If you’re starting a new business in any state, you’ll need a business license. You may need other types of licenses as well, but at minimum, you’ll need a basic business license from the state in which you’re operating. Depending on your type of business, you may also need licenses from local or regional governments, such as your city and/or county (these are all separate licenses).
A state business license is required in every state, and the application process and license requirements differ by state. If you’re operating across multiple cities or states, you’ll need to review guidelines for each location as well as at the federal level.
Where to get a business license
Depending on where you’re located, this can get a little tricky. There are 40,000 licensing jurisdictions around the United States. Don’t worry—you don’t need to contact them all.
Local business licenses
Start by contacting your local government or visit their website to learn more about local licensing requirements. You’ll likely end up in the clerk’s office in city hall. This is where most general business licenses are obtained. The process is usually pretty straightforward, and the city clerks can often help you through it and answer your questions.
There are also many sites with searchable collections of local business license details, but always double check with your local government to ensure the requirements and application information listed are up to date.
State-level business licenses
It’s a similar story for state licenses: Contact your state government or visit the appropriate state agency’s website and search for “business license.” Or, start with a site like this state-by-state guide to getting a business license, which includes links to state resources about starting a business and getting the proper licenses.
Business information needed for the license application
This varies by jurisdiction, but you can count on being asked for your business name, contact information, business location (or locations), business activity or type of business, and your federal and/or state tax ID number.
There is also usually an application or filing fee when you submit for a business license—consider it one of the costs of doing business.
How long it takes to get your business license
Once you’ve submitted your business license applications to the appropriate government agencies and paid the license cost, the waiting begins. How long? It depends on your location, but generally expect to hear back within a few days to a few weeks. After you secure your license, make note of the expiration date, so that you submit your license renewal paperwork and filing fee on time.
Other business licensing requirements
Other necessary licenses vary depending on what kind of business you have (different business types have different required licenses). Certain businesses need federal approval. These include agricultural businesses, those who sell alcohol, anyone with firearms or ammunition in their store, and a few more, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). As you might imagine, a restaurant or store selling alcohol will need a liquor license, while a child care business has a whole different set of requirements for licensing.
While getting your business license is not one the most exciting part of starting your small business, it is a great feeling to get the news that you are official in your city and state, and you are free to conduct business.