What is a business license?
A business license is any type of license or permit that a government entity requires you to have to conduct business. There are several types of licenses and permits required with different business licenses. They can be issued by federal, state, or local governments.
Do I need a business license?
Whether you need a business license to run your business depends on what state your company is located in. Below are some common reasons you need to apply for a business license.
- If you are a brick-and-mortar business, you may need a permit to operate and allow commercial activity on your business property. A brick-and-mortar business is a physical location where owners may showcase their products utilizing a physical storefront. Customers can then visit the property to peruse the store, speak with sales representatives, try on products, and purchase any goods. The municipality you’re in might also need permits for certain things, such as signage and fire safety. Examples include specialty stores, convenience stores, grocery stores, and drugstores.
- If you are selling products, most states, including Virginia, require you to obtain a seller’s permit. You can do so on their Tax Online Services option. This permit enables you to collect sales tax from your customers.
- You will need to obtain industry-specific licenses if you provide any services where you need a license, such as a stylist, lawyer, medical care provider, or accountant.
Who issues business licenses?
Three main jurisdictions issue licenses. These include state, local, and federal.
State Business Licensing
As mentioned above, you may need to apply for a seller’s permit if you sell any products. Seller’s permits are issued by the state and allow your business to sell products within the given state you have the permit. Other state licensing and permits can include the following:
- General business licenses
- Doing business as (DBA)
- Liquor licenses
- Medical Licenses
- Electrical permits
- Fundraising licenses
- Farming licenses
- Health Permits
- Real estate licenses
In Virginia, you are not required to have a statewide business license. However, you must have a license and certification for certain business activities. These include the following:
- Healthcare professionals
- Buildings contractors
- Cosmetologists and Barbers
- Engineers and Architects
- Real Estate Brokers
- Private investigators and other security services
The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation has a more extensive list of professions that are required to have additional licenses and certifications.
In addition to certain professions, you will also need to obtain special licensing if you own a car dealership, sell alcohol, or have a laboratory. Finally, if you are a small, women-owned, and minority- owned business, you can apply for the SWaM certification program that provides special benefits. Visit Virginia’s government website for more information.
Local Business Licensing
Local refers to the county or city you are operating in. The licenses and permits you need will vary depending on the location and business structure. Also, you may need to apply for multiple local business licenses or permits if you operate in multiple cities or counties.
Some example permits you may need to apply locally are similar to those listed above for state permits and licenses. See the list below for some examples.
- General business licenses
- Zoning and construction permits
- Health permits
- Professional Licenses
Federal Business Licenses and Permits
Certain activities are regulated by the federal government and require you to apply with them to obtain the appropriate business license or permit. Below are a list of some business activities that require you to apply for licenses with the federal government. The links for applying to the respective licenses are also included below.
- Agricultural: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/permits
- Alcoholic beverages: https://www.ttb.gov/ponl/customer-support
- Firearms, ammunition, and explosives: https://www.atf.gov/about/mission-areas
- Wildlife and fishing: https://fwsepermits.servicenowservices.com/fws
- Nuclear Energy: https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/regulatory/licensing/fees.html
- Broadcasting (Radio and Television): https://www.fcc.gov/general/consumer-information-obtaining-licenses
- Transportation: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/sw/permit_report/index.htm#obt
- Aviation: https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates
How do I obtain a business license?
Depending on your industry type, the steps to apply for certificate/ license you need to have will vary. Go to Virginia’s government website to learn more about your specific license or certificate. There is no statewide licensing requirement.
Do I need a business attorney to apply?
No. Although not technically required, it can be helpful to consult a professional so that you know all the licensing requirements for your company. It can be challenging to navigate the different requirements of state, local, and federal agencies, so it may be a good idea to speak to a professional to ensure that your business is compliant.