How to Get Business Licenses in Wisconsin | A Comprehensive Guide

Steve Bennett
Business Formation Expert  |   Fact Checked by Editorial Team
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Wisconsin Business License

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

What is a Business License in Wisconsin?

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

3. Health and Safety Permits: Wisconsin 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: Wisconsin 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: Wisconsin 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.

Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin

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

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

Home-Based License

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

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

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

  • Keep your Wisconsin licenses and permits current by renewing them on time, typically annually.
  • Reporting any changes to your business, such as a changing Wisconsin LLC address. You may amend your Wisconsin Articles of Organization if you change anything in your Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin Foreign LLC
  • Stay informed about licensing and permitting requirements changes, as regulations can change over time.

FAQs

How do I apply for a business license in Wisconsin?
Applications for business licenses in Wisconsin can be found on the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website.
How long does it take to get a business license in Wisconsin?
The length of time to obtain a Wisconsin business license varies depending on the type of license being applied for, but it generally takes several weeks.
What types of businesses require a license in Wisconsin?
A variety of businesses need to obtain a license in Wisconsin, including restaurants, retail stores, contractors, and many others.
How do I find out what kind of license I need for my Wisconsin business?
You can find out what type of license you need for your business by reaching out to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
Are there any preliminary steps I need to take before applying for a business license in Wisconsin?
Yes, in some cases you will need to register your business with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions before applying for a license.
How much does a Wisconsin business license cost?
The cost of a Wisconsin business license varies depending on the type of license being applied for.
Can I apply for a Wisconsin business license online?
Yes, you can apply for many types of Wisconsin business licenses online.
Can I apply for a Wisconsin business license in person?
Yes, you can apply for a Wisconsin business license in person at your local county clerk’s office.
What happens if I operate without a business license in Wisconsin?
Operating a business without a license in Wisconsin can result in fines and legal penalties.
When does my Wisconsin business license expire?
Wisconsin business licenses typically need to be renewed annually.
Do I need a separate license if I operate in multiple locations in Wisconsin?
In some cases, yes, you may need a separate license for each individual location in Wisconsin.
How do I request a copy of my Wisconsin business license?
You can request a copy of your Wisconsin business license from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
What happens if I need to change the information on my Wisconsin business license?
You will need to contact the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to update the information on your Wisconsin business license.
Are there any inspections or audits required with a Wisconsin business license?
It depends on the type of business license you have in Wisconsin – some licenses require regular inspections and audits.
Can I transfer my Wisconsin business license to another person or company?
In some cases, yes, Wisconsin business licenses are transferable.
Do I need to purchase business insurance to obtain a Wisconsin business license?
Not all Wisconsin business licenses require you to purchase business insurance, but it is a good idea to have it regardless.
Will I need to provide financial statements to obtain a Wisconsin business license?
It depends on the type of Wisconsin business license you are applying for.
How quickly can I begin operating my Wisconsin business after obtaining a license?
You can typically start operating your Wisconsin business immediately after obtaining a license.
What should I do if I don’t know which Wisconsin business license I need?
Contact the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to ask about the license requirements for your type of business.
How many employees am I allowed to have with a Wisconsin business license?
There is no strict limit on the number of employees you can have with a Wisconsin business license.
Can I have a home-based business with a Wisconsin business license?
Yes, you can run a home-based business in Wisconsin with the appropriate business license.
Do I need to have a physical office to obtain a Wisconsin business license?
No, a physical office is not always required to obtain a Wisconsin business license.
Do I need to be a resident of Wisconsin to get a business license there?
No, you do not need to be a resident of Wisconsin to obtain a business license there.
How do I find info on taxes, sales permits, and zoning for Wisconsin businesses?
Check the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website or contact their customer service hotline for more information.
What do I do if I have a question that is not answered on Wisconsin’s business license website?
Contact the Wisconsin Department of Revenue Support Center for help.
How can I search for and verify the license of another Wisconsin business?
Search the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institution website to verify a business’s license.
Can licenses privatize in certain counties of Wisconsin?
Each Wisconsin county is different. Contact your local Wisconsin county to see what their regulations are.
What happens if my Wisconsin business license application is denied?
If your Wisconsin business license application is denied, you can typically appeal the decision or reapply at a later date.
How can I ensure my Wisconsin business is complying with licensing regulations?
Read up on Wisconsin state laws and stay up-to-date on changes. You should also consult a business attorney, or association related to your industry, if you have concerns.
What is required to obtain a business license in Wisconsin?
The requirements for a business license in Wisconsin vary depending on the type of business you want to operate.
Is a business license required to operate in Wisconsin?
Yes, many types of businesses in Wisconsin require a license, permit, or certification.
How much does a business license cost in Wisconsin?
Business license fees in Wisconsin vary and are typically based on the type of business and location.
How do I register my business with the state of Wisconsin?
You can register your business with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
What types of businesses require licenses in Wisconsin?
Many types of businesses in Wisconsin require licenses or permits, including restaurants, cosmetologists, and real estate brokers.
Do all businesses in Wisconsin need a state business license?
No, not all businesses require a state business license. However, many localities may have additional requirements.
Can I apply for a business license online in Wisconsin?
Yes, Wisconsin offers an online portal where businesses can apply for their license online.
Can I apply for a business license without a registered business name in Wisconsin?
No, you must have a registered business name before you can apply for a business license in Wisconsin.
How do I renew my Wisconsin business license?
You can renew your Wisconsin business license online through the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
Can I transfer my business license from another state to Wisconsin?
It depends on the type of business and whether that business is licensed in Wisconsin.
How often do I need to renew my Wisconsin business license?
The frequency at which your business license in Wisconsin must be renewed depends on the licensing body and the nature of your business.
What is the difference between a business license, permit, and registration in Wisconsin?
A business license is the permission to operate a business in Wisconsin, while a permit also regulates business activities such as contracting or selling goods in public spaces.
Do I need a state ID to get a business license in Wisconsin?
A state ID can be helpful but is typically not required to apply for a business license in Wisconsin.
Can I operate my business without proper licenses in Wisconsin?
No, you should not operate your business without proper licenses in Wisconsin. Violations can bring up legal consequences.
Can a business license be suspended or revoked in Wisconsin?
Yes, a business license can be suspended or revoked in Wisconsin if the business violates the licensing requirements.
Do independent contractors require a license to work in Wisconsin?
Yes, many types of independent contractors in Wisconsin must be licensed, particularly in the field of home renovation.
Where can I find a list of businesses requiring a license in Wisconsin?
To find out which businesses require licensing in Wisconsin, it is recommended to search the chosen field or occupation on the state government website.
Can I start a business without a Bachelor’s degree in Wisconsin?
Yes, you do not need a Bachelor’s degree to start and operate a business in Wisconsin.
Can I run a business from home with just a Wisconsin business license?
Yes, you can run a business from home in Wisconsin with the appropriate business license.
Can I operate my Wisconsin business online with a license?
Yes, it’s possible to operate a business in Wisconsin online with the appropriate state business license.
Do businesses in Wisconsin need a state tax ID?
Yes, a Wisconsin state tax ID number is required for most businesses for tax purposes.
How many licenses are required in Wisconsin for a single business?
The number of licenses required depends on the type of business and operation.
Can I be denied a business license in Wisconsin?
Yes, in the event you do not fulfill the essential qualification criteria associated with the state requirements of Wisconsin, your application has the probability of getting denied.
Is obtaining a business license mandatory in Wisconsin?
Yes, Business license fees is common in Wisconsin and is generally seen as necessary.
Do I need an attorney to apply for a business license in Wisconsin?
While it might not be necessary, it is advisable to speak with an experienced attorney and accountant before applying for a business license in Wisconsin.
What are the license renewal fees for a business in Wisconsin?
The business license renewal fees vary depending upon location and the licensed activity.
Can I qualify for financial help when registering my business in Wisconsin?
Any enterprise owners starting a small business could seek assistance from the Wisconsin Economic Development Bureau to get started.
Can I operate multiple businesses under one business license in Wisconsin?
Whether multiple businesses are permitted to run under a single license depends on the characterization of those businesses and operations under Wisconsin law.

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Conclusion

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