California Contractor Licenses


California is pretty strict in that it requires the absolute vast majority of businesses to be licensed if they do any residential, commercial or public construction work, including but not limited to buildings, highways, excavation and more. For contracts bigger than $500, the contractor most likely needs to be licensed. Here is all the information you need about California contractor licenses.

The Contractors State License Board is also strict and gives out fines to contractors advertising that they’re licensed while in fact they aren’t, and the punishment is severe for doing unlicensed work where a license is required.

Contractor License Lookup in California

In California, you can check a contractor’s license using the license number, business name, personnel name, the registration number of the salesperson, or their name. All you need to do is go the website for the Department of Consumer Affairs under the Contractors State License Board. You can easily find it using this link. The service is however not available Sunday evening from 8pm to 6am Monday morning to enable scheduled maintenance.

Who Can Do Work Without a License?

There are few categories that may be exempt from needing a license to operate, however the exemptions are very specific and the vast majority of homeowners will need to make sure the contractor have the necessary licenses.

As mentioned, if the contract is bigger than $500, a license is needed, and a contractor can not divide the work into different contracts to get around it. The $500 includes all the necessary materials, labor costs as well as other associated costs, and it is not $500 in each individual category.

Public projects using public person will be exempt from the license requirement, or if you are working on your own property and have hired employees paid wages rather than hiring them as contractors.

If you are hiring someone to install finished products that do not become an integrated part of the home, they may also be exempt, which for example includes dishwasher installers. To view a full list of those exempt, visit this page on ca.gov.


California State Contractors License Board

To help protect consumers, the California State Contractors License board licenses 44 different license classifications with more than 290,000 current contractors. Contact the board with any additional questions through the information provided below.

Contractors State License Board
9821 Business Park Drive
Sacramento, CA 95826
(916) 255-3900

For additional information on how to contact CSLB, visit this page on their website.

The Contractors State License Board has made forms and applications conveniently available here.

California Licensing Classifications

The table below shows the different contractor licensing classifications in the state of California.

Class “C” Specialty Contractor’s Licens Brief Explanation
C-2 – acoustical & insulation This covers the installation of materials that intend to insulate, for either sound or temperature control, or a combination.
C-4 – steam fitting, hot water heating & boiler Contractors installing, repairing or servicing boilers, hot water systems or steam fitting.
C-5 – Rough carpentry & framing Any rough carpentry work, including sub-flooring, roof decking, railing, staircases and more.
C-6 – Finish carpentry, millwork, cabinet Finish carpentry including trim, sashes, cabinets and more.
C-7 – low voltage Services, installs and maintains systems not exceeding 91 volts such as video systems, antennas and sound systems.
C-8 – Concrete Involves all types of concrete work including but not limited to pouring, finishes, pavements and more.
C-9 – Drywall Taping, texturing and installation of gypsum wall board.
C10 – Electrical Any type of electrical work that includes wires, appliances, fixtures, including their maintenance, repair and installation.
C11 – Elevator Makes, installs and repairs elevators including all their different components.
C12 – Paving & earthwork It includes all the different aspects of installing pavement, including excavation.
C13 – Fencing Installation and repair of fences, rails and barriers and all their related components.
C15 – Floor covering & flooring Preparation, installation and repair of any type of flooring, except for ceramic tile which is covered by C54.
C16 – Fire protection This contractor is responsible for installing fire protection systems and all the equipment surrounding it.
C17 – Glazing Cuts and assembles glass works.
C20 – Air-conditioning, ventilating & warm-air Installs, maintains and repairs all the systems in the house providing warm or cool air.
C21 – Demolition & building moving Includes knocking down and moving buildings, although it doesn’t include additions or repairs to such buildings.
C22 – Asbestos abatement Containment or removal and disposal of construction materials with asbestos in them.
C23 – Ornamental metal Welding, fabricating, shaping, installation of brass, bronze, stainless steel and other types of metal.
C27 – Landscaping Maintenance, installation and development of landscaping for residential and commercial purposes.
C28 – Security equipment & locks Installation, maintenance and repairs of all lock and security equipment.
C29 – Masonry Installation of clay products, concrete and glass.
C31 – Construction Zone Traffic Control Prepares or removes objects intended for traffic control in both public and private spaces.
C32 – Highway & Parking The preparatory work necessary for parking and highway marking, although it does not include actually laying the concrete.
C33 – Decorating & Painting Preparation of and painting walls for decorative, fireproofing and waterproofing purposes.
C34 – Pipeline Preparation, fabrication and installation of pipelines.
C35 – Plastering & Lathing Read more about C35 here.
C36 – Plumbing Anything related to water and the way in which it is transported in residential and commercial buildings.
C38 – Refrigeration Installation and maintenance of anything with refrigerating capacity, including refrigerators, refrigerated rooms and more.
C39 – Roofing Installation and repair of roofing and other types of sealing surfaces on all kinds of structures.
C42 – Sanitation Tasks related to sewage disposal and drain structures in all kinds of structures in various materials such as steel, concrete, pipe and more.
C43 – Sheet metal Sheet metal work which includes things such as flashing, gutters, duct work and more.
C45 – Signs Installation and fabrication of electrical and non-electrical signs.
C46 – Solar Installation and repair of thermal and photovoltaic solar systems.
C47 – General manufactured housing Read more about C47 here.
C50 – Reinforced steel Fabrication and placement of reinforced steel mesh.
C53 – Swimming pools Construction and installation of everything from hot tubs to swimming pools.
C54 – Mosaic & Ceramic tile Work related to ceramic and mosaic tile work, including preparation of surfaces.
C55 – Water conditioning Installation of water conditioning equipment.
C57 – Well drilling Installation and repair of water wells, including boring drilling and more.
C60 – Welding Getting metals to stick together by method of welding.
C-61 Limited specialty Read more about C-61 here.
ASB – Asbestos Read more about ASB here.
HAZ – Hazardous substance removal Read more about HAZ here.

Applying for a Contractors License in California

When you are working on applying for a contractor license you need to know about the different steps involved. It’s a 9 step process, and each of the step is clearly explained on the website.

  1. Before taking the exam: There are a lot of things you need to know prior to applying to take the exam. This page gives you an understanding of what those are.
  2. Understanding how to apply to take the exam: When you’re taking the exam for the first time, you need to learn how to apply to take it first.
  3. Understanding the necessary experience to qualify for the exam: By getting a better understanding of the requirements, you will learn how to avoid your application being denied in the first place.
  4. When your initial application is returned: An insufficient or incomplete application will be returned, upon which you have 90 days to resubmit it to avoid it becoming void.
  5. When your application is accepted: All the information you need about scheduling an exam, what to do if you need a translator and more.
  6. Getting fingerprinted: Prior to taking the exam, you will need to get fingerprinted and answer information about any previous convictions you may have.
  7. Studying for the exams: No matter which classification you’re applying for, you will need to pass the law and business exam, as well as the one for the specific trade.
  8. Getting the license issued: After passing the exams there are a couple of steps you will need to take to have your license issued – read what they are.
  9. See how far along the application is: When you want to check on your application, you need to go here and enter your application fee number and contractor pin.

Each of the two exams take 3½ hours and you will want to make sure you show up on time for them.

Here are some of the fees that you will have to pay along the way:

  • $330 for processing the application
  • $60 for rescheduling an exam, and each subsequent time an exam is rescheduled, or if you need to take it again.
  • $49 for processing your fingerprints.
  • Live Scan fee which is determined by each site, which can usually vary between $8 and $40. To find the different places that provide the Live Scan go here. You can also see how much each site is charging.

When you don’t currently have any licenses, you can only apply for one category at first, and when you have then passed the exams, you can apply for other categories too, although you will have to pay their corresponding fees.

The law and business examination is divided into different sections with approximate percentages given to each different section:

  • Public works – 7%
  • Safety – 15%
  • Licensing requirements – 8%
  • Contract requirements – 23%
  • Bonds, insurance, and liens – 10%
  • Employment requirements – 12%
  • Finances – 15%
  • Business organization – 10%

You can find the study guide for the law and business part here.

C-36 Plumbing License in California

California does not have a Master Plumber classification as some states do, and you do not need to be licensed or registered to work as an Apprentice plumber.

As you can see above, the license required for plumbers in California is called C-36. The complete guide to what it covers is included on this page. You can search for a plumber’s license the same place as you would with all other types of contractor licenses in California, by going to this database.

The process for obtaining this type of license is the same as stated above.

C-10 Electrical License in California

An apprentice program will count as three years of experience towards the overall requirement, and an apprenticeship is required.

To take the C-10 electrical specialty exam to obtain a license and become a licensed electrical contractor, you will need to have 4 years of experience to qualify for the exam. This experienced is gained as a journeyman, supervisor, owner-build or contractor.

You will also need to take both the business and law exam, as well as the trade exam.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

When you’re bidding on projects for Caltrans, or the Californian Department of Transportation, you do not need to be prequalified, however it does not waiver the license requirement from the Contractors State License board, and a license must be obtained in each of the specialty groups you are bidding on.

Out-of-State Contractors

If you are an out-of-state contractor wishing to do work in California, you will have to register with the Secretary of State. The license board may consider reciprocity deals if you are licensed in other states.