Michigan licensing and permitting

How to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Michigan

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

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As a Michigan business owner, making sure your business can start operating properly is very important. Often, this means you need business licenses and permits. Most Michigan businesses need a combination of licenses and permits from federal, state, and/or local agencies. The requirements — and fees — vary based on your location, industry, and business activities. We’ll show you how to identify some of the licenses and permits you might need, and help you find resources on where to get the right Michigan state business license for your company.

What is a Michigan business license?

Some states require a general business license before your company can even get started. In Michigan, you don’t need a general business license to operate your business. However, there is no central place to check what Michigan business license you’ll need for every activity your business conducts in Michigan. The state provides a searchable list of occupations and industries that may require licensing. However, a business owner needs to know exactly what each of these licenses and permits means and requires. This presents challenges for many owners. 

We can help simplify this process with our Business License Report. This service takes your business location, industry, and activities to identify your local, state, and federal licensing requirements. Getting the right Michigan business license can be confusing, but we can help simplify the process.

Step 1:  Search for any necessary Michigan general business licenses

A general business license is typically a license granted by the state. It’s required before you’re permitted to do any business at all in a particular state or region. The State of Michigan doesn’t require a general business license. However, some Michigan counties and municipalities may require one. For instance, the City of Detroit, Michigan requires a general business license in order to do business in Detroit.

A general business license isn’t the same as forming your business with the state. Registering a business, like forming your corporation or limited liability company (LLC), is what officially forms the entity. Some people mistakenly call this “getting a business license.” Creating your business entity just allows the state to have basic information about your company, including information about how to tax you at the end of the year. In other words, formation is only the first step in your Michigan company’s success.

We  offer fast, easy formation services for both Michigan corporations and Michigan LLCs. We’ve helped many Michiganders get their businesses started quickly and easily.

Step 2:  Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Michigan business

If your Michigan business works within any of the following 11 industries, you’re likely to need a federal permit, as well as state and local permits. Those industries are:

  • Agriculture: including the import of plants, animals, or biotechnology across state lines 
  • Alcoholic beverages: meaning the manufacture, sale, wholesale, retail sale, or import of alcoholic beverages
  • Aviation: including transporting people or goods by aircraft
  • Firearms, ammunition, and explosives: meaning manufacturing, dealing, or importing firearms, ammunition, or explosives
  • Fish and wildlife: including any wildlife-related commercial activity
  • Commercial fisheries: including any kind of commercial fishing
  • Maritime transportation: meaning the transportation of cargo by sea
  • Mining and drilling: drilling for minerals, natural gas, oil or other resources
  • Nuclear energy: including performing any commercial activity in the lifecycle of nuclear energy production or waste-handling
  • Radio and television broadcasting: including broadcasting by radio, satellite, cable, or TV signal
  • Transportation and logistics: if your business operates certain large vehicles in interstate commerce — you may also be heavily regulated under state laws

In any of these 11 industries, you’re likely to have both federal and state licensing obligations. For instance, both the federal government and the state of Michigan regulate alcohol manufacturing and sales. You’ll need to obtain many permits and comply with a lot of regulations in order to brew beers in Battle Creek.

If your Michigan business operates in any of these 11 areas, we can help you get a handle on your Michigan business license obligations. Our Business License Report Service has helped many business owners like you understand which license and permits apply to your business. 

Step 3:  Check for Michigan permits and licenses

The State of Michigan provides a searchable list of occupations, businesses, and industries that require licensing and permitting. The list is very long and the list of requirements is very diverse. The list shows businesses what commercial functions might require a license or permit.

The list provided by the state of Michigan may not be completely current or accurate as the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t update it every day. Business owners should confirm specifics about each license. Additionally, the Michigan business license list is a list of licenses required only by the state of Michigan. This list doesn’t account for licenses that may be required by counties and municipalities within the state. 

Step 4:  Check Your city or county for local licensing in Michigan

Counties and municipalities in some states may have their own licensing requirements — both general and industry specific. In Michigan, for example, the state doesn’t require a general business license. The City of Detroit, however, does require a general license. It’s important to check with your Michigan city and/or county to ensure that you’ve got the right permit to do the work you want to do. 

It can be harder to find information on the local level than at the state or federal level. You can check your county and city website, the county clerk’s office, and the local tax office.

Step 5:  Search for applicable Michigan professional licenses

If your profession involves special skills or a trade, your business might require a professional license. These professions include engineering, law, medicine, nursing, and teaching, among others. Many of these professions have a state board that governs the issuing of licenses. Often, obtaining these licenses requires taking some kind of exam. Because these exams can be time-consuming and expensive, make sure that you know which licenses you need for your business before you take a test you don’t need!

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

Depending on your type of business, you may need other Michigan state business licenses to begin your journey as a small business owner. Common permits to consider include:

  • Zoning permits — if operating a retail store
  • Sales tax collection licenses or permits — whether selling online or offline
  • Health permits — if selling food or hygiene items
  • Environmental permits — if disposing of waste 
  • Building permits — if modifying your space
  • Signage permits — if displaying your business’s signs

This isn’t an exhaustive list of permits you may need. However, it shows that the permits you might need to run your business sometimes have nothing to do with being a lawyer or running a construction company. Often, the Michigan business license process has a lot to do with keeping your fellow Michiganders safe and healthy.

Step 7:  Apply for Michigan home-based business licenses

Once not as popular, many Michigan business owners can now choose to open home-based businesses. If you’re one of them, you may be selling crafts online or out of your home. You may be offering professional services like accounting. Either way, there may be slightly different licensing and permitting requirements for you if your business is home-based.

For instance, if your in-home business prepares food for sale, you may need to have your residence inspected by the Michigan State Department of Agriculture, and/or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You may also have to obtain a sales tax license from the State of Michigan. You may need to obtain fire marshall and health department permits or approvals from your city or town. The licenses needed could be slightly different than if you were making and selling your food from a commercial kitchen or a retail store. When investigating which Michigan business license your company might need from which state or local entity, make sure to check whether the rule applies to home-based businesses or retail establishments equally.

We can help you get started on the road to success in your home-based Michigan business with our guide to starting a business. We can help you form your Michigan corporation or LLC, as well as understand what business licenses might be required.

Step 8:  Maintain your Michigan licensing

Once you’ve got your Michigan business license you need to maintain it. The requirements for maintaining your licenses and permits will be different for each type of license or permit that you have.

Lawyers, doctors, engineers, and nurses, among other licensed professions, usually have professional continuing education requirements. These requirements help the state make sure that your doctor, lawyer, or other skilled professional’s knowledge is up to the most current professional standards. If you’re one of these professionals, you need to pay fees and submit evidence of compliance with your requirements to maintain those professional licenses. 

Other licenses and permits, like a permit to collect sales tax, expire each year but renew automatically. A company needs to be in good standing with the State of Michigan in order for the sales tax collection license to automatically renew. We can help you stay in good standing with the state using our Worry-Free Compliance Service

We can help your Michigan business thrive

If the thought of getting all the right licenses for your Michigan business causes anxiety, we can help. Our Business License Report can help you determine what licenses and permits you need to help your business get started and grow. It uses location, industry, and activities to identify the licenses your company might need. We also offer fast, easy formation services in Michigan for starting a corporation or an LLC. Owning and operating a small business is tough enough. Let us take some of the stress off your shoulders.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

FAQs

  • Do all Michigan businesses need a license?

    Almost all Michigan businesses will need some kind of license or permit. If you’re engaging in commercial activity in Michigan, even for a short period of time, you’re likely going to need a way to collect sales tax. There are a couple of options on how to do this, and we can help.

  • Can you sell things without a license in Michigan?

    It depends. If you’re a lawyer selling your sofa on a neighborhood website in Ann Arbor, you probably won’t need a license. If you’re selling sofas in Ann Arbor and your business is selling sofas throughout Michigan, you’ll probably need some kind of license.

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

    Yes. All types of home-based businesses are legal in Michigan. Make sure to check with your city or county about the zoning laws regarding home-based businesses in your area.

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

    There is no specific “online business” license in Michigan. However, Michigan is very strict about online businesses collecting sales tax. If you are an online retailer in Michigan, you’ll need to make sure that you get a sales tax permit from the Michigan Department of Treasury.

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

    Yes. The Michigan Department of Treasury issues these licenses.

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