How to Get a Local Business License and Special Permits

Start-Up Requirements for Local Small Businesses

Woman hanging Grand Opening sign for a cafe
••• Jupiterimages / Getty Images

Counties and municipalities often have their own unique requirements for legally establishing a business, and statewide registration rules might apply as well. Starting a new business can be complex enough without worrying that you're missing any of these myriad rules.

You need a checklist of what's required, and an understanding of when it's required and why.

Commonly Required Local Business Licenses and Permits

Common requirements of local jurisdictions include:

  • Local business license or tax registration certificate
  • Franchise license fee
  • Filing a fictitious name statement
  • Special use permits
  • Health, safety, or other special certificates or permits

You must almost always pay at least a moderate fee to acquire these licenses, certificates, and permits.

Many local jurisdictions also place restrictions on the types of businesses you can operate from your home, and whether clients or customers can come to your residence. This isn't permitted at all in some cases and in some localities.

Business-Specific Needs

Some permits and licenses will be specific to your type of business. You'll find information from a certain department, such as:

  • Planning or Zoning Department: You might need special permission to open certain types of businesses in particular areas. Contact the zoning board if you're planning to convert a residential property into a commercial enterprise.
  • Building and Safety Department: You might need a special permit if you're opening a business outside your home, or running one from home where customers or clients will be on your premises, such as a daycare facility.
  • Construction, Remodeling or Renovation Permits: You'll need building permits if you're remodeling an existing storefront or office, or possibly even a space in your home to accommodate your business. This can usually be handled by your planning or zoning department, your building and safety department, or both.
  • Health Department: All businesses that serve any type of food or beverage and any type of in-home care service or daycare center will require health inspections. Fitness centers fall into this category as well. The health department also usually tests water quality.
  • Fire and Police Department: You might have to pass a fire or other safety inspection if you run a home-based business where you'll have employees or clients in your home. Most in-home daycare centers require a fire, safety, and health inspection that must be renewed annually. Police and fire departments are typically the agencies that handle occupancy permits, as well as crowd control issues and other permits that affect how people enter and exit a building.
  • CPR Certification: You might need to have CPR certification if you run any type of care-based in-home business. Most fire departments offer CPR training and certification. You can also call a local hospital to find out where you can take a CPR class.

Find Your State's Business Start-Up Requirements

Start by contacting your city hall, or your city or county clerk. You might also try your county tax assessor or local treasurer. State-level websites will often provide you with county and municipal links and tips, as well as broader jurisdictional requirements.