Do I Need to Register My Business in California? Business Licenses and Registration

This is part of our Guide to the Law for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners in California.

“Registering” a business can mean several different things. If you operate a business in California, there may be various licenses, permits, registrations, and certifications you need, including:

1. Local business license (aka business tax registration certificate)

Most cities and counties in California require all local businesses to get a “business license” also sometimes known as a “business tax registration certificate.” See our guides to business licenses in the Los Angeles area and San Francisco area. Or check with your city and/or county for more.  Also see our Guide to Business Taxes in California.

2. “Incorporating” or registering your entity

If you want to form a business entity such as an LLC or corporation, you will need to register with the California Secretary of State. See our Guide to Business Entities.

3. Registering with FinCEN

As of January 1, 2024, most small businesses in the U.S. must register with the federal agency FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), part of the U.S. Treasury Department, to report who owns the business.

4. Seller’s permit

If you are selling any goods, you will need a seller’s permit and collect sales tax. See our Guide to the California Seller’s Permit.

5. Brick and mortar permits

For businesses with a physical location, you may need to get a “zoning” permit to perform your business activities at that location. Again check with your city and county.

6. DBA or “Fictitious Business Name Statement

If you are doing business as other than your own name or your registered entity’s name. See our Guide to the DBA for more.

7. Registering as an employer

If you have employees, you will need to register with the state. See our Guide to Hiring for Your Business.

8. Tax ID/EIN or Employer Identification Number

This is separate from registering as an employer with the state. You would get an EIN from the IRS, regardless of whether you have employees or not. It is the Tax ID of the business.

9. Registering your professional or business activities

you may also need to register or get a license for your professional or business activities, such as practicing architecture or medicine, working as a building contractor, or much more. See our Guide to Professional Licenses for more.

10. Optional certifications

There may also be various optional certifications you can obtain. For example, you can get an optional certification as a certified interior designer, or get a Green Business Certification.

Do I need a California business license?

No, there is no such thing as a general “California business license.” There are local business licenses for most cities and counties in California. See our guides to business licenses in the Los Angeles area and San Francisco area. Or check with your city and/or county for more.

Further Resources

See our Guide to the Law for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners in California

See more at California Business Portal.

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