Business Licenses

Business Licenses are issued by relevant agencies allowing individuals or businesses to conduct business within the agencies geographical jurisdiction. It is the authorization to open a business that is issued locally. A single jurisdiction often requires multiple licenses and these are issued by multiple departments and agencies. Business Licenses vary between countries, states, and, especially, locally. There will be many licenses, registrations and certifications required to conduct a business in a single location.

To run your small business legally, there are certain federal and state licenses and permits that you will need to obtain.

If your business is involved in activities supervised and regulated by a federal agency – such as selling alcohol, firearms, commercial fishing, etc. – then you will need to get a federal license or permit.

Contact your city’s business licensing department to find out about obtaining a business license, which essentially grants you the right (after you pay a fee, of course) to operate a business in your location. When you file your license application, the city planning or zoning department will check to make sure your area is zoned for the purpose you want to use it for, with particular emphasis on there being enough parking spaces to meet these codes.

You cannot operate in an area that is not zoned for your type of business unless you get a variance or conditional-use license. To get a variance, you will need to present your case before the planning commission. In most cases, variances are easy to get, as long as you can show that your business will not disrupt the character of the neighborhood where you plan to locate.

Licenses to open a business

If you are planning to start a business in your home you should investigate zoning ordinances carefully. Residential neighborhoods tend to have far more strict zoning regulations preventing business use of the home. Even so, it is possible to get a variance or conditional-use license; and in many locations, attitudes toward home-based businesses are becoming more supportive making it simpler to obtain a variance.

Work Permit

A citizen of a foreign country who wants to enter the U.S.A. must obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Temporary worker visas are for persons who want to enter the United States for employment lasting a fixed period of time, and are not permanent or indefinite. These visas require the prospective employer to file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An approved petition will be required to apply for a work visa.

After USCIS approves the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129), you may apply for a visa. There are several steps in the visa application process. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply.

Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:

  • Passport valid for travel to the United States – Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview.
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
  • Receipt Number for your approved petition as it appears on your Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, Form I-129, or Notice of Action, Form I-797, from USCIS.
  • L Visa Applicants – If you are included in an L blanket petition, you must bring Form I-129S, Nonimmigrant Petition Based on Blanket L Petition, to your interview.

Fire Department Permit

You may need to get a permit from your fire department if your business uses any flammable materials or if your premises will be open to the public. In some cities, you have to get this permit before you open for business. Other areas don’t require permits but simply schedule periodic inspections of your business to see if you meet fire safety regulations. If you don’t, they’ll issue a citation. Businesses such as restaurants, retirement homes, day-care centers and anywhere else that lots of people congregate are subject to especially close and frequent scrutiny by the fire department.

Air and Water Pollution Control Permit

Many cities now have departments that work to control air and water pollution. If you burn any materials, discharge anything into the sewers or waterways, or use products that produce gas (such as paint sprayers), you may have to get a special permit from this department in your city or county. Environmental protection regulations may also require you to get approval before doing any construction or beginning operation. Check with your state environmental protection agency regarding federal or state regulations that may apply to your business.

Sign Permit

Some cities and suburbs have sign ordinances that restrict the size, location and sometimes the lighting and type of sign you can use outside your business. To avoid costly mistakes, check regulations and secure the written approval of your landlord (if you rent a house or apartment) before you go to the expense of having a sign designed and installed.

County Permits

County governments often require essentially the same types of permits and licenses as cities. If your business is outside any city or town’s jurisdiction, these permits apply to you. The good news: County regulations are usually not as strict as those of adjoining cities.

State Licenses

In many states, people in certain occupations must have licenses or occupational permits. Often, they have to pass state examinations before they can get these permits and conduct business. States usually require licensing for auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, building contractors, collection agents, insurance agents, real estate brokers, repossessors, and anyone who provides personal services (i.e., barbers, cosmetologists, doctors and nurses). Contact your state government offices to get a complete list of occupations that require licensing.

Federal Licenses

In most cases, you won’t have to worry about this. However, a few types of businesses do require federal licensing, including meat processors, radio and TV stations, and investment advisory services. The Federal Trade Commission can tell you if your business requires a federal license.

Sales Tax License

There are two reasons you need a certificate of resale (in other states, this may be called a “seller’s permit” or a “certificate of authority”). First, any homebased business selling taxable goods and services must pay sales taxes on what it sells. The definition of a taxable service varies from state to state. Depending on individual state rulings, both the parts and labor portions of your bill may be taxable.

Sales taxes vary by state and are imposed at the retail level. It’s important to know the rules in the states and localities where you operate your business because if you’re a retailer, you must collect state sales tax on each sale you make.

Before you open your doors, be sure to register to collect sales tax by applying for each separate place of business you have in the state. A license or permit is important because in some states it’s a criminal offense to undertake sales without one.

Health Department Permits

If you plan to sell food, either directly to customers as in a restaurant or as a wholesaler to other retailers, you’ll need a county health department permit. This costs about $25 and varies depending on the size of the business and the amount and type of equipment you have. The health department will want to inspect your facilities before issuing the permit.

Agricultural Permits

If you import or transport animals, animal products, biologics, biotechnology or plants across state lines, you’ll need to apply for a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

APHIS issues permits for the import, transit and release of regulated animals, animal products, veterinary biologics, plants, plant products, pests, organisms, soil, and genetically engineered organisms.

This includes animal products from live animals, semen, embryos and materials derived from animals or exposed to animal-source materials such as animal tissues, blood, cells or cell lines of livestock or poultry origin, RNA/DNA extracts, hormones, enzymes, microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi. In addition, animal materials including dairy products (except butter and cheese), and meat products (e.g., meat pies, prepared foods) from countries with livestock diseases exotic to the U.S.

Alcoholic Beverages

If you manufacture, wholesale, import, or sell alcoholic beverages at a retail location, you will need to register your business and obtain certain federal permits (for tax purposes) with the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The website has a number of online tools that make this process straightforward. If you are just starting a business in this trade, start by reading the TTB’s New Visitors Guide which offers helpful information for small business owners.

Remember, you will also need to contact your local Alcohol Beverage Control Board for local alcohol business permit and licensing information.


Does your business involve the operation of aircraft; the transportation of goods or people via air; or aircraft maintenance? If so, you’ll need to apply for one or more of the following licenses and certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration:

  • FAA Licenses and Certificates – Get licensing information for airmen, aircraft, airports, airlines and medical aviation services.
  • Pilot Licenses and Training Requirements
  • Aircraft Mechanic Licenses

Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives

Businesses who manufacture, deal and import firearms, ammunitions and explosives must comply with the Gun Control Act’s licensing requirements. The Act is administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Fish and Wildlife

If your business is engaged in any wildlife related activity, including the import/export of wildlife and derivative products, must obtain an appropriate permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Commercial Fisheries

Commercial fishing businesses are required to obtain a license for fishing activities from the NOAA Fisheries Service.

Maritime Transportation

If you provide ocean transportation or facilitate the shipment of cargo by sea, you’ll need to apply for a license from the Federal Maritime Commission.

Mining and Drilling

Businesses involved in the drilling for natural gas, oil or other mineral resources on federal lands may be required to obtain a drilling permit from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service).

Nuclear Energy

Producers of commercial nuclear energy and fuel cycle facilities as well as businesses involved in the distribution and disposal of nuclear materials must apply for a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Radio and Television Broadcasting

If your business broadcasts information by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, you may be required to obtain a license from The Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Transportation and Logistics

If you operate an oversize or overweight vehicle, you’ll need to abide by the U.S. Department of Transportation offers guidelines on maximum weight. Permits for oversize / overweight vehicles are issued by your state government.

U.K. Consumer Credit Licences

Credit licences are a requirement of the Consumer Credit Act and are administered by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Consumer Credit Licensing Bureau. Unlicensed trading is a criminal offence and your business may need to obtain a credit licence if you supply goods or services to consumers on a credit or hire basis, or lend money to individuals.

You will probably need a consumer credit licence if you:

  • Sell goods on credit to individuals.
  • Hire or lease out goods to individuals for more than three months.
  • Lend money to individuals.
  • Issue credit cards.
  • Arrange credit for individuals.
  • Offer hire purchase arrangements to individuals.
  • Collect debts arising from regulated agreements.
  • Help people with debt problems arising from credit or hire agreements.
  • Advise on an individual’s credit.
  • Provide credit information services.
  • Provide debt administration services.
  • Administer agreements but do not collect debts on behalf of creditors.
  • Help individuals locate (and correct if needed) records about their financial standing.

The licensing requirement applies to brokers and other intermediaries, as well as those who offer credit or lend money directly.

U.K. Local Authorities and Licencing

Local authorities enforce a wide range of regulations affecting small firms, and their permission may be needed to carry out certain actions. For example, some types of business may require a licence or planning permission before they begin to trade. It is important for you to understand and comply with these regulations in order for your business to stay within the law.


The planning department of your local authority is responsible for regulating the development of land and buildings. Planning permission may be required before your business can begin operating and may be required for running a business from home, as any change in the use of premises requires some measure of consultation with your local authority’s planning department. It will definitely be needed if you change the primary use of a building or develop a new site. Planning control officers are responsible for processing planning applications and monitoring those that are accepted.

Trading Standards

The Trading Standards department of your local authority enforces legislation promoting fair and safe trading practices for the consumer and trader. It will investigate misleading prices or descriptions and inaccurate weights and measures, as well as the safety of goods. The title given to this department can differ in each local authority, and common variations include Consumer Protection, Public Protection and Consumer Services. Some local authorities run Consumer Advice Centres, providing information and guidance to both consumers and traders. Maintaining good relations with your local Trading Standards department is vital.

Environmental health

The Environmental Health department of your local authority deals with a range of issues, including environmental protection, food hygiene and occupational health and safety, and its main purpose is to protect public health and the environment. The functions of these departments are wide ranging, and in some areas several departments may be required to cover the local authority’s various responsibilities.

Health and safety

Businesses must comply with a wide range of health and safety requirements. For example, if you employ staff, you must ensure that work equipment is safe to use. All businesses must carry out a health and safety risk assessment and those employing five or more people must also have a documented health and safety policy. Local authorities play an important role in supporting the work of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in ensuring that businesses comply with these rules.

Certain types of businesses must register with their local authority for health and safety reasons, particularly if they employ staff. Once registered, the authority will check your business premises to make sure they are suitable for the type of business you operate and that you are complying with relevant health and safety legislation.

The types of premises that must be registered include:

  • Wholesale warehouses.
  • Hotels.
  • Residential care homes.
  • Launderettes.
  • Garden centres.
  • Restaurants.
  • Car tyre and exhaust fitters.
  • Catering and food premises including mobile catering units.
  • Cosmetic/beautician services.
  • Tattooing and body piercing.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Leisure services.
  • Pre-school childcare and nurseries.
  • Animal boarding establishments, pet shops and horse riding establishments, dog breeders, zoos and dangerous wild animals.
  • Taxi and private hire service vehicles.

Some businesses, such as farms and construction firms, are required to register with the HSE rather than their local authority.


Some businesses require a licence before trading begins, and must submit an application and outline plans for their proposal. Local authorities will grant permission based on the health and safety of the premises or operation. A background check is also conducted to ensure that the business is run by a ‘fit and proper’ person. Licences usually require annual renewal and may involve periodic inspections of the business.

Businesses that require licences include:

  • Taxi services.
  • Pet shops.
  • Theatres.
  • Nightclubs.
  • Street traders.
  • Dog breeders.
  • Scrap metal dealers.
  • Skin piercing and acupuncture services.
  • Horse riding and animal boarding establishments.
  • Caravan and camping sites.
  • Zoos.

Other U.K. Licences

Amusement permit (Northern Ireland)

You need an amusement permit to operate gaming machines in Northern Ireland

Apply for a list of deaths registered in the UK

You can apply to get a weekly list of registered deaths if you’re part of an approved organisation.

Apply for a performance licence

You may need a child performance licence for any child taking part in a public performance, sporting event or modelling assignment

Approval for a centre to offer qualifications (Scotland)

You must be approved by the SQA to run an education or training establishment and offer courses which lead to qualifications.

Art therapist registration

You need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to practise as an art therapist in the UK

Become a Green Deal business

How your business can become an authorised Green Deal provider – advising, installing and manufacturing energy-saving products in properties

Boatmaster’s licence

Master’s licence for commercial use of passenger and non-passenger vessels in category A,B,C,D waters and limited coastal areas

File your Machine Games Duty return

Log in to your HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) online account and file your Machine Games Duty (MGD) return

Food premises approval (England)

You need a licence for handling meat, fish, egg or dairy products unless you sell these direct to the public

Food premises approval (Northern Ireland)

Get a licence for handling meat, fish, egg or dairy products.

Food premises approval (Scotland)

Get a licence for handling meat, fish, egg or dairy products.

Food premises approval (Wales)

Get a licence for handling meat, fish, egg or dairy products.

House in multiple occupation licence

Get a licence to rent out your property as a house in multiple occupation (HMO) in England or Wales – local authority, private renting, landlords, houseshare

House in multiple occupation licence (Scotland)

Get a licence to rent out your property as a house in multiple occupation in Scotland (HMO) – local authority, private renting, landlords, houseshare

House to house charitable collections licence (Northern Ireland)

You need a licence to promote or make charitable house to house collections in Northern Ireland

House to house collection licence (England and Wales)

Apply for a licence for house-to-house collections of money or goods for charity in England or Wales

Licence to possess or sell drug precursor chemicals

You need a licence from the Home Office to possess or sell drug precursor chemicals

Music licence for theatrical productions

You need a licence to use sound recordings for on-stage or off-stage effects

Poisons licence

You may need a licence to sell certain household products containing poison

Register a house in multiple occupation (Northern Ireland)

Register your property to rent it out as a house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Northern Ireland – local council, private renting, landlords, houseshare

Road occupation licence (Scotland)

You must get a road occupation licence from the council to occupy any part of the road in connection with building work in Scotland

Road occupation licence for building work (England and Wales)

You must get a licence from the council to dig up the road, or temporarily occupy it in connection with building work

Scrap metal dealer licence (England and Wales)

You must get a scrap metal dealer licence from the council if you buy, sell or store scrap metal

Skip licence (England and Wales)

You or the skip hire company need a skip licence/permit if you want to put a skip on a public road. You may need safety lights, traffic cones or markings

Skip licence (Scotland)

Get a permit to place a skip on a public road – local authority Scotland, road occupation, skip licence

Slaughterman licence (Northern Ireland)

You need to have a licence to operate as a slaughterman in Northern Ireland

Street collection licence (England & Wales)

If you want to collect money or sell items on the street for charity, you might need a street collection licence, depending on your local council

Temporary Events Notice (England and Wales)

You need a Temporary Event Notice if you want to carry out a ‘licensable activity’ on unlicensed premises in England or Wales.

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