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Starting your own business is incredibly exciting. Finally, you get to do what you love, be your own boss, and create your own schedule. But you’ll soon find that some aspects of starting a business aren’t exactly thrilling.
One of those dull-but-crucial steps? Looking into your state’s rules and regulations, and making sure you’ve secured the business license necessary to be compliant to these regulations.
To operate your business legally, you’ll need the proper licenses or permits from the appropriate agencies. You’ll also need to periodically renew your business license, usually every one to three years, depending on your state.
Business licenses and permits are intended to keep consumers safe and operations transparent. The U.S. Small Business Administration regulations include that virtually every small business needs some sort of license or permit from state officials, but requirements and fees vary based on the type of business, where it’s located, and which government regulations apply. And if your business is involved in activities supervised and regulated by a federal agency, then you’ll need to obtain a federal license or permit, as well.
Getting a business license won’t be a thrilling process, but it will be an important one, so we’ve compiled this small business license guide. We’ll discuss types of business licenses, business license costs, and finally, explain how to get a business license, depending on the state in which you do business.
Before we break down our state-by-state resources for getting a business license, let’s go over some basics. First, what is a business license? The reason it can be so difficult to determine how to obtain a business license is because the term “business license” is wide-ranging and can refer to many different types of licenses and permits. In essence, however, a business license is a document issued by a government agency that grants you permission to operate your business in the geographic region that that agency governs.
Therefore, the term business license may refer to something like a local business operating license, which allows you to conduct business within your town, or it could also refer to a seller’s license, which gives you permission to sell a particular product in your area.
As we mentioned, the specific type of small business license you need will ultimately depend on your industry and business location—meaning that you may need to obtain separate business licenses on the state, city, and county levels. Additionally, if a board, commission, or association regulates your industry, you may be required to present a certification from those bodies before receiving business licensing in a state or county. You’ll need to be sure to check if your local government has specific license policies related to your business.
On top of that list, you’ll need to get a federal license if a federal agency regulates your business activities. If you run a business in one of the following industries, the SBA says you’ll need to apply for a federal business license or permit:
Just as the specific licenses you’ll need varies by industry and state, your business license cost will also vary based on these factors. Generally, however, you can expect to pay a processing or filing fee for your license, as well as the cost of the license itself. Licenses may cost anywhere from $50 to hundreds of dollars depending, again, on your business and location. Additionally, if the license you need has an expiration date, you’ll have to pay any associated costs to renew when your license expires.
As an example, to apply for business licensing in Alaska, it will cost $50 for your one- or two-year license, and once that license expires, you’ll have to pay the same $50 fee to renew. On the other hand, if you’re getting a business license to start a child care center in New Jersey, you’ll need to pay a three-year licensing fee that ranges from $110 to $250 depending on the size of your center—after your license expires, you’ll need to pay the same original fee to renew.
Therefore, because of the variable nature of business license costs and licensing requirements overall, the SBA advises that you check with the appropriate issuing agency to know exactly what you’ll need to do and pay to obtain your license.
The exact process for getting a business license is specific to your state, but there are a few general steps you can expect to follow to obtain a business license:
Now that we’ve gone through the basic process, we’ve taken the next step to help you determine how to obtain a business license—we’ve combed through all of the state-by-state resources out there. With our comprehensive guide, therefore, you’ll be able to easily access the resources you need to determine how to get a business license in your state. As you’ll see, each state is indeed unique—some states only have local licensing requirements, whereas others have industry and statewide requirements as well.
If your business is based out of Alabama, check out AtlasAlabama, a statewide website established to help start and expand small businesses in the state. You can find information here about which businesses need occupational licenses, how to obtain a business tax number, and many other useful resources.
Alaskan small business owners should consult the Alaska Department of Commerce, which offers a clear breakdown of what you need to license your business. If you’re wondering, “Do I need a business license?” you should also check their list for businesses that don’t require a license. You can easily file for a new license, or to a renew license, online.
Pretty much everything you need to know about how to get a business license in Arizona can be found on the Arizona Department of Revenue’s website. This website is designed to help Arizona businesses comply with the state’s basic tax and licensing requirements. Check out this agency’s licensing guide, which shows you where to go to find a state transaction privilege tax, regulatory, professional, and special licensing or permits, and local business and occupational licenses or permits.
Use the Arkansas.gov Owning a Business website for a comprehensive guide on all things related to starting and legally running a business in the state, including getting a license. The site also includes resources on registering a new business, how to apply for an employer identification number, filing for workers’ compensation insurance, and more.
If you need to know how to get a business license in California, use CalGold as your go-to resource on how to get a business license and permit. Simply select your city or county, enter your business type, and follow the instructions from there.
The Colorado Business Express is the Centennial State’s online portal small business owners should use to apply for a business license either online or manually.
Small business owners in Connecticut should consult the state’s New Business Checklist for a step-by-step guide on the appropriate way to start up and register their businesses. Skip ahead to Step 5 if you just need to know whether your business needs special licenses and permits, and where to get a license in the state.
To register or renew a Delaware business license, go to the state’s One Stop Business Registration & Licensing website. Through this online portal, a questionnaire will lead you to the appropriate forms to obtain the licensing you need.
All businesses in Washington, District of Columbia (DC) are required to have a license. Use the wizard tools on the D.C. Business Center online guide to determine exactly which license you need to start your business. Read their Basic Business License guide to find out how to apply for a business license online, in person, or through the mail.
You can get information on how to get a business license in Florida on the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation website, which features a dedicated online small business license portal. Simply click on your business type from the available list and follow the instructions from there.
Many businesses in Georgia can now apply for business licenses online, so check the state’s online licensure applications list to find out whether your business makes the cut. Then, you can submit an application for a new license in Georgia through the online portal. Take a look at Georgia’s business licenses webpage for a simple overview of your business’s licensing needs.
Hawaii’s Business Express portal automates the process of registering your business online. All you need is your eHawaii.gov account information, then follow the Wizard questions to figure out which licenses and permits you need, as well as how to apply for any business licensing that you end up needing.
Take a look at Idaho.gov’s licensing, permitting, and regulations webpage to search for regulation information and apply for licenses online. Note that Idaho doesn’t have a state license (all business licenses are issued locally), so only the businesses that need special licensing can apply through the online portal. You can also search Idaho.gov’s online services by your business type for any related information on how to get a business license through your local institutions.
If you’re just about to start your new business in Illinois, take a look at the Illinois Department of Commerce’s First Stop Business Info Center to access resources for writing a business plan, setting up your legal structure, registering your business, and more. Then, find out how to get a license through their registration, license, and permit applications resources.
Indiana doesn’t have a single, comprehensive business license, but every business that operates in Indiana will need to fulfill regulatory requirements, potentially at several state levels. Seems complicated, but the state’s Business Owner Guide is a great online business licensing resource to sort out the information you need, according to your industry.
Iowa doesn’t require general business licensing. Rather, licensing requirements are based on the nature of your business or profession. You can search the Iowa Business License Information Center database to determine which licenses your specific business needs. You can also visit the Iowa Business Information Center’s regulatory subsection for a short list of general licensing tips.
To register a business in Kansas, use this guide to decide how you’d like to legally structure your business. Then you can visit the Kansas Business Center’s Operating Your Business subsection for information on how to obtain a license in your state.
Kentucky doesn’t have a single, statewide license for all businesses, but certain businesses will need special permits or licenses. Check out the Kentucky One Stop Business Portal for information on starting and running your business, and head to their page on the occupational licenses and permits that apply to your business. You need to create an account on the site first to apply for a business license and take advantage of the site’s online license resources.
Visit Louisiana’s Business Services page to start the process of obtaining your required licenses for the state. You’ll need to create a GeauxBiz account to access their start-up services, which includes a business license checklist.
All business licenses in Maine are operated the town or city level, so you’ll need to contact your local town office directly to find out what your business needs. Visit the Maine.gov Local Government portal for the contact information you’ll need.
The Maryland Department of Commerce has compiled an online database so that you can perform a statewide and county level Maryland business license search and determine what license you might need to operate your business. You can also consult the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation’s directory of services to contact the licensing agent that applies to your industry.
Take a look at Massachusetts state’s Starting a New Business guide for advice, resources, and information about legal requirements you need to get your business off the ground. Jump to their Business Licenses and Permits page to find out if your business or profession needs special business licensing or permits to legally operate in the state.
Not every business in Michigan is required to be licensed by the state. Business licenses are required for certain vocations or occupations that may be conducted within a business, and local governments may also require business licenses. Find out if your new venture could require a state license or permit through the online business licensing search. Also, check out the state’s guidebook and step-by-step outline for how to start a business in Michigan.
Some types of businesses may operate in Minnesota without any special licenses, but others require certain licensing and permits. You can use the Minnesota online business license tool to search for required licenses by topic, agency, or index.
Mississippi doesn’t license all businesses at a state level. Depending on your business activities, though, you might need state and local permits to legally run your business. Take a look at the Mississippi Small Business Development Center’s FAQs for a list of common small business license questions in the state, including licensing concerns. They recommend consulting the SBA business license and search tool, and also checking with your town or city clerk to stay up to date on local license requirements. Also, be sure to check out the state’s Business One Stop Shop for more startup resources.
The Missouri Business Portal lets you register your business with the Secretary of State and Department of Revenue simultaneously. This resource also provides a list of occupations that require licensing. They suggest you contact your county or city government to learn more about local licensing requirements.
The state of Montana provides professional licensing, and licenses for industries that specifically require state regulations. All other business licensing in Montana is handled at a local level. Check out this list of Montana state licenses by industry. For more information, consult Montana’s Small Business Development Center Network business licensing page.
The Nebraska Licensing Division oversees collection agencies, debt management agencies, credit services organizations, private detectives, truth and deception examiners, athlete agents, and nonrecourse civil litigation funding companies. If your business encompasses any of these activities, follow the links on their website to get your required business licensing. Whether or not your business is any of the above, check with your local government to see if you’ll need additional licenses.
If you’re a small business owner in Nevada, check out the SilverFlume Business Portal. This statewide business portal has a step-by-step online guide to starting your business in Nevada and how to secure the appropriate business licensing in the state.
You’ll need to contact your local city or town clerk’s office to find out about local requirements to run a business in New Hampshire. For information on how to get a business license or permit, visit the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration licensing FAQs webpage.
The New Jersey Business Action Center is the online NJ business license resource that makes it easy for you to find the licenses and permits you need. You can also browse through the New Jersey License and Certification Guide, which alphabetically lists all businesses and occupations that require permits, certifications, or licensing, plus the government agency you’ll need to contact to obtain that requirement.
Business licensing requirements in New Mexico vary according to your county or municipality, so it’s best to contact your local city or town clerk’s office directly. If your business requires a special license or permit from the state, you can apply for a business license online. Take a look at the New Mexico Economic Development business development page for more information on starting your business in this state.
Looking to answer the question: “Do I need a business license in New York?” Start with the Business Wizard to determine which New York State licenses are necessary to get your business up and running, and how to obtain a business license that you need.
The State of North Carolina doesn’t issue general business licenses, but your business might be subject to state, city, county, or federal requirements. You also may need a special license if your business requires occupational licenses. The state provides business counselors whom you can call if you’d like personalized advice on how to get a business license—just click the link above.
If you’re running a North Dakota-based small business, you can find information on the small business licenses you might need on the North Dakota New Business Registration’s licensing information webpage.
Step one in the Ohio Small Business Development Center’s guide to starting a business informs you of the legal structure variations involved in business licensing. All businesses are also required to register with the Ohio Secretary of State. Search the Ohio licenses and permits index to find the exact licenses you for your business.
Oklahoma doesn’t require general business licensing, but there are a few industries that need special licensing to operate in this state. Check out the Oklahoma Department of Commerce Business Licensing and Operating Requirements page for a list of the types of licenses you’ll need by industry, as well as other employer requirements (like workers’ compensation insurance).
Consult the Oregon Secretary of State’s webpage on starting a business in Oregon for a state-specific game plan on opening up shop. Skip to step six if you’re mostly interested in learning about the licenses, permits, or certifications you need in Oregon—it’ll direct you to Business Xpress License Directory, an online portal which lets you search for information on how to get a business license in the state.
The Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs in Pennsylvania offers an online business licenses portal called the Pennsylvania Licensing System (PALS), where you can easily apply for a business license, renew an existing license, and every other licensing action you may need to take to operate your business in Pennsylvania.
You can find forms for business licenses in Rhode Island through the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation webpage. Here, you can look up types of licenses according to industry, register for a new license online, or renew an existing license online. Even before that, though, take a look at the start or qualify to do business in Rhode Island page to make sure you’re following all the necessary steps to legally opening up a business in this state.
There’s no single South Carolina state license requirement, but almost every city and town requires their own types of business licenses. Go to the state’s official webpage on licenses, permits, and registration in South Carolina to find the link that’ll instruct you how to get a license, according to your business type and needs. You can also head over to South Carolina Business One Stop to access portals on starting, running, expanding, and doing business in the state. (You can find licensing information inside the “starting” portal.)
Take a look at the start your business in South Dakota web page, where you’ll find links to various guides and checklists encompassing all the information you need to know to operate your business. They also provide a PDF on licensing and registering your business in South Dakota, which lists licensing requirements for common departments. Certain departments may require additional licenses, however, so it’s best to inquire directly with your relevant agency.
According to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, if you’re subject to the Tennessee business tax, you’ll need to obtain a business license from your county clerk. And if you operate an in-state business that generates more than $3,000 in sales, you must obtain either a “minimal activity license” or a “standard business license” from your county or municipal clerk. There are a few caveats within those requirements, too, so be sure to carefully read the Tennessee business registration and licensing web page.
To determine how to get a business license in Texas, you can start with the Secretary of State’s website for guides and resources to starting a business in Texas. This site actually directs users to the SBA’s page on applying for licenses and permits in Texas. Alternatively, you can check out the official texas.gov website and hit the “Work” tab. That directs you right to a portal to apply for or renew a professional license, plus additional resources for starting and running a business in your state.
To get your business license in Utah, visit the Utah government requirements website, then scroll down to the Business Registration and Licensing Regulations section. For an overview, consult the Utah business licensing and registration guide. You’ll also find a list of cities (only those with 600 or more people) for which you’ll need to obtain a business license, in addition to the state’s general business license.
The Vermont Secretary of State webpage on starting a business in Vermont directs you to the SBA’s portal on applying for licenses and permits. As an alternative, they suggest visiting the Vermont professional regulations page, where you can consult a list of professions that require Vermont licenses and access the state’s online licensing portal.
To launch a business in Virginia, check out the starting a business in Virginia step-by-step guide. Step 4 shows you how to obtain a business license in Virginia, which begins with consulting an informational page on applying for a Virginia business license. Then, you can quickly apply for any relevant licenses, permits, or certificates online through Virginia’s Business One Stop portal.
You can consult the State of Washington online business licensing service to access several resources on searching and applying for a Washington state business license. You can also receive a customized licensing solution through the Washington business licensing wizard.
If you’re a West Virginia small business owner, your best bet is to visit the state’s online business portal to search for a WV business license according to category or word search. Then, you’ll be directed to the specific agencies that administer the licenses, permits, registrations, and other authorizations you’ll need to operate your business. (You’ll need to register for an account to access the portal.)
Visit the wisconsin.gov business portal to access pretty much every resource you’ll need to properly run and expand your business in this state. But for licensing concerns specifically, scroll down to the Licenses and Permits link under the page’s Government Resources section. From there, you’ll be directed to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection license list, which lists industries alphabetically and provides the phone number you can contact to apply for or renew your license.
The Wyoming business permitting and licensing online guide tells you everything you need to know about permit requirements. You can also contact the Wyoming Business Outreach Coordinator directly if you have more questions.
As you can see, every state does indeed have their own, extensive internal resources to help business owners start and legally operate their businesses.
But when you’re looking into licensing your business, you should always feel welcome to consult the SBA for assistance. Visit the SBA small business resources page and enter your zip code to find a detailed list of requirements you need to start a small business in your area. You can also search for statewide requirements through the SBA’s online portal.
Overall, no two states issue license requirements in exactly the same way: Some require an overall state small business license, some don’t, and most require town, city, or municipality licenses. So, after you complete an online search—whether that’s through the SBA or the resources we’ve listed for your state—contact your town clerk’s office directly.
That way, you’ll be absolutely certain that your business is armed with all the necessary licenses, permits, or certifications you need to operate legally. While you’re at it, you can check up on how long your necessary licenses last so you can plan to renew them accordingly.
The process of finding and securing your state’s small business licenses may be time-consuming, and it’s pretty likely to be one of the less interesting tasks you’ll undertake as you work to complete your starting a business checklist. However, securing the appropriate business licensing is also one of the most crucial tasks you’ll carry out as a small business owner: Without the proper licenses, your business may be vulnerable to fines and fees, lawsuits, or you may even be forced to shut down.
Therefore, you’ll want to put in the time and effort now, as tedious as it may be, to find and apply for the business licenses you need. When in doubt, reaching out directly to your local governing agency will be the quickest and easiest way to determine exactly what your business needs to operate legally. And once this important step is out of the way, you can continue to work on the more exciting aspects of business ownership.