How to Get Business Licenses in Tennessee | A Comprehensive Guide

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Tennessee Business License

Starting a new business is an exciting venture, but it’s essential to understand the various licenses required to operate legally within Tennessee. Forming an LLC in Tennessee requires licenses, as different industries and locations have specific regulations. This article will provide a comprehensive guide to Tennessee Business Licenses, helping you navigate the process and ensure your new venture complies with all necessary requirements. By understanding the permitting landscape in Tennessee, you can ensure that your business is fully prepared to succeed while avoiding potential legal pitfalls.

Webinarcare Editorial Team will help you easily obtain a business license in Tennessee. You must be guided by all the factors gathered in this article.

What is a Business License in Tennessee?

A business license is a legal authorization, permit, or document that allows a business to operate within a specific jurisdiction, such as a city, county, or state. Tennessee business licenses are issued by Tennessee Secretary of State and ensure businesses comply with applicable laws, regulations, and standards in their respective industries.

A business license protects public health, safety, and welfare by ensuring businesses operate responsibly and lawfully. Acquiring a business license often involves registering the business, paying applicable fees, and meeting specific requirements or qualifications for the type of business.

Business licenses can vary greatly depending on the location and nature of the business. Some common types of business licenses include:

1. General Business License: This is a basic license required for most businesses to operate within a specific jurisdiction, such as a city or county.

2. Professional and Occupational Licenses: These licenses are specific to certain industries or professions, such as healthcare, construction, real estate, or cosmetology, and are typically issued by state licensing boards or agencies.

You must have a professional and occupational license to form Tennessee General Partnership and offer your service. 

Here are some examples of Professional and Occupational Licenses:

  • Medical License: Physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals must obtain a medical license to practice medicine in a specific state. The Tennessee medical board issues this license after verifying the applicant’s education, training, and examination results.
  • Realtor License: To become a realtor in Tennessee, you must obtain a real estate license to buy, sell, or lease properties on behalf of clients. Tennessee has its own real estate commission or board responsible for issuing licenses and regulating the industry.
  • Contractor License: General contractors, electricians, plumbers, and other construction professionals must often have a contractor license to work in Tennessee. 
  • Cosmetology License: Professionals in the beauty industry, such as hairstylists, estheticians, and nail technicians, must obtain a cosmetology license to provide services. Tennessee Boards of Cosmetology oversee licensing and regulations for this industry.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA) License: Accountants who wish to become a CPA in Tennessee must designate and provide specific services, such as auditing financial statements and obtaining a CPA license from Tennessee’s Board of Accountancy.
  • Architect License: Architects must obtain a license to practice architecture in Tennessee. This typically involves meeting education and experience requirements and passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
  • Attorney License: Tennessee Business Attorneys must obtain a license to practice law in a particular jurisdiction, typically by passing the state’s bar examination and meeting other requirements set by the Tennessee bar association.

3. Health and Safety Permits: Tennessee businesses involved in food service, hospitality, or other industries directly impacting public health and safety may require specific permits from local health departments or regulatory agencies.

4. Environmental Permits: Tennessee businesses that involve activities that may impact the environment, such as waste disposal, air or water emissions, or hazardous materials handling, may require permits from local, state, or federal environmental agencies.

5. Sales Tax License: Tennessee businesses that sell goods or services may be required to collect sales tax from customers and remit it to the appropriate tax authority. A sales tax license is typically required to collect and remit sales tax legally.

Tennessee business owners must research the specific licensing requirements for their business in their jurisdiction and obtain all necessary licenses and permits to operate legally and avoid potential fines, penalties, or legal troubles.

Requirements For Getting Business Licenses in Tennessee

If you start an LLC or any other type of business, you must wait until your Tennessee business registration is complete. Once you have completed the necessary steps to register your business in Tennessee, you must be prepared with the required documents to apply for business licenses.

  • Name of your company
  • Phone number and company address
  • Employee Identification Number (EIN)
  • Your company’s legal structure (Corporation, Partnership, or LLC)
  • Your business strategy, which includes revenues and costs

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How to Get a Business License in Tennessee

To get a business license, you must follow the guidelines below, including determining if your Tennessee business requires a license or permit, identifying the appropriate licensing agencies, researching license and permit requirements, completing and submitting license applications, and maintaining license and permit requirements.

Step 1: Determine The Required License or Permit

The first step in obtaining a business license is determining if your business needs one. Some businesses may not require a license or permit, while others may need multiple licenses depending on their industry and location. Some businesses typically require some form of licensing or permit:

  • Professional services, such as medical, legal, and accounting
  • Food establishments, including restaurants, bars, and catering businesses
  • Retail businesses, including stores, shops, and online retailers
  • Construction and contracting companies
  • Manufacturing and industrial businesses

State Licenses

The licenses that you must get first are the licenses within the state. Tennessee state licenses require individuals or businesses to engage in certain activities or professions legally. The state government issues these licenses and serves as proof that the license holder has met certain qualifications and standards set by the state. The types of licenses vary depending on the profession or activity, including but not limited to healthcare professionals, contractors, real estate agents, and drivers.

State licenses assure the public that the license holder has undergone the necessary training and education to perform their duties safely and competently.

Federal Licenses

Federal licenses in Tennessee are granted by federal agencies and are required for certain activities and industries that fall under federal jurisdiction. These licenses ensure compliance with federal laws and regulations and are necessary for individuals or businesses engaged in the following services.

  • Agriculture: License issued by The U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Aviation: License issued by The Federal Aviation Administration
  • Alcohol & Tobacco: License issued by The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
  • Ammunition, Explosive, & Firearms: License issued by The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
  • Commercial Fisheries: License issued by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service
  • Mining & Drilling: License issued by The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
  • Nuclear Energy: License issued by The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Radio & Television (Broadcast): License issued by The Federal Communications Commission
  • Transportation by Sea: License issued by The Federal Maritime Commission
  • Wildlife & Fisheries: License issued by The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Obtaining a federal license in Tennessee involves meeting specific criteria and adhering to federal laws and regulations, which can vary depending on the activity or industry.

City-Based License

City-based licenses in Tennessee are granted by local municipalities and are required for certain activities or businesses operating within the city limits. These licenses ensure businesses comply with local regulations and ordinances and typically cover business operations, health and safety, zoning, and permits.

City-based licenses vary depending on the location and the nature of the business, but examples may include restaurant licenses, liquor licenses, taxi licenses, and street vendor licenses. Obtaining a city-based license in Tennessee involves submitting an application, paying the necessary fees, and meeting specific requirements set by the local government.

Home-Based License

Home-based licenses in Tennessee are required for individuals or businesses that operate from their residential property. These licenses regulate and permit activities conducted within a residential setting, such as home-based businesses or rental properties. Home-based licenses ensure these activities comply with local regulations, building codes, zoning requirements, and health and safety standards.

The specific requirements for obtaining a home-based license in Tennessee can vary depending on the type of activity and the local municipality but typically involve submitting an application, paying any necessary fees, and meeting specific criteria set by the local government.

Professional License

Professional licenses in Tennessee are mandatory for individuals pursuing specific careers or professions that require specialized knowledge, skills, and expertise. The state government grants these licenses and serves to regulate and ensure the competency and ethical practice of professionals in fields such as law, medicine, engineering, teaching, and accounting.

To obtain a professional license in Tennessee, individuals must meet education, experience, and examination requirements specific to their profession. These licenses assure the public that they receive services from qualified professionals and protect consumers from potential harm or malpractice.

Step 2: Identify the Tennessee Licensing Agencies

Once you’ve determined that your business requires a license or permit, you must identify the appropriate Tennessee agencies responsible for issuing these documents. In Tennessee, numerous agencies oversee licensing and permitting, including:

  • Tennessee Secretary of State: This office is responsible for issuing licenses for many professional services, including legal, medical, and accounting.
  • Tennessee Department of Health: Food establishments, healthcare providers, and other businesses related to health and safety may require licenses from this department.
  • Tennessee Department of Revenue: If your business sells goods, you may need a sales tax license or permit from this department.
  • Tennessee Department of Labor: Businesses that involve construction or contracting may need licenses from this department.
  • Local City or County Governments: Depending on your business’s location, you may also need to obtain licenses or permits from your local government.

Step 3: Research License and Permit Requirements

After identifying the appropriate agencies, research the specific requirements for each license or permit your business needs. This may involve reviewing the Tennessee agency’s website, contacting their office directly, or consulting a legal or business professional. Some common requirements for obtaining a business license or permit include:

  • Completing an application form
  • Providing proof of insurance or bonding
  • Passing background checks or inspections
  • Paying application fees

Some licenses or permits may have ongoing requirements, such as annual renewals, inspections, or reporting.

Step 4: Complete and Submit License Applications

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary information and documents, complete the application forms for each required license or permit. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions provided by each Tennessee agency, as incomplete or incorrect applications can lead to delays or denials.

In addition to the application forms, you may also need to submit supporting documentation, such as:

Proof of Business Registration

You can find it on the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website. There should be a search feature specifically for businesses. This will often be labeled “Tennessee Secretary of State Business Information Search“. In the search feature, enter the name of the business you are looking for, and once it appears, you will now have proof of your business registration.

Employer Identification Number (EIN)

Aside from opening a bank account, you must have an Employer Identification Number in Tennessee to file and submit for a business license. An EIN, also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, is used by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to identify your business for tax purposes. You’ll need an EIN to open a business bank account, file taxes, and hire employees. 

The application of an EIN in Tennessee can be through the following:

  • Apply Online- The online EIN application is the preferred method for customers to apply for and obtain an EIN.
  • Apply by Fax- Taxpayers can fax the completed Form SS-4 application to the appropriate fax number), after ensuring that the Form SS-4 contains all of the required information.
  • Apply by Mail- The EIN application Form SS-4 can be filed via mail. The processing time frame to receive the mail is four weeks.
  • Apply by Telephone-International Applicants – International applicants may call 267-941-1099 (not a toll-free number) from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday to obtain their EIN.

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Proof of Insurance, Bonding, or Worker’s Compensation Coverage

To have a business license, you need proof of insurance, bonding, or worker’s compensation. You need to obtain a certificate or policy document as additional documents for your proof of insurance. Also, there is a database of businesses with worker’s compensation coverage or require businesses to register their insurance or bonding information. Visit your Tennessee Department of Labor, Department of Insurance, or another relevant agency website for information about the business’s coverage.

Professional Certifications or Licenses

As I have mentioned, if you will form a general partnership and offer your service, you must have professional certifications or licenses. 

Submit your completed applications and the Tennessee business license fee, which ranges from $50 – $300. The processing times for license and permit applications can vary, so plan accordingly and allow ample time for approval.

Step 5: Maintain License and Permit Compliance

Once you’ve obtained the necessary licenses and permits for your Tennessee business, it’s essential to maintain compliance with all requirements. This may include:

  • Keep your Tennessee licenses and permits current by renewing them on time, typically annually.
  • Reporting any changes to your business, such as a changing Tennessee LLC address. You may amend your Tennessee Articles of Organization if you change anything in your Tennessee business.
  • Maintaining proper insurance, bonding, or worker’s compensation coverage.
  • Complying with any inspection, reporting, or record-keeping requirements.

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Additional Considerations

In addition to the steps outlined above, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind when navigating the Tennessee business licensing process:

  • Licenses and permits are often industry-specific, so research your business type’s requirements.
  • Some businesses may need licenses or permits from multiple agencies at the state and local levels. Be sure to research and comply with all necessary requirements to avoid complications.
  • If your business operates in multiple locations or across state lines, you may need to obtain licenses or permits for each jurisdiction in which you operate. You can form Tennessee Foreign LLC
  • Stay informed about licensing and permitting requirements changes, as regulations can change over time.

FAQs

What is a business license?
A business license is a document that allows an individual or organization to legally operate a business within a particular jurisdiction.
Do I need a business license in Tennessee?
Yes, you generally need a business license to operate a business in Tennessee.
How do I obtain a business license in Tennessee?
You can obtain a business license in Tennessee by contacting your local city or county government in the area where your business will be located.
Are there different types of business licenses in Tennessee?
Yes, there are different types of business licenses in Tennessee depending on the type of business you are operating.
Do I need to register my business in Tennessee?
Yes, you may need to register your business in Tennessee depending on the type of business you have and where it is located.
What is the process for registering a business in Tennessee?
The process for registering a business in Tennessee varies depending on the type of business and the location where it will be operated.
How much does it cost to obtain a business license in Tennessee?
The cost of a business license in Tennessee can vary depending on the type of business and the location where it will be operated.
Can I operate a business without a license in Tennessee?
No, in most cases, it is not legal to operate a business without a license in Tennessee.
What happens if I operate a business without a license in Tennessee?
If you operate a business without a license in Tennessee, you may face penalties or fines from the government.
How long does it take to obtain a business license in Tennessee?
The amount of time it takes to obtain a business license in Tennessee can vary depending on the type of business and the location where it will be operated.
Can I apply for a business license online in Tennessee?
It varies by locality, but many cities in Tennessee have online applications for a business license.
Is there a grace period for obtaining a business license in Tennessee?
No, there is typically no grace period for obtaining a business license in Tennessee.
Can I transfer my business license to another location in Tennessee?
It depends on the local city or county government, but in most cases, you will need to apply for a new business license if you move to a new location.
How do I renew my business license in Tennessee?
The process for renewing a business license in Tennessee varies depending on the location and type of business.
Can I change the name of my business after obtaining a license in Tennessee?
It depends on the local city or county government, but you may need to apply for a new business license if you change the name of your business.
What are the consequences of operating a business without a license in Tennessee?
The consequences of operating a business without a license in Tennessee can include fines, legal action, and closure of the business.
Do I need to obtain a separate license for each type of business I operate in Tennessee?
Generally, yes – you will need to obtain separate licenses for each type of business you operate in Tennessee.
What is a sales tax certificate in Tennessee?
A sales tax certificate permits your business to collect sales tax on goods and services sold.
Can I obtain a sales tax certificate and a business license at the same time in Tennessee?
Yes, typically both the sales tax certificate and business license can be obtained at the same time in Tennessee.
How frequently do I need to renew my sales tax certificate in Tennessee?
Tennessee sales tax certificates are typically issued with no expiration.
How much does it cost to obtain a sales tax certificate in Tennessee?
There is no fee to obtain a sales tax certificate in Tennessee.
Are there any exceptions to the requirement for a business license in Tennessee?
It depends on the local city or county government, but there may be exceptions for some types of businesses or organizations.
Is there a penalty if I operate a business without a valid business license in Tennessee?
Yes, there can be penalties for operating a business without a valid business license in Tennessee.
Can I transfer ownership of my business license to someone else in Tennessee?
It depends on the local city or county government, but in most cases, a business license cannot be transferred to another party.
Do I need a business license if I am a sole proprietor working from home in Tennessee?
Yes, if you are doing business in Tennessee and you are not incorporated, you will typically need a business license.
Does Tennessee require any specific permits or licenses for construction businesses?
Yes, depending on the complexity of your project and the nature of your business, you may need additional permits in Tennessee.
Will I need a business license if I’m selling goods at a farmers’ market in Tennessee?
Yes, you will typically need a business license to sell goods at farmers’ markets or any other commercial event in Tennessee.
Does Tennessee require DBA registration for sole proprietors or partnerships?
No, but DBA registration can be important for protecting your business name and establishing your presence in the industry.
How long is a business license valid for in Tennessee?
The validity of a business license in Tennessee varies depending on the type of business and the location where it will be operated.
What is needed to obtain a business license in Tennessee?
You will need to complete an application with your business information and pay a fee.
Where can I obtain a business license in Tennessee?
You can obtain a business license in Tennessee at the county clerks office in the county where your business is located.
How should I register my business name in Tennessee?
You can register your business name with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office.
Do all businesses need a license in Tennessee?
No, not all businesses require a license in Tennessee. Some businesses may require a permit or another type of authorization.
Do I need a business license to sell products online in Tennessee?
Yes, if you are selling products online in Tennessee, you will need a business license.
Do I need a business license to operate a home-based business in Tennessee?
Yes, even home-based businesses in Tennessee are required to have a business license.
Where can I find resources on how to obtain a business license in Tennessee?
You can find resources on how to obtain a business license in Tennessee at the Tennessee Small Business Development Center.
Who do I contact if I have questions about obtaining a business license in Tennessee?
You can contact your local county clerk’s office with questions about obtaining a business license in Tennessee.
When should I obtain a business license in Tennessee?
You should obtain a business license in Tennessee before you begin operating your business.
How often do I need to renew my business license in Tennessee?
Business licenses in Tennessee are typically renewed annually.
Can I transfer my business license to another county in Tennessee?
You will need to apply for a new business license in the county where you are relocating your business.
Does Tennessee require a separate license for a home-based baking business?
Yes, if you are selling home-baked goods, you will need a food service permit in addition to a business license.
Can I operate my business without a license in Tennessee?
No, it is illegal to operate a business in Tennessee without a valid business license.
What do I do if I need to update my information on my business license in Tennessee?
Contact your local county clerk’s office to update your business license information in Tennessee.
What if I operate my business outside of Tennessee but have some kind of presence in Tennessee, would I still require a business license?
It depends on the type of presence you have in Tennessee. Contact the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office for more information.
Do I need to register my business with the state of Tennessee?
Some businesses in Tennessee are required to register with the Secretary of State’s office, but not all.
What types of businesses require a state license in Tennessee?
Businesses such as cosmetology salons, pawnbrokers, and investment advisers require a state license in Tennessee.
What type of business is exempt from getting a Tennessee business license?
Some businesses may be exempt from getting a Tennessee business license, contact your local county clerk for more information.
Can a foreign entity apply for a business license in Tennessee?
Yes, a foreign entity can apply for a business license in Tennessee, but additional registration may be required.
Can I sell alcohol with just a business license in Tennessee?
No, you will need a separate liquor license in addition to a business license to sell alcohol in Tennessee.
How can I pay the fee for my Tennessee business license?
You can typically pay the fee for your Tennessee business license with cash, check or credit card.
How long does my Tennessee business license last for?
Your Tennessee business license is typically valid for one year.
What kind of government documentation is required for obtaining a business license in Tennessee?
You will need to provide your personal identification and your Social Security number or Employer Identification Number in Tennessee.
What type of insurance is required in Tennessee to do business?
Tennessee typically requires businesses to have general liability insurance.
Do nonprofit organizations need a business license in Tennessee?
Yes, nonprofit organizations are required to have a business license in Tennessee if they are doing business within the state.

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Conclusion

Obtaining the necessary licenses and permits is crucial in starting a new business in Tennessee. Following the steps outlined in this guide and consulting with the appropriate agencies or professionals, you can ensure that your business complies with all state and local requirements. This will protect your business from legal issues and help establish your reputation as a responsible and trustworthy business operator.

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