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California Plumbing License

California Plumbing License Requirements – Overview

California plumbing license requirements are set by the state.  However…..

In California, the contractor must be licensed, not the plumber, although the contractor may also be a plumber.  Read on to understand.

For an overview of how U.S. Plumbing License Requirements work, refer back to the Plumbing License Requirements homepage.

The Rule:

In California, Contractors, including subcontractors, specialty contractors, and persons engaged in the business of home improvement must be licensed by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB).  It is illegal for an unlicensed person (with certain exemptions for owner-builders, public employees on public projects, and projects involving federal funds) to perform contracting work on any project valued at $500 or more in labor and materials. A license can be issued to either an individual person or to a business.  More specifically, licenses may be issued to individuals, partnerships, corporations, or joint ventures; The CSLB does not issue licenses to Limited Liability Companies (LLC’s).

In plain English:

This means that a license is required to do most contractor-type plumbing work, but it does not say that every person working as a plumber in a contractor business must have a license.  The Contractor holds the license (the right to do plumbing work worth $500 or more), whereas the employees of the contractor do not need a license.

A California Apprentice plumber does not need a license, and a California Journey plumber working for a licensed contractor does not need a license.  The person or business who does need the license is the one who is legally responsible for a plumbing contract job worth more than $500.  There is no such thing as a Master plumber in California.  Either you are a licensed contractor or you are not.

California Plumber Apprentice Programs

Apprenticeship programs are four (4) or five (5) years long in California and include on the job work experience and training plus formal schooling in plumbing-related classes at night or on weekends.  The minimum requirements are generally that you are 18 years old and have graduated high school or have a GED.  You may also need a valid drivers license and you may need to pass a basic written and oral test focussed on math and reading comprehension.  To get an idea of what the apprentice application test may include, see some sample questions from the California Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 442 Union.

There are a variety of State government entities involved in overseeing apprenticeship programs in California.  In brief, they are:

– Department of Industrial Relations (DIR): Overall responsibility for labor laws in California; the DIR’s director investigates and issues determinations regarding apprentice disputes

– Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS): Sets minimum training requirements for apprentice programs

– California Apprenticeship Council (CAC): Sets policy for the DAS, issues apprenticeship rules and regulations, decides appeals of apprenticeship disputes ruled on by the DIR director

– Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC), sometimes called Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC), or a Unilateral Apprenticeship Committee (UAC) – Supervises apprentice training

Training standards for California apprentice plumbers is developed by local apprenticeship committees with the assistance of the DAS.  The minimum training standard set by the DAS is available here: Minimum Industry Training Criteria (MITC).  The required local training may be more than this minimum.

Each apprentice signs an apprentice agreement either with a JAC, UAC or an individual employer. This agreement is filed with the Division of Apprenticeship Standards.  Upon successful completion of training, you are issued a “Certificate of Completion” by the State of California.

You can apply for an apprenticeship either directly to an employer, through a plumbing union.  

The California Division of Apprenticeship Standards also has a helpful search tool with information about Apprentice programs around the state. 

California Plumbing License Requirements

In California, there is no registration or license to be an Apprentice plumber or a Journey (Journeyman) Plumber.  Also, there is no such thing as a Master Plumber in California.  As described in the Overview above, the only person or business who must be licensed in California to do hired (i.e. for-pay) plumbing work with a value of $500 or more is the Contractor.

Apprentice Plumber: No license required

Journey (Journeyman) Plumber: No license required

Master Plumber: No such designation in California

California Contractor License Requirements

Contractor: Must be licensed in most situation to do plumbing work with a contract value of $500 or more.  The Contractors License is initially valid for two (2) years and may be renewed for two year terms.  License requirements:

1. You must be 18 years of age or older

2. There are no education requirements

3. All applicants for a CSLB license are required to submit a full set of fingerprints to conduct a criminal background check.

4. You must have the experience and skills necessary to manage the daily activities of a construction business, including field supervision.  Or, you must be represented by someone else with the necessary experience and skills, who serves as your qualifying individual.

a. Experience and Skills:

You must have at least four years of experience to qualify to take the examination. Credit for experience is given only for experience at a journey level or as a foreman, supervising employee, contractor, or owner-builder. These are defined as follows:

    • A journeyman is a person who has completed an apprenticeship program or is an experienced worker, not a trainee, and is fully qualified and able to perform the trade without supervision.
    • A foreman or supervisor is a person who has the knowledge and skill of a journeyman and directly supervises physical construction.
    • A contractor is a person who manages the daily activities of a construction business, including field supervision.
    • An owner-builder is a person who has the knowledge and skills of a journeyman and who performs work on his or her own property.

All experience claims must be verified by a qualified and responsible person. The person verifying your claim must have firsthand knowledge of your experience—that is, he or she must have observed the work you have done—and must complete the experience certification portion of the application. Even if you provide a certification of your experience, be prepared to furnish documentation of any experience you claim on the application whenever such documentation is requested. The failure to provide this documentation will result in rejection of your application or denial of the license.

You may receive credit of as much as three (3) years against the requirement of four (4) years of practical experience.  Credit may be granted for for your technical training, apprenticeship training, or education. You must provide written documentation of any training or education claimed in place of experience.

b. Qualifying Individual:

    • The qualifying individual for a license is responsible for the employer’s (or principal’s) construction operations.
    • In general, the qualifying individual is either the business owner or a Responsible Managing Employee (RME).
    • If the qualifying individual is an RME, he or she must be a bona fide employee of the firm and may not be the qualifier on any other active license. This means that the RME must be regularly employed by the firm and actively involved in the operation of the business at least 32 hours per week or 80 percent of the total business operating hours per week, whichever is less.

5. Be able to meet the financial requirements of getting and holding a Contractors License.  While the license is active, the licensee must maintain a current Contractor’s Bond, a Bond of Qualifying Individual (if required), and Workers’ Compensation Insurance coverage.

  • Application Fees to get a Contractors License: $480 (as of 7/1/11) for the exam (even if exam is waived) and License application for one license classification.
  • Operating Capital: All applicants for a new contractor’s license, other than those applying for a joint venture license, must have more than $2,500 worth of operating capital. Operating capital is defined as your current assets minus your current liabilities.
  • Contractor’s Bond: File a contractor’s bond or cash deposit with the Registrar in the amount of $12,500.
  • Bond of Qualifying Individual (if required): Submit a separate Bond of Qualifying Individual or cash deposit in the amount of $7,500 for the Responsible Managing Employee, which requirement may be exempted if the person owns 10% or more of the equity in the business.
  • Workers Compensation Insurance: Present proof of (and maintain) workers’ compensation insurance coverage as a condition of licensure, unless exempt from this requirement. Contractors who do not have employees working for them are exempt from the requirement for workers’ compensation insurance, but they will be required to file a certification of this exemption with the Registrar. If the license is qualified by a Responsible Managing Employee (RME), an exemption certificate cannot be submitted.

7. Obtain and complete an application for an Original Contractor’s License.  Applications available here.  Watch the videos at the CA website on how to complete the Application process.  The sequence of steps in the application process differs depending on whether you are required to take the exam or not, so carefully follow directions for submitting the application, fees, and supporting documentation.

8.  If you are required to take the exam, the CSLB study guide may be helpful.  Also see the simple CSLB website with the license application process for applicants who need to take the exam.

Contact information:

Contractors State License Board
9821 Business Park Drive
Sacramento, CA 95827
Phone (800) 321-CSLB

CSLB website:


The Contractors State License Board has a helpful publication about how to become a licensed contractor in California as well as other helpful guides for Contractors. Definitely look at these.

For an overview of Plumbing License Requirements not specific to any one state, refer back to the Plumbing License Requirements homepage.

To read about plumbing courses, training and school related information for plumbers, start by reviewing our home page.

Good luck, and remember, in California, you do not get a California plumbing license, you get a contractor license.



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