Depending on the type of business you’re running, you’ll probably need to apply for licenses and permits to operate legally. Certain businesses–especially restaurants and alcohol vendors—need to get them at both the federal and state levels, and sometimes even at the county or city level depending on the laws in your area. Learn which licenses and permits you need, how to apply, and how to keep your licenses up to date.

Get started Incorporate Your Business Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

1. Find the Licenses and Permits That You Need

The first step toward getting your business licenses is figuring out which ones you need. The Small Business Administration hosts a tool known as the SBA Business Licenses & Permits search tool. To use it, you just have to enter in your zip code and business type. It will then bring up your state's requirements as well as the local requirements. Applications can also be accessed through this tool.

2. Apply Online or at the Courthouse

If you need a particular license or permit, you can either apply online or at your local courthouse. Choosing to apply online has several distinct benefits over walking into the courthouse, application-in-hand: 1) The processing is often faster online; and 2) most states and the federal government offer discounts for those who register or apply online. If you file online, just be sure to save your pin number so you can check up on the status of your application.

3. Make Regular Payments and Keep Records

Most business licenses and permits require you to pay fees. Sometimes these fees are annual, and sometimes they’re periodic. Be sure to pay on-time to maintain your status, and it’s best to keep a record of your payment. It’s easiest if you do it online, because you’ll receive a receipt via email. If you mail your payment instead, you can photocopy your check or money order with information about the type of license that you applied for. This way you’ll have a record of your payment, just in case it gets lost in the mail.

Get started Incorporate Your Business Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get started Incorporate Your Business Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.