North Carolina business license

How to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in North Carolina

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

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Creating your North Carolina business is no easy feat, but the work doesn’t end once you’ve successfully formed your corporation or LLC. Even after your business has been created and registered with the Secretary of State, there are additional requirements you have to meet to stay legally compliant. 

Many businesses need licenses and permits in order to stay in compliance with federal and state laws during their operation. The number of licenses and permits necessary for a singular business can be overwhelming. Not sure where to start? Use this guide to learn more about how to apply for business licenses and permits in North Carolina and how our Business License Report service can help you get it done easily. This service identifies the licenses and permits your business needs to operate and provides a report that lists these licenses and permits so you are sure you’re covered.

What is a business license?

Certain business licenses and permits are required before you can legally operate your business in North Carolina. Almost all businesses will need some kind of license, permit, or tax registration at the local, state, or federal level. The required business licenses and permits depend on the location of your business, your business’s industry, and the activities your business engages in.

Step 1:  Search for any necessary North Carolina general business licenses

North Carolina doesn’t have a general business license, thus North Carolina businesses aren’t required to purchase one. That doesn’t mean that North Carolina businesses don’t have an obligation to obtain North Carolina business licenses and permits. In fact, North Carolina issues over 950 types of regulatory licenses and permits to businesses that need them. The North Carolina Department of Commerce compiled the business and occupational licenses that are issued by the state into one database.

It’s important to recognize the difference between registering your business with the state and obtaining a North Carolina state business license. Every business, regardless of its industry, has to register with the North Carolina Secretary of State by filing its formation documents. Doing this creates your business and authorizes you to begin operating in North Carolina. After your business is registered, then you have to determine what business licenses are required in order to operate legally.

Step 2:  Obtain applicable federal licenses for your North Carolina business

If your business engages in activities regulated by the federal government, you may need to obtain a license or permit from a federal agency. The federal agencies responsible for issuing these licenses and the activities they regulate are described in detail below.

  • The agricultural industry involves the import or transport of animals, animal products, biologics, biotechnology, or plants across state lines. This industry is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is also responsible for issuing the necessary licenses and permits. 
  • The alcoholic beverage industry involves the manufacture, wholesale, import, or sale of alcoholic beverages at retail locations. This industry is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau issues permits for these activities.
  • The aviation industry includes businesses that operate aircraft, transport goods or people via the air, or perform aircraft maintenance and is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. The Federal Aviation Administration issues the necessary certificates to pilots and other airmen and certifies airports and air carriers. 
  • The firearms, ammunition, and explosives industry includes any business that manufactures, deals, or imports firearms, ammunition, and explosives. This industry is regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, also called the ATF. The ATF issues the licenses necessary to engage in this industry.
  • The fish and wildlife industry includes businesses that engage in any wildlife-related activity, including the import or export of wildlife and derivative products. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates this industry and issues the necessary permits.
  • The commercial fishing industry includes businesses that engage in any kind of commercial fishing. This industry is regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, which also issues the fishing permits necessary for this industry.
  • The maritime transportation industry includes businesses that provide ocean transportation or facilitate the shipment of cargo by sea. The Federal Maritime Commission regulates this industry and issues required licenses.
  • The mining and drilling industry includes businesses involved in drilling for natural gas, oil, or other mineral resources on federal lands. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement regulates the industry and issues the permits that are required to engage in the activities.
  • The nuclear energy industry includes businesses that produce commercial nuclear energy, businesses that are fuel cycle facilities, and businesses involved in the distribution and disposal of nuclear materials. This industry is regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for issuing the necessary licenses.
  • The radio and television broadcasting industry includes businesses that broadcast information by radio, television, wire, satellite, or cable. The Federal Communications Commission regulates this industry and issues the licenses that are required.

The cost of permits and licenses changes regularly. Check with the issuing agency to find the most up-to-date information.

Step 3:  Check for North Carolina permits and licenses

North Carolina issues occupational and business licenses at the state level. Some of the occupations required to obtain a North Carolina business license include:

  • Barbers
  • Firearms trainers
  • Embalmers
  • Home inspectors
  • Optometrists
  • Pet shop operators
  • Pharmacy technicians

The law also requires North Carolina state business licenses in order to operate specific businesses. 

  • Nursing homes
  • Chick hatcheries
  • Collection agencies
  • Food establishments
  • Funeral establishments
  • Psychiatric or substance abuse hospitals
  • Adult daycare and adult day health programs

While the state license database contains an extensive list of occupational and business licenses, remember that additional permits are required at the local level. 

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

Counties and municipalities in North Carolina have their own license and permit requirements. For example, Mecklenburg County, the location of Charlotte, North Carolina, requires certain businesses to obtain a beer and wine license. Additionally, businesses are required to contact the zoning department to ensure the business meets the city’s zoning requirements. This applies to home-based businesses as well. 

The City of Raleigh, North Carolina requires pushcart vendors, pawnbrokers, and home-based businesses to obtain a specific license to legally operate within the city.

Finding out what licenses and permits you need to obtain at the local level often proves more difficult than at the state and federal levels. Be sure to check both your county and city requirements for operating a business within their boundaries. 

Step 5:  Search for applicable North Carolina professional licenses

In each state, licensing boards regulate the admission of certain professionals. Professionals are responsible for maintaining these licenses in order to stay in good standing with the regulatory board. Failure to keep up with proper licensing requirements may mean that the professional will face negative consequences. Some of the professions by these regulatory agencies in North Carolina include:

  • Lawyers
  • Architects
  • Geologists
  • Nurses
  • Veterinarians
  • Accountants

If your business offers a professional service, be sure to keep your professional license active and current. The requirements for maintaining the professional license are laid out by the agency that issues the license.

Step 6:  Obtain any other necessary North Carolina business licenses and permits

Other licenses might be necessary depending on the goods your business sells or the services it offers. If you want to hang a sign advertising your business, consult with the county or municipality where the sign will be located. You might need to obtain a sign permit before installation.

If your business practices in the construction industry, there are several permits that are required in the course of your business, such as:

  • Mechanical permits
  • Plumbing permits
  • Electrical permits
  • Fire alarm or suppression permits
  • Building permits

Most of these permits are issued at the local level, meaning you need to check with your local government to determine which of these licenses and permits are required for your business.

Step 7:  Apply for North Carolina home-based business licenses

Home-based businesses in North Carolina are regulated at the local level. Home-based businesses have to obtain a zoning license from the city in which they are located to operate legally.

Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, requires home-based businesses to receive zoning approval to operate the business out of the home. You have to apply for a Customary Home Occupation Permit and receive approval before you can legally operate your business out of your home.

If you want to open a home-based business in North Carolina, consult with your county or city zoning office and determine what permits are required.

Step 8:  Maintain your North Carolina licensing

Business licenses and permits don’t have a universal expiration period. Some licenses will stay active for several years with no additional requirements. However, some permits and licenses expire after a certain period of time passes or upon completion of a single project, forcing you to pay a fee to reinstate your license or apply for a new one altogether. 

Need help with state compliance? We can help!

As you can see, finding all of the necessary licenses and permits needed to run your business legally can cause a serious headache for business owners. Unfortunately, North Carolina doesn’t have a one-stop-shop that shows you every license and permit you’ll need in the course of operating your business. Let us help you stay legally compliant with our Worry Free-Compliance service.

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 North Carolina businesses need a license?

    While most businesses will need a license for some reason or another, North Carolina doesn’t require all businesses to purchase a generic state business license.

  • Can you sell things without a license in North Carolina?

    Unless you’re operating a garage sale, you’ll most likely need a business license to sell products in North Carolina. Business licenses are issued by local governments, typically through the tax office. And if you’re selling food items in North Carolina, you need a written permit from the Health Department to be legally compliant.

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

    Yes, it’s legal to run a home-based business in North Carolina. However, you must comply with zoning restrictions and obtain the necessary permit before opening your home-based business.

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

    Online businesses operating in North Carolina require the same licenses and permits that are required of businesses that operate out of a retail location. There are no specific licenses or permits required to sell products on the internet.

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

    Yes. The North Carolina Department of Revenue requires businesses engaged in the sale of certain goods and services to register with the Department to obtain a Certificate of Registration. If you don’t collect sales tax on the applicable items, the state requires you to pay a “use tax” on those items.

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