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When you're starting a business, one of the crucial steps in your process will be securing any and all business licenses you need to operate your business legally.
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.
To help you sort through the process, we've compiled this small-business license guide. We'll discuss types of business licenses, potential costs and explain how to get a business license, depending on the state in which you do business.
Business license definition
First, what is a business license? The reason it can be so difficult to determine how to obtain a business license is that the term "business license" is wide-ranging and can refer to many different types of licenses and permits.
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.
Types of business licenses
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 at 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:
Firearms, ammunition and explosives.
Fish and wildlife.
Mining and drilling.
Radio and television broadcasting.
Transportation and logistics.
How much is a business license?
Just as the specific licenses you'll need vary 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 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 fee to renew.
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.
How to get a business license in 4 steps
Here are a few general steps you can expect to follow to obtain a business license:
Research the regulations in your area (state, city and county) to determine the type or types of business licenses you'll need. If you're unsure of what government regulations apply to your business, contact your state's governing agency for assistance.
Submit your application with any necessary business license requirements (like your entity paperwork). You may need to pay a processing or filing fee to submit your application.
Depending on your state, you may have to wait to find out if your application has been approved. Once you're approved, you'll receive your business license, which will allow you to legally operate in your area.
If your license expires, you'll have to renew it according to the regulations in your state, city or county.
How long does it take to get a business license?
It could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get your business license. This will depend on a number of factors, namely your state and the specific license you need.
For example, if you're applying for a local operating license for your retail store, it's very likely that this process will be faster than applying for a federal or state liquor license.
While it's difficult to estimate how long it'll take to get a business license, there are a few things you can do to expedite the process. To start, if your state or city offers online applications, apply for your business license online. This will be faster than mailing an application or filling one out in person. Plus, an online application will be easier for the respective government agency to review.
Next, you can ensure that you follow all directions completely and correctly and submit any and all required documents with your application. If there are errors on your application, it will take much longer to process.
How to get a business license in every state
We've combed through all of the state resources out there so 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 unique; some states only have local business license requirements, whereas others have industry and statewide requirements as well.
How to get an Alabama business license
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.
How to get an Alaska business license
Alaskan small-business owners should consult the Alaska Department of Commerce, which offers a clear breakdown of what you need to license your business. You should also check its list for businesses that don’t require a license in Alaska. You can easily file for a new license, or renew, online.
How to get an Arizona business license
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.
How to get an Arkansas business license
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.
How to get a California business license
If you need to know how to get a business license in California, use CalGold as your go-to resource. Simply select your city or county, enter your business type and follow the instructions from there.
How to get a Colorado business license
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.
How to get a Connecticut business license
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 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.
How to get a Delaware business license
To register or renew a Delaware business license, go to the state’s One Stop business registration website. Through this online portal, a questionnaire will lead you to the appropriate forms to obtain the licensing you need.
How to get a D.C. business license
All businesses in Washington, D.C., 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.
How to get a Florida business license
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.
How to get a Georgia business license
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.
How to get a Hawaii business license
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 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.
How to get an Idaho business license
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.
How to get an Illinois business license
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 its registration, license and permit applications resources.
How to get an Indiana business license
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.
How to get an Iowa business license
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.
How to get a Kansas business license
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 for information on how to obtain a license in your state.
How to get a Kentucky business license
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.
How to get a Louisiana business license
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 startup services, which includes a business license checklist.
How to get a Maine business license
All business licenses in Maine are operated at 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.
How to get a Maryland business license
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.
How to get a Massachusetts business license
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 its 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.
How to get a Michigan business license
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.
How to get a Minnesota business license
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.
How to get a Mississippi business license
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 secretary of state's website for more information.
How to get a Missouri business license
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. It suggests you contact your county or city government to learn more about local licensing requirements.
How to get a Montana business license
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.
How to get a Nebraska business license
The Nebraska Licensing Division oversees collection agencies, debt management agencies, credit services organizations, private detectives, truth and deception examiners, athlete agents and non-recourse civil litigation funding companies. If your business encompasses any of these activities, follow the links on its 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.
How to get a Nevada business license
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.
How to get a New Hampshire business license
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 FAQ webpage.
How to get a New Jersey business license
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.
How to get a New Mexico business license
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.
How to get a New York business license
Looking to answer the question: "How do I get 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.
How to get a North Carolina business license
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 also provides business counselors whom you can call if you’d like personalized advice on how to get a business license.
How to get a North Dakota business license
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.
How to get an Ohio business license
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.
How to get an Oklahoma business license
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).
How to get an Oregon business license
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 that lets you search for information on how to get a business license in the state.
How to get a Pennsylvania business license
The Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs in Pennsylvania offers an online business licenses portal called the Pennsylvania Licensing System, or PALS, where you can easily apply for a business license, renew an existing license or take any other licensing action you may need to operate your business in Pennsylvania.
How to get a Rhode Island business license
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.
How to get a South Carolina business license
There’s no single South Carolina state license requirement, but almost every city and town requires its 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.)
How to get a South Dakota business license
Take a look at South Dakota's Start Your Business webpage, where you’ll find links to various guides and checklists encompassing all the information you need to know to operate your business. It also provides 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.
How to get a Tennessee business license
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 webpage.
How to get a Texas business license
The Texas secretary of state’s website directs users to the SBA’s page on applying for licenses and permits in Texas.
How to get a Utah business license
To get your business license in Utah, visit the state's OneStop Online Business Registration System. It explains that you'll need to head to your local municipality to apply for a license.
How to get a Vermont business license
Visit 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.
How to get a Virginia business license
Learn how to apply for a Virginia business license on this Virginia.gov page.
How to get a Washington business license
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.
How to get a West Virginia business license
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.)
How to get a Wisconsin business license
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.
How to get a Wyoming business 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.
Other resources to getting a business license in your state
Despite each state's individual requirements, 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 business license requirements in exactly the same way. 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 to make sure all your bases are covered.
This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.