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Starting a Business: License and Permit Checklist

If you are thinking about starting a business, you may need to obtain a number of licenses and permits from federal, state, and local government. Since licensing and permit requirements for small businesses can vary among jurisdictions, it is critical that you contact your state and local government to determine the specific obligations of your new business. Keeping this in mind, below is a quick checklist covering the different federal, state, and local licenses and permits you may need to acquire prior to opening for business:

  • Basic business operation license from the city in which your business will operate, or from the local county (if the business will be operated outside of any city's limits).
  • Federal employer identification number (EIN), also called a tax identification number (required for almost all types of businesses). Note: your business may also need to acquire a similar tax identification number from your state's department of revenue or taxation.
  • Fictitious business name permit (also called "dba" or "doing business as" permit; required for almost all types of businesses).
  • Zoning and land use permits, especially for new manufacturing businesses and certain home-based business operations.
  • Health department permits, especially if your business involves the preparation and/or sale of food.
  • Sales tax license for the selling of almost all products and services.
  • Fire department permits, especially for businesses that will attract large numbers of customers (i.e. nightclubs and bars).
  • Special state-issued business license or permits, if your business will involve the sale of the following types of products:
    • Liquor
    • Lottery tickets
    • Gasoline
    • Firearms
  • Special state-issued occupational / professional licenses, if you and/or your employees will be offering a number of state-regulated services, including:
    • Medical care
    • Auto repair
    • Real estate sales
    • Tax services
    • Insurance sales
    • Cosmetology
    • Legal representation (attorneys)
  • Special federal business license or permits, if your business will involves the following (contact the agency identified in parentheses):

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Do Online Businesses Need a Permit or License?

If you run an online business, treat it like you would a brick-and-mortar. Chances are, you'll need to comply with all the same licensing and permitting requirements as a business with a storefront. Keep in mind, the only state licensing requirements you have to abide by those in the state where your web-based business is located. For example, if your online business is located in Nevada, but you sell to customers in Arizona, California, and Utah, you only have to follow Nevada's rules, not every state in where you sell.

Do Home-Based Businesses Need a Permit or License?

Like a store with a physical location and online businesses, so too will you need to comply with licensing and permit requirements for your home-based business. This is especially true if you have customers who frequently come into your home.

Don't Take Chances with Your Business: Get Legal Help with Licenses and Permits

Don't lose sleep trying to decipher the federal, state, and local laws surrounding business licenses and permits. Instead, contact an experienced small business attorney who can advise you about critical business laws you must comply with and help you fill out any applications and forms.  

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