How to Get a Small Business License in California

Learn the steps required to obtain a business license in California.

The Golden Bear state is home to many entrepreneurs who must decipher how to get a small business license in California. State, county, and municipal regulations are integral to obtaining a business license. Seeking to encourage new business activity, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) provides a central clearinghouse on business incentives and information about starting or relocating a business in California. The GO-Biz office provides an interactive map for new businesses to find relevant local resources. The Office of Small Business Advocate (OSBA) can further aid small businesses with information on start-up issues in California. Since there are many different kinds of businesses, your licensing responsibilities will vary based upon your industry, business organization, and location. Key general licensing issues and resources for California are listed below.

  • General Business Licenses. Any business owner must obtain a general business license in the city in which your business is located. Some California cities refer to a business license as a business tax certificate. Businesses that are operated in unincorporated sections of the state must obtain their license or tax certificate on a county basis. If your business has multiple locations, you may be required to obtain a business license in each city where you operate your company. For example, if you run a business with separate locations in Fresno and San Diego, you will need a business license from Fresno and a business tax certificate from San Diego. Based on the jurisdiction, you may be able to submit your registration application online, by postal mail, or in-person. The license costs may be a flat rate, gross sales percentage, or a combination of these elements based upon your field and the city or county where your enterprise is situated. Typically, you will need to provide the licensing authority with the owner’s and business’s name and address, additional contact information, business type and structure, federal tax ID number, numbers of employees, and projected annual sales. The state government offers a listing of links to California County Websites as well as California City Websites to help guide your search for licensing information. You can also search county websites by visiting the California State Association of Counties.
  • Specific Licensing for Regulated Professions and Industries. Aside from general business licenses, your company may be required to comply with additional licensing, environmental, and other regulatory mandates. The California Government Online to Desktops (CalGOLD) aids new business ventures by offering CalGold Business Permit Assistance, a searchable online database of regulated professions and industries with relevant contact and website information. If you sell or lease merchandise in California, you must apply for and obtain a Seller’s Permit and can apply online to the California State Board of Equalization (eReg). Furthermore, you must register your business entity, including various kinds of partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations with the California Secretary of State’s office.
  • Fictitious Business Name Statement. In certain cases, you may use a fictitious business name statement or a doing business as (D.B.A.) filing if you run a venture under a company name other than its legal name. For example, if ABC Company runs a personal fitness center called FitWorld Unlimited, it must apply for and renew its fictitious business name statement with the county in which it operates. You can access the relevant county website for fictitious names at the state government’s California County Websites or by visiting the California State Association of Counties.

June 2013

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