A business license in California gives your California LLC (Limited Liability Company) permission to operate in a certain location or within a specific industry.
While we can’t walk you through all of the potential license applications step-by-step, we provide helpful resources like:
- information about state licensing rules
- instructions for researching municipal licenses
And if you want to just hire a company to do the research for you, we have a recommendation below.
Tip: Save time by hiring an expert. We recommend using IncFile ($99) to handle the business license research for you.
California Business License Requirements
After you form a California LLC, you may need to obtain a business license or permit.
There are three main licensing jurisdictions and license types:
- State licenses
- Local licenses (county, city, etc.)
- Federal licenses
Your requirements are determined by the industry you are in and where your California Limited Liability Company is located.
Because of the large number of industries and municipalities in California, it’s not possible for us to explain them all. However, you can use the search tools below, call your local municipality, or hire a company for help.
Does California require a Business License?
That depends on where your business is located, and what it does.
There are two types of California state licenses for businesses:
- general business licenses (also called a business operating license)
- occupational licenses
California General Business License
Some states require a business operating license, which means all businesses operating in those states must have that license, regardless of what they do.
But good news – California doesn’t require one!
However, depending on your business type, your LLC might need an occupational or municipal license.
California Occupational License
Most states have occupational licensing requirements. This means a license or permit may be required depending on what your business does or what your occupation is.
For example, if you sell used cars, or run a hair salon, you may need an occupational business license. But a license may not be required for other types of businesses.
The CA.gov: Professional Licensure Guide helps you determine if your California business needs an occupational license or permit, and which agency to contact about applying for the license.
Contact the Office of the Small Business Advocate
You can also contact the California Office of the Small Business Advocate with questions about small business requirements.
Municipal Business License (Business Tax Certificate)
Municipal business licenses can be issued by California cities, towns, counties, etc. We refer to all of these as a “municipality” to keep things simple.
There are two types of municipal business licenses:
- general business license
- occupational licenses
Note: The general license is sometimes called a Business Operating License or Business Tax Certificate. They all mean the same thing and we may use them interchangeably.
If a municipality requires a general business license, all businesses operating in that municipality must have the license, regardless of what their LLC does. Most California counties require a general license.
For example, an Alpine County Business Operating License is $29 and is renewed for that amount every year.
And if a municipality has occupational business licenses, your LLC may need one depending on what your business does.
For example, if you operate a food truck, or run a daycare, you may need an occupational license at the local level. Or if you’re developing real estate, you may need a zoning or building permit.
But a license may not be required for other types of businesses, like designing wedding invitations or offering marketing consulting.
You can contact your municipality to check on their licensing requirements and get a business license application:
California State Association of Counties: County Websites and Profile Information
How to get a Business License in California
You can get a California business license by applying with the appropriate licensing office. The agency you apply with will depend on where your business is located and what business activity it engages in.
The application typically requires basic information, such as your business name, business type, EIN Number, and business address. Many applications also ask about your business activity and any fictitious business names (aka DBA Names).
California Sales Tax License (Seller’s Permit)
If you sell products to consumers in California, you may need to collect sales tax and get a California Seller’s Permit.
You can register for your California Seller’s Permit using the California Department of Tax & Fee Administration: Online Services. The Seller’s Permit is free and valid for as long as your LLC is conducting business.
It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for your Seller’s Permit registration to be approved. You can check your application status online, though. And you’ll get an email when your registration is approved.
Once your Seller’s Permit is ready, you can log in to the Department of Tax and Fee Administration’s Online Services to download and print a copy. You must post this permit in a visible place in your business location next to your City or County Business License.
For additional information about the Seller’s Permit or Sales and Use Tax:
- Search for license and permits you may need using the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development: CalGOLD Permit & License Search.
- Review the CDTFA guide called CDTFA: Your Seller’s Permit
- Contact the California Department of Tax & Fee Administration.
Tip: Save time by hiring an expert. We recommend using TaxJar. They'll help you register for, collect, and pay sales tax.
Do I need any federal business licenses?
Most businesses in California don’t need a federal business license. However, certain industries do need licenses from the federal government:
|If your business…||Contact this agency about business licenses|
|Transports animals, plants or biotechnology over state lines||Department of Agriculture|
|Imports or exports animal products, wildlife, or products derived from wildlife (including fish)||Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Fishes commercially||Fish and Wildlife Service|
|Broadcasts on radio or TV||Federal Communications Commission|
|Makes alcohol and sells it at a retail store||Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau|
|Makes or sells firearms, ammunition or explosives||Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives|
|Transports cargo by sea||Federal Maritime Commission|
|Transports goods or people by air||Federal Aviation Administration|
Check out the Small Business Administration’s Licenses and Permits page for a full list of industries that require a federal license.
If your business in California isn’t one of these special cases, then the only federal requirements are that your LLC get an EIN Number and that you file taxes.
California Business License FAQs
Good news! California doesn’t have a general business license at the state-level, so there are no fees there.
However, your business may need occupational licenses – or local business licenses or permits. The filing fee for licenses will vary depending on where you’re doing business and what industry you’re in.
And you might not need a business license at all!
Unfortunately, we can’t say exactly what your LLC’s California business license cost would be, because it depends on several factors and the cost of licenses varies. But we do explain the different types to help guide you in the lesson above.
LLC costs in California vary depending on your unique business needs. That said, California LLCs have two types of cost: initial fees and ongoing fees.
The fee to form an LLC with the California Secretary of State is normally $70. But California LLCs formed between 2021 and 2024 are free!
If your LLC will sell goods or services that would have sales tax in a retail store, your business entity will also need a Seller’s Permit. Fortunately, it’s also free!
If you hire a California Registered Agent service, you’ll have to pay an annual fee each year. This is usually about $125 per year.
LLCs are also required to file an annual $800 Franchise Tax. Every California business structure must make this payment every year. But the first Annual Franchise Tax payment is waived for LLCs formed between 2021 and 2024.
Your LLC may need a business license in California depending on your industry and where your business is located. We recommend checking with your municipality about whether they require a business license or charge any annual fees.
The amount you’ll pay in business taxes will also vary. We recommend hiring an accountant who is familiar with tax requirements for a business in California.
No, an LLC is not a business license.
An LLC is a type of business entity created by filing a document with the California Secretary of State and paying the filing fees.
A business license is a document that gives a person – or a company – the privilege of doing business. It doesn’t create an LLC.
California doesn’t require a general state-level business license. However, there are other licenses and permits your LLC may need.
For example, let’s say your LLC will sell goods or services that are normally subject to sales tax when bought at a retail store. In this case, you’ll need to register for a Seller’s Permit to collect and pay those taxes.
Note: A local business license is also sometimes called a business tax certificate.
You can check with your local municipalities and contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs to see if you need additional licenses or permits.
You can submit applications and renewals for a California business license online – using the California Department of Consumer Affairs BreEze Online Services.
You can get your Seller’s Permit from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration: Online Services.
And if you aren’t sure which occupational and municipal licenses or permits your business may need, you can check using the CalGOLD Permit & License Search.
How long it takes to get a business license in California depends on your LLC’s specific needs.
California doesn’t require businesses to have general California state licenses in order to conduct business in the state.
However, your LLC may need:
- a state-level Seller’s Permit to collect and pay sales tax
- an occupational license
- a municipal license to operate in a certain location
The license approval time varies widely based on the type of permit you get, and where your business is located.
Approval for a Seller’s Permit may take anywhere from just a few days to a few weeks.
On the other hand, some occupational licenses can take up to 8 weeks for processing. And the processing time for municipal licenses varies widely by city and county.
LLC University® Recommendation:
We recommend checking with your local county and city clerks for which businesses require licenses. You can also check on their specific license turnaround times, and any fees. We have links to the county and city directories above.
A California Seller’s Permit is free! It also doesn’t need to be renewed as long as you continue paying your business taxes on time.
Here are the steps to starting an LLC in California:
- Select a business name for your California LLC
- Choose your Registered Agent
- File the LLC Articles of Organization
- Complete and sign an LLC Operating Agreement
- Get a Tax ID Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Open an LLC bank account
- Check whether you need business licenses or tax permits in California
CA SOS: Starting a Business
CA SOS: Starting a Business – Entity Types
California Small Business Development Center
California Dept. of Tax & Fee Administration: Obtaining a Seller’s Permit FAQs
California Office of the Small Business Advocate: Contact Us
CA.gov: Choose a Business Structure and Register Your Business
California State Association of Counties: County Websites and Profile Information
California DCA: DCA Boards/Bureaus
California DCA: Expedited Licensure for Honorably Discharged Members of the United States Armed Forces