Do you own a business operating in the state of California? If so, you may need to acquire licenses and permits to ensure that your company operates in a compliant fashion.

But how do you determine which permits and licenses you need (if any), and where do you acquire them? In this guide to California business licenses and permits, we’ll answer all the tough questions about this process.

Are There Federal Licenses That My Business Needs?

First off, let’s discuss the matter of federal licenses and permits. There are many business activities that are regulated by various federal agencies, from agriculture to transportation and logistics. We recommend taking a look at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s guide to federal licenses and permits to make sure you’ve got your bases covered.

In addition, most businesses should acquire a federal tax ID number, also known as an EIN (employer identification number). This is essentially a social security number for your business, and it enables you to hire employees, pay business taxes, open business bank accounts, and more. You can acquire an EIN from the IRS for free.

What State-Level Licenses and Permits Apply in California?

The state of California does not have a general business license that applies statewide to every business entity, as some states do. However, depending on the nature of your business, there could be several licenses and/or permits that you may be required to obtain.

To determine which permits you need to operate a compliant business, we recommend that you pay a visit to the CalGold permit assistance website provided by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. This websites provides information on different license requirements, as well as contact information for the relevant licensing departments.

Occupational Licenses and Permits

The occupational licenses and permits required by the state of California vary widely, from an amusement and recreation attendant permit to a fabric mender’s license, and many points in between. Depending on the exact nature of your business, you might need more than one of these permits. You can learn more about occupational licenses in this state here.

Environmental Licenses and Permits

Finally, California also has some environmental permits that apply to any business that meets the state’s standards for regulated activities. The Environmental Permitting Guide provides ample information regarding environmental regulations, permitting requirements, and registration processes.

Which Tax Registrations are Required for California Businesses?

In addition to occupational licenses and permits, there are a number of state-level tax registrations, which are based on the industry you operate in and which business structure your company uses.

Every California limited liability company is required to register for the franchise tax, while all corporations need to sign up for the corporate income tax. Most businesses will also require sales and use tax.

There are also many industry-specific tax registrations in the state of California. Thankfully, the California Tax and Fee Administration handles all tax registrations, and you can find more information on which ones your business needs at this link.

Are There Local Licenses, Permits, or Registrations in California?

The answer to this question obviously depends on where in California you’re operating your business, but there are indeed quite a few licenses, permits, and tax registrations required by California localities.

Most occupational and business licenses are managed at the local level, including those in Orange County, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego, Placer, Yolo, and Kern counties. You can learn more about local licensing here.

There are also some requirements on the city/municipality level. For example, Los AngelesSan DiegoSan Jose, and San Francisco all have business resource websites that explain the applicable permits and licenses required to do business.

If we were to break down the exact rules and regulations regarding permitting in every locality in the state of California, this article would become excessively lengthy. With that in mind, we’ll simply say that every business owner should check with their local government to determine whether there are licenses, permits, or tax registrations required to operate in compliant fashion.

Can I Hire Someone to Research Licenses and Permits for My Business?

If this process sounds like a bit of a hassle, that’s because it certainly can be. If you would rather hire a reputable business services provider to handle this for you, that is always an option.

ZenBusiness can research the necessary licenses and permits for your company on the federal, state, county, and municipal levels. We’ll then send you the applications you need to acquire these permits and licenses, meaning all you need to do is fill them out and mail them in. Plus, if you need help with company formation, we can help with that filing as well.


There is no one-size-fits-all answer for the question of which licenses and permits your business might require to operate in the state of California. Instead, it’s important that you know how to access the resources to determine which permits your company needs to operate in a compliant fashion.

We hope this article helped you to do just that, and we wish you good fortune in your business future!

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