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Obtaining Business Licenses & Permits

Every business needs to be licensed to legally operate. Depending on your business, you may need to be licensed at the federal, state and/or local level. Beyond a basic operating license, you may need specific permits, such as an environmental permit.

Regulations vary by industry, state and locality, so it's very important to understand the licensing rules where your business is located. Not complying with regulations for licensing and permitting can lead to expensive fines and put your business at serious risk.

How to Get Licenses and Permits

Visit the Permit Me tool to get a listing of federal, state and local permits, licenses and registrations you'll need to run a business.

Federal Licenses and Permits

If your business is involved in activities supervised and regulated by a federal agency, you may need to obtain a federal license. Here is a brief list of the licenses and permits that you may need for your business.

Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issues permits for businesses involved in the importation and interstate transportation of animals, animal products, biologics, biotechnology and plants.

Alcohol Beverages

Federal law requires manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and retailers of alcoholic beverages to register, pay special taxes and maintain certain records with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Alcohol and tobacco businesses above the retail level (such as manufacturers, wholesalers, importers, exporters, etc.) must apply for an operations permit from the TTB. The federal government does not impose a fee or charge for permits. The applicant must obtain written approval from the TTB before engaging in business.

Small producers, such as microbreweries and small wineries that may also have retail operations will need to contact the TTB for approval.

All alcohol beverage businesses, including retailers of alcoholic beverages, such as bars, nightclubs, restaurants and retail liquor stores should contact their state's Alcohol Beverage Control Board for specific permit and licensing information, along with their city and/or county government for additional licenses and permits that may be required.

In addition to obtaining appropriate permits, all businesses engaged in manufacturing, distributing and selling alcohol, including retailers, are required to pay special federal taxes. For more information on the requirements necessary to run an alcohol beverage business, visit the Food and Beverage Industry Guide

Aviation

Offers licensing information for airmen, aircraft, airports, airlines and medical aviation services.

Provides a list of regulations, policies, license and certifications for pilots.

Provides a list of regulations, policies, license and certifications for aircraft mechanics.

Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives

Manufacturers, dealers and importers of firearms and ammunitions are subject to licensing standards described in the Gun Control Act, which is administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the principal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. The ATF is responsible for regulating the firearms and explosives industries.

Gives information on the National Licensing Center (NLC), which determines eligibility and acts upon applications for Federal firearms licenses, Federal explosives licenses and Federal explosives users permits.

Provides guidance and information on licensing and permit requirements for explosive materials.

Licenses required to carry a concealed weapon are issued by state or local governments.

Manufacturers, distributors, importers, and dealers of firearms, ammunition or explosives need to file and pay excise taxes with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a federal agency responsible for collecting excise taxes on firearms and ammunition to ensure that these products are labeled, advertised and marketed in accordance with the law.

Explains FAET, a tax imposed by Chapter 32 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code (26 U.S.C. 4181) on the sale of firearms and ammunition by manufacturers, producers and importers. This packet contains all the information necessary for a firearms or ammunition dealer, importer or manufacturer to file and pay required excise taxes. It also includes information for those who wish to register before making tax-free firearms or ammunition sales to certain acceptable groups or organizations.

Describes an amendment to the IRS tax code that provides an exemption from FAET for any pistol, revolver or firearm (article) if it was manufactured, produced, or imported by a person who manufacturers, produces, or imports less than an aggregate of 50 of such articles during a calendar year.

Fish and Wildlife

Businesses and organizations engaged in any wildlife related activity, including the import/export of wildlife and derivative products, must obtain an appropriate permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Provides the main portal to resources, forms, tools and guides concerning federal fish and wildlife permits.

Gives information on Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement, issued permits and addresses for Regional FWS Permit Offices.

Commercial Fisheries

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regulates the interaction between marine mammals and commercial fisheries by issuing permits for fishing activities that would otherwise be prohibited by law.

Provides electronic versions of many NOAA Fisheries forms, listed for each geographic area by both the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) number and the NOAA form name.

Issues permits for Atlantic tunas, updates permit information and reports recreational landings of bluefin tuna.

Gives information on permits and authorizations that are required under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to conduct activities that may result in the "taking" of a protected species.

Issues NOAA Fisheries permits and authorizations for federally-protected species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).

Provides permits and fishing authorizations issued by the Northwest Region for fisheries affecting west coast groundfish.

Offers information on compliance with the High Seas Act along with permits.

Gives information on Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS) permits.

Maritime Transportation

Provides a general description of the Office of Transportation Intermediaries along with appropriate contact information.

Mining and Drilling

The Minerals Management Service (MMS), a bureau in the U.S. Department of the Interior, is the federal agency that manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf. Businesses involved in the drilling for natural gas, oil or other mineral resources on federal lands may be required to obtain a drilling permit from the MMS.

Offers an online application for permits to drill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nuclear Energy

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses commercial nuclear reactors and fuel cycle facilities, distribution of nuclear materials, and nuclear waste disposal facilities.

Provides NRC applicants and licensees with the rules and regulations governing the assessment and collection of fees and forms used in processing incoming payments from the licensee.

Offers a comprehensive source of reference information about materials regulation for those involved in various aspects of licensed materials use.

Radio and Television Broadcasting

If your business broadcasts information by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, you may be required to obtain a license from The Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC does not regulate the Internet or Internet Service Providers.

Provides information on how to obtain specific FCC licenses, from amateur radio and commercial radio to television broadcasting.

Outlines basic information about radio and television stations and the related application processes.

Supplies a guide to renewing FCC licenses for television stations.

Documents registration requirements for companies doing business with the FCC. Licensees, certificate holders, or entities sending payments to the FCC are considered to be doing business with the FCC and must register with the agency.

Gives information on filing for an FCC license online.

Transportation and Logistics

Outlines the maximum weights that are federally mandated for the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

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State Licenses and Permits

Many types of businesses need to obtain some type of business or professional/occupational license or permit from a state government. Select a state to learn about specific license and permit requirements in the area where your business is located.

State Business License Offices

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Tips for Maintaining Your Business License

Once you have all of the necessary licenses and permits, use these tips to help ensure your business continues to operate legally.

  • When signing up for a license, permit or registration, keep track of those that need to be renewed on a regular basis and keep a calendar of renewal dates.

  • Maintain a copy of all licensing applications and forms in your business records.

  • Make sure you follow rules for displaying your licenses or permits. Most states and localities require business to prominently display their business licenses so customers can see them.

  • If you are thinking of expanding your business by increasing the size of your building or launching a new product or service, you may need additional business licenses.