Get Business Licenses and Permits in Rhode Island

Navigate Rhode Island business licenses and permits for a legal startup. Our business license report can help you determine what licenses and permits you need to start a business in Rhode Island.

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In order to operate legally, many states require businesses to obtain certain licenses and permits. Often such licenses and permits may be specific to the industry in which the business operates, the location of the business, and the services your business provides. 

Frequently, businesses must possess several licenses and permits at the same time in order to stay in compliance with state and federal regulations. Understandably, the thought of having to find all of the various license and permit applications can seem overwhelming. That’s why we have compiled a guide for Rhode Island business owners to help navigate the process and determine potential licenses and permits your business needs to obtain.

Let’s take a look at what kinds of permits or licenses your Rhode Island business might need and how our Business License Report service can help you get it done easily.

What is a business license?

States can require businesses to hold a license or permit for a wide variety of reasons. Some licensure requirements are industry-specific, while others are required by the state, county, or municipality in which your business is located. 

Additionally, some states require what’s referred to as a general business license. This is a general license your business needs before it can engage in any kind of business within the state’s boundaries. 

Some states do have databases that list many of the required licenses and permits you may need for your particular business. Unfortunately, however, there’s no central location to enter your business’s information and receive a master list of the permits and licenses required for your business to stay legally compliant. Thus, determining what permits and licenses you need may take some time and research.

How to get your Rhode Island business licenses and permits

Step 1: Search for any necessary Rhode Island general business licenses

Some local governments may require a general business license to operate within its boundaries. Thus, make sure to check with your local agencies to verify whether a general business license is required. 

Additionally, it’s important to note that a general business license isn’t the same as registering an LLC or registering a corporation with the state. Rather, registering a business with the state is what officially forms your business entity. You’ll need to make sure to register your business and obtain any necessary business licenses.  

Step 2: Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Rhode Island business

If your business’s activities are regulated by the federal government, you’ll likely need to obtain one or more federal licenses. Federal license requirements vary depending on the industry in which your business operates and the services it provides. 

Some of the most common industries regulated by the federal government and the agencies that issue licenses for those industries are included below.

  • 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)

Step 3: Check for Rhode Island permits and licenses

The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation (DBR) regulates the necessary licensure of Rhode Island businesses. 

The DBR participates in the Multistate Money Services Business Licensing Agreement Program (MMLA), which offers a more efficient licensing process among several different states. The following Rhode Island business licenses are required:

  • Check casher license
  • Currency transmitter license
  • Debt collector registration
  • Debt management services registration
  • Lender license
  • Loan broker license
  • Small loan lender
  • Third-party loan servicer license

However, these aren’t the only state-level licensing requirements to be aware of. 

Additionally, businesses operating in specific industries are required to purchase a commercial Rhode Island business license from the Rhode Island DBR. The industries include:

  • Auto body shops
  • Liquor
  • Real estate
  • Mobile and manufactured homes
  • Mobile food establishments
  • Gaming and athletics

If your business involves any of the industries listed above, you’ll likely need to purchase a Rhode Island commercial license.

Step 4: Check your Rhode Island city or county for local licensing

Finding out what licenses and permits you need typically proves more difficult at the local level. That’s because local license requirements are typically not included in any database or how-to guide. As a result, you may have to contact your local county or municipal government to determine what permits or licenses you might need. 

For example, Providence, Rhode Island requires certain businesses to purchase a license from the Providence Board of Licenses. The licenses offered include:

  • Liquor licenses
  • Entertainment/Event/Raffle/Class F liquor licenses
  • Outdoor dining accommodation licenses
  • Fireworks vendor permits
  • Private detective licenses
  • Mobile food establishment licenses

Of course, the specific licenses your business needs will vary depending on the local municipalities or counties in which you operate. Thus, be sure to check your county and city website, the county clerk’s office, and your local tax office to gain a better understanding of your local licensing requirements.

Step 5: Search for applicable Rhode Island professional licenses

Additionally, certain professionals are required to hold professional licenses before they are able to legally offer their services. Professional licensure is regulated by the state agency that’s responsible for issuing the licenses.

In Rhode Island, professional services include services offered by licensed members such as:

  • Attorneys at law
  • Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Professional engineers
  • Architects
  • Certified public accountants
  • Chiropractors
  • Veterinarians
  • Podiatrists
  • Landscape architects
  • Physical therapists
  • Land surveyors

But be aware: this is a non-exhaustive list of professionals who must hold a license to offer their services in Rhode Island. As such, if you intend to provide professional services, make sure to check with the state to confirm whether your profession requires licensure. 

Step 6: Obtain any other necessary Rhode Island business licenses and permits

It’s important to note that there may be other permits you need in the course of operating your business that have not already been listed in this guide. For example, in Rhode Island, you’ll need to acquire a Retail Sales Permit in order to make retail sales. 

Other Rhode Island state business licenses and permits to be aware of include those related to: 

  • Zoning
  • Health
  • Environment
  • Building
  • Signage

If you’re not sure whether these licenses and permits are required in the course of your business, contact the appropriate state or local agency for more information.

Step 7: Apply for Rhode Island home-based business licenses

Home-based businesses have become more prevalent in recent years. However, even if you run your business out of your home, it’s important to remember that you must still comply with your licensing and permitting requirements. Failure to do so can result in your business falling out of compliance with the state. 

For example, depending on local requirements, your business may need a home occupancy permit to operate out of your home. Check your local city or county requirements to confirm whether this is a requirement for your Rhode Island business. 

Step 8: Maintain Your Rhode Island licensing

Figuring out what licenses and permits are required for your business is difficult on its own. However, the work doesn’t end there. In fact, most licenses and permits for your Rhode Island business must be renewed periodically. 

Keeping up with your permit and license requirements is no easy feat, especially with everything else you have on your already full plate. Fortunately, you don’t have to handle this on your own. We are here to help. 

With our Worry-Free Compliance service, we can help with state compliance and keeping your annual filings accurate and up to date. 

Let us keep it simple

Licensing is a crucial part of running your Rhode Island business. And while there’s no central authority to help you determine your permit and license requirements, we have a tool that can help. Our business license report can help you determine what licenses and permits you need for your particular business. Our partner uses your business location, industry, and business activities to identify the local, state, and federal licensing requirements that apply to your company and business operations.

Rhode Island Licenses and Permits FAQs

  • Not all Rhode Island businesses require a license or permit to operate. However, a vast majority will. Use our business license report service or check with your state and local agencies to determine whether and to what extent your business may require licenses or permits.

  • No. If you plan to sell anything in the course of running your Rhode Island business, you’ll need to obtain a Permit to Make Sales at Retail in order to charge a sales tax and make your sales.

  • Yes, it’s legal to run a business out of a home in Rhode Island. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean you’re not subject to the same licensing requirements as all other Rhode Island businesses. Thus, you must still comply with any licensing requirements for your particular business location and operation.

  • As with any brick and mortar business, online businesses must also comply with applicable licensing and permitting requirements. Check with your state and local governments and agencies to determine what requirements may apply to your online business.

  • Yes, you must have a license. Without a Permit to Make Sales at Retail, your Rhode Island business will be unable to collect sales tax.

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.

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Written by Team ZenBusiness

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