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Legalizing your Small Business: Permits, Licenses, Certifications, oh my!

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Legalizing your Small Business: Permits, Licenses, Certifications, oh my!

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: June 9, 2009 Updated: May 5, 2015

Aside from questions about loans, grants and generally getting started in small business, one of the most commonly asked questions on the Small Business Administration (SBA) Web site is 'How do I get a business license?'

The answer, posted here, loosely points small business owners to their state or local government. And while your local jurisdiction is often the source of business licenses and permits, the federal government also oversees the licensing of federally regulated small businesses.

It’s a confusing arena, and even the simplest licensing requirements - such as getting a permit for your home-based business - are often overlooked by eager entrepreneurs.

Below are some simple pointers to help you understand basic business licensing requirements and take the steps towards obtaining and maintaining the correct licenses for your business type.

What Business Licenses do I need and how do I Apply?

Virtually every business needs some form of license or permit to operate legally. However, licensing and permit requirements vary depending on the type of business you are operating, where it’s located, and what government rules apply.

Discover the specific licenses or permits your business may need.  Simply select a state to learn about specific license and permit requirements in the area where your business is located.

What if my Business is Involved in Activities that are Supervised and Regulated by a Federal Agency?

Federal business licenses are diverse and are regulated separately by a variety of government agencies and departments, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (for the transportation of livestock and plant life), Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (for manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and retailers of alcohol beverages), the Federal Communications Commission (for those involved in media broadcasting), and so on.

The good news is that you can find most of the information you will need to know about federal business license requirements in one place.

Business.gov’s Federal Licenses for Regulated Businesses lists the types of business activities licensed by the federal government and provides direct links to all the forms and information you’ll need to comply.

As a rule, if you are involved in any of the following business areas you will need to verify what federal licenses, permits or excise taxes apply to you before you even start your business venture. Business activities licensed by the federal government are:


  • Agriculture - Specifically the import and transportation of livestock, animal products, biologics, biotechnology and plants.
  • Alcoholic Beverages - Whether you import, export, produce, wholesale, or retail alcoholic beverages, you will need a license.
  • Aviation - Airmen, aircraft, airports, airlines, aviation mechanics, and medical aviation services are all regulated.
  • Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives - Manufacturers, dealers and importers of firearms and ammunitions are subject to licensing standards and must also pay excise taxes.
  • Fish and Wildlife - If you are engaged in any wildlife related activity, including the import/export of wildlife and derivative products, you’ll need a permit.
  • Commercial Fisheries - Regulated by NOAA, you’ll need a permit for any commercial fishing venture.
  • Maritime Transportation - The Federal Maritime Commission’s Office of Transportation Intermediaries issues licenses for ocean freight forwarder and non-vessel-operating common carrier.
  • Mining and Drilling - 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 Minerals Management Service.
  • Nuclear Energy - If you are involved in the development, distribution and disposal of nuclear materials, you’ll need a license.
  • Radio and TV Broadcasting - Radio, television, wire, satellite and cable is licensed by the FCC. Internet service providers, however, are not.
  • Transportation - Oversized vehicles of a certain weight require a permit.


If your business touches one or several of these activities, Business.gov connects you with the appropriate licensing process and forms here.

Maintaining Your Business License

Licenses aren’t indefinite, so keep track of renewal dates and be sure to display any appropriate license and permit paperwork at your premise. More tips here.

Other Resources


  • Essential Government Forms - This directory categorizes forms by what you’re trying to accomplish (starting a business, operating a business, etc.).
  • Licensing Your Small Business: Quick Tools at Your Fingertips - Whether you are in the early exciting stages of starting your own business or are already well established, you are required to meet both general and business-specific government licensing and permit regulations. Here is a quick checklist of common licenses.

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley


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It is important to legalize your business. If you have no idea about it you can take help from law experts. There are many organization who are working in this sector. ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
It is important to legalize your business. If you have no idea about it you can take help from law experts. There are many organization who are working in this sector. ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
Very informative. I can add a link from The U.S. Small Business Administration www.sba.gov There is useful info for getting Licenses and Permits. -------------- Hoodia Gordonii Message Edited by NicoleD on 09-30-2009 11:05 AM
When any body going to start own small business most common and first hurdle is Licence and most difficult is to find perfect information how to do it and get it soon very few of sites and organization like your which helps properly.Condos FloridaMessage Edited by NicoleD on 08-18-2009 08:52 PM
I have been wondering about this very issue as we consider the expansion of our bluestone pavers business overseas. Licenses in particular are quite different to Australia. This article was extremely helpful in explaining exactly what to do thank you.Message Edited by NicoleD on 08-26-2009 12:50 PM
find an answer is to take advantage of an invaluable tool developed by the government - 'Permit Me' . Simply enter your zip code and business type and the Web-based tool will match your profile information to the federal, state and local permits, licenses, and registrations you’ll need to run a business in your locality. chemistry degreeMessage Edited by NicoleD on 07-24-2009 01:00 PM

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