired Inactive License
*Required for all Applicants that must take the Exam

How Long is a License Valid?

A license is good for 2 years. The license expiration date is printed on the plastic wallet card. Licenses remain active, as long as the contractor keeps their bond, liability and worker’s compensation insurance current and up to date. If the contractor should lose any one of these elements, the license goes into an inactive status, preventing the contractor from obtaining work. An active license is renewed every 2 years. Inactive licenses expire after 4 year if they are not renewed.

Sixty (60) days before the license expires, the CSLB will send an application for renewal. Be sure to submit the renewal application well before the license expires to avoid additional fees. Be sure to notify the CSLB of any changes in information, such as a change of address.

Licenses are also renewable online at:

OR, by calling:
1-800-321-CSLB within 45 days of the expiration date.

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