How to Get a Small Business License in Hawaii

Take a look at which licenses, permits, and registrations your small business might need in Hawaii.

By , Attorney
Updated by Amanda Hayes, Attorney · University of North Carolina School of Law

If you're looking to start a small business in Hawaii, you need to obtain the necessary business licenses and permits before opening your doors. Here's a look at some of the common registrations, licenses, and permits your business might need in Hawaii.

Which Business Licenses Do You Need for Your Small Business?

When starting a business in Hawaii, you must:

Which licenses and permits you must apply for depends on your business structure, industry, and location. The main types of business licenses, permits, and registrations are:

The DOT provides a tax and licensing information sheet for businesses on its website. This sheet goes over which licenses your business must apply for and which taxes your business must register for and pay.

(For more general guidance, see our article on the legal requirements for starting a small business.)

General Excise Tax (GET) License in Hawaii

Hawaii requires all businesses that receive income from business activities conducted in the state to obtain a general excise tax (GET) license. You must apply with the DOT to receive your license and your Hawaii tax identification number. You can complete the registration process by either:

  • registering online through the DOTAX website at Hawaii Tax Online, or
  • delivering or mailing a completed State of Hawaii Basic Business Application (BB-1 Packet) to the DOT.

You can also use the basic business application to apply for other taxes, including seller's collection (a use tax), employer's withholding, unemployment insurance, and other business taxes.

You should be prepared to provide the following information on your basic business application:

  • your business name and mailing address
  • your trade name (DBA), if applicable
  • your business start date and date of organization/incorporation
  • your business structure (for example, sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or corporation)
  • your business's federal tax ID number (usually an EIN)
  • your accounting period and accounting method
  • the business owners' names and addresses
  • your proposed business activities and NAICS
  • the number of employees and associated dates and wages, and
  • other basic information.

Your county might have additional licensing requirements for businesses. You should check with your county government to see what its licensing requirements are. (Hawaii has four counties, one quasi county, and no municipalities.)

Professional and Occupational Licenses for Businesses and Individuals in Hawaii

Typically, if you're part of a particular profession or occupation, you must have a special license or certification to operate within that practice area. Each profession and occupation has its own requirements and licensing process. You could be required to obtain a license for yourself and for your business.

The DCCA's Professional and Vocational Licensing Division (PVL) is responsible for licensing for more than 50 different professions and vocations. The PVL website has a list of professional boards and commissions and licensing programs. By clicking on an item on the list, you'll be taken to a webpage with detailed information about licensing requirements, including:

  • application forms, fees, and instructions
  • application deadlines and examination dates
  • licensing laws and rules
  • how-to guides
  • license renewal information and links
  • regulating body information
  • meeting schedule and minutes
  • announcements, and
  • frequently asked questions (FAQ).

You can also usually apply for, manage, and renew your license on the PVL website.

A few licensed professions, such as attorneys, aren't on the PVL list. In those cases, you'll need to do your own internet search to find a website for the relevant state regulatory board and licensing information.

Your county could have additional regulatory requirements that apply to your profession. Check your county's website for more information:

You should also contact your specific licensing authority to determine whether there are any additional requirements or regulations at the state or county level.

Hawaii Seller's Collection of Use Tax

Hawaii doesn't have a state sales tax. However, Hawaii does recognize a use tax. The use tax is imposed on purchases from unlicensed out-of-state sellers when those purchases are imported for use in Hawaii. These purchases include tangible personal property (goods), intangibles, services, and contracting.

If you pay the GET on a good or service, then you don't have to pay a use tax on that good or service. Likewise, if you pay a use tax on a good or service, then you don't have to pay a GET.

You can register for the seller's collection of the use tax in the same way that you registered for the GET—register online through Hawaii Tax Online or by mail or in person by completing the basic business application.

For more, see the DOT's An Introduction to the Use Tax.

Local Zoning and Building Permits

In some cases—for instance, if you'll be building or renovating a space—you'll need to get special zoning and building permits. These permits will confirm that your commercial space and your use of the space follows the county's code and ordinances.

City and County of Honolulu: Typically, you'll need to apply for a building permit for additions, alterations, change of use, repairs, fences, demolitions, or plumbing and electrical work, among other things. You can find information and resources on Honolulu's permitting webpage.

County of Maui: In Maui, you must get a building permit if you plan to construct, alter, move, demolish, repair, or use a building in the county. You can find information on building permits—including applications, approving agencies, fees, and resources—on its building permit webpage. The webpage also links to information on other types of permits that might apply to your business.

County of Hawai'i: You must apply for a permit in Hawai'i County if you do any building, plumbing, or electrical work to a building structure. The county website has a permit information section with FAQ answers, applications, forms, and regulations.

County of Kaua'i: You'll need to apply for a building permit if you plan to construct a new building or improve or change an existing building. The County of Kaua'i's Building Division has links to permit applications, building forms, resource documents, and Division Codes on its website. The Division also has a building permit guide to help you navigate the application process.

You can typically apply for a building permit online in any of the four counties. You can work with local departments and agencies to apply for building and construction permits. You'll likely need to have inspections related to your space's structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing features.

If you'll be leasing a commercial space, be sure to have a clause or paragraph in the commercial lease that ensures the building and your use of the space are in line with the zoning laws.

Registering Your DBA in Hawaii

A DBA is a name that's different from the legal name of a person or registered company. For sole proprietors and partnerships, the legal name would be the personal name of the owners. For corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), and other registered businesses, the legal name would be the name that was included in the formation paperwork.

In Hawaii, you're not required to register your DBA. However, you can choose to register your DBA by filing an Application for Registration of Trade Name (Form T-1). You can also apply online using the DCCA's Hawaii Business Express. As of 2023, the filing fee is $50.

See the DCCA's webpage on trade names, trademarks, and service marks for more information.

While you're not required to register your DBA, you must still list your DBA when completing your basic business application and applying for your GET license. If you have more than one DBA, then you'll need to submit a General Excise Branch License Maintenance Form (Form G-50) to the DOT.

Other Licenses and Permits Your Business Might Need

Apart from the licenses, permits, and registrations discussed above, you might need to comply with other laws and regulations. These laws could be related to safety, health, the environment, or other areas. If you're in a highly regulated field, you're more likely to need additional licenses and permits.

You might need to apply for special permits with the federal, state, and county governments. For instance, if your business activities will have a substantial environmental impact, you could need to pay special attention to laws and regulations issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Additional Information for Small Businesses in Hawaii

You can find many publicly-available resources for small businesses:

  • The Hawaii Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has guidance on how to start, plan, manage, and grow your business. The website includes information on training sessions and workshops, business advice, and marketplace analysis. The SBDC is part of a national network of small business development centers.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a district office in Honolulu. The office's website lists upcoming events, resources, and news for small businesses.

You can also find out more from our website's small business section. If you're interested in learning more, you can also find expanded information in many Nolo books, such as Legal Guide for Starting & Running a Small Business, by Fred S. Steingold, and The Small Business Start-Up Kit, by Peri Pakroo.

Applying for business licenses, permits, and registrations in Hawaii can get complicated. You'll need to be aware of the state laws as well as the rules and regulations for your county. If you need help understanding these laws or you want personalized legal advice, talk to a Hawaii business attorney. If possible, you should look for a lawyer in your county who's worked with businesses in your industry.

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