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How to Get a Contractor's License and Work Independently

The construction industry is one of the largest economic sectors in the U.S., and a huge opportunity for those with experience in the field. If you want to break into the construction industry, you can launch your own business and work independently with a contractor's license. 

Our step-by-step guide will show you how to get a contractor’s license in California, Florida and Texas, so that you can achieve your goal of working as a professional contractor.

A Few General Things to Consider

Construction can be a risky job that requires a lot of experience. In order to protect contractors and ensure the quality of their work, state governments enacted strict regulations for construction projects.

Requirements for obtaining a contractor’s license vary from one state to state. We’ll explain the requirements for getting a contractor’s license in the three states with the highest number of construction projects: Texas, California, and Florida.

License Requirements in Texas

First, you’ll have to register with the Texas Secretary of State and apply for an Employer Identification Number.

Licenses and permits 

General contractors don’t need a license to operate at a state level in Texas. The following specializations require a state license: 

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning 

In order to work with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation requires:

  • 48 months or more of experience in the field, or 
  • Being a certified technician in the field with more than 36 months of experience. 

Once you pass the test and provide proof of insurance coverage, you can obtain your:

  • Class A License, which allows you to work with units of any size, or 
  • Class B License, which allows you to work with smaller units.

Electricity

In order to get your electrical contractor's license in Texas, the company’s owner will have to meet the following requirements: 

  • Be a Master Electrician with two years of experience
  • Have a minimum of 12,000 hours of training under supervision
  • Pass the exam
  • Get insurance
  • Pass the criminal background check.

Plumbing

The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners issues licenses for plumbing contractors. There are four types of licenses. Each type has their own work experience, insurance, and exam requirements:

  • Tradesman Plumber-Limited License
  • Journeyman License
  • Master License
  • Plumbing Inspector’s License

Water Well Driller

Contractors who drill water wells also need to get a license through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The requirements are:

  • Two years of experience under supervision
  • Proof of work history
  • Pass the exam

Keep in mind: Local authorities may have their own licensing requirements for general or specialist contractors. These requirements vary from one city to another. To find out if you need a license or permit, we recommend contacting your county offices. 

Bonds

There are four types of performance bonds for general contractors in Texas:

  • Bid bonds
  • Performance bonds
  • Payment or labor and material bonds
  • Maintenance bonds

The amount of bonds varies depending on the project location and the type of work that will be done. These bonds are obtained through a company or bond agency. 

License Requirements in California

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In the state of California, every construction project that costs more than $500 requires a contractor's license. According to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), the requirements to obtain a contractor’s license are: 

  • Be over 18
  • Have a minimum of four years experience in your specialization
  • Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Send your request and pay the necessary fees 
  • Take your fingerprints 
  • Verify your work experience
  • Pass the necessary exams

Keep in mind: If you want to start working, but you still haven’t met the requirements above, you’ll have to work under the supervision of a licensed contractor. 

Licenses and Permits 

There's a wide variety of contractor's licenses and permits. The generalist fields are:

  • General engineering contractor
  • General construction contractor
  • Residential remodeling contractor

You can also get a specialized contractor's license in the following fields:

  • Noise proofing
  • Boiler, hot water heater, and steam installation
  • Framing and rough carpentry
  • Cabinet and finishes carpentry
  • Low-voltage systems
  • Concrete contracting
  • Plaster paneling
  • Electricity
  • Elevators
  • Earth-moving and payment
  • Fence
  • Flooring
  • Fireproofing
  • Glazing
  • HVAC
  • Demolition
  • Asbestos removal
  • Landscaping
  • Security and locksmith
  • Brickwork
  • Traffic control in construction zones
  • Parking and highway improvement
  • Painting and decorating
  • Oil pipelines
  • Plastering
  • Plumbing
  • Refrigeration
  • Roofing
  • Sanitation systems
  • Metal plating
  • Signs
  • Solar
  • Prefabricated houses
  • Reinforcing steel
  • Structural steel
  • Pools
  • Ceramic and mosaic tiles
  • Water conditioning
  • Well drilling
  • Welding
  • Limited specializations

In addition to these specialties, you can receive asbestos or harmful substance removal certifications.

Bonds 

The state of California requires every contractor to have a bond before receiving their license. This bond covers any consumer damages caused by construction as well as salaries for the project’s employees.

The bond has to meet the following requirements: 

You can find a list of bond companies that can help you file your contractor’s bond using the CSLB search engine.

Company insurance

The CSLB requires all contractors with employees to obtain a workers compensation insurance policy in case of work accidents. If you don’t have any employees, you’ll have to present your certificate of exemption to this organization. 

License Requirements in Florida

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According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation licensing portal, the requirements to obtain your contractor's license in Florida are:

  • Register your company with the Department of State
  • Pass the state certification exam
  • Four years of working experience or an equivalent combination of college education and experience
  • Credit reports as proof of financial stability
  • Pass a criminal background check with fingerprints
  • Insurance coverage
  • Be over 18 
  • Fill out the application and pay the application fee

Licenses and permits

Florida construction contractor's licenses have two divisions. Division I includes contractors who specialize in:

  • General (unlimited in the types of structures that they can contract to build)
  • Construction
  • Residential

Division II includes contractors who specialize in:

  • Metal plates
  • Roofing
  • Class A, B, and C air conditioners
  • Mechanics
  • Pools and commercial and residential spas
  • Plumbing
  • Subterranean services and excavations
  • Solar
  • Contaminant storage systems 
  • Specialization (a contractor whose scope of work is limited to a particular phase of construction)

The state of Florida also offers licenses for asbestos contractors and electrical contractors

Bonds 

Florida state laws require a bond if your FICO credit score is less than 660. In these cases, you’ll have to prove your financial liability with: 

  • A $5,000 bond if you want to obtain a Division I license and you’ve completed your financial liability training  
  • A $10,000 bond if you want to obtain a Division I and Division II license, and you’ve completed your financial liability training  
  • A $20,000 bond if you want to obtain a Division I license without completing the financial liability training

Keep in mind: Your city or county may require additional bonds. To find out if you need an additional bond, we recommend contacting your county offices. 

Company insurance

In order to get your contractor's license, your company will need general liability insurance, property insurance, and worker’s compensation insurance. 

The following chart shows the insurance requirements for each type of license:

Type of License

General Liability Insurance

Property Insurance

General contractor

$300,000

$50,000

Building contractor

$300,000

$50,000

Other specialties

$100,000

$25,000

Get Ready to Launch Your Contracting Business

There are plenty of great job opportunities in the construction industry. With a contractor's license, you can legally register your business and establish yourself as a professional in the field. 

Whether you get a general or specialized contractor's license, we hope this guide helps you understand and meet the necessary state requirements. That way you can apply for more profitable jobs that will allow you to achieve your financial goals. 

If you have any questions about a contractor’s license or anything else, feel free to contact our expert team. At SABEResPODER, we’re here to help.