Washington Business License

Written by: Mary Gerardine

Last updated:

Washington Business License

Ready to launch your business in Washington State?

Depending on your exact location and industry, you may be required to obtain one — or several — business licenses and/or permits in order to operate legitimately.

In this Washington Business License overview, we’ll break down everything you need to get started, including the local, state, and federal licensing regulations that you’ll need to know.

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Do I Need a Business License in Washington

In Washington, businesses are required to obtain various licenses and permits at the local, state, and federal levels. Here’s a general breakdown:

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:

  • Business License Tax Certificates: A business license tax certificate is often referred to as a statewide business license or general business license. Keep in mind that several cities and/or municipalities can require additional business operating licenses
  • Professional Licenses: If your business is related to certain professions, such as law, medicine, and accountancy, you may be required to obtain additional licenses. For example, the Washington State Department of Health oversees licensing for medical professionals and healthcare practitioners, whereas the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) issues licenses for lawyers
  • Environmental Permits: These types of licenses and/or permits may be required if your business’s activities have the potential to negatively affect the environment. For reference, the Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA) — in association with other groups like the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the US Army Corps of Engineers — handles environmental permits

However, this is not the only factor influencing the exact combination of licenses you’ll need — the location of your business within Washington 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: At the local level, there are various business licenses that can be required depending on the nature of your business and the city or county in question. For example, businesses that sell or serve alcoholic beverages need an Adult Beverage License, which is managed by local or county departments. In addition, venues that provide amusement or dance activities to the public must obtain an Amusement/Dance Places License. This, too, is overseen by local and/or county departments
  • State: The primary business license at the state level is known as a Business License Tax Certificate and is required for most businesses operating in the state. Keep in mind that, depending on the nature of your business, you may need to obtain additional licensing at the state level
  • Federal: Some businesses in Washington state may require federal licenses. Examples include businesses involved in aviation, which need licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration, and those selling alcohol, tobacco, or firearms, which require permits from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

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.

Alternatively, many entrepreneurs opt to leverage the expertise of third-party services to handle this on their behalf.

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How to Get a Business License in Washington

In order to get your business license(s) in Washington, 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 Washington, 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 Washington to register as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Here are a few reasons for 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 the 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 Washington 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 US 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 (SSN) instead (as long as you do not have employees).

Step 3: Get a Unified Business Identifier

Washington state’s Unified Business Identifier (UBI) is a unique nine-digit number that is assigned to businesses when they register with the state.

This number is a requirement for all businesses that want to operate and is used for various state transactions.To obtain a UBI, you will need to carry out a Business License Application (BLA).

Once your business is registered and approved, you’ll be assigned a UBI number, which will be unique to your business.

Step 4: Apply for Licenses and Permits

After settling on the appropriate structure for your business, obtaining a UBI number, 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: To apply for a local business license in Washington state, you would contact the business licensing department of the specific city or county where you intend to operate. For example, if you’re planning to do business in Seattle, you would need a Seattle business license tax certificate through the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services
  • Statewide Licenses: You can get started by setting up an online account in the My DOR system, which you will also use for taxes and business updates. Keep in mind that state-specific business license applications can also be sent via mail, however this can take up to six weeks to be completed
  • Federal Licenses: While the federal government doesn’t mandate licenses for general business operations, if your business falls under any government-regulated category, such as agriculture, fishing, firearms, and alcohol sales, it may be required to obtain additional federal licenses or permits

Note: Use the Business Licensing Wizard to get a list of places to reach out to, extra endorsements, and useful advice for your business license.

Step 5: Renewal of Licenses and Permits

Many business licenses require periodic renewal every year in order to keep them valid. If you’re uncertain whether you need to renew any of your business’s licenses, make sure to reach out to the agency that issued your business license for clarification.

Alternatively, due to how complicated each step of applying for and renewing business licenses is, you can use a business attorney or a third-party service instead.

Alternatively, you can use a third-party service or a professional attorney for this process. This can be a good choice if you want to ensure that you avoid potential fines, as well as if you want to be as time-efficient as possible.

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 Washington

This will depend on how many licenses and/or permits you need to obtain in order to begin operating.

The Business License Tax Certificate — which operates as a general business license in the state of Washington — costs $50.

Having said that, your total business license cost could be significantly higher, as it will depend on whether you need additional local and/or state licenses, as well as on whether you choose to handle this process independently.

If you choose to hire a business attorney or work with a professional third-party service instead, for example, you should expect to spend at least a couple hundred dollars when getting your business licensed.

Washington Business License FAQ

Does Washington require a business license?

Yes. Washington state requires businesses to obtain a business license. This license is essential for operations and is mandated for businesses that need city, county, or state endorsements, as well as for those using a name other than their full legal name. For more information, have a look at our Washington Business License article.

How much does a WA state business license cost?

In Washington state, the cost to open or reopen a business, which includes obtaining a business license, is $50. Having said that, keep in mind that you may need additional state licensing depending on your niche, which can increase your total cost. Check our How to Get a Business License page for more state-specific information.

How do I register my small business in Washington?

To start your business in Washington, you will need to decide what business structure you want, and then register your business through the Secretary of State’s website. You will then be able to apply for a general business license via the Washington Department of Revenue.

How do I find a business license in Washington?

To find a business license in Washington State, you can use the “Business Lookup” feature that’s provided by the Washington Department of Revenue. This tool allows you to search for specific businesses and view their licensing details. The Washington State Department of Licensing also offers a “Find a License” search tool which can be used to look up professional licenses by specific keywords or categories.

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