Looking to start a small business in South Carolina? You might need to obtain one or more state licenses and permits or complete one or more kinds of state registration, as part of the startup process. Here's a quick look at some of the main legal requirements for South Carolina businesses.
When starting a business in South Carolina, you must:
The types of licenses and permits your business must apply for depends on your business structure, industry, and location. The main types of business licenses, permits, and registrations are:
(For more general guidance, see our article on the legal requirements for starting a small business.)
South Carolina doesn't have a statewide general business license. However, you'll likely need to obtain a business license from your city or county. Typically, if you operate within a city, you'll need to get a license from the city. If you operate outside of a city, you'll need to get a license from the county.
For example, the City of Columbia requires anyone who will be doing business in the city to pay an annual license tax and to apply for and renew a business license. When applying for your license, you should be prepared to provide the following information:
The City of Charleston also requires anyone doing business within city limits to pay an annual license tax and obtain a business license. The type of license you'll need to apply for depends on your location:
Before you start practicing, you might have to get special licensing or certification for your profession or occupation. Depending on the rules of your profession or occupation, you could need to get a license for yourself and for your business.
In South Carolina, professional licensing is handled through the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR). As a department, the LLR provides an array of services for the professional community, including:
The LLR's Division of Professional and Occupational Licensing (POL) oversees a few dozen professional and occupational boards. The POL has a list of boards with links to each board's webpage. On each board's webpage, you can find information related to licensing requirements, such as:
The POL, however, doesn't oversee all occupations and professions in South Carolina. The SCBOS has licensing and registration information for other professions. For example, the SCBOS links to the South Carolina Bar, the regulating authority in charge of attorneys. (Lawyers are first licensed through the South Carolina Board of Law Examiners before they can join the Bar.)
You should check with the board, commission, or agency that regulates your profession or occupation to see which licensing requirements apply to you. If you can't find your board listed on the POL website, you can do an internet search for your board.
If you're a retailer in South Carolina, you must have a retail license. A retail license allows you to collect and pay sales tax in South Carolina. In general, a "retailer" is anyone who:
(S.C. Code §§ 12-36-5 and following (2023).)
Out-of-state, remote sellers that gross more than $100,000 annually will also need to obtain a retail license from the DOR. The full qualifications of being considered a "retailer" in South Carolina are somewhat complicated. If you're not sure whether you qualify as a "retailer," talk to a South Carolina business attorney.
You can apply for your retail license, along with other tax licenses, by completing the Business Tax Application. You can complete the application online using MyDORWAY. You can also mail in Form SCDOR-111 to the DOR.
As of 2023, the fee to obtain a retail license is $50.
To learn more, visit the retail license webpage on the DOR website.
In some instances, such as if you'll be constructing or renovating a space, you'll need to get special zoning and building permits. Typically, you'll need to complete an application and pay a fee. If your work is more substantial, you could need to submit your plans and go through additional reviews and inspections.
For example, in Columbia, you need to get a permit if you want to build or perform work on an existing space, except for painting, flooring, and other cosmetic work. The city requires a building trade permit for electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and gas work. You have to get a building permit for other types of work.
Charleston's permitting system acts in much the same way as Columbia's. You'll submit a trade "sub" permit for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, gas, and fire protection work. You'll submit a building permit application for other kinds of work, such as:
Before you start using a space for your business, you'll typically be required to obtain a certificate of occupancy or a similarly named document to show that your building is safe to use. Typically, you can only receive this certificate after you've passed all inspections and received the required building permits. For example, Charleston requires any building that's been newly constructed or has had a change in use or occupancy to have a certificate of construction completion occupancy before the space can be used.
Zoning laws. If your type of business isn't in line with the zoning code, you can find another space or potentially apply for a special use permit. A special permit can provide your business with an exception to the current use laws.
Building code. 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.
An assumed name is any name used to do business that's different from a business's legal name. A business's legal name is the name that the company registered with the SOS when it filed its formation documents (for example, its articles of incorporation or articles of organization). An assumed name is also called a:
In South Carolina, only limited partnerships (LPs) are required to register an assumed name, if they use one. For an LP, its legal name is the name listed in its certificate of limited partnership. So, if the LP uses a name that's different from the name in its certificate, it must file an assumed name certificate with the SOS. As of 2023, the filing fee is $10. (S.C. Code §§ 33-42-45 (2023).)
Foreign (out-of-state) corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) not using their legal name in the state must file a fictitious name form, and foreign limited partnerships not using their legal name in the state must file an assumed name certificate. These various forms are filed with the SOS.
The SOS doesn't allow other business entities to file an assumed name with the state. Typically, you'll list your DBA with your city or county when you apply for a business license.
To learn more, see the SOS's FAQ about business entities.
In addition to the licenses and permits discussed above, you might be required to comply with other laws and regulations. For instance, your business might need to apply for special licensing or follow special rules related to:
Sometimes these areas are encompassed within other licenses, permits, and registrations. Other times, these licenses and permits will require a separate process. If you're in a highly regulated field, you're more likely to need additional licenses and permits.
These licenses and permits can be issued by the federal or state government, or locally. The requirements vary depending on the city or county involved. You should check the websites for the city and county where you'll operate your business for more information. Some businesses might be exempt from local licensing requirements under state or federal law.
You should check with your federal, state, and local governments for more information.
You can find information and get assistance for your South Carolina small business by checking the SCBOS's guide on how to start a business. The guide includes steps on:
The SCBOS website has links to information about key state agencies for businesses and small business assistance. The site also links to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which is another helpful resource.
The SBA has how-to guides and resources for starting a small business. The SBA has district offices in Columbia, Charleston, and Spartanburg.
You can also find more information on the small business section of our website. If you're looking to dive in further, 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.
If you're looking for personalized, professional help, consider talking to a South Carolina business attorney. If possible, you should try to find a lawyer who has experience assisting businesses in your industry. An attorney can help you navigate the steps to get your business license or permit.