Most small businesses need a combination of licenses and permits from both federal and state agencies. The requirements—and fees—vary based on your business activities, location and government rules. Here are the basics of what you need to know:
Federal Licenses and Permits
You’ll need to get a federal license or permit if your business activities are regulated by a federal agency. If your business deals with the transport, production, sales or dealings of any of the following products, you will have to obtain a specific permit from a specific federal agency. This includes business activities such as:
- Agriculture: Business practices that deal with the import or transport animals, animal products, biologics, biotechnology or plants across state line. Issuing Agency: U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Alcoholic Beverages: Business practices that deal with the manufacture, wholesale, import and/or sales of alcoholic beverages at a retail location. Issuing Agency: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Local Alcohol Beverage Control Board
- Aviation: Business practices involving the operation of aircraft, transportation of goods or people via air or aircraft maintenance. Issuing Agency: Federal Aviation Administration
- Commercial Fisheries: For businesses engaged in commercial fishing of any kind. Issuing Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service
- Fish and Wildlife: For businesses engaged in any wildlife-related activity, including the import or export of wildlife and derivative products. Issuing Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Maritime Transportation: For businesses providing ocean transportation or facilitating the shipment of cargo by sea. Issuing Agency: Federal Maritime Commission
- Mining and Drilling: For businesses engaged in drilling for natural gas, oil or other mineral resources on federal lands. Issuing Agency: Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
- Nuclear Energy: For businesses that are a fuel cycle facility, producing commercial nuclear energy or are involved in the distribution and disposal of nuclear materials. Issuing Agency: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Radio and Television Broadcasting: For businesses dealing in broadcasting information by radio, television, wire, satellite or cable. Issuing Agency: Federal Communications Commission
- Transportation and Logistics: For businesses operating oversize or overweight vehicles. Issuing Agency: Permits are issued by your state government and can be reached through the U.S. Department of Transportation.
State Licenses and Permits
The licenses and permits you need from the state, county or city will depend on your business activities and business location. Your business license fees will also vary. States tend to regulate a broader range of activities than the federal government. For example, business activities that are commonly regulated locally include auctions, construction, dry cleaning, farming, plumbing, restaurants, retail and vending machines.
Some licenses and permits expire after a set period of time. Keep track of when you need to renew them—it’s often easier to renew than it is to apply for a new one.
What You’ll Need
Depending on the licensing you need, your license qualifications will differ. However, just about every license and/or permit requires that you have the following documentation:
- Your business description or business plan that includes:
- Employee numbers
- Annual sales
- Job description
- Contact information for the business owner
- Other pertinent business information
- Government ID, including your Social Security Number or Federal Employment Identification Number
- Fees (varies by state)
- LLC registration for businesses of one. Having your LLC is not the same as having your business license, although they often complement one another.
For more information on what you need for your specific business license, visit sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business.
For information about woman-owned, minority-owned or LGBTQ-owned certification, visit https://diversitycomm.net/get-certified.