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What Business Licenses Do I Need?

What Business Licenses Do I Need?

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What Business Licenses Do I Need?

Whether you are starting a retail store, service business or running a business out of your home, you may be wondering whether you need a business license.  In this article we will cover when a business needs licensing, common permits and registrations that a business may need and links for more detailed state information.

Common Business Licenses By State

What is a business license?

Broadly defined, a business license is formal approval from a governmental agency for a business to operate in a certain jurisdiction legally.  Some states require businesses to get a general state license, while other states may only require a license from the city.  While there are a few states that have a general license, it is more common for a business to need a city business license.

The problem with the term business license is that it is often used when describing the several other registrations a business may need, such as sales tax permits, resale certificates, and occupational permits.  It’s not uncommon for a business to need several licenses and permits to operate as depending on the type of business, federal, state, and local licensing may be necessary. There are several factors such as location, type of business, and what the business sells or does that go into whether a business needs licensing. 

Every state and city is going to have different requirements, but below are some common business registrations:

  • Occupancy Permits – Zoning approval is often required to operate your businesses out of a commercial business location. In some municipalities, businesses operating out of personal residences will need to register for a home occupation permit.
  • Occupational / Professional Licensing – While not a business license, some occupations or professions will need licensing before offering their service. In some locations, there may be both a state and local requirement.  Some states have a centralized agency overseeing professional licensing, while other states have individual boards.  Some of the more common types of businesses that need occupational licensing include:
    • Accountants
    • Barbers
    • Businesses selling alcohol
    • Contractors
    • Cosmetologists
    • Interior Designers
    • Locksmiths
    • Manicurists
    • Massage Therapists
    • Pawnshops
  • Sales Tax Permits – Most states require businesses selling products and certain services to register for a sales tax permit.
  • Resale Certificate – Businesses are able to obtain a resale certificate in order to not pay sales tax on inventory purchases.
  • Employer Identification Number – Corporations, LLCs, Partnerships, or Sole Proprietorships with employees will need to register for an EIN with the Internal Revenue Service.
  • Payroll Tax Registration – Businesses with employees will need to register before hiring.
  • Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation Registration – Another requirement for a company with employees.
  • Name Registration – Sole proprietorships and partnerships are often required to register for a Doing Business As name registration. Similar names include DBA, Assumed Name, Trade Name, or Fictitious Name.

Do I need a business license to sell online?

Online businesses are treated the same as any other business.  If your online business operates within your home and the city requires a license for home-based businesses, a license will be required.  Likewise, if an online business operating out of the home requires zoning approval, registration is required.

How to register for a business license

When starting a business, it’s important to do your research well in advance and know what licenses are required for your business. Obtaining all of the licenses and permits may be time-consuming and, in some cases, are approved sequentially.  Without proper planning, you may not be able to open when you want because of delays in the application process.

Click on your state below to get more information on licenses and permits.  Even with detailed research, it’s recommended that business owners check with their local City Hall, County Clerk, Chamber of Commerce, and/or Economic Developer to make sure all business licenses are covered.  Additionally, there are companies that specialize in business license research, like IncFile that can ensure you have all the proper federal, state, and local licenses.

Do I need a license to operate a business out of my home?

Depending on the location and type of business, there are potentially several types of license that may be needed. 

Related: Can you ring a business out of your home?


  • Greg Bouhl

    With over two decades as an entrepreneur, educator, and business advisor, Greg Bouhl has worked with over 2,000 entrepreneurs to help them start and grow their businesses. Fed up with clients finding and acting on inaccurate and outdated information online, Greg launched StartUp101.com to be a trusted resource for people starting a business.

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What Business Licenses Do I Need?

What Business Licenses Do I Need?

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