Starting your business is an exciting and busy time. You need to get everything in order before you launch, and one of the most important legal requirements is business licensing. Business licenses and permits are typically issued by the state or federal government and are necessary for certain types of business. Whatever type of business you have, operating legally may well require a specific type of permit.
Ensuring you're compliant with business license regulations helps your business run smoothly and avoids any issues with government agencies. In this post, we’ll explain the types of common business licenses and permits, why you need them and where to get them.
Please note that none of the information we provide here should be considered legal advice and is only intended for general guidance. For more specific information on what types of business licenses you might need, we offer a complete Business License Research Package.
Here are 14 of the most common types of business licenses and permits with all their details.
1. Local Business License
Some states, counties and cities require you to have a local business license to operate there. These can apply whether you have dedicated premises for your business or whether you work from home or a remote location.
Do I need a business license for my city or state?
It’s possible that you do. Rules for local business licenses vary widely between regions, so check with your local municipality to see what their rules are. You can confirm license requirements by reviewing your local and state government websites.
2. Peddler's License
A peddler’s license, also known as a “solicitor” or “transient merchant” license or permit, authorizes you to travel and sell products and services door-to-door. These licenses may also be needed if you sell at public events or carry samples with you. Peddler’s licenses are required to operate in certain states and cities.
Check with your local authorities to see if you need a peddler’s license.
Review the requirements for peddler’s licenses, including any supporting documents or other legal requirements.
Depending on your state, get a “surety bond.”
Gather together any required identification documents.
Apply online or in-person and wait for the license to be granted.
3. Occupational Licenses, Permits and Certificates
Certain states and the federal government require people who carry out professional services to be licensed and certified by a state or national board. The types of careers that need to be licensed do vary, but they often include: accountants, attorneys, doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers, dentists, teachers, pharmacists, architects, psychologists, engineers and other professions. Review the requirements for your state to learn what certifications and permits you will need to practice.
Does my occupation require a special type of license or permit?
It depends on what you do, but if you have been through formal training, qualifications or certification for your role, then your license requirements should have been covered.
Most occupations requiring formal certification are typically required to maintain occupational licenses or permits. These are normally issued by governance boards for the profession at a state or national level. Your license may also require you to undertake ongoing training or similar so that you stay up to date with the latest rules, regulations and advances in your industry.
It’s also important to note that licenses may be restricted to only practicing in certain states. For example, if you’re an attorney licensed to practice in Florida, you would need a separate license to also practice in Georgia.
4. Cleaning or Janitorial License
Some states require cleaning and janitorial businesses to have a formal business license, while in others, you may only need a service contractor’s license. In any case, you might want your cleaning company to be licensed and bonded, as government and corporate clients will expect this. You should also have comprehensive business insurance.
Does my business need a cleaning license?
It depends where you’re located, as rules do vary between cities and states. Check with your local municipality and state government to understand what the janitorial license requirements are.
In order to get a cleaning license, you will normally require a “surety bond” that protects your clients from damage or loss and insurance that protects your business in a similar way. Do check the level of coverage you will need for your bonds and insurance before you apply for a janitorial license.
5. Vendor or Sales Privilege License
A vendor or sales privilege license is often needed if you want to sell products or services to consumers, whether face-to-face or online. These vendor licenses are often linked with charging sales tax on your goods and services. Many states require a vendor license, although registration requirements do vary. Some regional and city governments may also require you to have a separate vendor’s license.
Do I need a vendor or sales license?
Sales tax rules and regulations vary widely from state to state, but they are also some of the most rigorously enforced taxes. It’s extremely important to understand the types of goods and services that are taxed in your state and whether you will need to charge and pay taxes on what you sell.
Visit your state’s Department of Revenue website and search for “Sales and Use” taxes to understand what the requirements are. That should also include instructions on applying for a sales license.
6. Gardening and Landscaping Business License
If you perform gardening for clients or carry out landscaping, some states do require you to have a permit or license to do so. These types of licenses vary depending on the type of work you do. For example, taking down trees, installing patios or planting shrubs and grass may require a license, whereas laying mulch, weeding or general maintenance may not.
Many states will also require you to be bonded and to hold liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
7. Food Business, Restaurant and Food Truck Licenses
Food businesses are some of the most tightly regulated organizations. You may need different types of food licenses depending on the type of business you operate. Here are some of the more common permits and certificates. Check with your state to see what’s required for your food business to be compliant.
Are there different types of food licenses and permits?
Yes, some of the licenses you may need to have include:
Food handling license or food and safety certificate: This demonstrates that you know how food should be prepared, handled and stored.
Catering license: If you deliver food or provide it to functions, you may need a catering license.
Health and safety inspection and food service license: Expect your cooking area and restaurant to be inspected to ensure you meet the necessary sanitation and handling guidelines.
8. Liquor Licenses
If you plan to sell or provide alcohol for consumption on or off your premises, it’s very likely you will need a liquor license. These are generally provided by your state’s ABC agency or other board.
Does my business need a liquor license?
If you sell alcohol, then yes, almost certainly. Liquor sales are some of the most heavily regulated transactions in the U.S., requiring strict permits that restrict how, when, where and to whom you can sell alcohol.
This applies whether selling alcohol is your main line of business, such as a bar or brewery, or if it's a secondary source of income, such as in a restaurant.
9. Tobacco Licenses
If you sell cigarettes or other tobacco products, you will need to be licensed. Just like alcohol, the sale of tobacco products is very tightly regulated, and you will need to ensure you’re compliant.
Even if you don't sell tobacco itself, you are also likely to require licenses if you sell related items—mfor example, vaping products, cannabis edibles or other paraphernalia.
10. Health Permits and Licenses
Many types of businesses need health permits to ensure they’re taking the right precautions to keep the public and their employees safe. In addition to food businesses, organizations like tattoo parlors, waste haulers, breweries and similar will also need health permits.
What type of health permits might my business need?
Health permits and licenses come in many different types, including:
Occupational licenses if you’re providing healthcare services; for example, as a physician, therapist, dentist or similar.
Hygiene-related permits if you’re selling products that may be consumed, such as food or beverages.
Businesses that provide services where health is an important consideration, such as daycare centers, spas, swimming pools, tattoo parlors and similar.
11. Contractor and Tradesman Permits
If you’re operating as a contractor or tradesman, then you may need a license to provide services. Requirements do vary from state to state.
What types of tradesmen need to get business licenses?
As with so many of the other business permits, requirements do vary by city and state, but many types of trades are typically required to be licensed.
These types of licenses include interior and exterior construction, engineering, electrical work, plumbing work, HVAC installation and repair, roofing, insulation, working with fuels and gasses and many other trades.
12. Fire Inspections and Permits
In many cases, especially if your business is open to the public, your premises must be inspected to ensure you meet fire prevention regulations.
Does my business require a fire inspection permit?
Your business will typically need to be inspected for fire safety if:
It is open to the public.
You employ people on your premises.
Many municipalities require fire permits for all types of businesses, although some home-based businesses may be exempt. Check with your local fire marshal on permitting laws in your city or state.
13. Beauty Salon and Cosmetologist Licenses
If you operate or work in a spa beauty salon, you must be licensed by your state. There are separate licensing requirements depending on your type of work, such as barber, hairdresser, manicurist or cosmetologist.
Many states require you to have a minimum number of hours of training or schooling to obtain a license.
14. Building, Planning and Zoning Permits
If you want to operate a business in a particular area or you want to develop or alter property, you will typically need the relevant building, planning or zoning permit. These vary between regions and cities, so contact your local government office to find out more.
When might I need a building, planning or zoning permit?
Common situations where you may need a permit include:
If you are making substantial renovations, improvements or expansions to a property.
If you are undergoing new construction or demolishing an existing building.
If you are changing the use of land between residential, commercial or industrial.
Other Federal Laws and Requirements
Of course, you’ll need to stay up to date with your taxes. According to the Small Business Administration, you must also be compliant with the following laws: marketing and advertising laws, copyright laws, workplace poster laws, workplace health and safety laws and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) laws.
Your local business may require some licenses and permits, depending on where you’re located, what you’re selling and various other factors. For example, if you’re in a state with a sales tax and you’re selling physical products, you may need a vendor’s license. The best way to check if your local business needs licenses or permits is to use our Business License Research Service, details below.
What is the most common business license?
The most common type of business license or permit depends on the type of business you run. Food businesses will need to have health permits, while most premises must have a fire inspection. Another common type of business permit is likely to be a vendor or sales privilege license. States and localities typically issue these so that you can sell products and pay sales tax on them.
Save Time and Effort with Our Business License Research Service
We know that learning about all of these licenses and where you need to get them from can be inconvenient and time-consuming. That’s why Incfile is delighted to provide a Business License Research Package service.
We’ll ask you for details of your business, then provide a comprehensive list of the licenses and permits you’ll require, along with application instructions and forms for the licenses you’ll need.
It’s a great way to save yourself from visiting dozens of websites or spending time on hold.
Paul is a freelance writer, small business owner, and British expat exploring the U.S. When he’s not politely apologizing, he enjoys hats, hockey, Earl Grey Tea, mountains, and dogs.