How to Get a Small Business License in Washington, D.C.

Learn the steps required to obtain a business license in Washington, D.C.



Looking to start a small business in the District of Columbia? 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.

District of Columbia Small Business Information

The Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) is a DC government agency that works with and assists DC small businesses. The DSLBD website has information on such topics as:

  • financial assistance for small businesses (covering many potential sources)
  • business opportunities (such as contracting opportunities)
  • workshops and training, and
  • building the capacity of your business.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a district office in DC. The office’s website lists upcoming events, resources, and news for small businesses. The SBA also publishes a DC-specific Resource Guide for Small Businessthat you can download from the SBA website.

The DC Small Business Development Center (DCSBDC) has guidance on how to start and grow your business. The Center offers training on various topics as well as confidential consulting. In addition, The DCSBDC website has information on writing on a business plan, marketing, start-up assistance, and other matters. The website also has an extensive list of links to other resources. The DCSBDC is part of a national network of small business development centers.

Get One or More Business Licenses

All businesses operating in the District of Columbia must, at a minimum, be licensed in some way by the DC government. In many cases, this means getting a Basic Business License (BBL). However, some businesses where the principals are required to be licensed by a certification board or body—which often means licensed professionals—are not required to have a BBL.

BBLs are issued by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). You can apply for a BBL online. You can also download license application forms from the Basic Business Licensing (BBL) Forms section of the DCRA website and apply on paper. There are different categories of BBL and the fee for a BBL depends on the category. You can find a list of categories—there are many—on the DCRA website.

Keep in mind that, apart from a BBL, your particular business may need other licenses or permits. For example, you may need an environmental permit issued by the Department of Energy & Environment. You also may need a professional or occupational license (see below).

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 DCRA. Check the Online Servicessection of the DCRA website for more details.

Obtain Professional Licensing

If you’re a member of any one of many professions and occupations, you’ll need to be licensed by the District of Columbia. Different DC agencies license different professions and occupations. The DCRA's Occupational & Professional Licensing Administration (OPLA) licenses, for example, certified public accountants, architects, real estate agents, master electricians, plumbers, and asbestos workers. However, other professions and occupations are licensed through agencies such as:

  • Department of Health
  • Department of Mental Health
  • Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, and
  • Metropolitan Police Department (for security officers).

In some cases, the licensing agency will have a webpage listing each profession it handles. (One example is the Department of Health.) By clicking an item on the list you can go to a separate webpage with details on licensing for that particular profession or occupation. Remember: If you are licensed for your profession, you do not need a Basic Business License.

Example: Chenille wants to work as a licensed acupuncturist. She’ll need to apply for a license through the DOH. She can find detailed information and a copy of the license application by clicking on the link for Acupuncture in the Professional License Applications section of the DOH website.

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 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, a business name, or a DBA (for “doing business as”). In the District of Columbia, anyone who conducts business under a trade name must register that name with DCRA’s Superintendent of Corporations. For additional information, check the Register a Trade Name section of the DCRA website.

Example: Malek originally organized his car repair business as a DC corporation named Mal’s DC Garage, Inc. He now wants to operate the business under the name Monuments Foreign Auto Repair, Inc. Malek must file a Form TN-1, Trade Name Registration Form, including the filing fee, with the DCRA.

Additional Information

This article covers only the very tip of the iceberg regarding small business licenses and registrations in the District of Columbia. 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 DC. 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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