Minnesota licensing and permitting

How to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Minnesota

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

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Most Minnesota businesses need a combination of licenses and permits before they can legally begin doing business. The rules and requirements can be extremely confusing. Some permits are issued by the federal government, some licenses are issued by the state. And depending on what kind of business you’re forming, you might even need county and city permits as well. The licenses and fees can vary based on your location, industry, and business activities. Today, we’ll discuss how to navigate the maze of the business licensing process in the land of 1,000 lakes.

We have a helpful Business License Report service to get you on the right path. The service uses information about your business and your location to deliver you a report about what licenses and permits you might need.

What exactly is a business license?

Most businesses need some license or permit to operate in Minnesota. Licenses and permits can be specific to your industry, like the many licenses specific to the healthcare industry. Licenses can also be specific to the state of Minnesota or required by the federal government. Certain cities and counties can require businesses to have permits to operate as well. Sometimes, states can require what’s called a “general business license.” This license gives a business the minimum permission needed to operate in the state. A general business license typically needs to be secured before any other permits or licenses can be obtained.

In many states, there is no central place to check whether you have every license or permit that you need. It usually takes some searching to make sure you have what’s required. The Minnesota Bureau of Business Licensing provides a searchable directory that can help you. 

Step 1:  Search for any necessary Minnesota general business licenses

A general business license is the baseline license you need to do business in a state or municipality. Not all states require a general business license. Minnesota doesn’t require a Minnesota state business license. However, some Minnesota counties and municipalities may require one. You should check your city and county website before opening up your doors to do business to ensure you’ve got the required permits and licenses from your city or town.

Business owners need to know that registering their business with the state isn’t the same as getting a business license. Forming your Minnesota corporation or limited liability company (LLC) creates a business entity. Filing Minnesota Articles of Incorporation or Articles of Organization doesn’t grant you a business license. 

As a trusted resource for Minnesota businesses, we have helped many business owners get started. Our fast, easy corporate formation and LLC formation services can help you get to work quickly and easily. Once your business is formed, we can also help you understand your licensing needs with our Business License Report.

Step 2:  Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Minnesota business

Obtaining a general business license isn’t the only hurdle a business needs to clear to get started. For certain industries, the federal government requires a business to obtain a permit or license from a government agency. If your 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 importing animals, plants, or biotechnology across state lines. Even family farms need to be aware of this requirement. 
  • Alcoholic beverages: meaning the sale, manufacture, wholesale, or importation of alcoholic beverages. Local bars and restaurants, as well as neighborhood liquor stores, need to know about these types of permits.
  • Aviation: including transportation of goods and people by aircraft. A federal permit is likely required whether your business involves skydiving trips or crop-dusting.
  • Firearms, ammunition, and explosives: meaning the manufacturing or importing of firearms, ammunition, or explosives. Sales of fireworks are included in this permit rule.
  • Fish and wildlife: including any commercial activity related to wildlife. 
  • Commercial fisheries: including any kind of commercial fishing. This would include not only fishing for profit, but also raising fish in order to sell them.
  • Maritime transportation: meaning transportation of cargo by sea or by any waterway. For Minnesota, this applies to transportation by way of the Great Lakes.
  • Mining and drilling: meaning drilling for natural gas, minerals, oil, or other natural resources.
  • Nuclear energy: including the performance of any commercial activity in the lifecycle of nuclear energy production or waste-handling. 
  • Radio and television broadcasting: including broadcasting by way of radio, cable, satellite, or TV signal.
  • Transportation and logistics: meaning businesses that operate certain vehicles within interstate commerce. In this case, you may also be 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 Minnesota regulate alcohol manufacturing and sales. You’ll need to obtain many permits and comply with a lot of federal, state, and local regulations in order to distill whiskey to sell in Wayzata. 

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

Step 3:  Check for Minnesota permits and licenses

The Minnesota Bureau of Business Licensing (BBL) makes it easier for business owners to understand what their Minnesota business license obligations are. Commonly, states license everything from accountants to x-ray operators. Cosmetologists, lawyers, doctors, and teachers are also well-known for having state-specific license obligations. 

Whether you’re a professional concerned about industry-specific licenses or permits, or a business owner thinking about what licenses might apply to your business, make sure to check out the BBL’s searchable eLicense index. But keep in mind that these Minnesota business license obligations are only state-level obligations. You’ll still need to check with your city and county about licenses and permits you need in your municipality too.

Step 4:  Check your city or county for local licensing in Minnesota

Counties and municipalities in some states may have their own licensing requirements. Some cities even require a general business license to operate in the area. In particular, some large Minnesota cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul don’t require a general business license. However, they have their own licensing departments that make it easier to find information about what licenses and permits you need in those areas.

Minnesota has 87 counties and each may have slightly different licensing requirements. Smaller towns and cities may have their own Minnesota business license and permit requirements. That information can be harder to find. Check with local county clerks, city councils, tax commissioners, and zoning commissions. These can be a rich source of information about needed permits for your business.

Step 5:  Search for applicable Minnesota professional licenses

Certain jobs may also require a license. Lawyers, doctors, engineers, and teachers all require licenses issued by the state. Many other professionals need to obtain a special professional license. Many of these professions have a state board that governs the issuing of licenses. If your business is in one of these professions, you probably know that you’ll have to take certain exams and pay fees to obtain and maintain your professional license. If you’re in a skilled trade, make sure to check before taking any unnecessary training or exams. 

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

You might be surprised at the many types of Minnesota business licenses and permits you need to run a Minnesota business. Some of the permit types you’ll need to consider are:

  • Zoning permits — to make sure you’re allowed to do the type of business you’re doing in the area where you want to do it
  • Sales tax IDs or permits — to collect sales tax whether you do business online or offline
  • Health permits — if you sell food or hygiene goods (or other products, depending upon your local regulations)
  • Environmental permits — which can mean a variety of things depending on your city or town
  • Building permits — to help you customize your office or retail space
  • Signage permits — to ensure that your business can get noticed and comply with local rules about how big signs can be

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and you’ll need to check with your city and county to make sure you know what permits you need. 

Step 7:  Apply for Minnesota home-based business licenses

Home-based businesses are common in most states. A home-based business is a great way to generate income. In fact, many of the world’s biggest companies began at home. The state’s business licensing rules are fairly generous regarding home-based businesses. There are no special state requirements for home-based businesses vs. non-home-based businesses. However, your county or city may require you to have certain zoning or use permits before starting your business at home. Make sure to check with your municipality before opening your doors.

Step 8:  Maintain your Minnesota licensing

Most Minnesota state business licenses are time-limited. That means that your license or permit will expire after a set period of time. This allows you to re-confirm to the city, state, or federal government that you have the right set of knowledge and skills to operate your business in your industry or geographic area. Sometimes, professional licenses have “continuing education” requirements as well. That means that you’ll have to take classes or short tests throughout the active period of your license in order to be able to renew. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, and engineers, among others, all have to take continuing education courses. 

Let us help keep your Minnesota business state compliant

Our Business License Report service can help you determine what licenses and permits you need. Our partner uses your business location, industry, and activities to identify the local, state, and federal licensing requirements for your company. Whether you’re just starting out in business or you’re growing and want to stay current with your ongoing requirements, we can be a trusted guide through the complex thicket of business compliance of all kinds. From our Worry-Free Compliance service to help keep you on top of your state filing obligations, to our Business License Reports, we can give you added peace of mind as you focus on doing what you love.

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 Minnesota businesses need a license?

    Most Minnesota businesses will need some kind of license. If you’re buying or selling any kind of product or service, you’ll at least need a state tax ID to collect sales tax.

  • Can you sell things without a license in Minnesota?

    It depends. If you’re a student and you need to sell your car or your couch, you generally don’t need a license to do that. But if your business is selling cars, couches, and other items, you’ll likely need some kind of license or permit.

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

    Yes. There are many successful home-based businesses in Minnesota. Check with the municipality where you’re setting up your business to confirm what licenses and permits you need.

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

    There’s no special license for an online business in Minnesota. However, your license may still be subject to many of the same requirements that a brick-and-mortar business might need to follow. Be sure to search the BLL eLicense index, or obtain our Business License Report to help guide your search.

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

    Yes. You’ll need a state tax ID, which the BLL lists on its eLicense index.

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