Business License in District of Columbia

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Overview: How to form an LLC in the District of Columbia

Step-by-step guides:


District of Columbia LLC Costs:
Formation fee: $99
Annual fee: $300 (every 2 years)

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Northwest ($39 + state fee) or LegalZoom ($149 + state fee)

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Note: A Business License and a Basic Business License mean the same thing. We may use these terms interchangeably.

Getting a Business License for your DC LLC

All LLCs formed in the District of Columbia must get a Business License (aka Basic Business License) in order to operate in the District.

This is mandatory and is required by all LLCs, regardless of income or activity.

Before you can get a Basic Business License for your LLC, you must:

(each one of the links above will take you to a prior lesson)

You must get your Basic Business License before you start operating your business in the District.

What’s the purpose of the Basic Business License?

The purpose of the Basic Business License is to ensure the safety of the residents and the visitors of DC with regard to certain business activities.

Different types of Basic Business Licenses

Your business activities will determine the type of Basic Business License you need.

Each type of business activity falls under a specific category. The Business License Categories are specific to various industries.

So it may be more helpful to think of a Basic Business License as:

A Basic Business License AND its Business License Category “clumped” together.

How much does a Basic Business License cost?

The total cost for a business license will depend on the Business License Category relevant to your business.

To determine the price of your Basic Business License:

  1. Visit the DCRA’s Business License Category page
  2. Under the “Category Name” column, look for your industry
  3. Click the Category link to see the total fees

Note: All costs shown for business licenses are for 2 years.

Let’s look at a few examples:

General Business License (GBL)

The General Business License (GBL) is the most common type of business license issued in the District of Columbia.

The reason why is that a lot of businesses don’t fall within a specific Business License Category.

Having said that, it’s easier to think of the General Business License as an Business License Category, but the category itself is labeled “General”.

In order to determine if your DC LLC will need a General Business License will depend on two statements, both of which must be true:

  • Your business doesn’t fall within another business license category
  • The business owners aren’t required to maintain professional licenses issued or regulated by a local, state, or national certification board/body (ex: architects, attorneys, doctors, engineers, etc.)

Need help? If you’re not sure what type of Business License Category you need for your Basic Business License, you can call the Business License Center at 202-442-4311. Their staff will ask you a few questions about what your business will do and then tell you if it falls under a General Business License or a different Business License Category.

What if my business does multiple things?

If your business is engaged in different types of activities and they fall within multiple Business License Categories, then you need to select (and pay for) multiple Business License Categories.

If you apply online, you’ll be able to select multiple Business License Categories. And if you apply in-person, a Business License Representative will help you select all applicable Business License Categories.

How to apply for a Basic Business License

  • There are 3 ways to apply for a Basic Business License (by mail, online, or walk-in)
  • We don’t recommend mail filings as approval can take up to 30 days
  • We recommend either the online filing or the walk-in filing
  • The walk-in filing is especially useful if you have questions or need help
  • We have instructions below for both the online filing and walk-in filing

Remember: You need to have the following documents and information ready before applying for your Basic Business License, whether you are going to file online or by walk-in:

Our recommendation: We recommend the walk-in filing over the online filing. Although it seems like more work to go downtown and spend the time, you may find the walk-in filing easier because a Business License representative will sit down and speak with you about your application. They’ll answer any questions you have and they’ll make sure you have everything filled out correctly. For this reason, if there is a section in the Basic Business License Application you’re not sure about, just leave it blank and discuss it with your Business License representative upon arrival.

Applying for a Basic Business License in-person (walk-in filing)

Complete the Basic Business License Application form:
DCRA: Basic Business License Application

Most people will get their Basic Business License approval during their visit. If your Business License Category requires further review, the Business License representative will let you know that and their office will contact you once your Basic Business License is ready and approved.

Sign a Clean Hands Self-Certification:

Note: Although there is already a Clean Hands Self-Certification section within the BBL Application, it’s a good idea to also complete the longer version of the form above and bring it with you.

How to apply in-person:
Gather your Basic Business License Application form, your Clean Hands Self-Certification form, and all other required documents (listed above) and bring them to:

Business Licensing Center
1100 4th Street SW, 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20024

Note: The building is on the east side of 4th Street.

Hours: 8:30am to 4:30pm on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Thursday their hours are 9:30am to 4:30pm. You must arrive prior to 3:30pm in order to be served.

Best time to arrive: We recommend arriving at the parking garage between 8:00am and 8:15am (except on Thursdays). This way, you’ll be the first served when they open at 8:30am.

Methods of payment: Credit card, cash, check, or money order. Check or money order should be made payable to the “DC Treasurer”.

Parking: There is a parking garage (also on the east side of 4th Street; right next to CVS). You can also use metered street parking if you find a spot, however, it’ll be less stressful to just pay for the parking garage since apply for a Basic Business License can take a few hours. We recommend paying for 1 to 2 hours of parking.

Here is an image of the 1100 building and you can see the entrance to the parking garage next to the CVS:

Washington DC Business License and Permit Center

How it works: Park inside the garage and then head up to the 2nd floor. The 2nd floor is an open floor plan. There are no suite numbers or offices. Just look for the “Business Licensing Center”. This is where you’ll apply for your Basic Business License.

Allow time: If you arrive early in the morning, we recommend allowing 1 to 2 hours. If you arrive late morning or early afternoon, please allow 2 to 3 hours.

Applying for a Basic Business License online

Create an account with My DC Business Center.

Then login.

Get started:

  1. In the middle of the page, click “My BBLs
  2. Click “Apply For A New License”
  3. Click the green “Next” button to begin

Step 1. Pre-Application Questions:

  1. Select one Primary Business Activity
  2. Select one Primary Business License Category
  3. Select all Secondary Business License Categories that apply (click “None” if none apply)
  4. Select one General Business Sub-Category

Corporation Registration:

This page will ask you a series of questions about your DC LLC:

Is this business already registered with DCRA’s Corporations Division?
Select “Yes”.

What is your business structure?
Select “Limited Liability Company (LLC)”.

What is the Trade Name?
If you filed a Trade Name (aka DBA) for your LLC, then enter your LLC’s Trade Name here. If not, leave this field blank.

A Trade Name is used if your LLC will do business under a name besides its full legal name. For more information, please see Do I need a DBA for my LLC?

Would you like a two (2) or four (4) year license?
Choose whether you want to pay for 2 years or 4 years. Most filers pick 2 years.

Will this business be located in the District of Columbia?
Select whether or not your LLC is located in DC. For most readers, this will be “Yes”.

Will this business be Home based?
Select whether or not your LLC will be a home-based business.

Do you have a Home Occupancy Permit (HOP) from Office of Zoning?
If you followed our prior lesson (Home Occupation Permit) then you should select “Yes”. You’ll enter your Home Occupation Number in a few steps.

Which Tax Identification Number is associated with your business: Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) or Social Security Number (SSN)?
Select “FEIN”. Remember you should already have gotten your FEIN from our prior lesson: EIN Number for DC LLC.

License Category and Fee Confirmation:

Based on your pre-application questions, the system should determine what type of business license your LLC needs. You should also see the total amount that will be due on this page.

Click “Next” to proceed. And click “Confirm” in the pop-up box.

Step 2. Application Checklist:

Click the “Enter Information about Your Business (Here)” link to get started.

Home Occupancy Permit Number:
Enter your Home Occupancy Permit Number and click “Search”. Then select your Home Occupation Permit and click “Next”.

Corporate Registration:
Enter your LLC’s File Number and click “Search Corp Online”. Your LLC’s info should appear below. Denote that it’s correct by selecting “Correct” twice and then clicking “Next”.

Note: You can find your LLC’s File Number by looking at your Certificate of Organization or by searching your LLC name.

Registered Agent Address:
Review your DC Registered Agent address. Denote that it’s correct by selecting “Correct” twice and then clicking “Next”.

Mailing Address:
Enter your LLC name, your first and last name, your email address, your LLC’s mailing address, and your phone number.

You should now be taken back to the Application Checklist overview page.

Click the “Enter Tax and Revenue Information (Here)” link.

Clean Hands Self Certification and Legal Attestation:
Enter your LLC’s Notice Number. This can be found in the upper-right hand corner of your Notice of Business Tax Registration letter that you received from the Office of Tax and Revenue when you registered your LLC for taxes.

Then enter your name, select “Owner” from the drop down menu, enter your LLC’s FEIN (aka EIN Number), check off the box at the bottom, enter your name again to electronically sign the form, and then click “Next”.

You’ll be taken back to the Application Checklist overview page one last time. You should see check marks in all sections. Here’s an example of what your page may look like:

District of Columbia LLC Basic Business License Checklist

Click “Next”.

On the next page you should see the total amount due as well as all the information you entered in your application. Review all the info. Look for any errors or typos. If you need to make any corrections, click the “Return to Checklist” button. If all looks good, click “Next” to proceed. And then click “Confirm” in the pop-up box.

Payment & Approval

Enter your credit card information, your email address, check off the box, and enter your name at the bottom to electronically sign. Click “Submit” at the bottom and then finalize your payment.

Congratulations! Your LLC’s Basic Business License Application has been submitted to the District. Now you just need to wait for approval.

The most common types of Basic Business Licenses will be approved immediately and you’ll be able to download your business license. Make sure to save and print a copy too.

Other types of business licenses can take up to one week for the Business Licensing Center to review and approve.

Either way, the online filing system will let you know if your license is immediately available for download or if you need to wait.

Once your Basic Business License is ready to download, you will receive an email from the District.

Basic Business License Renewals

All Basic Business Licenses must be renewed every 2 years (unless you paid for a 4-year license; then it’s renewed every 4 years).

You can renew your Basic Business License by mail, online, or in-person at the Business Licensing Center (1100 4th Street SW, 2nd Floor).

If renewing by mail or in-person, download the Basic Business License Renewal Form:

  • Visit the Document Management System
  • Click “All Documents”
  • Enter the word “renew” in the search box
  • You should see the “BBL Renewal Application (fillable)” in the results

The Business License Center mails out Renewal Application Packets about 1 month before your Business License expires.

However, even if you don’t receive your renewal reminder in the mail, it is still your responsibility to renew your business license every 2 years (or every 4 years). For this reason, we strongly recommend putting a repeating reminder on your phone, your computer, and/or your calendar.

Fines and penalties:
As per section 47–2851.10 of the DC Code, the District takes Basic Business License renewals very seriously.

If you fail to renew your Basic Business License before its expiration date, it will be considered “lapsed”. You can then renew it within 30 days from the date of expiration by paying the filing fee plus a $250 penalty.

If your Basic Business License stays “lapsed” past 30 days (but for less than 6 months from expiration), your license then becomes “expired”. You can renew it within that 6 months timeframe by paying the filing fee plus a $500 penalty.

If you fail to renew your Basic Business License within 6 months of expiration, your license is then revoked. If you continue doing business, you’ll then be operating your business illegally without a license and you’ll be fully liable for all fines and penalties that may be imposed.

If you want to continue operating your business in the District, you must pay all fines and penalties and then apply for a new business license (you can no longer renew). You won’t be able to apply for a new business license until all the fines and penalties have been paid.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do I need to have a Certificate of Occupancy or Home Occupation Permit?

Yes, if your LLC is located in the District, you’re required to have one or the other. Please see this page: Certificate of Occupancy or Home Occupation Permit.

If your LLC is not located in the District (and the only DC address you have is your Registered Agent address; all other addresses are in another state), then you don’t need a Certificate of Occupancy or Home Occupation Permit.

2. What’s the difference between a Business License, a Basic Business License, and a General Business License?

A Business License and Basic Business License (BBL) are the same thing.

Basic Business License (BBL) is the official name in DC.

A General Business License is an Business License Category which a business falls within if 1) the business doesn’t fall within another Business License Category and 2) the business owners aren’t required to maintain professional licenses issued or regulated by a local, state, or national certification board/body (ex: accountants, doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc.)

Next Step: LLC Biennial Report

After you’ve received your Basic Business License approval, you can then proceed to the next lesson: DC LLC Biennial Report.

Contact Info: Business Licensing

If you have any questions about your LLC’s Basic Business License and/or Business License Category, you can contact the Business License Center at 202-442-4311.

Their hours are 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday, except Thursday; when their hours are 9:30am to 4:30pm.

Matt Horwitz

Matt Horwitz
Founder & Educator, LLC University®
Matt Horwitz has been the leading expert on LLC education for the past decade. He founded LLC University in 2010 after realizing people needed simple and actionable instructions to start an LLC that other companies weren't offering. He's cited by Entrepreneur Magazine, Yahoo Finance, and the US Chamber of Commerce, and was featured by CNBC and InventRight.
Matt holds a Bachelor's Degree in business from Drexel University with a concentration in business law. He performs extensive research and analysis to convert state laws into simple instructions anyone can follow to form their LLC - all for free! Read more about Matt Horwitz and LLC University.

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