Virginia Business License Requirements
Starting a business in Virginia takes preparation. There are many boxes to check to ensure your business is prepared to operate legally. Be sure you know everything the state government requires before you set out to open your doors (or website).
While Virginia does not require a state license for most businesses, you will typically need to register your business with the State Corporation Commission. This is true regardless of whether the business operates at home, in a brick-and-mortar location, or on the internet. Your registration certifies your business to operate in Virginia.
Whenever you earn money, at least a few entities want to know about it: the federal government and your state and local tax agencies. While the state doesn't require business licenses, it will look for registered businesses to pay and relevant payroll, sales, and income taxes.
Local cities and counties in Virginia will typically require a license, which is called a "business license tax." Depending on the nature of your business, this may be a flat fee or a percentage of your gross profits. You might need other licenses or permits from your local government—liquor licenses, for example. Most licenses must be renewed yearly.
If you're confused about which licenses you need, start by contacting your city or county office. They can answer your questions and point you toward other important agencies.
A Licensing Exception
Virginia does not require that sole proprietors obtain local business licenses or register with the state. If you report your business income on your personal tax return and you haven't taken steps to form some other type of business entity, such as a corporation or a limited liability company, you're most likely a sole proprietor. This is the case whether you work out of your home or elsewhere. It also applies whether you're the only one in the business or you pay any employees.
If you do operate your business under any name other than your own, you must register your business with the State Corporation Commission. Additionally, sole proprietors or other businesses that operate under a different name other than their legal business name must file a fictitious name certificate with the Office of the Clerk for the Circuit Court that serves your county or municipality.
Determine Your Licensing Requirements
Virginia doesn't have one single license that applies to all businesses, but the following resources can help you determine your licensing requirements:
- Guide to Business Licenses and Permits in Virginia: This page explains business licensing in Virginia, and links to city-specific application pages.
- Virginia Economic Development Partnership: Resources for businesses in Virginia.
- Steps to Launching a Business in Virginia (Virginia's Business One Stop): This detailed guide covers every step of the process.
Whether you're just starting a business or you're growing one, Virginia's business websites provide resources and information to help you plan, start, or expand your enterprise. When you've determined which requirements apply to you, Virginia's Business One Stop provides online registration for a multitude of licenses.
Before you register, it's always a good idea to consult with a local attorney. A lawyer can help you determine whether you might want to consider incorporating or otherwise setting up a separate business entity from yourself. They can also advise you on whether you can just as easily do business as a sole proprietor, in which case you'll avoid many licensing requirements. With the help of an attorney and a little research, you'll make sure your business is legally cleared to operate in Virginia.