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Licenses and Permits You Might Need to Start a Business

Once you get the most common business licenses, including your occupational license, you need to look at other permits and licenses you may need for your specific business. Certain types of businesses will need more licenses and permits. In the excitement and stress of setting up a business, it is easy to forget one of the many licenses and permits you may need.

Special City Permits

Your city may require you to get special permits if your business uses certain materials or even if your business is open to the public. Generally, flammable materials or materials that could pose a danger to the public could require special permits. In some cases, your city may require a permit just because you are open to the public, even if you are running a home-based business.

  • Fire department permit – The city may require you to get a fire department permit if your business uses flammable materials. Some cities may require this permit just because you are open to the public, and some cities may require you to schedule fire safety inspections in lieu of getting a permit. Retirement homes, daycare centers, and restaurants are common places that may be required to get a fire department permit. Always check your fire extinguishers to ensure they are in date. If you do use flammable materials, be sure they are stored properly and that employees are using the proper cautions when working with those materials.
  • Air and water pollution control permit – If your business burns materials, discharges items into the waterways or sewers, or uses items such as paint sprayers that create gas, then you may need a special permit for this type of activity. If you own a construction company, you may also have to get environmental protection permits from the city in addition to the state and/or federal government permits. Other businesses that may require this permit include auto body shops and those that manufacture chemicals. Check with all three entities for environmental control permits.
  • Sign permits – Most cities have ordinances about signs. They may restrict location, height, size, lighting, or even the type of sign you can put up. Location is important because some signs could hinder the view of traffic or other businesses. Before you spend the money putting up a sign in front of your business, or even a smaller lawn sign, check with the city and county for permits and restrictions for signs. If you are renting the building or property where you are setting up your business, you should also check with the landlord before putting up a sign, even if the sign is authorized by the city or county. Your landlord may also have restrictions on signs, especially if you are in the same building with other businesses, as the landlord may want all signs to look the same.

County Permits

You may feel that if you are in an unincorporated part of the county that you are able to do what you want. However, unincorporated areas still have rules and regulations, especially if you are near a conservation area. If you are in an unincorporated part of a town or county, the county may be the entity that issues permits for your business. In some cases, even if you are in the city, you have to get certain permits from the county. For example, in Tampa, Florida, you may need to have a city business tax permit and a county business tax permit.

  • Health department permits – Most counties are going to require you to obtain a county permit if you sell food as a restaurant or if you wholesale food to other retailers. This includes food trucks. The health department will do an inspection before it issues the permit. The health department also performs periodic inspections which establishments must pass or risk having their permits revoked. The inspectors check to see that you are properly storing food, that food is not past the use-by date, that the facility is clean, and that the facility is up to code.

State Licenses

Most states require licenses for certain occupations including, but not limited to:

  • plumbers,
  • building contractors,
  • electricians,
  • auto mechanics,
  • insurance agents,
  • collection agents,
  • re-possessors,
  • real estate brokers,
  • doctors,
  • nurses,
  • cosmetologists,
  • barbers, and
  • other occupations who provide personal services.

Many of these professions require state testing in order to get licenses. Additionally, states may require occupational permits even if the county and/or city require occupational permits.

Federal Licenses

Some businesses are required to obtain federal licenses, including meat processors, investment advisory services, television stations, and radio stations. You may need a federal license if you are involved in agriculture, selling alcohol, firearms, provide air transportation, provide sea transportation, or several other types of services and products that are federally regulated.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

You may need a license or permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture if you import plants, biologics, biotechnology, animals, or animal products across state lines. Even within the United States, some plants may become invasive in areas where they are not normally found. This ruins the ecosystem of the plants and animals native to that area.

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

If you import, sell, wholesale, or manufacture alcoholic beverages at a retail location, you may need a federal license from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. You may also need a state, county, or city license or permit for these activities.

Federal Aviation Administration

If your business transports people or goods via air, you operate aircraft, or you perform aircraft maintenance, you will need a license or permit from the Federal Aviation Administration. Additionally, every time you add a new type of plane to your fleet, you will have to be checked out in that aircraft.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Businesses that deal, manufacture, or import ammunition, explosives, and firearms must obtain a license or permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. These types of businesses may include manufacturing plants for ammunition and explosives, companies that buy and sell ammunition and explosives or, in some cases, even construction companies that handle explosives.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

If your business imports or exports wildlife and wildlife-related products or you are involved in wildlife-related activity, including running a wildlife sanctuary, you will need to obtain the proper permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Further, in order to house and care for certain types of animals, you must obtain special permits.

Additionally, some states require special permits to own different species. For example, Florida requires you to obtain a Class 1 permit to keep animals that pose a threat to others, including baboons, bears, lions, tigers, crocodiles, hyenas, and more. Florida classes wildlife into three different classes based on the amount of danger the animal presents to others.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office

If you are starting a business that does any type of commercial fishing, you will need a license or permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office. Even if you have one other person working for you or you are a family fisherman and you sell the fish, you will need a license or permit.

Federal Maritime Commission

If you are going to ship cargo by sea or you provide ocean transportation, you will need a license from the Federal Maritime Commission. If a vessel has berths or staterooms for over 50, you must apply for a license and provide proof of financial responsibility for your passengers. The Federal Maritime Commission is actually divided into two parts: one dealing with passenger vessels and one dealing with transporting goods over the seas.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

If your business is involved in any type of drilling activities such as for oil, natural gas, or other minerals on federal lands, you will have to obtain a permit from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

If you distribute nuclear materials, dispose of nuclear materials, produce commercial nuclear energy, or if you run a fuel cycle facility, you will need to get a permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Federal Communications Commission

Any business that broadcasts by wire, cable, satellite, radio, or television must obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission. If you still have and use a ham radio or use certain satellites as an amateur, you may also need a license. Certain areas are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. You no longer need an alien reciprocal license.

U.S. Department of Transportation

Contact the U.S. Department of Transportation about permits for overweight and/or oversize vehicles. While your state government issues the permits, the U.S. Department of Transportation directs you to the proper state agency. If you are involved in ground trucking, you must also contact the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Additional Federal Licenses and Permits

In addition to the above-mentioned agencies, investment advisers must contact the Securities and Exchange Commission, those who manufacture drugs must contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and those who are involved in the preparation of meat products also need to contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sales Tax License

Most people realize that they need a state sales tax license to sell goods. However, many do not realize that if they sell goods out of their home that they still need a sales tax license. Whether your business is a small business that you run from your home or you are opening a larger retail business, including providing services, you will need to obtain a sales tax license from your state. Check with your state’s rules and regulations to determine what products and services are taxable, as each state may tax different products and services. If you have more than one location, you will need a separate sales tax permit for each location.

Furthermore, if you purchase products for resale, you may be exempt from paying sales tax on those purchases. Most businesses will require that you provide a copy of your sales tax license to their establishment.

Online Businesses and Home-Based Businesses

If you are planning on opening an online business, you should treat it just as you would a brick-and-mortar business when it comes to obtaining permits and licenses. You will most likely need to have the same permits and licenses to operate your business, especially the specialty licenses and permits listed above.

The state you incorporate in is the state you obtain licensing from. Even if your business is in one state but you sell or provide services to those in other states and not your own, you should abide by your state’s requirements.

If you have a home-based business, you will need to abide by the licensing requirements for your state, especially if you have people come into your home for business reasons. Additionally, you should have business insurance if the public is invited onto your property for business reasons. For example, a home auto technician repairing vehicles out of his or her garage should have garagekeepers insurance to protect them and their property against liability if someone gets hurt while visiting the property.

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