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Frequently Asked Questions

California Contractor License Common FAQs

The goal of Exam Cram Pros is to help those who want to become contractors secure their licensure so they can get to work. As the sister company to Surety First, a trusted surety bond provider since 2006, our team of professionals has worked to help thousands fulfill the obligations to get up and running as a legally operating contractor. Our experts have extensive experience in the world of contractor licenses and have received many questions over the years. Below you’ll find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the steps to becoming a contractor.

Are You Required to Get a Contractors License in California?

Yes. Per the California Contractors State License Board, anyone charging $500 or more to complete a contracting project, including materials and labor, must be licensed in the state of California. This pertains to any person or company that constructs or alters any building, highway, road, parking facility, or other structure.

Are There Any Penalties for Contracting Without a License in California?

Operating without a license is a misdemeanor offense in California. Associated fines can range from $200 to $15,000 and would require a court appearance. You would also be issued a citation that would remain on file with license boards for up to 10 years.

How Much Does a California Contractors License Cost?

There are two fees involved when obtaining a contracting license in California. The first is an application fee of $330. There is also a license fee of $200. Both fees can be paid when you submit your application, or you can choose to pay the license fee after you pass your exams. Note that application fees are non-refundable.

What Licensing Classifications Are There?

Contractor license classifications are divided into four categories:

1) A-General Engineering

2) B-General Building

3) C-Specialty Classes

4) D-Limited Specialty Classes​

How Do I Prove That I Have Experience If I Am Self-Employed?

The CSLB carefully investigates claims of self-employed experience. The best way to prove your experience is to have someone in the building trades, such as a foreman, supervisor, journeyman, fellow employee, or business associate, act as your certifier and sign a Certification of Work Experience detailing the relevant work they have witnessed you perform.

How Many Exams Are Required to Become a Licensed Contractor in California?

Unless you meet the requirements for an exam waiver, you will take two examinations. One is a trade-specific exam. The other is a Law & Business exam.

What Insurance Do I Need?

You should have General Liability insurance, which protects your business in the event that someone claims bodily or personal injury, advertising injury, or property damage as a result of your business’s operations, products, or services. You’re also required to have Workers’ Compensation insurance if you have any employees. (All roofing contractors must have this insurance regardless of whether or not they have employees.)

Do I Need to Purchase Any Bonds Before Applying?

You don’t need to purchase bonds before submitting an application. To become licensed and begin working legally, however, you will need to obtain the standard $15,000 Contractors License Bond. Contractors formed as LLCs are also required to have a $100,000 Employee/Worker surety bond.

How Do I Schedule My Law & Business Exam?

The CSLB will send you a notice to appear for examination once your application is processed that will provide scheduling details. You can learn more about the Law & Business exam on the CSLB site here.

How Do I Schedule My Trade Exam?

The CSLB will send you a notice to appear for examination once your application is processed that will provide scheduling details.

Can I Retake the Exams Multiple Times If I Fail?

Yes. If you fail an exam, you can retake it as many times as you would like within an 18-month window until you pass. If you do not pass within 18 months, however, you will need to reapply. Note that your trade exam and the Law & Business exam are scored separately, so if you pass one, it will still be valid for five years and would not need to be retaken in that five-year period.

Can I Apply to Multiple Contractor Classifications at Once?

No. You cannot have two applications in the system at a time. You’ll need to get your license number before you can apply for additional classifications.

What Is Included in the Background Check?

After your application is submitted, you’ll need to take and pass a background check. This involves submitting fingerprints, which the CSLB will provide information on how and where to take care of, as well as a potential requirement to verify your work experience. In terms of a criminal background investigation, it is still possible to qualify for a contractor license if you have a criminal offense, pending you have shown sufficient rehabilitation. The CSLB may deny a license for convictions related to the duties, functions, or qualifications of a contractor, however.

What If There Are Misdemeanors or Felony Convictions on My Record?

If you have a misdemeanor conviction, the CSLB will need to see that at least three years have passed since the conviction or release from active parole. For felony convictions, at least seven years since conviction or release from active parole must be shown.

Do You Need Experience to Get a Contractors License in California?

Yes. You must be able to show at least four years of journey-level experience acquired within the past 10 years. You can receive credit for experience as a journeyman, foreman, supervising employee, contractor, or a combination of experience and education. If you don’t have four years of experience of this type, you may still qualify by substituting apprenticeship, technical training, or other education for work experience. Sealed transcripts would need to be submitted with the application to prove education credentials.

What Is an RMO?

An RMO is a Responsible Managing Officer. This person is the qualifier for the license and may or may not hold ownership in the company.

What Is an RME?

An RME is a Responsible Managing Employee. This person is the qualifier for the license and may or may not hold ownership in the company.

Can You Use the Same RME or RMO for Multiple Licenses?

An RMO can be the qualifier on up to three corporate or LLC licenses in any 12-month period as long as he or she holds at least 20% ownership in each company. An RME can only qualify for one license at a time.

Can I Advertise Myself as a Bonded Contractor?

No. It is illegal to advertise that you are bonded or insured. 

What Other Types of Contractor Licenses Are There?

There are four types of contractor licenses:

1) A-General Engineering

2) B-General Building

3) C-Specialty Classes

4) D-Limited Specialty Classes​

Are There Any Advertising Limitations?

The Business and Professions Code (7059.1.) states:

(a) A licensee shall not use any business name that indicates the licensee is qualified to perform work in classifications other than those issued for that license, or any business name that is incompatible with the type of business entity licensed.

How Many Contractor Licenses Can One Person Have?

You can obtain multiple sole-owner contractor licenses. There is not necessarily a limit, pending you qualify and follow requirements.

Do I Need Bonds to Be a Contractor in California?

Yes. According to section 7071.6 of the California Business and Professions code, all licensed contractors in the state are required to maintain a $15,000 license bond on file with the Contractors State License Board as a condition for having an active license or post collateral in lieu of a bond.

Do I Have to Retake the Exam If I Am a Contractor in Another State?

Not necessarily. The CSLB has reciprocity agreements with Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Louisiana. If you already hold a license in one of these states, you may get a California license by only having to take the California Law & Business exam. You must have held the license in another state in good standing for the past five years, however.

Am I Able to Work in Any City in California If I Pass?

Yes. Being issued a California contractors license gives you authorization to work in any city in the state.

Are the Exams the Same for Each Applicant?

The Law & Business exam is the same for every California applicant. Your trade exam will depend on the trade you are applying for licensure in. Most examinations include questions that refer to accompanying blueprints and/or booklets containing drawings.

How Long Are the Exams?

You will have three hours to complete each exam. All exams consist of multiple-choice questions.

Do the California Contractor Licenses Expire?

Yes. Active licenses expire every two years. Inactive licenses expire every four years. Approximately 60 days before your license expires, the CSLB will send you a renewal application. You can verify the license expiration date on the pocket card given or check your license status on the CSLB site.

Can a Contractor Regain Their License After Its Been Revoked?

Yes. To reinstate your license, you must file an Application for Original Contractors License. If your license was revoked, suspended, or has been expired over five years, you must file an original application and take and pass the law and trades portion of the written examination.

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