How to Get a Plumbing License in California

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Did you know that California employs more than 40,000 plumbing professionals, which is the highest among other states?

The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects the employment of plumbers to increase by 5% from 2020 to 2030.

But you need to get a plumbing license to get started in this career.

Many who are interested to joining this profession might wonder: Is it illegal to do plumbing work without a license in California? What would be your response if you knew the answer is yes?

Well, the licensing process varies for every US state, but as in California, you can do low-value plumbing projects. However, you must be a licensed contractor to take up big jobs such as laying down plumbing lines and other works related to plumbing systems.

To get started as a plumber in this state, you need a professional license, and to get the license, you must have immense work experience, pass the California plumbing exam, and submit a bond.

This article will tell you everything you should know about California plumbing licenses. Without any ado, let’s get started.

Why Do You Need a Plumbing License?

In general, if you are a licensed technician, you are identified as an authorized person to do a particular job. In California, it is important to get licensed to start working as a plumbing contractor.

Why do you need a plumbing license

Only if you are a newbie who is getting trained, working, and learning directly under a registered California plumbing contractor you won’t face any issues. Otherwise, plumbing work projects that cost more than $500 in labor and materials alone in California must be done only by a licensed contractor.

Types of California Plumbing Licenses

When it comes to plumbing licenses in California based on rank, you will find two types: journeyman and master.

To get licensed as a journeyman, you need the following:

  • 2 to 3 years of academic experience
  • 1 to 2 years experience as an apprentice plumber

To get licensed as a master plumber, you need the following:

  • 1 to 5 years of experience as a journeyman plumber
  • Get through a licensing exam

Both journeyman and master plumber receive a C-36 plumbing contractor’s license from the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Though you get the credentials to get licensed as a plumber, you must meet some requirements to become a licensed plumber.

Steps for Getting a Plumbing License in California

Now we will tell you the licensing requirements and steps for getting a California plumbing license.

(a) To get a plumbing contractor’s license, you must first work as an apprentice, then become a journeyman, and then get licensed and become a contractor. Only when you complete four years as a registered journeyman do you get eligible for your contractor’s license.

(b) Every applicant for a contractor’s license must get a criminal background check. Unless it’s not a serious offense within the last seven years of applying, you won’t have any problem getting the license.

(c) Plumbing schools in California offer a two-year classwork and on-the-job training program. These programs typically cost range between $1,000 to $3,000.

The best plumbing trade schools in California are:

  • Bakersfield College
  • East Los Angeles Occupational Center
  • Central County ROP
  • College of San Mateo
  • City College of San Francisco
  • Central County Occupational College
  • PHCC Vocational School
  • San Diego City College
  • National Institute of Technology
  • North Orange County ROP

Plumbing schools teach you basic plumbing operations, such as repairing leaky pipes and installing boilers, furnaces, etc. But to join such a school, you must have a school diploma or GED.

(d) After you complete four years as a journeyman, apply for a California plumbing contractor’s license named a C-36 classification from the contractors’ state license board.

So, the actual license application process begins with this step.

(e) While applying for the license, you must submit documentation to support your previous work experience, such as:

  • Copies of W-2 forms
  • Certifications from your apprenticeship program
  • Diploma from your trade school

(f) To verify your experience, your former employer must complete the work certification program.

(g) Then, schedule a business and law exam and the trade exam through the CSLB website and take the test. Once you get through the test, you can go before a CSBL proctor for final review.

(h) The final step is to prove that you have a working capital of at least $2,500. Then, you must file a surety bond of up to $10,000. However, with good credit, you may only need to pay between $100 and $250 a year for the bond.

So, these are California plumbing license requirements. After successfully getting a license, California contractors can easily start a business. To get better at their work, they can get some advanced tools and software such as field management software, invoicing and estimating software such as InvoiceOwl. This software can ease your invoicing work and make the payments happen quickly.

Benefits of Plumbing License in California

By securing your California plumbing contractor’s license, you can enjoy benefits such as the following:

  • The law requires it: A trade license will be proof of your experience and skill. However, only when you are a licensed plumbing contractor are you legally allowed to do plumbing work across the state. Without one, it is considered an offence and can lead to 6 months in jail.Licensed plumbing contractors can start a plumbing business, advertise their services, get commercial insurance, get building permits and inspections, and even bid on public and government projects.
  • High earning potential: Customers who look for plumbing services might look for a licensed professional. So, without a license, you may miss potential customers.
  • An advantage over your competitors: You get authority in the job market when you have your license.
  • Enter markets in a different region: You can use your licensee’s distribution network and easily enter new geographical regions and foreign markets.Be it any business, a license and insurance protect the company and its customers. Don’t forget to renew your contractor’s license in California every two years. The renewal fee costs $400.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Plumbing License?

The application fee for an original California contractor’s license is $330. Once the applicant passes the certification exam, they are required to pay an additional $200 for the initial license application fee.

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. What is the penalty for contracting without a license in California?

    When plumbing technicians who contract without a license get caught while on a plumbing license lookup, they are made to appear before the superior court judge to answer an offence that can lead to up to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine and an administrative fine of $200 to $15,000.

  2. What is a plumbing permit vs. a plumbing license?

    People often assume that a plumbing permit and a plumbing license are the same.

    Permits are issued by licensed plumbers to carry out plumber jobs such as installing, altering, repairing, or replacing a piping system. You can get a work permit through the city’s public works department. Whereas you need a license to become a plumber first.

  3. What type of insurance does a plumber need in California?

    There are different types of plumbing insurance required in California, such as:

    • General liability insurance
    • Workers’ compensation insurance
    • Tools and equipment insurance
    • Commercial auto insurance
    • Commercial property insurance


Plumbers in California get an average pay of $31 on an hourly basis, and on a yearly basis, they can make atleast $72,000. Though the salary can differ based on different factors, this salary is higher than in any other state’s. However, plumbers in California must get licensed properly to get started.

Author Bio
Jeel Patel
Jeel Patel

Jeel Patel is the founder of InvoiceOwl, a top-rated estimating and invoicing software that simplifies the invoicing and estimating processes for contractor businesses. Jeel holds a degree in Business Administration and Management from the University of Toronto, which has provided him with a strong foundation in business principles and practices. With understanding of the challenges faced by contractors, he conducted extensive research and developed a tool to streamline the invoicing and estimating processes for contractors. Read More

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