Business Licensing Requirements by State

Business Licensing Requirements by State

Business Licensing Requirements by State

State Business License

A state business license is a document that offers proof that a business is legally allowed to operate in that state. Some states require business licenses at the state level, but oftentimes business licensing is done at the city or local level.

Do I Need a Business License?

Do I need a business license? We get this question all the time, and the answer depends on the type of business you run.

Every state (as well as some counties and cities) require you to have at least one type of business license if you plan to conduct business there.

Typically, filing for the required business licenses comes after you decide on your business entity, whether that will be operating as a sole proprietor, a partnership, a limited liability company, or a corporation.

If you plan to run a business out of your home, you likely will need at least one basic business permit or license, such as a sales tax permit. If you’re opening a local business like a restaurant or daycare, you’ll need even more licenses as well as inspections that ensure you comply with industry regulations. If you are renting commercial real estate, you may need a zoning permit that ensures that what you want to do with the space is consistent with what the space was zoned for.

It’s imperative that you understand what licenses you are required to carry before you launch your business.

Where Do I Go for a Business License?

We decided to compile a list of business licensing resources by state to get business owners across the country going in the right direction. Along the way, we found a few other licensing resources worth mentioning:

  • Your local SBDC or town/city clerk: If you ask a SCORE mentor, they will likely tell you that this is the best place to start, and in many cases this is true. Many of the licenses/permits you may need to start your business are city-level permits. Your city clerk should have a full list of licenses you will need, and this is the best way to make sure you have covered all your bases.
  • CityApplications.com: City Applications has contact info at the city-level for business licenses and permitting information. 
  • SBA.com: Not to be confused with the Small Business Administration, Small Business Advice has information on starting and running a business, including business permitting and licensing specifics by state. Some states have more detailed information than others.
  • SBA.gov: The Small Business Administration has information on permits for federal licenses in different industries, but little on state licensing.

What Do I Need to Get a State Business License?

Typically, applying for a state business license isn’t that time-consuming, but you will need some information about your business as well as documents to expedite the process, so it’s worth doing a little research beforehand on business license requirements in your state.

Many will ask for your employer identification number. This is like a social security number for your business and will come in handy for everything from opening a business account to filing taxes. It’s free to get.

You may also be asked basic questions about the type of business activity you engage in as well as how much you make (or hope to make) in revenue. You will also need to provide basics like your business location and contact information.

Having any documentation that will be required at the ready will ensure you spend minimal time at the business license department of your local government and don’t risk being charged additional fees for not having everything needed to apply.

Business Licensing Resources for Each State

We found out that most states don’t have a comprehensive business licensing search website for small business owners. Some do have a searchable function, others have a “one-stop” business registration website that includes permitting and licenses, and still others have a dedicated page directing business owners to contact their local town or city clerk for business licensing information.

Below you’ll find a list of resources for each state. You can also look at your Secretary of State’s website for information on what state business licenses you need.

We found that some states had more helpful websites than others, so we’ve categorized them based on their level of helpfulness:

  • Extremely helpful: this is gold standard — might have a searchable database with information on all the permits you will need for your business.
  • Very helpful: offers a “one-stop” launch-your-business portal with licensing information.
  • Helpful: offers many license/permit details online, but is not complete—see your local city clerk for complete license information.
  • Somewhat helpful: primarily helpful for businesses that know what they are looking for; some of these sites offer contact information for your local state department authorities.
  • Not very helpful: there are very few or no online resources offered. For these websites, it’s best to go straight to the county or city clerk.

State Resource URLs Helpful?* What does the resources offer?
Alabama Alabama Revenue Website: Licensing Not very helpful This site just links to other websites or resources. Not comprehensive; need to visit or contact local city clerk’s office.
Alaska Alaska Commerce Department: Licensing Extremely helpful Provides a searchable business license database as well as instructions for applying, either online or via mail.
Arizona AZcommerce.com Helpful This site offers a useful small business checklist directing you to choose what aspect of your business you need help with: starting, operating, or growing your business. It offers quick links to licensing offices at the state, county, and city level.
Arkansas Arkansas.gov: Professional Licensing Not very helpful This provides scant information for business owners, and is more a resource for business owners that already know what licenses their businesses need. For beginners seeking Arkansas permits, contact your local city or county clerk for permiting and license information.
California CalGold Extremely helpful CalGold is a comprehensive, searchable database of what your business will need to operate in a specific county of California. Use the information you find, but also check with your county/city authority to make sure you have all your bases covered.
Colorado Colorado Occupational License Database Helpful This is pretty comprehensive—select your industry and this site will give you a list of what you will need at the federal, state, and local level. Some occupations have more detail than others.
Connecticut CT’s Business Response Center Somewhat helpful Search by keyword, agency, or trade to get links for info on permits/licenses you will need.
Delaware Delaware One Stop Business Registration & Licensing Very helpful This is a one-stop business registration and licensing website—100% online.
Florida Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Somewhat helpful This allows you to see permit/license requirements for a limited number of professions. Some business categories have an online application process.
Georgia Georgia Start a Small Business Not very helpful The Georgia Secretary of State has limited resources to help you determine what licenses you need. The site can be confusing, as it bats you from one site to another.
Hawai’i Hawai’i Professional and Vocational Licensing
Not very helpful This site is a rabbit hole, with no easy way to find information on what licenses you need. For more info on local permits, they suggest contacting the Business Action Center at 808-586-2545.
Idaho Idaho Biz Help Very helpful This page contains a link to Idaho’s “Biz Wizard,” a survey about your business. Once complete, you are given a checklist of items you will need to open your business. NOTE: it says the list may not be comprehensive, so it’s best to check with local city clerks as well.
Illinois Illinois.gov: Registration, Licenses, & Permits Not very helpful There is no search function here, just links that direct you to city-level websites with more specific permit/license information.
Indiana In.Biz Not very helpful General information about starting or running a business, but little to no information about specific business licenses or permits.
Iowa Iowa Source Link Helpful This is a searchable list of license information with links to department contact information.
Kansas Kansas Department of Revenue: Registering a Business Somewhat helpful While there is no state-level business license in Kansas, here, you can register your business and find out what business sales tax you will be responsible for.
Kentucky Kentucky One-Stop Business Portal Helpful Includes links for more information on various types of permits and licenses.
Louisiana GeauxBiz Helpful Register an account for your business to create a checklist of actions to take, including licenses required.
Maine Maine.gov: Business Licensing Somewhat helpful Includes links to some common general licenses on the page, as well as a link to the local government portal for local licenses, and a link to business resources by profession.
Maryland Maryland OneStop Very helpful This is pretty comprehensive—search by keyword, industry, or local county resources. Shows a list of what permits/licenses you will need, fees, processing times, and what department requires the permit.
Massachusetts Mass.gov: Professional Licenses & Permits Very helpful In-depth details on licenses needed by profession, as well as steps required and online application process.
Michigan Michigan State License Search Somewhat helpful Alphabetical list of professions and information on licenses under each.
Minnesota License Minnesota Very helpful Browse for license by topic or agency, or use the A to Z list. Each profession includes a list of forms you will need and in some cases an online application process.
Mississippi Mississippi Small Business Development Center Not very helpful A list of business licenses provides links to the entities issuing them, but you still have to dig for the information.
Missouri Missouri Secretary of State Not very helpful Limited online information. Contact your city or county government to get info on business licenses.
Montana Montana eStop Business Licenses Somewhat helpful Montana offers a few general state licenses that you can apply to online, but for local/county permits and licenses you will need to visit your local city clerk.
Nebraska Nebraska.gov: Business Licensing Somewhat helpful Provides links for certain types of licenses.
Nevada Nevada Secretary of State Helpful General information on state business license, as well as links to apply online.
New Hampshire New Hampshire Business One Stop Helpful Includes links for more information on various types of permits and licenses.
New Jersey New Jersey Business Portal Helpful Includes links for more information on various types of permits and licenses.
New Mexico New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department Very helpful Includes detailed information and FAQs on various types of permits and licenses.
New York New York State: Business Wizard Extremely helpful New York’s Business Wizard gives you a custom checklist of business requirements in your area.
North Carolina North Carolina Department of Commerce Helpful Select your business license to get details about requirements and fees.
North Dakota NDSU Somewhat helpful North Dakota State University has link (under Business at the bottom) to an Excel sheet with contacts for each type of profession and business license.
Ohio Ohio.gov: Starting a Business Helpful Choose your industry from the dropdown to get requirements, including licenses, for each industry.
Oklahoma Oklahoma Dept of Commerce: Business Licensing & Operating Requirements Very helpful Includes high-level overview of each profession’s requirements as well as links for more information.
Oregon LicenseInfo.Oregon.gov Helpful This site allows you to search by keyword for licenses you seek, search popular licenses
Pennsylvania PA Biz Online Very helpful This is a one-stop business registration and service licensing website—100% online.
Rhode Island Rhode Island Dept of Business Regulation Helpful Rhode Island has an online licensing process for most business licenses.
South Carolina South Carolina Business One Stop Very helpful Business licenses are at the county level, and here you can find out which licenses you need based on your county.
South Dakota South Dakota Department of Revenue Helpful Here, apply for your business tax license for specific industries.
Tennessee Tennessee Department of Revenue Somewhat helpful General information on who is required to have a business license in Tennessee.
Texas Texas Business Licenses and Permits Guide Extremely helpful Detailed PDF with information and links for every type of business license.
Utah Utah One Stop Online Business Registration Extremely helpful This is a business “one stop” registration shop, which allows you to organize all registration forms. It also provides local licensing information and forms that must be returned to your municipality.
Vermont Vermont Department of Taxes Somewhat helpful While Vermont does not require a state business license, you will need a business sales tax account, which you can apply for on this page.
Virginia Virginia Business One Stop Somewhat helpful This is a business “one stop” shop, but instead of a questionnaire sheet, this just contains links and step-by-step instructions on how to establish a business.
Washington Washington DOL: Business & Professional Licenses Very helpful Detailed information on each type of license required in Washington state.
West Virginia West Virginia One Stop Business Portal Very helpful Details on each business license required by the state of West Virginia, as well as information at the city level.
Wisconsin Wisconsin Dept. of Safety and Professional Services: License/Permit/Registration Very helpful This Wisconsin website offers professional licensing information, including forms and fees.
Wyoming Wyoming Business Permit Booklet Very helpful Wyoming has a 60-page business licensing and permiting guide with a whole slew of contact information for every department and local county offices.

Final Thoughts on State Business Licensing

You have a lot on your list of priorities when starting a business. Just make sure that filing for any business licenses or permits you need is high on that list. In some cases, you may not be able to even open for business without those licenses. If you plan to hire employees, don’t jeopardize their ability to work in your business by dragging your feet to get licenses that may take weeks to be approved.

Knowing what license fee or fees you’ll have to pay ahead of time keeps that expense from being a shock, so take some time to research those costs.

And finally, know that you will be responsible for your business license renewal. You may not receive a notice in the mail reminding you to renew it, so to remain compliant with your state and local authorities, take notice of that expiration date so you can make sure you’re ready with your renewed license.

Brick-and mortar companies, home-based businesses, B2B companies, and consumer-facing ones all need state business licenses. Failure to do your research on what you need could have serious consequences for your company.

This article was originally written on February 5, 2020.

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Lydia Roth

Lydia Roth

Lydia serves as Content Manager for Nav, which provides business owners with simple tools to build business credit and access to lending options based on their credit scores and needs.

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