Do you own a business operating in the state of Tennessee? 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 Tennessee 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 Tennessee?

There are two general licenses that apply to most businesses in Tennessee: the Minimal Activity License and the Standard Business License. The Minimal Activity License applies to businesses with more than $3,000 but less than $10,000 in taxable sales. The Standard Business License is for businesses with more than $10,000 in taxable sales. You can learn more about these licensing requirements right here.

Tennessee has numerous licensing regulations for specific industries and commercial activities. You may be required to apply for one or more licenses, depending on the nature of your business. For more information, consult the Tennessee state government licensing page.

If your business activities have an impact on air, soil, or water quality, you may also need to apply for an environmental permit in Tennessee. To learn more about environmental regulations in Tennessee, check out this link.

Which Tax Registrations are Required for Tennessee 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.

You will need to apply for either the Minimal Activity License or the Standard Business License through the Tennessee Department of Revenue. All Tennessee businesses must pay the state franchise tax and excise tax.

There are various taxes, deductions, exemptions, and credits that apply to specific industries in Tennessee. To see a full list of tax regulations for different industries, consult the Department of Revenue website.

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

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

According to the Tennessee Department of Revenue, “most Tennessee businesses are required to have business licenses, which are issued by the local county clerk.” You will need to contact the clerk for the county in which your business is located for more information.

Additionally, many cities have business resource websites to help local businesses with the licensing process. For example, you can learn more about getting a local license for your business in NashvilleMemphisKnoxville, and Chattanooga.

If we were to break down the exact rules and regulations regarding permitting in every locality in the state of Tennessee, 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 Tennessee. 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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