Tennessee licensing and permitting

How to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Tennessee

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

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As a Tennessee business owner, you’re probably always on the lookout for the information you need to grow your business. In order to operate and grow your Tennessee business, you’ll likely need some combination of licenses and permits from federal, state, and local agencies. The requirements—and fees—may vary based on your location, industry, and business activities. We can help you find the information you need to navigate the maze of the Tennessee business license process. This will help you start and grow your business knowing that someone has your back.

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

What is a business license?

Most businesses need some kind of license or permit to operate in the state of Tennessee. Licenses and permits can be industry-specific and can be granted by federal, state, and local governments. Some state and local governments require a general business license to operate your company. 

While there’s no central place to confirm whether you have obtained every Tennessee state business license you need, there are some helpful tools available for business owners. The state of Tennessee offers a One-Stop Licensing App that can help you search for information. However, there’s no comprehensive list detailing every license and permit your business needs in Tennessee. 

We can make this process easier with our Business License Report. Our partner uses your business location, industry, and activities to identify your local, state, and federal licensing requirements. Getting the right Tennessee business licenses can be a challenge. We are here to help.

Step 1: Search for any necessary Tennessee general business licenses

The state of Tennessee doesn’t require business owners to obtain a general business license. However, some cities and counties may still require a general business license to operate in a specific area. For instance, the City of Murfreesboro requires a general business license. Rutherford County requires a general business license too. But many other cities and counties don’t have this requirement.  

Getting a business license isn’t the same as registering a business with the state. Registering a business with the state is what officially forms the entity. Creating your corporation or limited liability company (LLC) allows the state to recognize your business. However, it doesn’t grant you a license or permit to operate. 

We can help you get started in forming your registered business fast with our easy incorporation and LLC formation services. We’ve helped many Tennessee business owners get started. We’d love to help you too!

Step 2: Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Tennessee business

As a Tennessee business owner, you’ll have to worry about more than just the state of Tennessee when considering what licenses and permits you need. 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 plants, animals, or biotechnology across state lines 
  • Alcoholic beverages: meaning the manufacture, sale, wholesale, retail sale, or import of alcoholic beverages (you may need state and local permits for alcohol-related industries too)
  • Aviation: including transporting people or goods by aircraft (this covers all aviation-related industries, from sky-diving lessons to cargo delivery)
  • Firearms, ammunition, and explosives: meaning manufacturing, dealing, or importing firearms, ammunition, or explosives
  • Fish and wildlife: including any wildlife-related commercial activity (this might apply if you have a private zoo)
  • Commercial fisheries: including any kind of commercial fishing 
  • Maritime transportation: meaning transportation of cargo by sea 
  • Mining and drilling: meaning drilling for minerals, natural gas, oil or other resources (including coal and other natural resources)
  • Nuclear energy: including performing any commercial activity in the lifecycle of nuclear production or waste-handling
  • Radio and television broadcasting: including broadcasting by radio, satellite, cable, or TV signal 
  • Transportation and logistics: meaning your business operates certain large vehicles in interstate commerce (in trucking and transportation, it’s very likely that you may also be heavily regulated under state laws)

If your business operates in any of these 11 industries, you’re likely to have many overlapping licensing requirements. For instance, both the federal and state governments regulate fish and wildlife. So you’ll need to obtain many permits and comply with lots of regulations in order to have a private tiger park in Tennessee.

If your business operates in any of these federally licensed areas, we can help you get a handle on your business license obligations. Our Business License Report service has helped many entrepreneurs like you understand which license and permit applies to your business. 

Step 3: Check for Tennessee permits and licenses

The state of Tennessee provides its handy One-Stop Licensing App to help business owners figure out what their Tennessee business licenses obligations might be. It’s a helpful tool, but you need to know what you’re looking for in order to use it. 

The One-Stop Licensing App has limitations. First, it isn’t updated each day, so you’ll have to independently verify whatever information you get from the app. Business owners should confirm specifics about each license. Additionally, the information that comes from the One-Stop Licensing App doesn’t account for licenses that may be required by counties and municipalities within the state or by the federal government. 

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

Counties and municipalities in some states may have their own licensing requirements, including a general business license to operate in the area. It can be harder to find information on the local level, but you can check your county and city website, the county clerk’s office, and the local tax office.

When you’re trying to obtain information about local licensing, We can help you out. Our Business License service helps get you the information you need about what’s required to get permits and licenses for your business. Our partner uses your business and location information to find detailed information about what federal, state, and local Tennessee business licenses you might need.

Step 5: Search for applicable Tennessee professional licenses

If your Tennessee business involves special skills or a trade, your business might require a professional license. Some examples of licensed professions include engineering, law, medicine, nursing, and teaching, among others. Many of these professions have a state board that governs the issuing of licenses. Tennessee provides a dashboard so businesses can easily find their regulatory or professional licensing board. Often, obtaining professional licenses requires taking lengthy exams and paying extensive fees. Make sure that you know which licenses you need for your business before you take an unnecessary test or pay fees you don’t need to pay.

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

Depending on your type of business, you may need more types of licenses and permits than you realize. Some of these may have nothing at all to do with your business. Sometimes, licenses and permits have to do with the type of physical space you’re operating in. Other times, they have to do with how you remove recycling or garbage from your premises. Common permits to consider whether you need include:

  • Zoning permits, if you’re operating a retail outlet
  • Sales tax collection licenses or permits (both state and local), whether selling online or offline
  • Environmental or waste disposal permits, if disposing of waste 
  • Health department permits, if preparing or selling food or hygiene items
  • Building permits, if building or modifying your space
  • Signage permits, if displaying your business’s signs
  • Temporary business permits, if your business is a “pop-up” or other type of non-permanent physical business

There are more types of permits you might need as this list isn’t exhaustive. These are just a few examples of how permits and licenses you might need to run your business have nothing to do with being a piano teacher or running a distillery. Sometimes, the license and permitting process has a lot to do with keeping your fellow Tennesseans safe. 

Step 7: Apply for Tennessee home-based business licenses

There is no special permit or license needed in Tennessee for a home-based business. Many people in Tennessee run successful home-based businesses. Commonly, people sell crafts or home-baked goods through their home-based businesses. Often, accountants and lawyers offer their services from their home offices. All types of businesses can successfully operate from home.

In terms of permits, you’ll need to understand whether your municipality requires your type of business to have a sales tax collection permit. You’ll also need to confirm whether there are any rules about zoning and signage if you’re posting signs and offering services from your home. In that case, you’ll likely need to obtain the correct permits and licenses to operate your business from home. If you’re offering food or hygiene products through your home-based business, you’ll need to understand what the health department permitting rules are for non-commercial kitchens. There are lots of licensing considerations with a home-based business, but also lots of paths to success!

Step 8: Maintain your Tennessee licensing 

Most licenses and permits need to be renewed periodically. The Tennessee professional licensing board dashboard is a great place to get information about professional license maintenance. Many professional licenses need to be renewed every few years and require continuing education throughout the life of the license. Other licenses, like a Tennessee state sales tax permit, don’t require renewal if properly registered the first time.  

We can help you maintain and grow your Tennessee business

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 we’re helping you to set up your company, or assisting you with ongoing business compliance through our Worry-Free Compliance service, we are here to help your company grow.

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 Tennessee businesses need a license?

    Nearly all Tennessee businesses need some kind of license or permit during the course of their operation. For example, you’re likely going to need a way to collect sales tax if you’re doing any kind of commercial activity in Tennessee. This is true even if you operate for only a short period of time or exclusively online. We can help you understand how to do this.

  • Can you sell things without a license in Tennessee?

    It depends. If you’re selling your sofa or your bicycle on a local message board, you’re unlikely to need a license or permit. But if you’re in the business of selling sofas or bikes, no matter how few or how many you sell, you’ll probably need licenses and permits to do so.

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

    Yes! Most home-based businesses are legal in Tennessee. Check with your city council or county government to confirm what licenses and permits might be required.

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

    The great news is that there’s no special license needed to run an online business in Tennessee. However, you’ll still need to obtain many of the same permits and licenses that you’d need if you were running a brick-and-mortar business. Make sure to check with the city and county where your principal place of business is located about what permits you may need.

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

    Yes. A Tennessee state sales tax permit or license is extremely important. Both the state and some local city and county governments require the collection of sales tax for both online and physical businesses. Be sure to confirm you have the right permits for tax collection. ZenBusiness can help with this.

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