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California handyman license and insurance requirements

California handyman license and insurance requirements

By Ashley Henshaw
Jan 21, 2022
9 min read

California may just be the best place to find work as a handyman or handyperson. The state ranks first in the nation for employment in this line of work with over 131,000 maintenance and repair workers.

Many of these workers earn an above-average wage and six of the top 10 highest-paying metropolitan areas for maintenance and repair workers are located in California.1 

If you’re wondering what type of work can a handyman do legally, it largely depends on the type of work you plan to do as a handyperson in this state. Learn more about the California handyman laws and insurance requirements in this guide, which covers the following topics:

Do you need a license to be a handyman?

If you plan to perform mostly minor repairs and basic maintenance as a handyman, it’s unlikely that you need a license.

A common question we get asked is: does a handyman need a license in California? You only need a license in California if you plan to perform certain types of jobs that go beyond the scope of minor repairs. If your work will become a finished part of the structure (such as replacing flooring in an entire room) and the total for the project exceeds $500, you must have a California general contractor license.

What’s the difference between a handyman and a general contractor?

Before we get into the details of how to obtain a license in California, it’s important to clarify what it means to be a handyman — because this is going to affect whether or not you need a license and what type of insurance you’re going to need. 

A handyman or handywoman is someone who does small repair, carpentry or minor maintenance jobs. Typically these jobs only involve one person.

If you work on larger projects, such as building a deck or wiring a new kitchen, you could be considered a contractor, and you would need to get the appropriate license and insurance coverage. A handyperson is usually someone who can complete a job on their own. 

So what can a handyman do without a license? Here are some examples to help figure out if the jobs you perform mean you’re a handyman or a general contractor.

Handyman vs. Contractor

How to get a handyman license in California

Since no California handyman license application exists — as there isn’t a license for this type of work — you must apply for a California general contractor license application to the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board (CSLB) if your work requires it.2

You’ll need to print out and mail your application to the CSLB. You must submit a check or money order for the $450 application fee as well. 

Upon approval of your application, you must pass two licensing exams:

  • Law and business exam
  • Trade exam

After passing the exams, you must complete the following steps:

  • Pay a licensing fee of $200
  • Submit your fingerprints
  • Obtain a bond (more details can be found in the California handyman license bond requirements section)
  • Provide proof of insurance (more details can be found in the What is the certificate of insurance requirement in California for handymen? section)

California contractor license requirements

To become a licensed contractor in California, you must be at least 18 years old and have a minimum of four years of experience as a journeyman, foreman, supervising employee, contractor or owner-builder.

A qualified individual with firsthand knowledge of your capabilities — such as an employer, foreman, supervisor, union representative, engineer or building inspector — must verify your work experience.

You may be able to count up to three years of technical training, apprenticeship training or education toward the four-year work experience requirement.

How long does it take to get your contractor license in California?

There is no set time frame for contractor licensing, but applicants can expect to wait several months for the CSLB to process their application. After completing the review process, the CSLB will send you a “Notice to Appear for Examination.” The CSLB website features a tool to check your application status while waiting for that notice to arrive.

Requirements for California contractor license renewals

You must renew your California contractor license every two years. The CSLB will send a notice about two months before your license expiration date with renewal instructions. You must pay a $450 renewal fee at this time.

California contractor license reciprocity

The CSLB has reciprocity agreements with the following states:

  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • Utah

To qualify for reciprocity, you must have held an active license in good standing in one of these states for the past five years. If the CSLB determines that you qualify, they will waive the trade exam requirement. You must still pass the law and business exam and submit verification of your work experience.

Bond requirements for California contractor licenses

All California contractor license applicants must file a $15,000 bond with the CSLB. You must obtain your bond from a surety company licensed by the California Department of Insurance.

The bond must include:

  • Your business name
  • Your contractor license number
  • The signature of the attorney-in-fact for the surety company

You must use a bond form approved by the Attorney General’s office and ensure that it arrives at the CSLB within 90 days of the bond’s effective date.

What kind of insurance does a handyman need in California?

If you obtain a California contractor license, you’ll need to get the right general contractor insurance to protect your business. 

If you don’t need a license because you’re only performing smaller jobs, you should have handyman insurance

The recommended types of small business insurance for a handyman include:

Workers’ Compensation insurance

If you have any employees, you’ll need workers’ compensation insurance. In the event of an on-the-job injury, this insurance assists with lost wages, medical costs and more.

General Liability insurance

You’ll need general liability insurance to cover third-party bodily injury and accidental property damage. Most clients will ask for proof of this insurance. 

Tools and Equipment insurance

If damages or theft affect your work gear, tools and equipment insurance can provide repair and replacement coverage.

Commercial Auto insurance

Since handymen typically drive to different job sites, consider getting commercial auto insurance to cover accident-related costs, like towing, repairs and rental reimbursement. 

Commercial Property insurance

Commercial property insurance provides coverage for damage or vandalism to a property that you own or rent as well as your work inventory and equipment.

What is the certificate of insurance requirement in California for handymen?

If you have any employees, you must submit a certificate of insurance (COI) for your workers’ compensation coverage in order to receive your contractor license. You must list the CSLB as the certificate holder.

The requirement does not apply If you’re a licensed contractor who does not have employees. In this case, however, you must still submit a Workers’ Compensation Insurance Exemption form to the CSLB. 

How NEXT Insurance supports California handypeople

NEXT Insurance helps you get the right handyman insurance or general contractor insurance at an affordable price. We design custom packages to satisfy licensing requirements and protect your business.

You can apply for coverage and get a certificate of insurance in just minutes by using our online service. This gives you access to your account from any computer or mobile device and makes it easy to share additional COIs as needed at no extra cost.

We only sell small business insurance, specializing in coverage for contractors like you. Whether you do small jobs as a handyman or do larger jobs as a licensed contractor, we make sure you have the right insurance to meet your unique needs.

Get an instant quote online today.

Do you have projects in another U.S. state? Learn what states require handyman licenses in our summary of handyman license requirements.


1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

2 Department of Consumer Affairs’ Contractors State License Board

California handyman license and insurance requirements


About the author
Ashley Henshaw is a contributing writer at NEXT Insurance and a writer and editor at BrainBoost Media. She specializes in small business topics, covering everything from insurance and branding to web hosting and cryptocurrency. Her work is focused on helping independent business owners and entrepreneurs access the tools they need to succeed.
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