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How Much Does A Private Investigator Cost To Follow Someone?
Published by HireAPrivateEye in Private Investigations · Friday 10 Dec 2021

How Much Does A Private Investigator Costs To Follow Someone

If you’re thinking about hiring a private investigator to follow someone, you might be surprised to find that there isn’t an industry-wide standard price. Depending on whom you hire and what you need to have done, your costs can vary greatly.

In this post we’ll cover the costs you can expect to pay when hiring a private investigator to follow someone and what you get for your money. If you want the quick answer: between $50-$150 per hour, per agent, plus expenses.


  1. Private Investigator's Surveillance Costs and Expenses
    1. Expenses Private Investigators Charge for Following People
  2. Why a Private Investigator Can Be Expensive While Following Someone
    1. Situations That Will Increase Surveillance Costs When Following Someone
  3. What You Get For Paying A Private Investigator To Follow Someone
    1. How To Keep Surveillance Costs to a Minimum
  4. Conclusion

Private Investigator's Surveillance Costs and Expenses

Following people by an investigator comes under the service heading of "private investigator surveillance" and there are usually two ways that private investigators charge for following someone: hourly rates and retainers. This is also accompanied by incidental expenses unique to the case. Here’s how they work:

Hourly Rates: Hourly rates for following someone change greatly, depending on location and investigator, but they usually fall between $50-$150 per hour, per agent, (or equivalent in other countries). See hourly rates by US State.

Some investigators will reduce their price per hour (on a sliding scale) if you hire them for a large number of hours, since investigations involving surveillance (following people) can take a decent amount of time. If you do hire a private investigator, ask if they offer this sort of reduced rate.

Retainers: A retainer is really just a down payment for an investigator’s work and can vary from $1,000 to as high as $5,000 based on your needs and the investigator’s payment policy.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Keep in mind that some private investigators will charge against your retainer and refund anything that they don’t use. Other investigators will charge you a retainer and keep the full amount whether or not they use all of it.

Expenses Private Investigators Charge for Following People

Investigators will also incur expenses while they’re following your subject or person of interest. Some of the most common expenses are:

  • Drive Time/Mileage: How long and how many miles it takes for an investigator to follow someone.
  • Tolls: Any tolls that your investigator must pay during the surveillance investigation.
  • Airline Fare: If your investigator has to fly anywhere to continue the follow, you should expect to pay the bill for the plane tickets.
  • Hotel Fees: If your case requires an investigator to spend the night in a hotel, you should expect to cover their room bill.
  • Court Appearances: If your investigator is required testify, they usually will charge for their time in court.
  • Administrative Costs: Not all investigators charge for admin, as it may already be built in to the overall cost of the investigation, but some will bill you for things like written reports, video evidence production, mailing evidence, etc.

These expenses will be billed to you unless you've agreed differently before the investigation begins.

Why a Private Investigator Can Be Expensive While Following Someone

Certain legal restrictions placed on private investigators can push your costs up. You can expect your investigator to do everything they can to find the evidence you’ve paid for, but there are certain places - such as inside a private residence - a private investigator generally cannot go.

For example, you might pay an investigator to follow your spouse to find out if he or she is cheating on you, or to keep an eye on your ex-spouse when they have custody of your children. Your investigator will be able to follow him, or her, anywhere in public; however, if they go into someone’s home, your investigator will have to wait outside until they are on the move again. This can create added time during the surveillance when nothing is happening - pushing your costs up.

Of course, all is not lost if this happens. Private investigators are professionals with plenty of alternative courses of action. For instance, whilst surveilling the property, they might conduct research on the home to determine who owns the property, and give you further information that might help you understand what your spouse may have been doing at this address.

In the case of child custody and cohabitation, determining the rightful owner of the home and the relationship between them and your ex-spouse can lead to modifications in custody and alimony agreements.

Private residences and other private dwellings are usually off limits; but bars, restaurants, and clubs, etc. are private establishments open to the general public for trade, and of which investigators can generally enter to conduct surveillance.

A private investigator may also use a covert GPS vehicle tracker to follow someone for you, but this depends on the local laws governing the use of such types of tracking devices.

Situations That Will Increase Surveillance Costs When Following Someone

  • A lawyer requires a specific amount of time for the private investigator to follow or surveil someone in order to prove his case in court. More time = more money.
  • The subject being followed is "surveillance aware", so a large team of private investigators will be required to watch and follow this person. More investigators = more money.
  • The person of interest isn't actually doing anything wrong but the person who has hired the investigator to follow them insists they are, against the advice of the investigator. This can unnecessarily increase costs.
  • The subject being followed travels out of state or out of country for days on end. This will either require the private investigator(s) to continue following or to hire another investigator to pick-up the follow at the destination.
  • Hiring untrained private investigators can potentially push the price up by reason of wasting money by hiring cheap. This can lead to the person spotting the private investigator following them and so blow the whole case.

What You Get For Paying A Private Investigator To Follow Someone

What is your return on investment for paying a private investigator to watch someone? After you’ve hired your investigator, you might be wondering what kind of evidence you might receive. The easiest way to put it is like this - they won’t know until they look.

Every investigation is different, and people are unpredictable. Your investigator may bring evidence that confirms your suspicions, but you might also find out that the person you’re having followed went to the gym and came home. You should go into an investigation with an open mind and be ready for whatever the investigator finds.

How To Keep Surveillance Costs to a Minimum

There are a few things you can do to maximize your chances of receiving the best and most cost-effective investigation service possible when it comes to following someone by means of surveillance. These are:

  • Purchase more time than you think you will need: More often than not you will need more time. For example, 10 hours into an investigation might get you proof that your spouse had lunch with a co-worker. That alone might not prove cheating. But showing that your spouse is meeting with their co-worker multiple times over a few weeks and being intimate with each other, might be enough to prove infidelity in court.

  • Listen to your investigator: For most people this will be their first time in hiring an investigator. This is almost always an emotional decision. Remember that your investigator does this for a living. They will always know the best ways to get the evidence you’re looking for.

  • Knowledge is power: The more information you give to your investigator, the better the chances they have of moving your case along.

  • Pay attention: When you’ve hired an investigator to follow someone, it’s usually because you’ve noticed a change in their behavior – whether it’s a cheating spouse or a business partner doing business deals behind your back. These changes can help point your investigator to the best times to catch them. For example; if your spouse normally comes straight home after work but now, they come home 3 hours late, then you should let your investigator know.


Hopefully this post has given you a clear breakdown of what to expect to pay and why; when you hire a private investigator to follow someone. When hiring an investigator, you should make sure to go over these details before you agree to start a case. Across the industry, practices can vary greatly, so don't assume that pricing and policy will be the same.

You can find out more detailed information here about how much it costs to hire a private investigator.


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