How to Get a Small Business License in Rhode Island

Learn the steps required to obtain a business license in Rhode Island.



Looking to start a small business in Rhode Island? You may need to obtain one or more state licenses or permits, or complete one or more kinds of state registration, as part of the start-up process. Here’s a quick look at some of the main informational resources available and a few of the steps you may need to take.

Rhode Island Small Business Information

The state government website for Rhode Island, ri.gov, has a For Business section with a Starting a Business link. Clicking on the link will take you to a long list of linked websites for sources of small business information and assistance. Key options include the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) and the Secretary of State (SOS) Business Information Center. However, the Starting a Business webpage also lists many other resources.

Get One or More Business Licenses

Not every Rhode Island business needs a license. However, many types of businesses either can or must get one or more license or permits. Apart from certain professional and occupational licenses (see below), a business may need a license or permit for so-called commercial purposes or in order to sell certain items. You can find information about commercial licenses from the Commercial Licensing & Racing & Athletics section of Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulation (DBR) website. For some of the sales-related licenses, check Form BAR,BUSINESS APPLICATION and REGISTRATION, which you can download from the Rhode Island Division of Taxationwebsite.

In addition, some required licenses are issued locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or town involved. For example, Providence requires licenses for many types of businesses located in the city. You can find more details by checking the website for the city where you’ll operate your business. Some businesses may be exempt from local licensing requirements under state or federal law.

File Records For Your Form of Business

Beyond obtaining required licenses or permits, some legal forms of business, such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs), are required to file records with the state. More specifically, corporations, LLCs, and certain other types of businesses must file organizational documents with the Rhode Island Secretary of State(SOS). Check the Business Filings section of the SOS website for more details.

Obtain Professional Licensing

If you’re a member of one of many professions and occupations, you’ll need to be licensed by the State of Rhode Island. A good first place to check for information is the Professional License Renewal section of the ri.gov website. The section provides licensing information for some professions and occupations. Another option is the DBR, which has links for licensing for a few professions, such as insurance professionals. Beyond the foregoing online listings, which only cover some (not all) professions and occupations, you should check the website for the state professional regulatory board for your particular profession.

Example: Carlotta wants to work as a licensed professional land surveyor. She’ll need to apply for a license through the Rhode Island Division of Design Professionals (BDP). Along with land surveyors, the BDP handles licensing for architects, landscape architects, and professional engineers.

Register an Assumed or Fictitious Business Name

Many small businesses don’t simply operate under the names of their owners. Instead, they operate under a business name. In addition, some businesses, such as corporations and LLCs, may originally register with the state under one name (sometimes called the registered name, actual name, or true name), but later choose to operate under another name. Depending on where you’re doing business and how your business is structured, this alternative business name technically may be known as an assumed name, a fictitious name, a trade name, or a DBA (for “doing business as”). In Rhode Island, any corporation, LLC, or limited partnership that intends to operate under a fictitious name must register the name with the SOS. Individual cities, such as Providence, may also require an assumed name filing. For additional information on state requirements, check the Name Availabilitysection of the SOS website.

Example: William originally organized his car repair business as a Rhode Island corporation named Bill’s Ocean Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Greater Narragansett Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Jerry must file Form 624, FICTITIOUS BUSINESS NAME STATEMENT, including the filing fee, with the SOS. He can download a copy of the form by going to the Business Filings section of the SOS website and clicking on the Corporate Forms link.

Register a Trademark or Service Mark

There are separate legal definitions for trademarks, service marks, and trade names. However, speaking very generally, trademarks, service marks, and trade names are used to uniquely identify goods (products), services, or a business. This includes distinguishing a product, service, or business from potential competitors. Trademarks and service marks can be registered with the state. This is distinct from federal registration.

Example: Henriette wants to sell her coffee-cocoa candy bars under the name “Henry’s Brown Cocoa Buzz Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—she files a Form T-80, APPLICATION FOR THE REGISTRATION OF A TRADEMARK, including the filing fee, with the SOS. She can download a copy of the form from the Business Services section of the SOS website.

Additional Information

This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in Rhode Island. You can find much more information in the many other articles in the Small Business section here on Nolo.com. Many of those articles are part of 50-state series—so you can get plenty of information that’s specific to the State of Rhode Island. 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.

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