Georgia Licensing and Permitting

How to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Georgia

Our business license report can help you determine what licenses and permits you need to start a business in Georgia.

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Starting a new business is often the realization of a lifelong dream. It requires dedication and hard work to find success, but much of the reward is often in the effort itself. If you’re starting a new business in Georgia, you’ll want to make sure that you cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s and follow all the rules and regulations required by getting the required licenses and permits for your venture.

Unfortunately, there’s no one place you can go to find all the different permits or licenses that you need on the federal, state, and/or local levels. You’ll need to do some legwork to discover the different rules and regulations that affect your business. If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry, we’re here to help. Let’s learn more about licensing and permitting requirements you might face as a Georgia business owner, and how our Business License Report service can help you get it done easily.

What is a business license?

A business license grants permission from a government entity to run a business. Your business might require licensing from the local, state, and/or federal government before you can open your doors. Your need for business licenses depends on the industry you’re in, your business activities, and your location. Some states also require a general business license to do any kind of business within their jurisdiction. 

Licenses and permits are frequently required for specific industries or professions. Many cities, towns, and counties will require licenses or permits to operate certain kinds of businesses or for things like signage or building construction. For instance, the permits or licenses that you need to operate a business in Savannah may be different from the ones that you need to operate the same business in Atlanta.

Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that obtaining a business license is the same as registering your company. They’re not the same thing. Registering your business involves creating Articles of Incorporation or Articles of Organization and submitting them to the Georgia Secretary of State. This will formally create your corporation or limited liability company. Once that occurs, you need to obtain various state or local permits and licenses.

Step 1: Search for any necessary Georgia general business licenses

Some states require all businesses to apply for a general business license. This grants certain permissions for your company to engage in business anywhere in a state. Georgia does not require a general business license. However, you will need to check with any cities, towns, or counties you want to operate in. Many larger Georgia municipalities require a general business license however, may require you to obtain a business license, along with other permits and licenses, to operate within their jurisdictions.

Licenses and permits are also frequently required for specific industries or professions. Many cities, towns, and counties will require licenses or permits to operate certain kinds of businesses or for things like signage or building construction. For instance, the permits or licenses that you need to operate a business in Savannah may be different from the ones that you need to operate the same business in Atlanta.

Step 2: Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Georgia business

Some businesses are regulated by the federal government. Here’s a brief listing of industries that require a license or permit from a federal agency. You can find out more information at the Small Business Administration:

  • Commercial fishery: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service.
  • Firearms, ammunition, or explosives: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
  • Any activity or product involving wildlife: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Operating, transporting, or maintaining aircraft: Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Wholesale or retail sale, importing, or manufacturing of alcohol or tobacco: Alcohol, Tobacco Tax, and Trade Bureau. (There will also be state and/or local license requirements.)
  • Production or disposal of commercial nuclear energy and its byproducts: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • Mining or drilling for minerals, natural gas, or oil on federal lands: Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
  • Transporting or importing across state lines animals, animal products, or plants: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Transportation of people or shipment of cargo by boat or ship: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Operating a TV or a radio station: Federal Communications Commission.
  • Operating an oversized or overweight vehicle: These permits are not issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, but by Georgia. The U.S. Department of Transportation can direct you to the correct state office.

Step 3: Check for Georgia permits and licenses

Although Georgia doesn’t require companies to obtain a statewide business license, some places require licenses or permits based on the nature of your business, what industry you work in, and if you plan on selling certain products or services. Some of those licenses include:

  • Whether you operate a small grocery store or a large shopping outlet, if you sell alcohol or liquor, you’ll need to obtain a license to sell alcohol in Georgia.
  • If you run a restaurant of any size and sell liquor, you also need to obtain a liquor license from Georgia.
  • If you run a gym, a box store, or a club that requires memberships to use those facilities, you’ll need to obtain a Georgia Buying Service License. These licenses must be renewed yearly for a fee of $50.
  • If you sell any product within Georgia or out of state wholesale or tax-exempt, you’ll need a sales tax permit. The good news is that this permit is free, but you do need to register.
  • Any time you hire a new employee or rehire them, you must report this to the Georgia New Hire Reporting Program. This is true even if they only work a limited number of hours a week or are employed by a temporary hiring agency.

As you can see, there are various licenses and permits required at the state level that you’ll need to know about. You can find out information about all these state requirements at Georgia’s First Stop Business Information Center. There is also a downloadable guide from the Secretary of State’s office that will provide additional information.

Step 4: Check with the city or county for local licensing in Georgia

Even if your business does not require any licenses or permits from the federal or the state level, you will still need to check business requirements from your city, town, or county. Here are a few examples:

  • To operate any business in Atlanta, you’ll need a business license issued by the city.
  • In Savannah, all businesses require a business tax certificate — this is the same thing as a business license, again issued by the city.
  • In Newnan, a city about 40 miles outside of Atlanta, businesses need to obtain and display on their premises an occupational tax certificate.

Once you create your business, one of your first steps is to check the website of the city, town, or county in which you operate that business. Many of these localities will have information on what licenses and permits you’ll need.

Another good bet is to check with the local tax office as it will probably also have this information. If these websites don’t provide this kind of guidance, you’ll need to go into the appropriate office and ask.

Step 5: Search for applicable Georgia professional licenses

Along with the licenses and permits needed by regular businesses in Georgia, some businesses or individuals will also require professional licensing. This includes doctors, accountants, lawyers, plumbers, veterinarians, and engineers. You can find a complete listing of all the professions that need a state license and their governing boards at the Georgia Secretary of State licensing website.

A state license, however, may not be all that you need. The city of Atlanta, for instance, also requires some professionals to obtain a license to do business in the city, aside from the state license. This includes dentists, optometrists, funeral directors, and family therapists.

Step 6: Obtain any other necessary Georgia business licenses and permits 

Along with the various forms of business licenses that you need to operate in cities like Savannah or Atlanta, various municipalities around the state require you to obtain licenses or permits for other activities, such as:

  • Atlanta has strict rules about what businesses can operate in certain areas in the city. You can check to see if your business is approved to operate in your neighborhood.
  • Other licenses or permits you may need to obtain from your local city, town, or county include health permits, signage permits, or environmental permits.
  • Most municipalities in Georgia will require you to obtain a building permit if you wish to alter your current structure or build a new one for your business.
  • As we noted above, one Georgia license all businesses need to have if they wish to sell products or services is a sales tax permit.

Step 7: Apply for Georgia home-based business licenses

If you want to operate a home-based business in Georgia, you’ll need to follow many of the same state and local licenses or permit regulations that you would need to operate in a separate building. This includes home-based online businesses.

You’ll need to check city, town, or county rules about whether you can operate a home-based business in your neighborhood. This is important to check — taking the steps to start a home-based business and then finding out your area is not zoned for it is a huge and expensive headache.

If you want to sell a service or product, whether within Georgia or out of state, you’ll need a sales tax permit. This is also true of an online business.

Turning your home into a child care center or a family child learning home requires specific licenses at both the state and local levels. It also requires specific training. Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning publishes an online guide for anyone interested in starting a home-based child care center that includes details about the licenses you’ll need and regulations about the number of children you can care for in your home.

Step 8: Maintain your Georgia licensing

Many of the licenses and the permits that you’ll need at the state or the local level will need to be renewed regularly. Here are just a few examples:

  • We’ve already mentioned the business service license that you’ll need to renew yearly if you run a business that requires membership. It’s a $50 renewal fee.
  • Atlanta requires all businesses to renew their business licenses annually. The cost is based on annual gross revenue and the number of employees.
  • Savanna requires your business tax certificate to be renewed by January 31 of each year. Instead of paying a fee based on gross receipts, there is a flat fee of $400 you can pay instead.

When you submit your applications for your original licenses or permits in your locality, check with the authorizing entity about renewals. Forgetting to renew a license or a permit can result in the temporary closure of your business or financial penalties.

We can help you keep your Georgia business state compliant and running smoothly

As you can see, tracking down all the licenses and permits that you might need on the federal, state, or local level can be a time-consuming and frustrating task. Fortunately, we have a tool that can help. Our Business License Report can help you determine the permits and licenses you’ll need from all three levels of government. This service uses your location, type of business, industry, and more to determine the various licenses and permits you need for your Georgia business. And for more comprehensive compliance assistance, check out our Worry-Free Compliance service to see how we can make these tasks easier for you.

FAQs

  • Do all Georgia businesses need a license?

    Georgia does not require a general business license to operate in the state. Many cities, towns, or counties, however, do require you to obtain a general business license or certificate to operate within their jurisdictions.

  • Can you sell things without a license in Georgia?

    No. If you wish to sell a service or product in Georgia or out of state you are required to obtain a sales tax permit.

  • Is it legal to run a business from home in Georgia?

    Yes, but it depends upon locality and the kind of business you wish to operate. You can run a childcare business from your home, but you cannot run a funeral service. Zoning also plays a role for in-home businesses, particularly in larger cities like Atlanta.

  • What kind of license do I need for an online business in Georgia?

    There is no special license needed to operate an online business in Georgia. Any business license or permit needed will be the same as a brick-and-mortar business. 

  • Do I need a license to collect sales tax in Georgia?

    Yes, if you sell any tangible item or service, you will need a sales tax permit to collect sales tax.

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