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Private Investigators around the world

We’ve looked previously at the ins and outs of the private investigation world, identifying what private investigators can and can’t do in the UK – but what do international private investigators look like from around the world!

As with anything, the regulations and laws surrounding private investigation vary greatly from country to country. Here in the UK both being a private investigator and hiring one are completely legal.

Regulation of the private investigation industry in the UK is something that the government has been working towards for many years, and something that we at Insight Investigations are in full support of.

However, for now, we are an industry that must self-regulate. There are a number of trade bodies which help to govern the world of private investigators such as WAPI The world Association of Professional Investigators. IPI – The Institute of Professional Investigators and ABI- The Association of British Investigators.  Becoming a member of one of these bodies means that you sign up to a strict code of ethics and conduct and you are held accountable by a panel of your peers in the industry.

It’s these bodies which ensure their members act within the parameters of the law and that investigators provide a certain level of service to their clients.

There are of course Private Investigators that are not aligned to any trade body, or association, but the activities they engage in are still controlled by UK law.

Other than self-regulation and to register with The Data Protection Office, there is no other legal requirement to become an investigator, unlike other countries which are incredibly strict around the requirements needed to operate in this field.

Although Insight Investigations is part of one of the leading trade bodies, WAPI, the agency is in full support of introducing licencing to the industry to protect clients from rogue traders who can sometimes take advantage of highly emotional and sensitive situations where real answers are needed.

One of the key benefits of being part of the World Association of Private Investigators (WAPI) is the ability to be part of a global network of investigators. This network enables Insight to operate on a global level using connections and relationships with investigators in other parts of the world to get to the truth of a situation for our clients.

Even if that situation spans multiple countries, and takes our investigators overseas to assist in the case management of an investigation with local & licensed investigators. Our network of investigators globally means that our specialist teams at Insight have a broad knowledge of the global landscape – understanding the regulations and laws from many countries. One thing that remains a fact across all countries is that the perception of private investigators, in comparison to the reality of the industry is most often off the mark.

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Despite what TV shows will tell you, the USA is one of the toughest countries in which to operate as a private investigator. The first complexity to becoming a private investigator in America is that every state has different requirements, so 50 different laws and regulations. In the US it is most common to become an investigator in the state where you are a resident, once you have that licence you can then build on your background and experience from work in your home state to apply for additional licences in other states.

The route to becoming an investigator in the majority of US states is quite similar, you need to meet standard requirement such as age and then take a government approved licensing course. This course then allows you to obtain a ‘PI under supervision’ licence, similar to a provisional driving licence.  It means you must work loosely with a fully licenced PI. Only once you have completed 2,400 hours of experience will you qualify for your full private investigator licence, that’s a huge 320 days and 1.2 years with no holidays.


Another part of the world where being a private investigator is a lot more complex is Spain. Spanish investigators must have a degree to practice and furthermore a corresponding licence must be obtained which can only be issued by the Directorate General of Police. The degree obtained must be a diploma in private investigation from a criminology institute or other schools recognised by the Ministry of the Interior.

In a particular region in Spain, Catalonia, there is another hurdle to becoming an investigator, whereby only those affiliated with existing investigators can work in the field

When UK investigators find themselves in Spain during a case, either following a subject or investigating a lead, they must be extremely careful. Spanish law dictates that they must have the equivalent knowledge to those with licences granted in the country as well as a level of training and skill combined with sufficient knowledge of the Spanish language and laws. Unsurprising then that private investigators in Spain are some of the most highly valued in the EU.


Despite the complexities of Spain and the USA, investigators are legally allowed to operate as long as they take the right steps to becoming trained and licenced. This is far from the case in Saudi Arabia and China, arguably the most hostile countries towards private investigators and where the industry is completely banned. China took the decision to ban private investigation in 1993 after a huge spike in cases and use of private firms.

Similarly, services of this nature are illegal in Saudi Arabia but that’s not to say that private investigators can’t be hired to investigate corporate issues or often adultery. What can often be the case is that investigation agencies in neighbouring countries are appointed to investigate cases which can be highly risky for both the investigator and the client.


Looking at somewhere slightly closer to home Ireland, where in November 2015 it became illegal to employ a Private Investigator who was not licensed.  It is also illegal for a foreign investigator to conduct an investigation in Ireland without first gaining a licence.

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All of these international complexities make being a member of The World Association of Professional Investigators (W.A.P.I) an integral part of Insight.

Insight Investigations has been part of the World Association of Professional Investigators for over 18 years and it’s this global perspective and network of contacts that enable us to be a truly global operator.

If you would like to discuss a case with international components – please call one of our specialist international investigations team on the number below or use our contact form 24/7 for a free consultation.

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