How to get Business License in California

Updated on December 21, 2023

I. Introduction

Properly registering your business is crucial when operating in California. This guide covers who needs a license, types of licenses, application steps, costs, documentation required, maintaining compliance, and considerations for specific industries. Read on to learn the licensing process to operate your California business legally!

II. Who Needs a Business License in California?

Nearly all commercial business entities in CA require licensing, including LLCs, corporations, retailers, restaurants, service providers, rental properties, contractors, and independent professionals.

Penalties for non-compliance include fines of $100+ per violation, permanent closure after multiple offenses, and even criminal charges.

III. Understanding California Business Licenses

Common California business licenses include:

California also allows localities to require their own general business licenses.

IV. Preparing to Apply for a License

First, use California’s Business Portal Licensing Tool to determine the specific licenses, permits and registrations needed for your activities and locations.

You’ll also need to gather supporting documents, ownership details, formation paperwork, commercial lease agreements, etc. Application fees vary.

V. Step-by-Step Guide to Apply

Thankfully, California offers simplified online applications for business licenses and tax registrations.

To apply online:

  1. Create a ID to access the portal
  2. Run the Permit Assistant Tool
  3. Select your required licenses
  4. Complete eligibility questionnaires
  5. Pay all fees
  6. Download approved licenses

VI. After Submitting an Application

When applying online, license approval aims for 10-15 business days. Monitor your status via the portal.

Administrators will contact you for clarification or additional documents if application issues arise.

VII. Maintaining Compliance

To stay compliant in CA once approved:

  • Visibly display license on premises
  • Renew licenses annually
  • Remit ongoing municipal/state tax payments
  • Maintain required insurance coverage
  • Report any changes to ownership, activities, or locations

VIII. Obtaining Federal Registrations

Typical federal registrations needed:

IX. Special Considerations

Special permit obligations for alcohol sales, cannabis dispensaries, healthcare providers, heavy commercial vehicles, contractors, and more. Verify requirements with state/local regulatory agencies.

X. Registering Your Business Name

Register your official business name with the CA Secretary of State’s office.

XI. California Tax Permits

Common tax permits include sales & use tax, alcohol beverages tax, fuel permit, and tobacco license.


  • Who Needs a CA Business License?
    Most commercial business entities have legal licenses, including retailers, restaurants, service providers, rental property owners, contractors, and independent professionals.
  • What Do Licenses Cost in California?
    Prices vary based on entity size/structure, but costs range from $100 to $1,000+ in most cases. Renewal fees also apply.
  • How Long Does Application Approval Take?
    Online applications typically process within 10-15 business days. Mailed paper applications extend the timeline.

XIV. Final Thoughts

Properly registering your California business keeps you operating legally and protects you from penalties. Leverage available online filing options to accelerate license approvals.

Priyank Singh

Priyank Singh, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Stilt, specializes in technology-driven financial solutions. He is having experience of starting FinTech Company, understanding regulations and coming up with creative solutions to solve difficult problems.