How to Get Business Licenses in Washington | A Comprehensive Guide

Steve Bennett
Business Formation Expert  |   Fact Checked by Editorial Team
Last updated: 
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Washington Business License

Starting a new business is an exciting venture, but it’s essential to understand the various licenses required to operate legally within Washington. Forming an LLC in Washington requires licenses, as different industries and locations have specific regulations. This article will provide a comprehensive guide to Washington Business Licenses, helping you navigate the process and ensure your new venture complies with all necessary requirements. By understanding the permitting landscape in Washington, 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 Washington. You must be guided by all the factors gathered in this article.

What is a Business License in Washington?

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. Washington business licenses are issued by Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington medical board issues this license after verifying the applicant’s education, training, and examination results.
  • Realtor License: To become a realtor in Washington, you must obtain a real estate license to buy, sell, or lease properties on behalf of clients. Washington 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 Washington. 
  • Cosmetology License: Professionals in the beauty industry, such as hairstylists, estheticians, and nail technicians, must obtain a cosmetology license to provide services. Washington Boards of Cosmetology oversee licensing and regulations for this industry.
  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA) License: Accountants who wish to become a CPA in Washington must designate and provide specific services, such as auditing financial statements and obtaining a CPA license from Washington’s Board of Accountancy.
  • Architect License: Architects must obtain a license to practice architecture in Washington. This typically involves meeting education and experience requirements and passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
  • Attorney License: Washington 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 Washington bar association.

3. Health and Safety Permits: Washington 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: Washington 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: Washington 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.

Washington 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 Washington

If you start an LLC or any other type of business, you must wait until your Washington business registration is complete. Once you have completed the necessary steps to register your business in Washington, 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 Washington

To get a business license, you must follow the guidelines below, including determining if your Washington 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. Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington involves submitting an application, paying the necessary fees, and meeting specific requirements set by the local government.

Home-Based License

Home-based licenses in Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington, 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 Washington Licensing Agencies

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

  • Washington Secretary of State: This office is responsible for issuing licenses for many professional services, including legal, medical, and accounting.
  • Washington Department of Health: Food establishments, healthcare providers, and other businesses related to health and safety may require licenses from this department.
  • Washington State Department of Revenue: If your business sells goods, you may need a sales tax license or permit from this department.
  • Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington Secretary of State’s website. There should be a search feature specifically for businesses. This will often be labeled “Washington Secretary of State Corporations and Charities Filing System“. 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington business, it’s essential to maintain compliance with all requirements. This may include:

  • Keep your Washington licenses and permits current by renewing them on time, typically annually.
  • Reporting any changes to your business, such as a changing Washington LLC address. You may amend your Washington Certificate of Formation if you change anything in your Washington 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 Washington 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 Washington 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 type of permit or legal registration required by the state of Washington that allows you to operate a business.
Do I need a business license to start a small business in Washington state?
Yes, any individual or business entity operating a business in Washington must obtain a valid business license.
How do I register for a business license in Washington state?
You can register for a business license in Washington by visiting the Department of Revenue website and following the registration process.
Does the cost of a business license vary depending on the type of business?
Yes, the cost of a business license varies depending on the type of business and the location within Washington where the business is operated.
How long is a standard business license valid in Washington?
The standard term for a business license in Washington is one year, and it must be renewed annually.
How can I pay for my business license in Washington state?
You can pay for your business license in Washington state either online, by mail or by telephone.
Is it required by Washington law to have a business license to run an online business?
Yes, it is required by Washington law to have a business license for all businesses operating within the state, including online businesses.
How many types of business licenses are there in Washington?
Washington state categorizes business licenses into different types, including general business licenses, city licenses, state-specific licenses, and industry-specific licenses.
How can I determine the right business license for my small startup business in Washington state?
You can visit the business license step by step guide created by the Washington State Department of Commerce to help you decide on the right license for your specific business.
What are the tax implications of having a business license in Washington state?
Having a business license may make you eligible to collect and pay sales tax to the Department of Revenue.
Can an individual operate a business through a business license and without a business registration in Washington state?
No, both obtaining a business registration and a business license are required by Washington law for any individual looking to operate a business.
Do I need a business license to sell at a farmer’s market in Washington state?
Yes, you need a local business license to sell at a farmer’s market, and in addition to it, you may also require state or industry-specific licenses.
What is a Unified Business Identifier?
The Unified Business Identifier (UBI) is a number provided by the state of Washington, used by state regulatory agencies to identify businesses.
How do I obtain a Unified Business Identifier?
You can obtain a Unified Business Identifier for your business by registering for a business license in Washington.
How do I verify the status of my business license in Washington?
You can verify the status of your business license online on the Department of Revenue’s License Search page.
Can a business license be transferred to another entity in Washington state?
No, business licenses are not able to be transferred to another entity or person.
Is it necessary to have a Washington state business license if the business is based outside the state?
You do not need a business license specifically from the state of Washington if you conduct businesses outside of Washington but might have requirements in your originating state.
Is obtaining a Business Sole Proprietorship registration essential to operating a small business in Washington?
Some small businesses can operate as sole proprietorships without an additional registration, however, they still need to get a valid Business License.
Is a Washington business license needed to open up a small home-based business?
Yes, a business license is required, regardless of the size or nature of the business in Washington.
Can businesses located outside Washington state acquire Washington business licenses?
Only businesses with a physical presence or business operations within the state of Washington can obtain a valid business License.
What if I operate two or more businesses in different locations in Washington? Do I need multiple business licenses?
You will need a separate Business License for each operating location within Washington state.
What are some common reasons why a business license might be revoked in Washington?
A business license may be revoked by Washington State for several reasons, including non-payment of taxes, violating regulations, and operating businesses unlawfully.
If I change my operating location within Washington, do I need to update and get another business license?
Yes, if you change the operating location or address of your business, you’ll need to update your business license information on file with Washington State, and acquire new Licenses if required for your new state location.
Can I voluntarily cancel my business license in Washington?
Yes, if a person plans to discontinue their business’s operations in Washington, they must notify their Intent to Cancel to the Business Licensing Service so they won’t have to submit a license renewal.
What if the nature of my business changes midway of my business license term? will need a new license?
Take care to check which State-level agency regulates their industry to review if they require additional licenses, in addition, your new primary line of business will inform inquiries for renewal or creating a new application in support of the change.
How do I get a Business Master File in Washington State?
You may apply and request a copy of your Licensing Information Sheet (LIS) over the phone service available through the Business Licensing Service of the Department of Revenue website.
How long can business License renewal payments take for processing in Washington state?
Typical processing time for renewal is one or two days when you apply online, processing it via mail may take longer due to processing factors.
In Washington, do I need a business license to start my small business?
Yes, you need a business license in Washington State to legally operate a business.
How do I apply for a business license in Washington?
You can apply for a business license in Washington by visiting the state’s Business Licensing Service website and completing the application process.
Is there a fee for obtaining a business license in Washington?
Yes, there is a fee to obtain a business license in Washington, which can vary depending on the type of business you operate.
How long does it take to receive a business license in Washington?
It can take up to several weeks to receive a business license in Washington, depending on how long it takes to process the application and payments.
What types of businesses require a license in Washington?
Most types of businesses require a license in Washington State, including traditional businesses such as restaurants and hair salons, as well as home-based businesses and independent contractors.
Can I obtain a business license online in Washington?
Yes, you can apply for and renew your business license online in Washington.
What is the cost of renewing a business license in Washington?
The cost of renewing a business license in Washington can vary depending on the type of entity you operate and the amount of revenue your business generates.
How often do I need to renew my business license in Washington?
In Washington State, business licenses are typically renewed on a yearly basis.
Can I operate my business without a license in Washington?
It is illegal to operate a business in Washington State without a valid business license.
Do I need to apply for a separate license if I operate multiple businesses in Washington?
Yes, each business you operate in Washington requires its own separate business license.
Do I need a business license to sell online in Washington?
If you’re selling online in Washington, you still need a business license as the internet is considered another form of doing business throughout the state.
Does obtaining a business license guarantee my business success in Washington?
Obtaining a business license is just one of the many steps it takes to build and maintain a successful business, so on this alone no’s the answer to the question.
Does a business license in Washington guarantee liability protection?
Obtaining a business license does not guarantee liability protection for your business. Your business’s liability is judged as per the relevant federal, state, or local law.
Can I sell food without a food handler’s permit in Washington?
No, anyone planning to sell the food that has to obtain a valid food handlers’ permit from their state.
How do I find the right permits in addition to a business license in Washington?
Several permits may apply to your business in addition to a business license. The best way is to determine these is by contacting the state’s specialized licensing authorities or start with the Business Licensing Service.
Can I provide services without a license?
Several professions providing specialized services require a written license, such as engineers, CPA, nurses, etc.
Does having a Washington-issued sales tax license mean our company is registered by Department of Revenue in the state of Washington?
The sales tax license doesn’t represent that the state has registered your business. It functions as another class of registration
Does having a Washington State Master Business Application now covers for applying several home city’s endorsement, phasing your registrations quicker eventually?
No, stating that one has met the requirements for a license based on regulatory compliance across states doesn’t authorize an athlete to take up competitions in other countries.
Who should I contact if something in my license needs to change?
If something changes in your license, you will need to note it by contacting Washington’s state Business Licensing Service, established from October 17, 2008.
Which license type is a Master Business License in Washington State?
An alternative term for a business license is Master Business License.
If I’m beginning restricted gaming operations in Washington, which license do we need to provide?
Operators using applications that have limited assets intending to practice gaming operations, such as Las Vegas nights when fundraising tournament, are obligatory to give Washington State qualified the application before coming into operation.
In case an individual gets employed under someone else while starting a business in Washington, would they file an executive registration?
An individual seeking employment doesn’t need to submit an executive registration.
Can I still maintain my business, involving driving, if I fail to obtain the Operating Authority properly?
An interstate commerce company’s driver involved in services consisting of providing IRS defined “Public Road” isn’t cleared unless Operator Registration submit record is then submitted and authorized or registered for a limited Exception-to-Rules period.
Where can I obtain the liquor license for our bar being opened within the tiny house?
You will need contacting the state’s Liquor & State License Office to have all the legal requirements when proposing a tiny-house-bound commodity, particularly when offering liquor.
Are the regulations for acquiring a construction-related permit similar all-around in Washington’s regions?
Involving diverse licensing operations depends on each federal cities and the regions where producing engineering services are required.
What is the governing office for animal poultry businesses’ supervision being enforced within Washington State?
The Department of Agriculture’s personnel governs Washington-focused animal poultry businesses’ observational regulations.
How long should my business retain the data files done with W-9 forms before management and tax requirements in Washington?
There isn’t particular information directly charging the prerequisite to keep categorized accounting data, payrolls, or tax files. Records must have proper management according to other commonly followed statute guidelines for operations and seem extremely helpful mostly beyond usual legal requirements.
Can we initiate Short Sales as licensed counselors in Washington being cleared with bankruptcy performing what is permissible authority?
Removing counsel discipline but mediators can prove feasible access bank officials & creditor unions approaching therapeutic open opportunities or pre-connecting distressed homeowners and lender/negotiators.
How to access an EIN identification code when active for fresh entrepreneur startup in Washington?
Another authentication code that classifies an extensively possessed organization, consisting of non-monetary or straightforward and current enterprise involved in land-based leasing facilities.

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Conclusion

Obtaining the necessary licenses and permits is crucial in starting a new business in Washington. 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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