The last thing you want to find out after starting your business is that you have failed to conform to the law by not filing for the right permits for your business. Before establishing a small business, you should pay attention to your town, city, and county regulations. In most locations, every business needs a basic license which is sometimes called a tax registration certificate. Apart from this, other permits and licenses may be required as well.
Business licenses and permits are issued at all levels of government – federal, state and local (city, county, or town). Depending upon the kind of business you are running, you may need to apply for licenses at multiple levels. For example, if you decide to open a restaurant in the city of San Francisco, you will need a business license and health permit from the city of San Francisco, sales tax license from the state of California and a federal tax ID number from the U.S. federal government.
Not sure what kind of license or permit you need for your business venture? Well, as usual, we’ve made it simple for you. Below is a quick checklist covering the most common federal, state, and local licenses and permits you may need to acquire before commencing business:
Business License – This is the basic license that you will need to operate a business legally. If the business is located within city limits, a license must be obtained from the city; if outside, it is procured from the county. Contact your city’s business license department to file an application. Also remember that you need to pay an annual fee.
Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) – Also known as a tax identification number, this is required for almost all types of businesses. Depending on where your business is located, you may also need to acquire a similar tax identification number from your state.
Zoning and Land Use Permits – Before you start your business, you have to find out if the space you are going to use is properly zoned for the kind of usage that is planned. You may need a zoning compliance permit. Zoning laws regulate off-street parking, waste disposal, and the size, construction and placement of signs.
Health Department Permits – If your business involves the preparation and/or sale of food, you will need a county health department permit. Note that the health department will inspect your facilities before issuing one.
Sales Tax License – This license is essential before you can sell almost any product or service in any state.
Fire Department Permits – Businesses such as restaurants, day-care centers or any other that attract a large crowd need a permit from the fire department.
Special State-Issued Business Licenses or Permits – You may need special licenses if your business involves the sale of certain types of products including liquor, lottery tickets, gasoline and firearms.
Special State-Issued Occupational / Professional Licenses – In many states, people in certain occupations must have licenses or occupational permits. State licensing is typically required for auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, building contractors, collection agents, insurance agents, real estate brokers, repossessors and personal service providers (beauticians, cosmetologists, therapists and masseurs). If you are thinking of starting any of these businesses, you will have to pass state examinations in order to get the permit. Contact your state government offices to get a complete list of occupations that require licensing.
Special Federal Business Licenses or Permits – You may also require special business licenses from the federal government if your business involves investment advising, drug manufacturing, preparation of meat products, broadcasting, manufacturing tobacco, alcohol or firearms.
Licensing and permit requirements for small businesses vary from state to state; it is therefore a good idea for you to contact your state and local government to determine the specific obligations for your new business.