Get Business License or Permit

Application for licenseWe’re moving along quickly through the steps of starting a small business. We’re already to step 5: Get Business License or Permit. Like the Sales & Use Tax Permit, not every business will need licenses or special permits. Many depend on the business industry or even the particular state or locality. Some licenses and permits may also be governed at the federal level. So, let’s work our way up.

Local and city

Often times you’ll find rules about the local licenses and permits by visiting city hall. For instance, doing business out of your house may require you to contact the city planner for permission. Gaining permission might involve you talking to neighbors and having them sign off on your permit. Transient merchants (think fruit stands, food trucks, etc… mobile businesses) might also need special permits. If you’re unsure of if your particular business needs a special local or city permit, it doesn’t hurt to stop by city hall and ask.

American Flag and MapState

You’ll likely find most of your licenses and permits at the state level. For your convenience, I’ve gathered links to the state licensing agencies. Even if you don’t think you need a licenses, it’s to your benefit to at least skim through the different licenses of your state. You might find some odd ones, for example a frog dealer licenses for North Dakota or some even some mundane ones, like to be a professional fundraiser.


I like to think the federal government leaves governing to the states and localities. However, that’s not always the case. In terms of businesses, the federal government has a few industries it likes to keep tabs on. As there aren’t many, I encourage you to browse through the list below:

Agriculture. Governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Permit Information

Detail of a Beer GlassAlcoholic Beverages. Governed by the U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). This will also require a local and/or state licenses.

Aviation. Depending on your type of business, you may need to apply for more than one of the following licenses. FAA Licenses and CertificatesPilot Licenses and Training Requirements, and Aircraft Mechanic Licenses.

Firearms, Ammunition and Explosives. Administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF also makes available guides for those wanting to obtain licenses for firearms and/or explosives: Firearms Industry GuideExplosives Industry GuideHow to Become a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), and How to Become a Federal Explosives Licensee (FEL).

Fish and Wildlife. Governed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Permit Information

Commercial Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries Service handles this area. Permit Information

Cruise ShipMaritime Transportation. These licenses are governed by the Federal Maritime Commission. License Information.

Mining and Drilling. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service) handles this area. Regulation Information

Nuclear Energy. Governed by U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. License Information

Radio and Television Broadcasting. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are the ones to talk to in this industry. License Information.

Transportation and Logistics. Last but not least. The U.S. Department of Transportation covers this area. License Information.


Please be aware that there may be overlap with the licenses. Again, I’ll use my state (North Dakota) as an example. The state has a transient merchant license for those mobile businesses. However, the City of Dickinson and many other cities also requires a permit for those mobile businesses. The state requires licenses to sell alcohol. However, the federal government has regulating licenses also.

I mention this, as you need to be wary. If you miss one of those licenses, you might find the sheriff knocking on your door, telling you to close your business… or worse, fining you for not having the appropriate permits and licenses.

As always, if you find any broken links or links leading to the wrong place, let me know. That way I can fix them.

What kind of licenses do you have in your state that you think are odd?