Hawaii licensing and permitting

How to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Hawaii

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

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Hawaii is a wonderful state to start a new business. Pleasant weather and hospitable surroundings can help take the edge off the tension of starting a new enterprise. When starting a company, it’s important to understand the various licenses and permits needed at the federal, state, and local levels. Unfortunately, there’s no single source that can provide you with information on every license and permit you might need. This can be a time-consuming and confusing process.

But, never fear! Let’s take a closer look at what kinds of licenses your Hawaii business might need and how our Business License Report service can help you get it done easily. If you need to form a Hawaii business, head over to our Hawaii LLC formation and corporate formation services to see how we make it quick and easy.

What is a business license?

A business license grants permission from a government entity to operate 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 also depends on the industry you’re in, your specific business activities, and your location. Some states also require a general business license to do any kind of business within their jurisdiction. Staying on top of your license and permit requirements is an important part of staying legally compliant.

Step 1: Search for any necessary Hawaii general business licenses

A general business license grants you permission to do business anywhere in a state. They are required in some states, but Hawaii doesn’t have a general business license. You may, however, be required to obtain a general business license on the local level. Cities, towns, or counties may ask you to obtain a business license or its equivalent before you can begin operations. These licenses or permits often depend upon the specific industry of your new business and where it’s located.

It’s important to note that registering your business isn’t the same as acquiring a license or a permit. A corporation, nonprofit or for-profit, must file Articles of Incorporation. An LLCs are required to file Articles of Organization. Those can be filed with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Business Registration Division (BREG). This is the first step in forming your business, and it needs to occur before applying for any licenses or permits.

Be sure to check with the websites of your local municipal or county government for information on licenses and permits. If you can’t find sufficient information, you can call their office for more information.

Step 2: Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Hawaii business

While many businesses need to get the appropriate state or local licenses or permits, certain industries are regulated by the federal government. Businesses in these industries need to apply for a federal permit or license to operate. The following is a list of those industries and the federal agency to which you need to apply for a license or a permit. You can find a more in-depth description of activities covered by these federal agencies at the Small Business Administration website:

  • Agriculture: United States Department of Agriculture
  • Alcohol beverages (you may also need to acquire a liquor license from the state or on the local level): Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
  • Aviation: Federal Aviation Administration
  • Firearms, ammunition, and explosives: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • Fish and wildlife: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Commercial fisheries (this includes the operation of single boats that provide fishing trips for tourists or larger commercial fishing boat): National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service
  • Maritime transport: Federal Maritime Commission
  • Mining and drilling (on federal lands): Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
  • Nuclear energy (this includes both the production and disposal of nuclear products): U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Radio and television broadcasting: Federal Communications Commission
  • Transportation and logistics (the state government grants these permits, but the U.S. Department of Transportation can direct you to the correct state agency): U.S. Department of Transportation

It’s important to be aware of all the characteristics and needs of your business because you might need licensing from more than one federal agency to operate. 

Step 3: Check for Hawaii permits and licenses

Though Hawaii doesn’t require a general business license, companies selling or leasing products or services must obtain a General Excise Tax License. The General Excise Tax License (seller’s permit) can be applied for online at the Hawaii Business Express or by mail by sending a request to the Hawaii Department of Taxation.

This particular license doesn’t need to be renewed.

A state license may be required if your business is involved in environmental or health and safety issues, such as the sale of medical cannabis. These licenses or permits come from the Hawaii Department of Health.

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

Many cities, towns, and counties in Hawaii require licenses or permits to conduct business in their jurisdictions.

For instance, Hawaii County requires certain businesses in its jurisdiction to have a Business and Occupancy License. This is a nontransferable license and allows you to conduct business only at the location mentioned in the license. These businesses include pawnbrokers, secondhand goods retailers, operators of dance halls, car restoration or wrecking operators, and auctioneers.

The City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permits require building permits for new construction or demolition or stormwater quality management permits. It has zoning bylaws that restrict which businesses can operate in various areas of the city and county.

The Hawaii Business Action Center provides links to information on what licenses and permits are needed in all four counties in Hawaii.

Step 5: Search for applicable Hawaii professional licenses

In addition to any licenses or permits you may need to run your business in Hawaii, you may also need them for some professions. For instance, if you want to work as an elevator mechanic, you need to apply to the Elevator Mechanics Licensing Board. If you’re going to work as a dentist, plumber, or optometrist, you must apply for a license from the appropriate board or state program.

The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Professional and Vocational Licensing Division has a complete list of professions that need a license to operate in the state. It also has links to the appropriate boards or programs where a license can be acquired. The two exceptions are lawyers and doctors, who have their own licensing agencies.

Some cities, towns, or counties in Hawaii may require certain professions to obtain a separate license as well.

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

Along with the General Excise Tax, professional, and local licenses, Hawaii may also require you to obtain other forms of business licenses.

Honolulu County requires zoning permits for certain businesses, and you need to check to see where your business can operate in the city. Zoning permits, however, aren’t the only license or permit you may need. Additional licenses or permits often depend on the kind of business you want to operate and where you want to base it.

If you operate a bar, restaurant, or establishment that serves liquor, you need to acquire the appropriate liquor license from the local government. If you want to have an alarm for your business, Hawaii may require you to obtain an alarm permit from the local police department. Signs may require permits, and if they’re electrical signs, you may need both an electrical permit and a sign permit.

If you want to learn more about all the various licenses and permits you may need, check the Hawaii Business Action Center. It provides links to the licensing divisions of each county in Hawaii. To be extra sure, call your local licensing or permit authority to ensure you’ve got all your bases covered.

Step 7: Apply for Hawaii home-based business licenses

If you want to run a home-based business in Hawaii, you might need several licenses and permits. Most of them, however, are similar to what you would need if running a commercial outlet.

If you plan to sell or lease any product or service, you need a General Excise Tax License. And, depending upon the kind of business you wish to open, you may need local or professional licenses.

In Hawaii county, a home-based business requires a Home Occupancy Permit. It can only be established in areas zoned for single-family dwellings, and you can’t promote your business with any inside or outside sign.

Rules for home-based businesses can change from county to county, so check with your local licensing and permit authority for restrictions in your county.

Step 8: Maintain your Hawaii licensing

You must renew many of the licenses and permits you need to operate your business in Hawaii on an annual or a biannual basis. Most aren’t expensive — for instance, an elevator mechanic license costs only $15 a year.

Forgetting to renew your licenses or permits, however, can have catastrophic consequences. You may face serious penalties or fines, and in some cases, your business may be closed temporarily or permanently.

Remembering all of these compliance requirements can be overwhelming, but we can help. Our Worry-Free Compliance service will keep track of your regular business filing requirements such as license renewal, annual reports, LLC and corporation amendments, and more.

Let us help keep your Hawaii business state-compliant

It’s going to take time for you to hunt down all the various licenses and permits you need from federal, state, or local governments. It can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. If you miss even one of the licenses or permits required, it can immediately affect your business.

Luckily, we have a tool that can make this search much easier. Our Business License Report can help you determine what licenses and permits you need from every level of government. Our partners base their reports on the industry, location, and specific activities that affect your business. They provide you with a report that helps you identify the federal, state, and local license requirements that your business needs.

FAQs

  • Do all Hawaii businesses need a license?

    Hawaii doesn’t have a General Business License. It does, however, require any business that sells or leases a product or a service to apply for a General Excise Tax License.

  • Can you sell things without a license in Hawaii?

    No. If you wish to sell any product or service, you need a General Excise Tax License.

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

    Yes, it’s legal to run a home-based business in Hawaii. There are rules and regulations, however, that govern home-based businesses. Many of the licenses and permits you need are the same as those you would need to run a separate commercial outlet. Some counties allow a home-based business in certain zoning areas and require you to obtain special permits, such as a Home Occupancy Permit.

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

    You don’t need any special license to operate an online business in Hawaii. The licenses and permits you need are the same as those required if you were running a brick-and-mortar store. For instance, if you plan to sell or lease any service or product, you need a General Excise Tax License. If you plan on running your online business from your home, you may be subject to certain zoning restrictions and home occupancy rules.

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

    Yes. To collect sales tax in Hawaii, you need to obtain a General Excise Tax License.

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