To answer the question, "How do I find a business license for someone," it's important to understand the basics about business licenses. A business license allows you to conduct business in a specified city or municipality. All the cities and towns across the United States have their own rules and requirements about who must get a business license and how much it costs.

Anyone who wishes to conduct business is required to have a license at the state level in order to operate within the local government's jurisdiction. At the federal level, the government requires licenses for specialized industries or those with high levels of liability, such as institutions that serve alcohol or sell guns.

Why Do You Need a Business License?

There are three main reasons why you might need a business license:

  • A business license will protect you in the event of unfavorable circumstances, in the same way, for example, that forming an LLC will protect your assets,
  • If you plan to operate in a specialized market such as medical or food services, a license will help ensure public safety.
  • Government taxes are unavoidable, and maintaining appropriate licensing regulations will keep you accountable with respect to taxes.

Obtaining a Business License

Once you've filed your application, either the zoning or planning department will check to see if the area in which you're applying to operate is zoned for your intended purposes. If the desired area isn't zoned for your type of business, you'll need to explore a variance or conditional-use permit.

In order to obtain a variance or conditional-use permit, you'll have to bring your case before the city planning commission. Most times, variances are easy to obtain. However, you must prove that your business won't interfere with the character of the neighborhood you plan to operate in.

Business License vs. Business Permit

Many people wonder if there's a difference between a business license and a business permit. Generally, there's very little difference between the two. Each one can be administered at the local, state, or federal level. It's important to find out the specific regulations at each level to determine which licenses or permits will be required for your business.

Though it all depends on your industry and location, here are some common licenses and permits you may need to secure:

  • Fire department permit. You may need a permit from your local fire department if your business will be open to the public or require the use of flammable material. In some cities, you'll need this permit before you can open for business. In other cities, this permit isn't required because periodic inspections will be conducted by the fire department. In businesses where a lot of people gather, i.e., restaurants, day care centers, or retirement homes, the fire department will keep you under close scrutiny.
  • Air and water pollution control permit. Many cities now have a department devoted to the prevention of air and water pollution. If you'll be discharging anything into sewers, burning any materials, or using products that produce or emit gas, you'll need to secure a special permit, either at the county or city level, from the air and water pollution control department. In fact, you may need to secure approval before you begin construction or operation.
  • Sign Permit. Certain cities throughout the United States have ordinances in place that control the size, location, and lighting of any signs you wish to use for your business. Before you begin any design work, research the regulations, and make sure you obtain written approval from your landlord before you have your sign(s) installed.
  • County Permit. Typically, county regulations aren't as strict as the municipal regulations of cities in that county, However, county governments typically require the same licenses and permits. If your business is going to operate outside any city or town jurisdiction, then county permits will apply.
  • State Permit. At the state level, people in certain occupations are required to obtain licenses or occupational permits. Examples include mechanics, electricians, plumbers, contractors, real estate brokers, insurance agents, and those providing personal services, i.e., doctors, cosmetologists, or barbers. It's best to contact your state government to see if your occupation requires special licensing.

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