Apply for licenses and permits

The requirements and fees vary based on your business activities, location, and government rules.


Federal licenses and permits

Most small businesses need a combination of licenses and permits from both federal and state agencies. Business activities regulated by a federal agency will need a federal license or permit.

Check to see if any of your business activities are listed here. If they are, then check with the right federal agency to see how to apply.

Requirements and fees depend on your business activity and the issuing agency. Check with them for details on the business license cost.

Business activity Description Issuing agency

The import or transport across state lines of:

  • Animals, 
  • Animal products 
  • Biologics 
  • Biotechnology or plants
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Alcoholic beverages
  • Manufacture 
  • Wholesale 
  • Import 
  • Sale at a retail location

Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Local Alcohol Beverage Control Board

  • Aircraft operation
  • Transport of goods or people via air
  • Aircraft maintenance
Federal Aviation Administration
Firearms, ammunition, and explosives
  • Manufacture
  • Sale
  • Import
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Fish and wildlife
  • Any wildlife-related activity, including the import or export of wildlife 
  • Import/export of wildlife-derivative products
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Commercial fisheries
  • Commercial fishing of any kind
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service
Maritime transportation
  • Transport of people by sea 
  • Shipment of cargo by sea
Federal Maritime Commission
Mining and drilling
  • Drilling for natural gas, oil, or other mineral resources on federal lands
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
Nuclear energy
  • Production of commercial nuclear energy
  • Operation as a fuel cycle facility
  • Distribution and disposal of nuclear materials
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Radio and television broadcasting

Information broadcasts via:

  • Radio
  • Television
  • Wire
  • Satellite
  • Cable
Federal Communications Commission
Transportation and logistics
  • Operation of an oversize or overweight vehicle
    • Permits are issued by your state government, but the U.S. Department of Transportation can direct you to the correct state office
U.S. Department of Transportation

State licenses and permits

The licenses and permits you need from the state, county, or city will depend on your business activities and business location. Your business license fees will also vary. You may also need licenses from your county or city.

States tend to regulate a broader range of activities than the federal government. Business activities that are commonly regulated at the local level include:

  • Auctions
  • Construction
  • Dry cleaning
  • Farming
  • Plumbing
  • Restaurants
  • Retail
  • Vending machines

Some licenses and permits expire after a set period of time. Keep close track of when you need to renew them — it's often easier to renew than it is to apply for a new one.

You'll have to research your own state, county, and city regulations. Industry requirements often vary by state. Visit your Secretary of State's website to find out which permits and licenses you need. 

Need help? Get free business counseling

Last updated May 20, 2024