As far as trades go, electrical work ranks pretty high. It offers good pay and job opportunities abound. The downside? A lot of states require you to get licensed as an electrician, which usually means taking some pre-license education hours, passing an exam, submitting an application, and paying a fee.
That might feel like a lot of work, but it’s well worth it. The fallout from taking jobs without the appropriate electrical license ranges from steep fines to jail time. So to start, let’s take a look at which states mandate licensing for electricians.
The below states require electricians to get licensed before they can go out and take on projects on their own. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get licensed in order to start an electrical career, though. Many states allow you to work unlicensed (e.g., as an apprentice) as long as you’re supervised by a licensed electrician.
But to work independently as an electrician, the following states require a license:
Louisiana and Mississippi don’t technically require a license, but if you perform work valued at $10,000 or more, you will need a contractor license. Similarly, Ohio doesn’t license journeyman-level electricians, but they do require commercial contracting licenses for some electricians.
Then there are states that don’t necessarily regulate electrical work at a state level but have many jurisdictions (e.g., counties, municipalities) that do require licensure. Those include:
Clearly, licensing requirements vary based on where you live. Look into your state and local codes and regulations to figure out what’s required. To help, you can use this interactive map from the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER).
At this point, you might be wondering if you can just slide by without a license. Technically, yes, you can try it. But there are two major downsides to working without an electrician license.
For starters, if you get caught working without the required license, you’ll have to pay a hefty fine. It’s not uncommon for levied penalties to be $5,000 or more. What’s more, in a lot of states, unlicensed work is a misdemeanor, which could even land you in jail.
Beyond that, if you do work that requires a license without one and your client decides not to pay you, you lose backing from the state. There’s usually very little recourse to pursue payment in those situations.
Even if you never get caught by the state or local licensing agency, skipping the licensing process can cost you business.
That’s because most jurisdictions maintain a license lookup tool. This allows property owners to look up someone’s license number before they hire them to confirm that they’re legitimate. If you can’t provide potential clients with a license number, your odds of landing that job drop off very quickly.
Ultimately, between the potential penalties you could face with unlicensed work and the customer confidence a license can instill, it’s generally not worth trying to get around what’s legally required in your local area.