Professional and Business Licenses

Do I Need a License to Do That in California?


In order to offer certain services or goods in California, or to use certain titles (like therapist, engineer, accountant, architect, etc), you must get a special professional license (sometimes called an occupational license), permit, registration, or certification. Performing these services without complying with the requirements can subject you to significant fines and/or prison time. For example, practicing medicine without a license can lead to up to 3 years in state prison.1Penal Code 2052

Do I need to register my business in California?

If you work for yourself or own a company, you likely need licenses or registrations in addition to whether or not you need a “professional license.” See our guide Do I need to Register my Business?

So do I need a professional license?

Here are common activities and titles and whether they require a special license, permit, registration, or certification:

Design/art related services

Food/alcohol related

  • Restaurant/food services:
    To prepare and/or serve food in a restaurant, food truck, through catering services, or at home, you must get a permit from the local health department. For Los Angeles County, see the County Environmental Health Division.

    • street food vendor: selling food on the street has now been decriminalized, although there are some rules to follow – see our Guide to Laws about Streets & Sidewalks2Safe Sidewalk Vending Act
    • home kitchen operation: as of January 1, 2019, there are relaxed rules for food service businesses operating out of a private home (called “microenterprise home kitchen operation”). The operation must have no more than 1 full time food employee, and serve no more than 60 meals per week, and receive no more than $50,000 in revenue.3AB 626
  • Bar/Alcohol sales and services: to sell alcohol or perform related services you must have a license or permit from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. However, bartenders, mixologists, etc do not need their own license or permit; only the business needs this. See our Guide to Alcohol Laws.
  • Food (products): To manufacture packaged food products for sale, you generally must get approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
    • cottage food operation: under this program, individuals are allowed to prepare and package certain non-potentially hazardous foods in private homes for sale.4California Homemade Food Act (AB 1616) went into effect in 2012 and was amended by AB 1252

Entertainment & sports

For more on entertainment, see our Guide to Laws for the Entertainment Industry

Educational services

Legal and Financial services

  • Accountant/CPA (Certified Public Accountant): to perform accounting services, including financial audits, you must get a license from the California Board of Accountancy
  • Enrolled Agent: to represent taxpayers before the IRS (and if you are not a CPA or lawyer), you must become an enrolled agent.
  • Attorney/Lawyer: to perform legal services, including providing any advice on how to resolve or prevent a legal issue, you must get a license from the State Bar of California
  • Paralegal/Legal Assistant: to perform services of a paralegal or to use the title of “paralegal,” “legal assistant,” “attorney assistant,” or similar titles, you generally must have a certificate from a recognized paralegal program, or meet certain other requirements.5Business & Professions Code 6450-6456 See our Guide to Regulation of Paralegals.
  • Court Reporter: to perform court reporting services you must get a license from the California Court Reporters Board
  • Professional Fiduciary: to practice as a conservator, guardian, trustee, or agent under durable power of attorney, you must get a license from the California Professional Fiduciaries Bureau
  • Commercial charitable fundraising: to assist non profit organizations with fundraising you must register with the California Office of the Attorney General
  • Banks, Credit Unions, and other financial: to do certain banking and other financial activities, you need to get a license from the California Department of Business Oversight.

Physical Health & healing arts

  • Acupuncturist: to perform services including acupuncture, electroacupuncture, acupressure, moxibustion, cupping, you must get a license from the California Acupuncture Board
  • Chiropractor (DC): to perform chiropractic (spine) care and related services, you must get a license from the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners
  • Dentist (DDS): to perform dental services you must get a license from the Dental Board of California
  • Dental Hygienist: to perform dental cleanings you must get a license from the Dental Hygiene Committee of California
  • Guide Dogs for the Blind: in order to call yourself a “guide dog instructor” or “certified guide dog instructor” you must “be able to demonstrate the ability to train guide dogs” for blind persons6AB 1705 (2017)
  • Massage Therapy: to provide services as a masseuse, many cities and counties in California require you to obtain a special license/permit with the city (see our Guide to Massage Therapy Law in California)
  • Medical Doctor/Physician and Surgeon (MD): to practice general medicine, including diagnosing disease, performing surgery, and prescribing medication, you must be licensed by the Medical Board of California
  • Medical Marijuana/Cannabis: to sell or distribute medicinal marijuana goods and services you must have a license from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. See our Guide to Marijuana Businesses.
  • Naturopathic Doctor (ND): to practice naturopathy you must have a license from the California Naturopathic Medicine Committee. Naturopathy is complementary and alternative medicine discouraging the use of drugs, instead focusing on herbal and homeopathic medicine, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and hormones
  • Nurse practitioner (RN): to provide nursing or “registered nursing” services you must have a license from the California Board of Registered Nursing
  • Occupational Therapist: to practice occupational therapy services you must have a license from the California Board of Occupational Therapy
  • Optometrist: to practice optometry services, including eye care and prescribing eyeglasses or contact lenses, you must have a license from the California State Board of Optometry
  • Osteopathic Physician (DO): to practice osteopathic medicine, you must have a license from the Osteopathic Medical Board of California. Osteopathic medicine takes a more holistic approach to healing, particularly focusing on musculoskeletal system of nerves, muscles, and bones
  • Pharmacist: to practice pharmacy or pharmaceutical services, providing medication and prescription drugs to consumers, you must have a license from the California State Board of Pharmacy
  • Physical Therapist: to practice physical therapy services you must have a license from the Physical Therapy Board of California
  • Physician Assistant (PA): to practice as a physician assistant, you must have a license from the California Physician Assistant Board. A physician assistant performs many of the same services as medical physicians, but must be supervised by a licensed medical doctor (MD).
  • Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM): to provide care related to the foot and ankle, you must have a license from the California Board of Podiatric Medicine
  • Respiratory Care Practitioner (RCP): to provide care related to the lungs, you must have a license from the Respiratory Care Board of California
  • Speech-Language Pathologist: to provide care related to speech and language problems, you must have a license from the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board
  • Audiologist: to provide care related to hearing problems you must have a license from the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board
  • Hearing Aid Dispenser: to provide hearing aids and related services you must have a license from the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensers Board
  • Telephone Medical Advice Services:  in order to provide telephone advice services as to a particular medical field, you must be a licensed in that particular field7Business and Professions Code section 4999.2
  • Vocational Nurse (LVN): to perform services as a vocational nurse you must have a license from the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians, and work under the direction of a licensed registered nurse or physician
  • Psychiatric Technician (PT): to work as a psychiatric technician you must have a license from the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians and work under a licensed registered nurse, physician, or Director of Services
  • Nutritionist/dietitian services: to provide nutritional or counseling or advice related to diet, no special licensing is required
  • Fitness instructor/personal trainer services: to work as a fitness instructor or personal trainer, no special licensing required8SB 374 (2009) would have added such a requirement, but it has not been enacted into law
  • Yoga/pilates teacher: same as fitness instructor – no special license is required
  • Other alternative and/or complementary healing arts: any healing arts not listed above, such as aromatherapy, ayurvedic medicine, energy healing, or Reiki, are not licensed, but may be legally practiced so long as certain rules are followed.9SB 577 (2002) as codified in Business & Professions Code Sec 2053.5  See our Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Mental health & counseling

  • Psychologist/ Therapist: to work as a clinical psychologist or clinical therapist, diagnosing and treating mental health issues, you must have a license from the California Board of Psychology
  • Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT): to work as a marriage and family therapist you must have a license from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences
  • Social Worker (LCSW): to perform social work services you must have a license from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences
  • Clinical Counselor (LPCC): to practice as a professional clinical counselor you must have a license from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences
  • Educational Psychologist (LEP): to practice as an educational psychologist, you must have a license from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences
  • Music Therapy: to perform music therapy services in California, no special license or permit is required. However, to call yourself a “certified” or “board certified” music therapist, you must have a credential from the Certification Board for Music Therapists.
  • Hypnotherapy: anyone may practice hypnotherapy, hypnosis or hypnotic techniques, so long as they do not hold themselves out as a psychologist or as doing any sort of psychological treatment (unless licensed as a psychologist). There is no license to be a hypnotist or hypnotherapist, although there are various optional certifications by private organizations.10California Business & Professions Code Section 2908

Automotive/car related

Beauty services

To perform any of the following services you must have a license from the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology:

  • Barber/Hairstylist: hair & salon services
  • Cosmetologist: makeup services
  • Manicurist: nail care services including manicures and pedicures
  • Esthetician/Facialist: skin care services including facials
  • Electrologist: permanent hair removal services using electrology

Construction & building maintenance

You must have a license from the California Contractors State License Board to perform any of the following services in California:

  • General building contractor/builder: building or remodeling structures such as homes
  • Landscaper: gardening or landscaping services
  • Plumber: maintaining pipes for water, gas, or other
  • Refrigeration: maintaining refrigerators and other refrigeration appliances
  • Sheet metal services
  • Solar: providing solar panels and related services
  • Swimming pool: building and maintaining swimming pools
  • Welder: services related to welding or creating or maintaining metal materials
  • Tile & tiling services
  • Painter/Painting & decorating services
  • Roofer/Roofing services

Engineering, Land Surveying and Geology

To practice or perform any of the following services, you need a license from the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists

  • Engineer (PE): professional engineering services, including civil engineering, geotechnical, soils, structural, mechanical, agricultural, chemical, control systems, electrical, fire protection, industrial, metallurgical, nuclear, petroleum, traffic.
  • Land Surveyor: land surveying services, including photogrammetric, geodetic, geometronic or survey engineer
  • Geologist: geological and geophysical services, including geophysicists, engineering geologists, and hydrogeologists.

Security and Investigative Services

You must have a license from the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services to perform any of the following services in California:

  • Security guard services
  • Locksmith services
  • Private investigator services
  • Training instructors (firearms and baton)
  • Alarm services
  • Private patrol services
  • Repossession agency services (“repo”)

Other consumer services and goods

Other professions and occupations

  • Life coach: to be a life coach you do not need any special license or permit, as long as you do not practice any licensed profession such as psychology or law
  • Business consulting: to provide consulting related to business or marketing, you generally do not need a special license or permit.
  • Software developer: to provide software development services, you generally do not need a special license or permit.
  • Copywriter: to provide copywriting or other writing services, you generally do not need a special license or permit.
  • Journalist: to perform journalism services, you generally do not need a special license or permit
  • Website/blogger: to provide information in the form of a website or blog, you generally do not need a special license or permit

Real estate professional services

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