Written by: Will Bond

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How to Get a General Contractor License

How to Get a General Contractor License

Everything you need to know to become a general contractor in your state.

Woman showing her contractor license.

Select Your State

If you’re embarking on a career in construction, one of the first steps you’ll need to take is to obtain a general contractor license. This certification is what authorizes you or your business to oversee, coordinate, and manage construction projects.

However, since licensing regulations vary widely between states, it can be bewildering for those new to the field. Our guide aims to simplify this complex landscape and give you a clear path on how to get a general contractor license, no matter where you are.

Let’s get started!

Tip: If you’re planning to work as a general contractor, we recommend forming an LLC. This is an affordable business structure that protects your personal assets against debt and/or lawsuits.

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Do You Need a General Contractor License?

Since regulations differ from state to state, the first step toward becoming a licensed general contractor is to determine whether you’ll need a general contractors license.

To help give you a clearer picture, we’ve compiled a table below that breaks down the general contractor license requirements by state and identifies the relevant state contractors licensing agencies for each.

StateGeneral Contractor License Required?Regulatory Body
AlabamaYesAlabama Licensing Board for General Contractors 
AlaskaYesThe Division of Corporations, Business, and Professional Licensing
ArizonaYesArizona Registrar of Contractors
ArkansasYesArkansas Contractors Licensing Board
CaliforniaYesCalifornia Contractor State Licensing Board
ColoradoNoSpecific to each trade
ConnecticutNoSpecific to each trade
DelawareRegister the business insteadDelaware Division of Revenue
FloridaYesConstruction Industry Licensing Board
GeorgiaYesGeorgia State Construction Industry Licensing Board
HawaiiYesThe Professional & Vocational Licensing Division
IdahoNoSpecific to each trade
IllinoisNoSpecific to each trade
IndianaNoSpecific to each trade
IowaYesIowa Division of Labor
KansasNoSpecific to each trade
KentuckyNoSpecific to each trade
LouisianaYesLouisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors
MaineNoSpecific to each trade
MarylandYesMaryland Home Improvement Commission
MassachusettsYesMassachusetts Office of Public Safety and Inspections
MichiganYesMichigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
MinnesotaRegister the business insteadMinnesota Department of Labor and Industry
MississippiYesMississippi State Board of Contractors
MissouriNoSpecific to each trade
MontanaNoSpecific to each trade
NebraskaRegister the business insteadNebraska Department of Labor
NevadaYesNevada State Contractors Board
New HampshireNoSpecific to each trade
New JerseyNoSpecific to each trade
New MexicoYesNew Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department
New YorkNoSpecific to each trade
North CarolinaYesNorth Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors
North DakotaYesNorth Dakota Secretary of State
OhioNoSpecific to each trade
OklahomaNoSpecific to each trade
OregonYesOregon Construction Contractors Board
PennsylvaniaNoSpecific to each trade
Rhode IslandRegister the business insteadContractors’ Registration and Licensing Board
South CarolinaYesSouth Carolina Contractor’s Licensing Board
South DakotaNoSpecific to each trade
TennesseeYesTennessee Board for Licensing Contractors
TexasNoSpecific to each trade
UtahYesUtah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing
VermontNoSpecific to each trade
VirginiaYesDepartment of Professional and Occupational Regulation Board for Contractors
WashingtonRegister the business insteadWashington State Department of Labor and Industries
Washington D.C.YesDepartment of Licensing and Consumer Protection
West VirginiaYesDivision of Labor, Contractor Licensing Board
WisconsinYesState of Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
WyomingNoSpecific to each trade

Even if there’s no requirement for a general contractor license in your state, you will likely still need to obtain another statewide certification specific to the trade you work in. To qualify for any of these licenses, applicants often need to satisfy some experience requirements and pass a mandatory exam.

To give yourself the best chance of success in these exams, be sure to take advantage of quality study materials to ensure you grasp the knowledge, tools, and strategies needed to excel.

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Interested in getting started? We recommend using online study materials and prep courses to give yourself the best chance of success, as they boast a high pass rate at flexible pricing options.

How Do I Get a Contractor License?

While each state may have its nuances, there are common steps and fundamental processes that most states follow. Below, we’ve broken down this journey into digestible steps to give you a broad overview of what to expect, regardless of where you’re based. As you delve into the specifics, always remember to consult the relevant regulatory body in your state for more precise details.

Step 1: Choose a Business Structure

Before diving into the basic contractor license application, you must first choose how you want to set up your business. This choice will influence your legal responsibility, tax duties, and overall business operations, which makes it crucial to ensure you properly understand the intricacies of each business entity to select the one that aligns best with your needs.

It’s common for contractors in the US, especially the smaller ones, to opt to set up their business as an LLC. This structure offers them tax versatility, shields them from certain liabilities, and can even boost their reputation among clients.

Recommended: Interested in getting started? More than 72% of our readers form their LLCs through a specialized LLC formation service in order to save time and avoid being caught up in procedural rigmarole.

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Step 2: Meet the Basic Requirements

After forming your business, you’ll need to confirm that you meet the minimum basic requirements. While the specifics of these requirements will vary depending on the license you are trying to obtain, you’ll generally need to:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be a US citizen or legally reside in the country
  • Have no convictions of a disqualifying offense
  • Demonstrate a certain number of hours of on-the-job training and experience

Remember, the requirements mentioned are general; always verify the specific criteria with the regulatory body of the exact license you need in your state.

Step 3: Submit Your Application

After confirming that you satisfy the basic requirements for your license, it’s time to start filling out your application and submitting it to the appropriate regulatory body, along with any required fees.

Each state will have its own requirements regarding how to submit your application (i.e., by mail, online, or in person) and when to do it, which can be found on the websites of the statewide agencies in the table above.

In addition to general contractor licenses, which are typically regulated by the state, there are also local and specialist contractor licensing requirements you may need to apply for. As an example, plumbers in Texas are required to get a specific license from the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners before they can begin to offer their services.

Step 4: Pass a Licensing Exam 

In some states, you may need to pass a licensing exam after your application has been approved. As many candidates tend to struggle with these exams, we’ve included a few simple pointers below to help you in your preparation:

  • Study Materials: Invest in quality study guides, textbooks, and online resources tailored for your specific contractor exam — these will give you the knowledge, tools, and strategies needed to excel
  • Study Schedule: Set up a consistent study routine, allocating specific times each day to different topics. Be sure to stick to this schedule, focusing on light reviews and relaxation rather than last-minute cramming
  • Stay Updated: Ensure you’re studying the most up-to-date regulations and codes on the websites of the state and local agencies governing the licenses you’re applying for. Make sure to keep an eye out for any recent changes, as these may feature in the exam
  • Test Day: Aim to get to the test center at least 30 minutes before the scheduled time to settle in and reduce anxiety. Plus, make sure to double- check you have any required items like identification, pencils, or approved calculators before setting off
  • During the Exam: If you find some questions challenging, don’t panic. Move on and return to them later if time allows. Throughout the exam, try to keep an eye on the clock to ensure you allow yourself enough time to complete each section comfortably

Interested in getting started? Kickstart the preparation for your contractor licensing exam today with comprehensive study courses and learning materials.

Step 5: Protect Yourself With Insurance

It’s a common requirement in a number of states for contracting businesses to own designated amounts of insurance to ensure both contractors and clients are covered in the event of any accidents or damage. A certificate will need to be provided to the relevant regulatory body as part of the application process to prove your business is sufficiently insured.

In addition to this, many local governments within states impose a surety bond requirement based on the kind of work a contractor will perform. For example, contractors looking to perform demolition work in San Antonio, Texas are required to obtain a $5,000 annual bond.

Note: Even if you’re not mandated to have insurance by law, it’s still highly beneficial to invest in coverage to protect yourself from potential liabilities and unforeseen risks in the construction industry.

Step 6: Keep Your Contractor License Valid

You must keep your license valid once you obtain it by renewing it every few years, paying associated renewal fees, and satisfying any requirements for continuing education. It’s essential to keep your licenses renewed, as running a business with an outdated license can result in penalties, legal issues, or even the closure of your operations.

We’ve included some simple tips below to help you navigate the license renewal process:

  • Track Key Dates: Stay informed about the expiration of your licenses and permits. Highlight these on your planner and set early alerts to kickstart the renewal process
  • Know the Renewal Requirements: Renewal criteria can vary based on states and regions. Your state or local government’s official website (or the licensing authority) will have these details
  • Prepare Essential Paperwork: Similar to your initial licensing, renewals might require certain documents like yearly financial overviews, insurance proofs, or yearly summaries. Organizing these in advance can streamline your renewal

Applicants are encouraged to gather all necessary details well in advance to help them renew contractor licenses without any hiccups.

How to Get a General Contractor License FAQ

What are the requirements to be a general contractor?

You’ll need to check your state and local area’s regulations for specifics since general contractor licensing is handled differently in each jurisdiction. As an example, NYC contractors must submit an application to the Department of Consumer Affairs and often pass an examination. To find out more about what you can do once you have this license, see our What Does a General Contractor Do guide.

How much is a general contractor license?

The cost of getting a general contractor license will depend on several factors, including your specific profession and location. This is because different states (and municipalities) can impose varying fees. For more information, have a look at our How Much Does a General Contractor Make article.

Do you need a license to be a general contractor?

Whether you’ll need a license in order to work as a general contractor in your area is completely dependent on the city and state you’re based in. For this reason, it’s essential to check with your state licensing board and local licensing authority to ensure compliance. If you’re not sure which category your contracting services fall into, see our Construction Manager vs General Contractor article.

Does a handyman need a license?

The answer to this question will depend where you’re based. While it’s not common for handymen to require a state-level license for general repairs, many specific cities or counties may require a general building contractor license for tasks beyond minor work. If you’re not sure whether you need this license, we recommend checking out our What is a General Contractor article.