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How much does a private investigator cost?

There are many reasons you might want to hire a private detective. The most common are to expose a cheating partner, perform background checks, locate missing people (skip tracing), or investigate cases of fraud. With so many services on offer, the final costs can drastically differ. 

Are you looking to hire a private investigator (PI) but are not sure how much you’ll get charged? Here are some tips and considerations on what to look for when choosing a private investigator. 

How much does a private investigator cost?
Fees and Charges Explained

Charges Breakdown

The costs of a private investigator are generally determined by the type of investigative service required. Most commonly, agents charge in three ways: per hour, per day or per case.

The most common model is charging per hour. However, this method can rack up unpredictable additional fees.  

How do you know what will work best for you? 

What is the hourly price for a private investigator?

The PI industry average hourly rates are between $80-$200 per hour, with extra charges billable such as the number of kilometres, travel time, report preparation and sometimes even charged per image or per second of video footage.

How much does a private investigator charge per day?

Another way of charging is per half a day or full day. The fixed fee is $600-$1500 for the first 4 hours (billed as a half day) and it’s a more transparent and cost-effective way of charging than hourly. 

This option allows you to use the time over several days. For example, by dividing the day into 4-hour blocks, you have the option of stretching an 8-hour day over 2 days. 

Another reason is that a flat fee already includes extras such as those listed below. So you’ll know exactly how much you’re expected to pay, with no surprises when you receive the invoice.  


When charging per hour, most operatives will only accept a job that’s a minimum of 4 hours. But some charge a flat rate for half a day (with additional expenses included). It’s important to be aware of this, and make sure you don’t get overpriced for the same service. 

Fees Breakdown 

When hiring a private agent, there are additional “out of pocket” expenses you’ll have to pay: Planned expenses and unplanned expenses.

Planned expenses are, for example, tickets to the theatre, a hotel stay, or a meal at a restaurant that a covert agent needs for a surveillance job. 

There are also unplanned expenses that add to the rates of a private investigation service, and some of the most common are: 

  1. Kilometres. This is the kilometre charge on the job. That is usually $0.85-$1.50 per km travelled. When you are paying a flat rate, you usually only get charged extra if you exceed an agreed number of kilometres (roughly around 100k). 
  2. Travel time. This is the time it takes to travel to a location, and some investigators charge it separately from the time spent at the location. 
  3. Surveillance evidence. Another charge is surveillance evidence. Some PIs charge $0.85-$2 per each piece of evidence – a photograph or/and seconds of video. 
  4. Written report. The general price for a written report is $200-$300. 
  5. Toll and parking. These services usually cost around $50 each. 

These services are usually included in a fixed price but some companies will add these additional costs at the end of the investigation.

What is the cost of following someone? (Surveillance) 

Surveillance investigations are about putting a trained operative in a position to gather evidence as it happens and include following and observing someone to find evidence of their behaviours, associations or locations visited. It involves reconnaissance or scouting of an area to obtain information and gather evidence – take photographs, video footage, to record someone.

Surveillance charges 

To get the best value for money and ensure you’re dealing with a professional PI, you should opt for a daily charge. Generally, the whole job is around $650-$1000 for half a day and $1400 for a full day. 

This type of pricing includes all covert evidence gathering elements: reconnaissance, administration, travel kilometres, surveillance kilometres (usually capped at 100 km), tolls and parking, report, maps and processing of video and images.

If your job takes longer than one day and you pay upfront, you could benefit from a discount. 

How much does a private investigator cost to locate a person?

Are you an individual looking for a long-lost relative, friend or someone else? Or an agency or organisation trying to find someone in hiding? 

Locating people fees are determined by how much information you have on them: name, recent address, or area of residence. 

A background check involves a desktop search of multiple database sources and social media and it usually is $750-$1200. 

Some investigators break down the prices and charge per service. For example, they could charge between $500-$2000 for just trying to find a residential address. 

The constraints and liberties of a private eye 

Private investigators, like anyone, can go anywhere in public. They are allowed to conduct investigations for clients and prepare evidence for court proceedings. A well trained agent will gather evidence legally (not by breaking in, trespassing or using GPS trackers which are illegal) and discreetly, and ensure total privacy and security for the client.

Is it illegal to hire a private investigator in Melbourne?

No, hiring a private eye in Melbourne is not illegal. However, it is important to be aware that for a business to legally run, it has to be licensed or registered in the state operating.  

Private investigators vs private detectives  

While sometimes used interchangeably, investigators and detectives are not the same. The main difference between the two is that a detective is someone employed by law enforcement whereas a private investigator is employed by a private company or individual. 

What to keep an “eye” out for when choosing a private investigator

When looking to hire a PI, you should be aware of a few considerations to make sure that you are making the best decision. As a rule of thumb, look out for low-cost and cheap PIs and companies that state they have an office in every state! They are likely to have a postal address but less likely to be licensed in the state to operate an investigation business. To determine the quality of the service you’ll get, ask the following questions:

  1. Who is doing the work? Does the agency use multiple agents that can blend in and not raise suspicions? 
  2. Can you find out information about them? Do they have a real address or is it a fake postal address? Can you meet them beforehand? Is your investigator outsourcing your case on Facebook Groups?
  3. Do the agencies provide training to their agents? To get the best outcome for your matter, you should ensure that the agency doing the work provides ongoing training in specialised surveillance and/or advanced skip tracing. 
  4. How many years of experience does the agency have? Do they have reviews and testimonials you can read?
  5. Do they have access to resources? What technology and vehicles do they use? Does the PI have multiple cars to use so they aren’t identified when following someone? Can they gather evidence at night and have the appropriate equipment (not just their iPhone!)? Do they have access to databases for skip searching and appropriate software and tools?
  6. Are they licensed as a business? In Australia, each state requires the Investigation Company to be licensed and registered in the state they are working in, and comply with the different laws applied in each state. 

While this might feel like you need to do some detective work yourself, a good investigator will stand out with transparency and quality of services. 

Why Rivica for your PI needs?

At Rivica, we pride ourselves on the quality of our services. With a background in law enforcement and corruption investigations, we have the experience and professionalism to help you solve and wrap up your matter quickly. Saving you time and money in the process. 

The way we manage the evidence is unique in Australia. We collect evidence to be court-ready, and 100% admissible. This way we save time because we don’t have to go back or charge you for extra work in the event that you need it in a court case. Plus, all of our evidence is burnt on master disks and retained for 7 years. So that if you require access to the evidence down the line, we will be able to assist you and ensure the continuity of our evidence.

Some other benefits of hiring Rivica operatives:

  • We run surveillance courses throughout the southern hemisphere, training government military and private investigators.
  • We use multiple agents that are highly trained by us. We have surveillance operatives of different ages and appearances so they can blend into any environment.
  • We rotate agents through jobs to reduce exposure and ensure the surveillance operation does not get compromised.
  • Our highly trained agents continuously risk-assess the situation to reduce their exposure and know how to take the best position to get the evidence required.
  • We use fixed fees so that you don’t have to worry about hidden fees.
  • We offer unrivalled support to our clients showing care, consideration and empathy. 
  • We are licensed in Victoria and have over 30 years of experience.
Depending on the level of experience and professionalism, PIs can be a good value for money – you’ll get answers and results with a quick turnaround time. Interested in getting a quote? Contact us for a quote based on your requirements.

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