General Contractor License Illinois

Written by: Mary Gerardine

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General Contractor License Illinois

Getting a contractor license in Illinois can seem tricky because there’s no single license that covers all types of contractors. Instead, each city has its own requirements and the state only issues licenses for certain specialized trades. 

This General Contractor License Illinois article will guide you through everything you need to know to get started, covering the key factors to consider when deciding if you need a contractor license, how to apply for one, and what other licensing requirements you may face.

Tip: If you’re planning to work as a general contractor in Illinois, 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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Who Needs a Contractor License

In Illinois, not all contractors are required to obtain a specific license. Instead, licensing requirements vary based on your specific trade and location. We’ve explored these considerations in greater detail below.

Roofing Contractors

If you want to provide roofing services in Illinois, you need to get a license from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). This license shows that you have the knowledge and skills to perform roofing and waterproofing work, according to the Illinois Roofing Industry Licensing Act.

There are three main types of roofing licenses in Illinois:

  • Residential: This license qualifies a roofing contractor to work on residential buildings with up to eight units.
  • Commercial/Industrial: This license allows roofing contractors to work on commercial and industrial buildings.
  • Unlimited: This license permits roofing contractors to work on any type of building without restrictions.

Plumbers

If you want to do plumbing work in Illinois, you’ll need to get a license from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). This license proves you have the skills and knowledge to install, repair, and maintain plumbing systems under the Illinois Plumbing License Law.

There are two main types of plumbing licenses in Illinois:

  • Journeyman Plumber’s License: This license permits a contractor to perform plumbing work under the supervision of a licensed professional.
  • Master Plumbing License: With this license, you may run your own plumbing business or partner with other plumbers.

For general contracting or specialty trades other than plumbing and roofing in Illinois, licensing occurs at the municipal or county level. This means you’ll need to check the specific requirements managed by the local authorities in the area where you plan to work. 

Note: Obtaining these licenses requires fulfilling the experience criteria, registering with the relevant state agency, and passing an exam. To pass any contractor licensing exam, you’ll need to study with high-quality materials that provide you with the knowledge, skills, and strategies to succeed.

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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.

How to Get a Contractor License in Illinois

Becoming a general contractor in Illinois is relatively straightforward because the state doesn’t mandate a license. This means there are no specific age, experience, or education qualifications that you must meet at a state level to be able to offer these services.

However, if you intend to perform any work in a specialist trade (i.e., as a plumber or roofer), there are certain steps your business will need to follow in order to get licensed in Illinois. While the specifics of these steps vary between each trade, you will generally need to do the following:

Step 1: Choose Your Business Structure

Before starting the application process for a contractor license, you’ll first need to decide on the structure of your business. Since this decision will impact your liability, tax obligations, and how you run your business, it’s vital you’re informed about the details of each structure so that you can effectively determine which one is best suited to your needs.

Many contracting businesses in Illinois, particularly smaller ones, decide to structure themselves as a limited liability company (LLC) because it grants them tax flexibility, limited liability protection, and credibility in the eyes of their clients.

Recommended: More than 72% of our readers form their LLC using a professional filing service. Our recommended service provider is:

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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. To apply for a plumbing contractor license in Illinois, for example, you need to have four years of apprenticeship experience and complete an approved plumbing course

Note: Some licenses, like the master plumber license, require you to be a licensed journeyman plumber in the state of Illinois and have at least two years of practical experience as a licensed journeyman plumber.

Step 3: Submit an Application

Once you’ve confirmed that you meet the basic requirements of the license your business needs, the next step is to complete and submit the appropriate application form to the relevant regulatory body along with any associated fees.

Here are details for some of the most common specialist trades in Illinois:

  • Plumbers: Plumbing contractors require a plumbing license from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Illinois offers two main types of plumbing licenses: a journeyman plumber license and a master plumber license
  • Roofing Contractors: Roofers must obtain a roofing license and choose between three types of roofing licenses: residential, commercial/industrial, and unlimited. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) issues these roofing contractor licenses
  • Asbestos Abatement Contractors: Illinois offers several different licenses for asbestos abatement, including worker, supervisor, inspector, management planner, and project designer licenses. The IDPH manages all of them
  • Elevator and Fire Sprinkler Contractors: Illinois also requires licenses for these types of contractors. The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal regulates these licenses through its Elevator Safety Division and its fire sprinkler contractor licensing rules
  • Electrical Contractors: In Illinois, electrical contractors need to follow the licensing rules of their local city or county. For example, Chicago requires them to obtain a license from its Department of Buildings while Rockford only requires them to get a city electrical permit
  • Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and Refrigeration Contractors: HVAC and refrigeration contractors don’t need a state license in Illinois. But some local areas have their own requirements. For example, in Joliet, HVAC contractors are required to submit a Letter of Intent to the Building & Inspectional Services Division and get a contractor’s license

Note: While this article highlights several common trades in Illinois, the application process will vary for each specific trade. As such, you should research the exact licensing process for the specific license you need because it may differ from those outlined above.

Step 4: Pass a Licensing Exam

While not a universal requirement, many contractor licenses in Illinois require applicants to pass a licensing exam in order to qualify. For example, plumbers, plumbing contractors, apprentice plumbers, and irrigation contractors need to pass a state exam administered by Continental Testing Services and approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

Many candidates struggle with these exams because they often test both their knowledge of the trade and their understanding of Illinois’s specific regulations and laws. To avoid this, many applicants take advantage of online study guides and preparatory courses in order to get ready for these exams.

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

Step 5: Satisfy Insurance Requirements

In order to protect both your business and your clients in case of accidents and damages, most contractors in Illinois will need to provide proof of insurance coverage in order to get licensed. 

For example, plumbers must submit proof of insurance to the IDPH along with their license application or renewal form. Called a certificate of insurance (COI), this document verifies a contractor’s liability insurance coverage and limits.

Additionally, many local governments in Illinois impose a surety bond requirement based on the kind of work a contractor will perform. Keep in mind that the cost of a surety bond for general contractors performing demolition work can vary. For example, Cook County, which includes Chicago, sets its demolition bond for structures of four or more stories at $40,000.

Note: Be sure to check the specific insurance prerequisites for the license you’re seeking as well as the surety bond requirements of your local municipality because these requirements will be unique to each trade and city in Illinois.

Step 6: Keep Your Contractor License Valid

Once you obtain your license, it’s essential to keep it active. This often involves renewing it every few years, paying associated renewal fees, and meeting continuing education requirements.

For example, plumber licenses must be renewed by April 30th following the date of issuance while roofing licenses must be renewed before June 30 of every odd-numbered year.

Congratulations! You’ve now successfully obtained the professional license needed to work as a contractor in Illinois. However, your licensing journey doesn’t end here, as there are additional licensing requirements your business will need to satisfy in order to operate legally.

Other Licenses You May Need

Below, we’ve explored the various additional licenses and permits your Illinois contractor business may need in more detail.

State Business Licenses

While general contractor licenses aren’t required at a state level in Illinois, there are certain state business licenses you may need to obtain before you can get up and running.

Illinois treats general contractors as the final buyer of materials, making them responsible for paying sales tax to the supplier or self-assessing the applicable use tax. They also must add sales tax to their clients’ bills to cover both materials and labor. To handle sales tax, general contractor license applications also must include an application for a sales tax license or seller’s permit from the state’s Department of Revenue.

However, some exceptions and exemptions may apply to certain types of construction projects or contractors. If the project is located in an Enterprise Zone, River Edge Redevelopment Zone, or state-certified High-Impact Business location, for example, the contractor may purchase building materials for the project exempt from sales tax with a certificate issued by the state’s Department of Revenue.

Additionally, your general contractor business may require an environmental permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency if it takes on certain types of projects with the potential to impact the environment.

To better understand your general contractor business’s licensing requirements, visit the Illinois Registrations, Licenses, and Permits page or see our Illinois Business License guide for a more detailed explanation.

Note: There are a range of different fees associated with registering your business in Illinois. To get an idea of how much it’ll cost to get your contracting business off the ground, visit the Illinois Secretary of State’s Business Services page.

City and Municipal Licenses

Many local municipalities often impose their own additional requirements that you may be required to satisfy for your business to operate legally in that area.

For example, prospective contractors in Rockford need to submit a building permit application form to the city’s Community and Economic Development Department.

They also need to provide proof of financial responsibility (e.g., general liability insurance, property damage insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance) along with a $10,000 surety bond as well as comply with the city’s codes and ordinances when performing any construction work.

Some local authorities may require general contractors to identify themselves as a residential building or home improvement contractor. For example, Chicago requires those who perform work on one- or two-unit residential buildings or structures to obtain a Home Repair License issued by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP).

Note: You can use the Illinois Municipal League’s City Officials Directory to find your city’s government website and read more about its specific licensing requirements.

General Contractor License Illinois FAQ

How do I get a contractor’s license in Illinois?

To get an Illinois general contractor license, you’ll need to choose your business entity, meet the basic criteria, submit an application, pass the licensing exam, pay the licensing fee, and complete any insurance requirements. Read our General Contractor License Illinois article to find out more.

Does Illinois require a contractor’s license?

Illinois general contractors aren’t subject to state licensing; instead, local municipalities dictate licensing requirements. Specialty contractors like roofers and plumbers, however, must obtain state licenses via the IDFPR. Illinois also lacks a license reciprocity agreement for contractors licensed in other states with such agreements established at the local level. For more information, check out our How to Get a General Contractor License article.

How can I become a licensed and bonded contractor in Illinois?

To become a licensed and bonded contractor in Illinois, you must first obtain the necessary local licenses at the city or county level. Then, you must secure a surety bond to guarantee your work. For state-regulated trades, you can file for an Illinois contractor license application through the appropriate state agency and then meet your bonding requirements.

Do I need a license to be a handyman in Illinois?

While there’s no state-level handyman license in Illinois, local municipalities may have specific regulations and permit requirements for handymen. It’s important to check with the local government where you plan to work or conduct business to determine if you need a business license for the type of contracting services you intend to offer.