Become a Licensed NYC Tour Guide!
Similar to several other cities around the U.S., New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs requires a business license to “guide or direct people to any place or point of public interest or to describe, explain, or lecture about any place or point of public interest to any person in connection with any sightseeing trip or tour within the city.”
What does this mean, practically? Basically, you’re required by the city to take an exam in person at 42 Broadway, down by the Wall Street Bull and Bowling Green Park, and pay $50 for the exam fee + a license fee that varies depending on when you apply.
Getting the documents and paying the fees
You can pay the fees when you arrive at the testing site. Make sure you have all the required documents as listed here:
DCA Sightseeing Guide License Checklist
A few pointers:
- You can fill out the application in advance online (follow the link above) or do it in-person. It’s not a big deal to do it in person.
- Have a photo ID ready, and a credit card or some way to pay the fees.
- There is an additional license fee, separate from the exam fee. The license cost depends on when you’re taking the exam, since the fee is prorated for all licenses to expire at the same time. Visit the page linked above for the fee schedule.
- Go early! The testing center opens at 9am, Monday-Friday, and fills up quickly since it’s the same center for everyone needing business licenses. The room with the testing computers is fairly small and fills up.
Help studying for and passing the exam
The test is only taken in person, on a computer, at the city’s testing center on 42 Broadway. It’s multiple choice.
Once you pay the $50, you have two attempts to pass the test within 10 days. That means should you fail it the first time, you can go back and pass it again without having to pay any more money. However, if you fail it twice, you have to pay the $50 again.
There are a few ways to study for the test:
- The hardest way: The DCA gives you its own list of materials to study for the test. You can read it here. Doing this requires you to read a lot, but will give you a greater depth of knowledge.
- An easier way: Below are two online links to flashcards that can help you study for the exam. Learning these questions and answers will largely cover what you need to know to pass the test. Flashcard Set #1 (Quizlet) and Flashcard Set #2 (Cram) The flashcard sets aren’t perfect, but they’ll get you there.
- The easiest way: Buy our book! Author Bob Brennan has spent years of his life preparing guides for the test, and has written a guide to studying, complete with questions, historical information, and lots of other help. We also offer in-person tour director and guide trainings in NYC!
Some things to remember when preparing for the exam:
- You need a score of 97 out of 150 questions. That means you basically need to know 2 out of every 3 questions. That’s easier than you think.
- The test is on a computer, and multiple choice. Often you can count on the answer choices helping you out.
- The questions are mainly historical, but a good percentage focus on subway routes, NYC through streets, and tour bus driving restrictions. Study your subway map in addition to the question sets, and remember that in general, tour buses need to avoid the Hudson Parkway and most of Park Avenue. That simple tip will help you narrow down your choices.
- The questions are accompanied by long paragraphs of historical detail. Skip to the end of these to focus on the actual question; reading everything will make the test taking experience very fatiguing!
- Don’t sweat it! Honestly, you’ll pass if you just do your homework and don’t freak out. Even if it’s been a long time since you’ve taken a test, take some deep breaths and go for it. Skip the questions you don’t know, and get through the whole test answering what you’re certain of. Then return to the others, until you’re fairly sure you’ve answered at least 2 out of 3 questions correctly!
- Don’t forget to study the NYC subway map and transit restrictions on motorcoaches. This is actually useful information that you’ll use in your career as a guide. Questions pertaining to bus restrictions require you to think about routes through the city; the key hint is to simply rule out some answers because you see a restricted road, like Park Avenue or the Hudson Parkway.