What is a business license?
A business license is any type of license or permits 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 your local government.
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 Washington, require you to obtain a seller’s permit. 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 Washington, most businesses are required to have a state business license. If you meet any of the following, you must obtain a business license with Washington State.
- You need city and state endorsements.
- You’re conducting business using a name other than your full legal name
- You want to hire employees in the next 90 days
- You sell any products or services that are subject to state sales tax
- Your income is greater than $12,000
- The Department of Revenue requires your business to pay taxes or fees
- You purchase or process certain wood products
To obtain a business license in Washington state, you must visit the Department of Revenue site and apply.
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 for 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
Many Washington cities have coordinated with the state government to use the Business Licensing Service to apply for licenses. You can contact your local government office if you don’t see your city listed or need more information.
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?
You can file for a Washington business license either online or via mail. To apply online with the Washington State Department of Revenue, click here to open an account. You may also download the business license application form and send it to the following address. It costs $90 to apply.Business Licensing Service
P.O. Box 9034
Olympia, WA 98507-9034
You can add certain endorsements for different professions and cities to your Washington license through the business licensing services. The cost for the different endorsements can vary. Contact your local government office for additional information about obtaining other licenses or permits.
How do I renew my license?
In Washington, your licenses and endorsements need to be renewed annually. This can be done through the Department of Revenue website, costing $10.
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.