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How to Get a Business License in North Carolina

Written by:

Coralee is a business writer with experience in administrative services, education, and software testing.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Get a Business License in North Carolina

One of the most important elements of starting a business in North Carolina is making sure you have all the requisite licenses and permits. The requirements vary by state, some of which have as many as 300 different licenses and permits. 

This article is too short to list them all, but it’s crucial that you’re aware of which ones your business needs and that you follow the steps for application and put your business on the road to success. 

In North Carolina, businesses need certain licenses and permits to legally operate as a business. The regulatory hurdles required vary depending on the type of business, its location, and the products and services offered. 

To help you launch your new business, this article lays out the most commonly needed permits and licenses in North Carolina — and details the steps required to acquire them. 

Why are business licenses required in North Carolina?

Business licenses and permits are issued to certify that a business and its products and services are safe for the public. This explains why food businesses, for instance, require more licenses than most other business types. 

Which agency issues business licenses in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, the Secretary of State issues the vast majority of licenses and permits, though some are issued by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Revenue. For instance, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issues food service licenses, while the Division of Motor Vehicles issues truck driver permits.  

Some licenses and permits are issued by cities or counties. So if you live in Charlotte, you’ll need to check with the city to see if licenses or permits are required for your business. 

Before you apply, it’s important to know which state or local agency issues the license you need. North Carolina’s Department of Commerce has accredited Business Link North Carolina’s free service to help you determine just what licenses and permits your business needs. 

To learn more, you can call Business Link North Carolina at the number below.

Phone: 1.800.228.8443

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

Steps to Get a North Carolina Business License

In North Carolina, the steps for acquiring specific licenses and permits vary widely, so it’s important to be aware of what you need, and how to get it. 

Determine the Types of Licenses That You Need 

In North Carolina, most businesses must acquire a sales and use tax number, commonly known as a seller’s permit. 

The additional licenses your business needs in North Carolina will reflect the general type and nature of your business. For example, a convenience store seeking to sell prepared food must first acquire the necessary licensure.

To safely run your business, it’s important to review the state requirements and verify that your business is properly licensed.

Submit Your Business License Application

You can apply for a sales and use tax permit for your business with North Carolina’s Department of Revenue here.

Additional licenses are filed with various departments of North Carolina, so it’s best to double-check where to file a given form with Business Link of North Carolina.

How much does a North Carolina business license cost?

Business license fees vary in North Carolina depending on which license is being applied for. A sales and use tax number costs $0, while some liquor licenses can run up to $400.

In North Carolina, and most US states, jumping through all the hoops to acquire the necessary licenses and permits can be exhausting. But if you want to operate your business, you’ll have to wade through all the red tape. So get started on these regulatory hurdles as early as possible and clear the way for your entrepreneurial journey to success. 

How fast can I get a business license in North Carolina?

If you apply for a sales and use tax permit online, the state will immediately process your application and provide you with a confirmation page. In addition, North Carolina’s Department of Revenue will mail a paper copy to you within five business days. 

For other licenses, the processing time varies, but filing online can help speed up the process.

Renew Your Licences When Needed

In North Carolina, license renewal requirements vary, but many are required to be renewed every year. For example, businesses with hospitality licenses must renew their licenses annually, and businesses licensed to sell seeds must also be renewed annually. Be sure to check with the state for renewal regulations and fees regarding the licenses your business needs. 

Types of Business Licenses

Your business may need local, state, and/or federal licenses and permits, depending on your type of business. Fees for these vary, but most costs are minimal.

Federal regulations associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific permits. 

The most common permits and licenses include: 

  1. Business operating licenses may be required by the city and the state to allow you to operate. 
  2. Industry-specific licenses may be required, depending on your type of business. Businesses involved in construction, childcare, plumbing, electrical, food and liquor, insurance, finance, landscaping, and architecture all require licensing, for example. In some highly regulated industries, you may require licensing from a federal agency, such as the FDA or Department of Transportation.
  3. Zoning permits are issued by municipalities to ensure you’re operating in an area in which you’re allowed to operate.  
  4. Building permits verify that the building you’re operating in is up to code. Home occupation permits, which some areas require, allow you to operate a business from your home.
  5. DBA permits allow you to do business under a name that is different from your legally registered business name.
  6. Sales tax permits allow you to sell products and collect sales tax
  7. An employer identification number (EIN) is required if you plan to have employees, no matter what your business entity type. 
  8. Health licenses and permits are required for certain businesses based on industry, and you will be required to maintain health and safety standards. Environmental permits are also required for certain industries in some locations.
  9. Fire permits certify that your business is up to fire safety codes. Depending on your location, this may be required for all businesses, while in other areas it’s required only if you work with flammable materials.
  10. Sign permits may be required for your location or other signage if there are rules about sign size and location.

Again, check with state and local government offices for specific requirements based on your location and industry.

Type of business licenses and permits


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How to Get a Business License in North Carolina