North Carolina Business License

Written by: Nik Ventouris

Last updated:

North Carolina Business License

Starting a business in North Carolina can seem like quite a confusing process because the state has no single, generic business license that’ll enable you to remain compliant with all requirements. Instead, it’s up to business owners to figure out which of the 950 regulatory licenses and permits their business may need.

To make this process a little clearer for new business owners, this North Carolina Business License guide will help you identify the specific licenses your business may need and explain how to secure them.

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Do I Need a Business License in North Carolina

In North Carolina, there isn’t a general state business license available. Instead, the licenses and permits your business will need will depend on its location and type.

Type of Business

Below, we’ve detailed common ways in which your business type can dictate the licenses you’ll be required to obtain, as well as specific examples of these:

  • Seller’s Permits: Businesses that sell tangible items to the public must obtain a North Carolina Certificate of Registration — also called a ”seller’s permit.” You can apply for this at the local and/or state level (in some cases both)
  • Professional Licenses: In North Carolina, specific licensing boards regulate certain professions like law, architecture, and veterinary sciences. If your business offers services within one of these areas, it’ll need to get the relevant professional license and maintain good relations with the issuing agency in order to operate legally
  • Environmental Permits: Businesses also may need to obtain a number of specific environmental permits, depending on the nature of their operations. If your business plans to build or expand in coastal areas, for example, it may need the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) General Permit from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

However, this is not the only factor influencing the exact combination of licenses you’ll need — the location of your business within North Carolina plays an important role as well.

Location

In this section, we’ve provided a succinct overview of the potential licenses and permits that your business may need due to local, state, and federal requirements:

  • Local: In North Carolina, businesses often require additional licenses and permits at a municipality or county level. In Charlotte, for example, home-based businesses must apply for the Customary Home Occupation Permit before they can operate legally within the city
  • State: North Carolina issues and enforces many business and occupational licenses at the state level. One example of an occupational license is the barbershop permit, which you must obtain from the North Carolina Board of Barber and Electrolysis Examiners if you plan to open a barbershop
  • Federal: While most small businesses in North Carolina are exempt from federal licenses or permits, businesses involved in sectors regulated by the federal government must obtain specific credentials. These sectors primarily include agriculture, alcoholic sales, and firearms, among others

Since the exact permits and licenses your business will need are entirely unique to your situation, you’ll have to conduct thorough research into your own local, state, and federal regulations to smoothly launch your business.

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How to Get a Business License in North Carolina

In order to get your business license(s) in North Carolina, you will need to complete the following steps:

  • Form Your Business
  • Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Apply for the Required Licenses and Permits

Let’s take a look at each step in more detail below.

Step 1: Form Your Business

Before setting out to obtain a business license in North Carolina, it’s pivotal that you first choose an appropriate structure for your business. Sole proprietorships, general partnerships, and corporations are all common choices, however, it’s often seen as the most advantageous for small businesses in North Carolina to form a Limited Liability Company (LLC). There are a few reasons why:

  • Limited Liability: Members are protected from personal liability for business debts, safeguarding personal assets
  • Tax Benefits: LLCs typically enjoy a pass-through tax treatment, avoiding double taxation that corporations are subjected to
  • Management Flexibility: LLCs allow for flexibility in management structure, either being member-managed or manager-managed based on the preferences outlined in the certificate of formation
  • Ease of Formation: With the North Carolina Secretary of State providing forms that meet the minimum state law requirements and the option to file online, setting up an LLC is relatively straightforward

Many small business owners opt to avoid the tricky process of forming an LLC by instead leveraging the help of third-party LLC formation services.

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Step 2: Obtain an EIN

The second step you’ll need to complete before applying for your business license is to obtain your EIN. This is a unique nine-digit number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to businesses in the United States so that their financial transactions can be identified and tracked.

An EIN is often necessitated when applying for various permits and licenses as it allows local and state governments to ensure your business is operating within the confines of the law. You can obtain it in a number of ways:

  • Online: You can apply for your EIN on the IRS’s official website by using the EIN Assistant. You should be granted your EIN shortly after completing this application
  • By Fax/Mail: After completing Form SS-4, you can apply for an EIN by submitting it to the IRS via mail or fax
  • By Phone: International applicants and businesses located outside U.S. Territories are required to call the IRS at (267) 941-1099 to obtain their EIN — which they should receive during this call

Note: If you are a sole proprietor, you will be able to use your Social Security Number (SNN) instead.

Step 3: Apply for Licenses and Permits

After settling on the appropriate structure for your business and initiating the application for your EIN, the next step is to focus on securing the necessary licenses and permits to operate legally within your locale and industry.

  • Local Licenses: Each local area maintains its own specific business rules and registrations, making it crucial to investigate the precise details of the city in which you plan to establish your enterprise. For instance, the city of Raleigh requires pushcart vendors and pawnbrokers to obtain a specific license
  • Statewide Licenses: There are a number of specific state licenses your business will likely require. Depending on its nature, one of these could be a sales and use tax permit, which allows businesses to report, remit, and collect sales tax
  • Federal Licenses: While the federal government doesn’t mandate licenses for general business operations, if your business falls under any government-regulated category, it may be required to obtain additional federal licenses or permits. For example, pilot, aircraft, and airport licenses are all handled by the Federal Aviation Administration

Note: To find out more about the licenses your business might need, check out the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Business and Occupational License Database.

Step 4: Renewal of Licenses and Permits

Many business licenses must be renewed periodically, often between every one and four years, in order to be kept valid. If you’re uncertain whether you need to renew any of your business licenses, make sure to reach out to the agency that issued it for clarification.

Alternatively, due to how complicated each step of applying for and renewing business licenses is, third-party services that handle this entire process are becoming an increasingly popular option.

If you’re interested in finding out more about this process, see our article on How to Get a Business License.

How Much is a Business License in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the expense of securing the required business licenses differs widely because there’s no standardized business license available. This means the financial commitment involved will hinge largely on the specific set of licenses your business needs.

Commonly, businesses require “seller’s permits” and professional licenses. While the expense of obtaining a “seller’s permit” is predictable, the cost of a professional license can vary greatly. For instance, an application for an attorney license comes with an $850 fee and a renewal charge of $1,650. In contrast, a similar license for certified public accountants has a $100 application fee. Currently, North Carolina issues more than 300 professional licenses.

This means it’s challenging to determine the exact cost of obtaining the business licenses you need because that total will change based on the type and location of your business. To streamline the process of calculating your potential licensing costs, it’s worth considering the services of an external expert to assist in this critical research.

North Carolina Business License FAQ

Does North Carolina require a business license?

Not all businesses in North Carolina will require a business license, although many will. The lack of a single generic license permits North Carolina to require businesses to obtain a combination of several permits in order to comply with local, state, and federal regulations. To find out whether or not your enterprise will need a business license, check out our North Carolina Business License article.

What are the steps you need to take to start a business in North Carolina?

To start a business in North Carolina, you’ll need to select a business structure (e.g., a corporation, an LLC, a sole proprietorship, or a partnership), choose a fitting name, complete the online business registration, and obtain any necessary permits and licenses. For more information on the last step of this process, see our article on How to Get a Business License.

How do I find my business license in North Carolina?

To find your business license in North Carolina, go to the official website of the county or city where your business entity is located. There, you’ll find resources or contact details that’ll direct you to information on your business license.

Who issues business licenses in North Carolina?

While city or county government offices typically issue business licenses in North Carolina, the state and federal governments regulate some of these licenses. It’s advisable to take advantage of Business Link North Carolina (BLNC) — an economic development partnership with the NC Department of Commerce offering advice to people looking to start a business.

For all related articles, have a look at our How to Get a Business License page.