San Diego PI Costs Revealed: Exactly What You'll Pay (2024)

So you’re thinking about hiring a private investigator in San Diego, but aren’t sure what to expect when it comes to pricing. You probably have a lot of questions like:

  • How much does a private investigator cost per hour in San Diego?
  • What factors affect private investigator prices?
  • What extra costs might come up during an investigation?


This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about private investigator rates and fees in the San Diego area. We’ll break down average hourly costs, pricing factors, and potential extra expenses so you can budget accordingly and know what to expect.


Average Hourly Rates for Private Investigators in San Diego

A female investigator takes a photograph behind a parked car.

The average hourly rate for a private investigator in San Diego ranges from $60-$150 per hour. Most established agencies and solo operators charge within this range.

Here’s a quick breakdown of typical hourly costs:

  • Budget/Entry Level: $60-$80 per hour
  • Mid-Range: $80-$120 per hour
  • High End: $120-$150+ per hour


Rates in the lower end, like $60-$80 per hour, are typical for newer or less experienced private eyes. More seasoned professionals with lots of specializations and resources tend to charge in the mid-range or at the higher end.

Keep in mind that rates can vary depending on the complexity of your case and the specific services required. We’ll explore pricing factors more next.


Key Factors That Impact Prices

Many elements impact how much a private investigator will charge per hour or for a case. Here are some of the key factors to consider:


Experience and Reputation

More experienced private investigators who have been in business for many years and have strong reputations and expertise can charge higher rates. If you work with a seasoned pro known for taking on complex cases, expect prices in the higher range.



a female detective gazing at a computer screen

PIs with niche specializations and advanced training in areas like computer forensics, financial investigations, or surveillance often charge more. Their expertise commands higher rates.


Demand and Location

Private investigators in high demand and competitive metro areas like San Diego can charge more due to market rates and the complexity of cases in busy cities.


Type of Investigation

Simple background checks or research-based investigations take less time and resources than surveillance, undercover work, or forensic analysis. More complex investigations require higher rates to cover the extra time and resources needed.


Travel and Additional Expenses

For investigations that require significant travel, extra manpower, or access fees, a private investigator may charge more to cover these variable costs. We’ll explore additional expenses more next.

As you can see, prices range widely based on the PI’s experience, services required, and case complexity. Be sure to get an estimate upfront so you know what to budget.


Potential Extra Expenses to Prepare For

a person spying from his vehicle

In addition to hourly rates, there are some extra expenses that can come up over the course of an investigation. Here are some potential costs to keep in mind:

  • Mileage fees for travel to conduct surveillance or interviews
  • Access fees to paid databases or records
  • Specialized equipment costs like cameras and tracking devices
  • Surveillance van rental for prolonged surveillance
  • Additional staff if extra help is needed for surveillance or undercover work
  • Forensic analysis if analyzing electronic devices or financial records


Many private investigators provide itemized cost estimates upfront so you won’t be caught off guard by add-on expenses. Be sure to understand all the potential costs involved before hiring a PI so you can budget realistically. Some may require deposits or retainers to cover expected expenses.


Questions to Ask About Pricing

When reaching out to a private investigator, be prepared with questions about their rates and potential costs. Here are some key things to ask:

  • What is your hourly rate or rate range?
  • Do you charge a flat rate for certain types of cases?
  • What expenses or additional costs might come up?
  • Do you require a retainer before starting?
  • What payment methods and terms do you accept?
  • Can you provide an itemized cost estimate for my specific case?
  • Do you offer any discounts or special rates?


Most reputable private eyes will be transparent about their pricing and provide you with a detailed breakdown of costs. Getting quotes from at least 2-3 different investigators is wise to compare rates.


Is the Cost Worth It?

a close-up of someone using an iPad with code scribbled on the image

Given the wide range of hourly rates and extra fees, you may be wondering if hiring a private investigator is really worth the cost.

The answer depends on your specific needs and budget. Here are some things to consider:

  • Cost vs. Value: Weigh the potential price against the value of getting answers, evidence, or peace of mind. What is that worth to you?
  • DIY vs. Professional: Think about how much time and effort it would take to conduct thorough investigations yourself vs. hiring an experienced professional. Is it worth paying for expertise and efficiency?
  • One-time cost vs. long-term benefits: Will spending on a private investigator now save you bigger expenses down the road in a divorce, lawsuit, or insurance claim? Look at the big picture.


For many situations, hiring a pro ends up being well worth the investment – but you still want to find an affordable rate for your budget.


Tips for Finding Affordable Private Investigators in San Diego

If $100+ per hour for a private eye is outside your budget, use these tips to find affordable help:

  • Compare rates and find newer investigators offering lower prices to build their business. Just be sure to vet their background and experience.
  • Ask about discounts like reduced rates for military, seniors, or low-income clients. Some offer these, so it can’t hurt to inquire.
  • Be flexible on factors like availability, response time, and minimum hours. This can help lower costs.
  • Set clear parameters about your budget upfront so the PI can tailor their recommendations appropriately.
  • Consider do-it-yourself monitoring using affordable surveillance cameras, database access, and online searches to handle basic aspects. Then hire a PI just for specialized tasks in order to minimize hours.


With some smart shopping and cost-saving measures, you can find a quality private investigator in San Diego that fits your budget.


Key Takeaways

a detective taking pictures from his car

Here are some of the main things to remember about private investigator rates and fees in San Diego:

  • Average hourly rates range from $60-$150+ depending on experience and complexity
  • Many factors like specializations, travel, and expenses can drive costs up
  • Get detailed estimates to understand all potential costs before hiring
  • Weigh the value against the price when evaluating affordability
  • Shop around and use cost-saving tips to find competitive pricing
  • Thoroughly vet candidates’ expertise, ethics and value – not just lowest rates


With the right investigator, you get the professional insight and evidence you need to make wise decisions and get real results – which is often worth the investment. Do your due diligence to find a PI you can trust and comfortably afford.


Can a private investigator help me if I’ve been catfished online?
Yes, an experienced PI can conduct background checks and internet investigations to uncover the catfisher’s true identity.
Most reputable PIs do not offer guarantees but will explain upfront what they can reasonably deliver.
PIs usually have standard rates but may offer slight discounts. Expect transparency about rates upfront.
Some offer discounts for seniors, students, military, or cash payments. Ask if any deals apply to you.
Potentially, if you hire one for legitimate business purposes. Consult a tax professional to be sure.
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