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A-to-Z Guide to Getting Your Real Estate Agent License in California: All Requirements for Taking the Exam

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This article shares the path to achieving your goal of getting into the California real estate market as a licensed agent or broker.

We cover it all in an easy-to-follow manner, from requirements you must meet to cost and time commitments, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

So, how do you get a real estate license in California? Continue reading to learn the ins and outs of the process.

How to Get a Real Estate License in California

California Real Estate License Requirements for Salespeople

Before covering how to get a real estate agent license in California, let’s look at the qualifying criteria.

  • For one, you must be honest. A criminal conviction may disqualify you. Failing to disclose it can do the same.
  • Second, how old do you have to be to get a real estate license in California? You must be 18 or older.

If you’re eligible, you then complete pre-licensing education, the exam, and a criminal background check.

The state-required education is three 45-hour college-level courses. Two are mandatory. And you can choose one elective from an approved course list.

You get a pass on courses if you’re a member of the California State Bar. You’ll need to furnish evidence of admission to practice law in the state.

Once you’ve met the education requirement, you can apply for the exam. You have two options:

  • Apply for the exam only and file for your license later.
  • Submit a combo application for the exam and a real estate salesman license.

After your application is processed, you’ll get an Examination Schedule Notice or approval to self-schedule if you picked that option on your application.

To schedule your exam, check for available dates and use the eLicensing system to make an appointment.

To pass the exam, you must answer 70% of the questions correctly. There are 150 multiple-choice questions.

What are the requirements for a real estate license in California when it comes to the background check? You must undergo a fingerprint-based criminal records search.

Two other important items to know:

– You must work under a supervising broker to practice real estate in California.    Reference our article on choosing the right brokerage for expert tips.

Then, pick one from our directory of the top real estate brokerages in California.

– The state combines residential and commercial licenses. So, the same requirements also apply to how to get a commercial real estate license in California.


California Real Estate License Requirements for Brokers

For real estate agents in California or for those otherwise working in a real-estate-related capacity, this section tells you how to get a real estate broker’s license in California.

First, you must meet general requirements. You have to be 18+. And honesty is a must.

A certain level of experience is also required to obtain a real estate broker’s license. You have three ways to qualify:

  • Two years of full-time agent experience within the previous five years
  • Two years of full-time equivalent non-licensed experience
  • A four-year degree with a major or minor in real estate

With those requirements met, there are five steps to getting a real estate license at the broker level:

1. Complete pre-licensing education.

Unless you’re a member of the State Bar of California, you’ll need to complete eight college-level courses (360 hours). Five are mandatory. Three are approved electives.


2. Submit your application.

You can apply for the exam only. Or, submit the combo exam/license application.

It’s faster to get your license if you do the latter. However, you’ll have to pay the non-refundable license fee upfront.


3. Pass the exam.

When you apply, you can choose to have the exam scheduled for you. Or, you can self-schedule. If so, you’ll get an approval notice and can pick an exam date.

You must answer at least 75% of the 200 multiple-choice questions correctly to pass the exam. You have four hours for the test.


4. Get fingerprinted.

Your prints will already be on file if you’re a California agent. Original applicants must submit fingerprints via the state’s Live Scan Program.

California’s Department of Justice and the FBI will use your prints for a background check.


5. Get your license.

If you did a combo application, your license is issued after you pass the exam. Otherwise, you must apply for your license and wait for approval.


Reciprocal States

What Is Real Estate License Reciprocity?

If you have a license, sometimes you can bypass part of the licensing requirements in another state. This process is known as reciprocity.

California is one of the U.S. states that does not have reciprocal agreements with any other states. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start over.

Your pre-licensing education may count, depending on where you completed it. The rule is that you must have taken courses the Department of Real Estate considers equivalent.

You’ll find specifics on how to get your real estate license in CA as an out-of-state applicant on the Department’s website.


What US States Have Reciprocity with California Real Estate License?

California does not have real estate license reciprocity agreements with any states.

However, licensing is subject to change. So, check the website for updates when you’re ready to get your California real estate license. Reciprocal states will be listed if agreements apply.


How to Study for a Real Estate License Exam in California?

Survey of Experts

How difficult was it for you to study and pass the California real estate license exam?

How many attempts did it take you to pass your real estate license exam?

Pre-Licensing Classroom Courses

Real estate courses in California are taught via live lectures and instructor-led livestream classes. If you learn better in that structure, this may be the best way to get your real estate license.

Classroom courses also offer opportunities for collaborative learning and intellectual stimulation. All of this can help you retain the information better.

Providers have day, evening, and weekend classes. So, you can fit them into your schedule.

However, the cost tends to be higher than you’d pay online, especially if you take courses at a college.


Pre-Licensing Online Courses

You can complete pre-licensing courses online. And you’ll find plenty of budget-friendly options on the list of approved schools.

Most providers offer package deals. Broker packages have 2-8 courses. So, you can combine them to best fit your study plan.

Some packages include exam prep. You can also enroll in individual prep/review courses. These help you refresh what you’ve learned and practice taking the exam.

Taking online courses can make school-life balance easier. You can study when your mind is most engaged. And you won’t have to commute to class.

However, you’ll have less in-person interaction. You’re on your own to establish a routine.

Know which method suits your learning style by reading our article comparing real estate classes online vs. traditional classroom courses.


Survey of Experts

Did you take your pre-licensing real estate course online or in person?

Do you think taking a real estate pre-licensing course online can save students time compared to in-person courses?

What is the name of the school where you completed your pre-licensing course?

Expert Insight

Do you see any advantages of taking an online course over the in-person class?

It’s much easier to work at your own pace with an online class. However, some may find it a distraction and prefer learning directly from an instructor.

Lauren Shepherd, Shepherd Realty Group, Partner/Associate Broker

Every individual has their own style of learning. The advantage I see is the online courses can be taken in the evening or on weekends, and it can fit into a busy schedule.

Ryan Nunnally, Keller Williams Bay Area Estates, Salesperson

I enjoyed the online classes at my own pace and didn’t have to be anywhere. However, I didn’t have a choice to take in-person because of COVID.

Bianca Kofman, Keller Williams San Francisco, REALTOR/Assistant Team Leader

With online classes, you can work on your own time. If you want to stay up all night going through a particular section, you can do it. You do not have to wait for the next class session.

Claire Herczeg, Keller Williams Napa Valley, REALTOR

You can go back over stuff in an online class without making the rest of the class wait for you.

Valerie Crowell, Keller Williams, Broker Associate


What tips would you give future agents to help them pass the California real estate exam?

I think that the best thing a student can do when studying to pass the real estate exam is review each topic’s headline and subheadings.

They should make sure they have a strong understanding of each major topic.

The content provided by real estate schools is usually organized really well to help you see what you need to know for the exam.

Marc Anthony, Coldwell Banker Realty, Single-Family Estate Expert

Pay attention and actually learn the material, not just memorize things. You will be asked questions in ways that will trick you.

If you actually know the material, you will be fine. Just make sure to take a pre-licensing course. I can’t stress that enough.

Aember Childress, Keller Williams Beverly Hills, REALTOR

Take as many practice exams as you can. The more you take, the more you start recognizing the areas of focus for the exam, so then you can spend your time on those areas.

— Claire Herczeg, Keller Williams Napa Valley, REALTOR

Study and continue to take practice tests. Also, try to learn the answers to those questions you get wrong on the tests.

Madeline Karam, Keller Williams, Real Estate Agent

Take a crash course! They are so helpful in preparing and understanding how and what to study.

— Bianca Kofman, Keller Williams San Francisco, REALTOR/Assistant Team Leader

Where to Take the Real Estate Exam in California

The Department of Real Estate administers the licensing exam and gives the test at its examination centers located in the following cities:

  • Fresno
  • Los Angeles area
  • Oakland
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego

Make sure you’ve read our guide discussing how to study for the real estate exam in California to be fully prepared for the test.

We also have tips on how to pass the real estate exam the first time from one of our experts, Kristina Morales.


How to File for Your License After the Exam in California

If you submit a combo application (exam and license), no additional paperwork is needed once you pass the exam. Your application is already approved. So, your license is issued immediately.

If you completed an application for the exam only, you then have to apply for your license. You can download the application from the eLicensing System.

If you have not been fingerprinted, you’ll need to get that done. The Department of Real Estate will not issue a license until a criminal background report is received.


How to Receive Your Real Estate License in California

Once your application is approved, you need to know where to get your real estate license. In California, you access your certificate online and print it.

The next step is getting to work. Read our guide to learn all about what to do after you get your real estate license.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get a California real estate license when studying in the class?

How often and long your classes meet impact when you finish. And courses don’t always dovetail. So, don’t be surprised at a 12-15 week timeframe for agent courses.

If you take broker or salesperson courses at a college, it can take longer with semester or quarterly schedules. That adds up if you take one course at a time.

The average processing time for an exam application is 2-4 weeks. Double that for a combo application. You can check current processing times online.

Allow at least a week for an exam date. And remember to add travel time.


Survey of Experts

How long did it take you to get your real estate license? From the time you signed up for school till your license was issued.

Expert Insight

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently to get your license faster?

Be prepared for the process that follows after you finish taking the prerequisite classes required to take the state’s exam.

You’ll need to correctly complete the licensee application and mail it back to the state before you can schedule your exam. Don’t delay the process; get started right away.

— Marc Anthony, Coldwell Banker Realty, Single-Family Estate Expert

I could have taken the exam at about the six-month mark, but I could not get an appointment to take the exam for another three months.

There was a backup due to COVID. It was unusual circumstances, but I would recommend expediting the completion of the coursework — try to finish a class in a month if possible.

— Claire Herczeg, Keller Williams Napa Valley, REALTOR

I would have submitted my paperwork immediately once I completed the course, as it took a long time to schedule the exam.

— Madeline Karam, Keller Williams, Real Estate Agent

Talk to other agents about their experience and what worked for them.

Anthony Van Gilder, Keller Williams Realty, Licensed Salesperson

How long does it take to get a California real estate license online?

Many would say the answer to “What is the fastest way to get a real estate license in California?” is studying online. You can finish coursework more quickly than on a set schedule.

However, you must spend the minimum completion time of 18 days on each course. For salesperson applicants, that’s about 7.5 weeks to finish all classes.

Factor in the following in addition to that:

  • About 2-4 weeks application processing time (exam only)
  • Approximately 4-8 weeks for a combo application
  • At least one week wait time for an exam appointment
  • A day-plus for the exam (with travel time)

Read our guide on how long it takes to get your real estate in California for an estimated timeline of the licensing process in the state.


Is there a background check for a California real estate license?

Fingerprinting and a criminal background check are mandatory for getting a real estate license in California.

The state has a Live Scan Program that captures prints digitally and submits them to the California Department of Justice and the FBI for a database check.

You can be fingerprinted after applying for the exam or passing it. Keep in mind that the processing fee is non-refundable. So, you won’t get your money back if you fail the exam.

Our article on getting a California real estate license with violations on the record gives you all the information you need for the background check requirements.


How much does a California real estate license cost?

Direct costs for salesperson applicants include a $60 examination fee and a $245 license fee. Those getting a broker license must remit $95 for the exam and $300 for the license.

In addition, the fingerprint processing fee is around 50 bucks.

Expect to invest at least $120 for online salesperson courses and $400+ for classroom instruction. Broker applicants taking eight courses typically pay $300 or more.


Survey of Experts

In your opinion, was the cost of getting your real estate license reasonable?

Approximately how much did it cost you to get your real estate license? Including school fees, study materials, and other related expenses.

Expert Insight

What were your ‘surprise costs’?

I knew about most of the costs in advance: classes, crash course, license application, and exam test fee.

I did not realize I’d have to get fingerprinted. So that plus shipping costs for paperwork, you can say was a surprise but was not too expensive.

— Bianca Kofman, Keller Williams San Francisco, REALTOR/Assistant Team Leader

The cost of the course and the cost of the test.

— Madeline Karam, Keller Williams, Real Estate Agent


What costs could have been avoided and how?

I don’t think the test prep is necessary if you study the material.

— Valerie Crowell, Keller Williams, Broker Associate

How long do you have to wait to retake the real estate exam in California?

You can schedule a retest only after you receive notification that you failed the exam. You can send in your Exam Result Notice or use the eLicensing online system to apply for a retake.


How many times can you retake the California real estate exam?

As long as your retakes fall within your two-year eligibility window, you get as many re-attempts as needed if you fail the exam.


Do you have to pay to retake the real estate exam in California?

Yes, retakes come with a fee.


How much does it cost to retake the real estate exam in California?

The retake fee is $60 for salesperson applicants and $95 for broker candidates.


Can you get a real estate license with a felony in California?

Not every felony will keep you from obtaining a real estate license. Those that do are substantially related to the duties of being an agent or broker.

The Department of Real Estate determines that relevance. They use criteria established for this purpose. And they consider factors like the nature of the crime and evidence of rehabilitation.

It logically follows that offenses that evidence dishonesty or other unprincipled behavior are among those that may result in your license being denied.

Note that your application can’t be rejected only based on arrests or charges. And you’re entitled to a hearing to contest a denial you believe is unfair.


Survey of Experts

Is it more challenging to get a real estate license with violations on one’s record?

Do you know any people who got a real estate license with violations on their record?


Can you get a real estate license with a misdemeanor in California?

You can, depending on the offense. The Department of Real Estate will evaluate your application individually and determine your eligibility.

What can get you a rejection letter is a criminal history that may impact your performance in the job. Fraud, forgery, and sex offender crimes are examples.

The evaluation criteria the Department uses are available online for your review. You’ll also find information on your right to an administrative hearing if the decision goes against you.


Will a DUI prevent you from getting a real estate license in California?

With a single offense, you may still be able to get a real estate license if you have a DUI. However, multiple convictions can pose a problem.

The Department of Real Estate’s criteria for determining whether to deny a license specifically references convictions involving alcohol and driving.

That makes DUI an offense that can lead to a denied license. If that happens, a hearing where you present evidence on your behalf is an avenue for appeal.


Can I get a real estate license without a high school diploma in California?

California doesn’t require high school graduation to apply for a real estate license.


As a newly minted licensee, you’re ready to start an exciting chapter in your career. Do check out our other resources to get you on the right track:

To help you build and grow your real estate career quickly, we at Real Estate Bees created a directory for real estate professionals.

It’s designed to help you get more exposure for your business, including receiving leads. Create a free profile by signing up here.


If you want to contribute your expert advice on a topic of your expertise, feel free to apply to our Expert Contributor Program.

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