Do I Need to Register My Business? Guide to Business Licenses and Registration in the U.S.

This is part of our general Guide to Laws for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs.

If you are in California, see our Guide to Registering a Business in California.

“Registering” a business can mean several different things. If you operate a business, there may be various licenses, permits, registrations, and certifications you need, including:

1. Local business license (aka business tax registration certificate)

Most cities and counties in the United States require all local businesses to get a “business license” also sometimes known as a “business tax registration certificate.” See our guides to business licenses in the Los Angeles area and San Francisco area. Or check with your city and/or county for more.

2. “Incorporating” or registering your entity

If you want to form a business entity such as an LLC or corporation, you will need to register with your state’s Secretary of State. See our Guide to Business Entities.

3. Registering with FinCEN

As of January 1, 2024, most small businesses in the U.S. must register with the federal agency FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), part of the U.S. Treasury Department, to report who owns the business.

4. Seller’s permit

If you are selling any goods, you may need a seller’s permit, and to collect sales tax. See our Guide to Business Taxes.

5. Brick and mortar permits

For businesses with a physical location, you may need to get a “zoning” permit to perform your business activities at that location. Again check with your city and county.

6. DBA orFictitious Business Name Statement

If you are doing business as other than your own name or your registered entity’s name, you will generally need to file with the county or state for a DBA, also known as a trade name or fictitious business name. See more about DBAs and trade names.

7. Registering as an employer

If you have employees, you may need to register with your state’s labor or employment agency. See more about your duties as an employer at our Guide to Hiring for Your Business.

8. Tax ID/EIN or Employer Identification Number 

This is separate from registering as an employer with the state. You would get an EIN from the IRS, regardless of whether you have employees or not. It is the Tax ID of the business. See more about EINs.

9. Registering your professional or business activities

You may also need to register or get a license or certification for your professional or business activities. Examples are practicing architecture or medicine, working as a building contractor, etc. This is also known as occupational licensing. Check with the regulatory agency that governs your profession or activity.

10. Optional certifications

There may also be various optional certifications you can obtain. For example, some jurisdictions allow interior designers to get a certification but do not require it; or you may be able to obtain a certification as a Green Business.

Further Resources

See our full Guide to Laws for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs

If you have additional questions or need help with your business, discuss with a lawyer and tax professional.

Photo credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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