Pennsylvania licensing and permitting

How to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Pennsylvania

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

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Whether you’re an established Pennsylvania business owner or you’re just starting out, knowing what licenses and permits you need is an important part of running your company. Most Pennsylvania businesses need a combination of licenses and permits from federal, state, and local agencies. The requirements — and fees — vary based on your location, industry, and business activities. Here, we’ll show you how to find the information you need to know about your Pennsylvania business license and permit obligations how our Business License Report service can help you get it done easily.

What is a business license?

Most businesses need a license or permit to operate in the State of Pennsylvania. Sometimes, a business needs an industry-specific license.  Other times, licenses must be obtained for tax reasons, zoning reasons, health care reasons, or really any reason. They can be granted by the federal, state, and local governments. Licenses and permits are even issued by city councils. 

In Pennsylvania, there is no central place to check to see whether you have every license or permit your business needs. This is true in many states. We can help you decipher which licenses and permits your business needs with our handy Business License Service. Our partner uses information about your business and your location to get you a report about the licenses you need.

Step 1: Search for any necessary Pennsylvania general business licenses

Pennsylvania doesn’t require a state-issued general business license. However, some Pennsylvania counties and municipalities may require one. It’s very important to check with the city and county your business is located in. For instance, Philadelphia requires a commercial activity license for any business to operate within city limits. Philadelphia even requires this license for businesses that are located outside of city limits but do business within the city. Make sure to check with your city to understand whether you need a municipality-issued general business license.

Registering your business with the state, or forming your business, isn’t the same as getting a business license. When you create a legal entity like a Pennsylvania corporation or limited liability company (LLC), this gives the state information about your business. Registering a business is what officially forms the entity. 

This isn’t the same as getting a license or a permit for your specific type of business. For example, the first step in opening your barbershop might be creating Pennsylvania Barber Shop LLC. You’ll need some kind of legal entity to let the state know what kind of business you’re running and how you should be taxed. But you’ll still need licenses and permits before you can cut your first hair.

If you’re ready to open your Pennsylvania registered business, we can help you get started. Our fast, easy incorporation and LLC formation services can help you register your business in Pennsylvania.

Step 2: Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Pennsylvania business

The federal government regulates certain businesses and industries. If your business works within any of the following industries, you’re likely to need a federal permit. You may also need state and local permits as well. Those 11 industries are:

  • Agriculture: including the import of plants or animals, or moving any kind of 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 (this can be as simple as skydiving or as complex as aircraft cargo hauling)
  • Firearms, ammunition, and explosives: meaning manufacturing, dealing, or importing firearms, ammunition, or explosives
  • Fish and wildlife: including any wildlife related commercial activity 
  • Commercial fisheries: meaning any kind of commercial fishing (including farm-raised fish)
  • Maritime transportation: meaning transportation of cargo by sea (this includes the Great Lakes and major rivers)
  • Mining and drilling: meaning drilling for minerals, natural gas, oil or other resources (including fracking or other types of resource extraction)
  • 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 (this doesn’t include your podcast!)
  • Transportation and logistics: meaning businesses operating certain large vehicles in interstate commerce (you may also be primarily 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 regulate alcohol manufacturing and sales. You’ll need to obtain many permits and comply with lots of regulations to brew beers in Pennsylvania.

If your business operates in any of these 11 areas, we may be able 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 Pennsylvania business. 

Step 3: Check for Pennsylvania permits and licenses

Some things are usually licensed only by the state. This includes things like professional licenses. Certain professions, particularly in health and safety, are commonly required to have Pennsylvania state licenses. In those industries, business owners will need to take licensing exams and have specialized educations and degrees. Requirements vary from state to state. You’ll need to make sure you have the correct qualifications in Pennsylvania before you can take the exams and apply for the licenses.

The Pennsylvania Department of State also provides a helpful website to understand what state licenses you may need. The directory of Professional Licensing Boards can help you identify which professional licenses you may need. These are state licensing boards only, so federal and municipal licenses and permits may still apply to your business.

Pennsylvania also offers a website called the Business One-Stop Shop. This business-focused website might be helpful in directing you to what you need to get started. Check out all the Pennsylvania state resources for business owners to help you as you begin investigating Pennsylvania state business licenses and permits.

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

Counties and municipalities in some states may have their own licensing requirements, including a general business license to operate in the area. Some townships may have different rules for temporary and permanent businesses. It can be hard to find information on the local level. You can check your county or city website. Your county clerk’s office and/or the local tax office can also be good resources for information. 

Step 5: Search for applicable Pennsylvania professional licenses

Your profession may require you to have a Pennsylvania state business license to practice in Pennsylvania. This is commonly required for medicine, law, engineering, and other highly specialized fields. Teaching, nursing, and selling real estate also require state-specific professional licenses in Pennsylvania.

Make sure to check the Professional Licensing Boards directory website to find out what licenses may apply to your business. We can also help with our Business License Service. Our partner uses your business’s location and other information to help you find out what licenses and permits you may need.

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

Pennsylvania business owners need to know that regulations and requirements other than “business permits” may apply to their companies. Sometimes, a business may need a special permit to post its signs. Your company may even need a permit to have its recycling removed. Some special licenses or permits you may need in your municipality include:

  • Zoning permits
  • Local sales tax licenses or permits (whether selling online or offline)
  • Health department permits
  • Environmental permits (typically having to do with waste removal or management)
  • Building permits
  • Signage permits (these can even be issued on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis)

Make sure to check whether any specific permits like these apply to your business. Your county clerk’s office or local building permit office can be great places to start.

Step 7: Apply for Pennsylvania home-based business licenses

Starting a home-based business is a great way to earn extra income or change your career. Many Pennsylvania business owners have been very successful with home-based businesses. While the first step is always to choose what kind of business structure you’d like to form (like a sole proprietorship, corporation, or LLC), the next step is to find out what business licenses might be needed.

The state of Pennsylvania doesn’t require a special license to form a home-based business. Some municipalities may require a general business license or some kind of home-based business license. It’s very important to check with your local government and confirm what licenses your home-based business might need. 

We can help you form your Pennsylvania home-based business with our fast, easy formation services. We can also help you figure out what licenses and permits your home-based business will need. Our Business License Report Service has helped many Pennsylvania business owners decipher confusing laws and regulations and get the permits they need.

Step 8: Maintain your Pennsylvania licensing

Most licenses and permits need to be renewed periodically. Other licenses may require you to take additional courses or classes during the life of your license. For instance, accountants and lawyers are often required to take “continuing education” classes to maintain their licenses. Each state’s licensing board has its own requirements. Maintaining your licenses isn’t just about knowing when they expire. It’s also about keeping up with Pennsylvania’s business compliance rules.

Make sure to confirm which licenses need to be renewed and when. Some can be renewed easily online, and others require lengthy forms. Leave yourself enough time to renew your licenses and permits.

We can help your Pennsylvania business keep track of the permits you need

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. We can help you with your Pennsylvania business throughout the lifecycle of your company. From forming an LLC in Pennsylvania and registering your Pennsylvania corporation, to our Worry-Free Compliance service, we have you covered.

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 Pennsylvania businesses need a license?

    Most Pennsylvania businesses need some kind of Pennsylvania business license. Our Business License Report Service can help you figure out which ones your business might need.

  • Can you sell things without a license in Pennsylvania?

    It depends. Even short-term sales, charitable sales, and temporary businesses may need permits and licenses to sell things in Pennsylvania. Often this includes a sales tax ID or a sales tax exemption. However, a simple transaction between friends and family, like selling used furniture or your car, usually doesn’t require any kind of license.

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

    Yes. Running a home-based business in Pennsylvania is a great way to earn income. There are many types of successful, home-based businesses in Pennsylvania. Just make sure that you check which permits and licences you need, as many rules and regulations will still apply.

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

    There is no special license needed for an online business. However, you will still need to collect sales tax if you’re selling goods or providing certain services. You’ll need to make sure you obtain at least a license to collect sales tax.

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

    Yes, you will need a license to collect sales tax in Pennsylvania. Different municipalities may also require different tax permits or licenses depending on your type of business. Make sure to check with your local tax office to confirm.

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