What are the Different Types of Electrical Licenses in California?

Written by Kacie Goff

In other states, if you want to do electrical work, you have to get an electrical license. It’s pretty straightforward. In California, not so much.

Here, there are multiple different types of electrical certifications issued by the California Department of Industry Relations (DIR). And you need to get the right type for the kind of work you plan to do, so you want to understand the differences between each cert. We’re here to do just that. Let’s take a look at your electrical certification options in California — and which one is right for you. 

Certified electricians

Unless you have a C-10 electrical contractor license (more on that below), you need to get certified by the DIR to legally perform electrical work. And they issue five different certifications, each with their own requirements and abilities.

Generally speaking, to get all five of these certification types, you need to meet the experience requirements, send in the application, and pass the required test. To give you an idea of what to expect, let’s look at what you need to do to get each cert type.  

General electrician

To qualify for the general electrician certification — which allows you to work on pretty much any project type — you need 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience. Those hours need to be in at least two of the fields outlined on this DIR webpage.

Once you have the necessary experience, send in your application to the DIR. Once they approve you, you’re eligible to sit for the 270-minute, 100-question, open-book general electrician exam

Residential electrician

If you don’t plan to work on commercial jobs, this cert is for you. You’ll need 4,800 hours of experience and, again, you’ll need to hit at least two of the DIR’s required fields with those hours. 

With the hours you need, send in the application to get pre-approved for the 210-minute, 80-question, open-book residential electrician exam

Fire/life/safety technician

For this, you need 4,000 hours in at least two of the required areas

Then, send in the application and take the exam. Your test is also open-book. It’s 135 minutes with 50 questions. 

Voice data video technician

Your requirements are pretty much exactly the same as a fire/life/safety technician’s, except your 4,000 hours need to hit different categories and your test covers different subject matter. It’s still 135 minutes, open-book, and 50 questions long, though. 

Non-residential lighting technician

You need the fewest experience hours: just 2,000 — but they still need to hit two of the required categories.

Your open-book exam is also 135 minutes and 50 questions long.  

C-10 electrical contractor

Beyond the certification you get from the DIR, you can also pursue a C-10 electrical contractor license from the Contractors State License Board. This allows you to start your own contracting business, but it requires a totally separate application process and some pretty hefty application fees. 

To learn more about C-10 licenses, check out our guide.  

Ultimately, when it comes to getting a license or certification to legally work as an electrician in the Golden State, you’ve got options. Once you get your certification, don’t forget to renew it — and take the required continuing education — to keep it active.