When you start a small business, you have lots of details to cover, from registering for taxes, to renting or buying a location, getting a bank account, filing your formation documents, and more.
One detail you can’t overlook is business licenses and permits, as they’re vital to operating a compliant business.
One requirement that you may or may not need to comply with is the acquisition of a general business license. With this guide, we’ll cover which states have a general business license, so you can know whether or not you need to obtain one.
What Is a General Business License?
Before we get started on which states have a general business license, we first need to cover what the license is. There are so many different licenses that could be called business licenses, but not all of them fit the description of a general business license.
A general business license is a one-size-fits-all license that’s required for all businesses in a given location. The license applies regardless of your industry, and it gives you permission to operate in that location. Without the general business license, a business is non-compliant.
State-level general business licenses are usually provided by the Secretary of State. However, in a few cases, the general business license is provided when you pay your annual business taxes, so it’s provided by the Department of Revenue instead.
There are other business licenses that are required for specific industries, but that’s beyond the scope of this guide. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the generic, statewide license.
Which States Require a General Business License?
The majority of states do not have a general business license ― however, the following states do. We’ll also provide some of the relevant details about the license for each state.
Alabama: Alabama’s license is called a Business Privilege License, and it’s required for every business in the state. However, even though it’s a statewide license, it’s provided by the probate judge or license commissioner in your county office.
Alaska: Alaska’s general business license is required for all business entities operating in the state. You can find more information here.
Delaware: Delaware’s general business license is available through the state’s business portal, OneStop.
Hawaii: Every business in Hawaii needs to get the same business license, the General Excise Tax License. The license is available through the Department of Taxation.
Maine: Maine requires a general business license, but you do not get it through the Secretary of State. Instead, you can obtain it from your city, and you can find the correct municipality through the Maine.gov Local Government portal.
Maryland: After registering with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, a new business can apply for its general business license. According to the state, a business license is “required for most businesses,” and a trader’s license is also “required for buying and reselling goods.”
Nevada: The State Business License for Nevada used to be provided by the Department of Taxation, but now it is provided and regulated by the Secretary of State. You can obtain and renew one with the state’s online business portal, SilverFlume.
Tennessee: A business must obtain a Standard Business License in Tennessee if its annual sales exceed $10,000. (Businesses with $3,000-10,000 in sales can get a Minimal Activity License instead). This is a statewide requirement, but you obtain the license through your county clerk.
Washington: All businesses need to obtain the state’s business license from the Business Licensing Service.
What If My State Doesn’t Require a General Business License?
As you can see, the majority of states do not have a statewide requirement for a general business license, but just because there’s no general business license for your state doesn’t mean you don’t need one from a different level of government.
For example, many cities and counties have licensing requirements beyond what the state requires. To learn if you need a general business license on the local level, you should contact the government offices for both your city and your county.
Can I Hire a Service to Get My Business Licenses?
If you’d rather not handle the hassle of researching the necessary licenses and permits for your business, you can hire a reputable business services provider to take care of the legwork on your behalf.
When you enlist the assistance of one of these companies, they will determine which licenses your business needs to operate in a compliant fashion ― at all levels of government, including federal, state, county, and municipal ― and then they will acquire all the necessary applications. From there, your only responsibility is to fill out the applications and file them with the appropriate government entities.
Of course, the one downside of this option is that it costs money. Still, if saving the time and effort is worth it to you ― not to mention the peace of mind you’ll receive from knowing your business has all of the correct licenses and permits ― it can certainly be worth the money. If you’re interested in hiring a business services provider to research your licenses for you, we recommend Incfile and Swyft Filings. For just $99, they will take care of everything except actually filling out the forms.
While you certainly can take care of the entire licensing process on your own, we’ve found that hiring a service to do the legwork for you is often worth it, as long as you have room in your budget.
A statewide general business license is not required by most states; in fact, just nine states require one. That said, even if your state doesn’t have a general business license, we recommend that you contact your state licensing board to be sure that you cover all licensing requirements in your area.
Not only are there quite a few industry-specific licenses and permits that may apply to your business, but there are also sometimes separate licensing boards operated by your county or municipal government.