How to Get a Small Business License in South Carolina

Learn the steps required to obtain a business license in South Carolina.



Looking to start a small business in South Carolina? 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.

South Carolina Small Business Information

You can find information and get assistance for your South Carolina small business by checking the Starting a Business section of the state government’s sc.gov website. The site has links to information about key state agencies for businesses and small business assistance. There is also a link to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which is another helpful resource.

Also check the South Carolina Business One Stop (SCBOS) website. Among other information, the site has links to information on start-up funding and hiring employees, as well as certain licensing and registration information.

Get One or More Business Licenses

Not every South Carolina business needs a license. However, many types of business either can or must get one or more licenses or permits. Some of these licenses and permits cover matters like sales tax, the environment, and health and safety. Other types of licenses and permits cover various professions and occupations (see below).

Different types of licenses and permits are issued by different state agencies. You can find information about which licenses you may need and which agencies issue them by going to the Licenses, Permits, & Registration section of the sc.gov website.

In addition, some required licenses are issued 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 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 business must file organizational documents with the South Carolina Secretary of State(SOS). Check the Library of Forms and Fees 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 South Carolina. Professional licensing is handled through the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR). More specifically, the licensing is handled by the LLR’s Division of Professional and Occupational Licensing (POL), which, in turn, contains, among other offices, the Office of Board Services (OBS). OBS oversees all of the POL professional and occupational regulatory boards.

The OBS website has a section that lists many, though not all, of the state-regulated professions and occupations. Clicking on an item on the list will take you to the appropriate page within the POL website to find more detailed licensing information for that occupation or profession.

Some professions are not included on the OBS website list. However, the SCBOS website has a link to a documentthat provides an even more extensive list of occupations and professions, including attorneys, physicians, and others not included in the OBS listing. Like the OBS website, the SCBOS document has built-in links that will take you to a page of the POL website with additional, detailed information about licensing for each listed profession.

Example: Kenneth wants to work as a licensed professional forester. He’ll need to apply for a license through the South Carolina Board of Registration for Foresters. By going to the Board of Registration website he can get information about forms, fees, license renewal, and many other matters.

Register an Assumed or Fictitious Business Name (Trade 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 legal name, registered name, actual name, or true name), but may 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 South Carolina, foreign (non-South Carolina) corporations and 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.

However, unlike many other states, in South Carolina the SOS does not register DBA or trade names for domestic (South Carolina) businesses. The SOS only keeps a registry of legal names of domestic business entities. In most cases, these names are reserved when you are first setting up your business and registering it with the SOS. For additional information, check the Business Filings FAQs section of the SOS website.

Example: Jerry wants to set up his car repair business as a South Carolina corporation. The business will operate under the name Cypress Road Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. As one of the first steps in officially setting up his business, he completes an Application to Reserve Corporate Name and files it, along with the filing fee, with the SOS. As long as no other South Carolina business has registered that name, the SOS will reserve it for Jerry for 120 days. Jerry can download a copy of the necessary form from the Library of Forms and Fees section of the SOS website.

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: Sharonda wants to sell her peanut butter chocolate candy bars under the name “Shar’s Honey Nut Cocoa Bars.” So—after checking to make sure the name isn’t already in use—she files an Application for Registration of a Trademark or Service Mark, including the filing fee, with the SOS. She can download a copy of the form, including detailed instructions, from the Trademarks section of the SOS website.

Additional Information

This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in South Carolina. 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 South Carolina. 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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