Steps to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Virginia
- Obtain a Virginia privilege license
- Search for any necessary Virginia general business licenses
- Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Virginia business
- Check for Virginia permits and licenses
- Check city or county for local licensing in Virginia
- Search for applicable Virginia professional licenses
- Obtain any other necessary Virginia business licenses and permits
- Apply for Virginia home-based business licenses
- Maintain your Virginia licensing
There are many steps on the road to opening and running a successful business. You need an idea, funding, and you likely need to file official paperwork with a government entity. If you’re an entrepreneur looking to give life to a new idea, you’ll likely need some kind of business license to get your enterprise going. Read on for more information about licensing requirements in Virginia, and our Business License Report service can help you get it done easily.
What is a business license?
Business licenses give owners permission to operate. Most businesses need some kind of license to run legally. A business’s need for one or more licenses depends on its industry, its activities, and its location. Also, businesses might need licensing at the local, commonwealth, and federal levels. Some states require businesses to have a general license, as well as licenses for specific purposes. While more than one government entity might require you to have a license from them, there isn’t a central place for you to look to make sure you’ve fulfilled all of your business licensing obligations.
Step 1: Obtain a Virginia privilege license
Although the commonwealth of Virginia doesn’t require all businesses to have a privilege license, some local governments in Virginia do. You can reach out to your local officials for more information.
Step 2: Search for any necessary Virginia general business licenses
General business licenses are pretty self-explanatory. Basically, they are licenses to conduct any kind of business, regardless of the specific characteristics of that business. Some states require these licenses, and some states don’t. Virginia doesn’t require you to have a general business license, but some local governments within the commonwealth do.
Though they sound similar and some people use the terms interchangeably, getting a business license isn’t the same as registering your business. Registration is what officially forms a lot of businesses. Getting a business license is what gives a business the authority to operate after it starts. Both actions are paramount to running a viable business, but each can come with very different requirements.
If you’re starting a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation, and you don’t know how to form it, we are here to help you. Visit our Virginia LLC formation and Virginia corporation formation service pages to get started.
Step 3: Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Virginia business
Regardless of the state your business is in, you might need federal licensing to operate. Your need for federal licensing mainly depends on the industry you’re in and the services you provide. Certain businesses and business activities need licensing from the following federal agencies:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture — importing or transporting animal products, animals, biotechnology, biologics, or plants across a state line
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (and the Local Alcohol Beverage Control Board) — manufacturing, importing, or selling (wholesale or retail) alcoholic beverages
- Federal Aviation Administration — operating or maintaining aircraft, or transporting goods or people by air
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — importing, dealing, or manufacturing firearms, ammunition, or explosives
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — importing and exporting of wildlife and wildlife-derived products, and engaging in wildlife-related activity
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service — any kind of commercial fishing
- Federal Maritime Commission — providing transportation by ocean or facilitating cargo shipment by sea
- Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement — drilling for oil, natural gas, or mineral resources on federal land
- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission — running a fuel cycle facility, producing commercial nuclear energy, or distributing and disposing of nuclear material
- Federal Communications Commission — broadcasting information by satellite, cable, television, radio, or wire
- U.S. Department of Transportation — operating overweight or oversize vehicles (you might need this agency to help you with getting the correct state permit(s))
It’s important to be clear about all of your business operation needs so you can determine your true licensing obligations. Depending on how you run your business, you might need licensing from more than one federal agency to stay legally compliant.
Step 4: Check for Virginia permits and licenses
Although your Virginia state business license obligations don’t include a general business license at the commonwealth level, there are many other licenses you might need from the commonwealth of Virginia. Typical commonwealth licenses that businesses might need include:
- Professional licenses
- Driver licenses
- Commercial fishing licenses
- Pesticide application licenses
- Alcohol licenses
- Gaming licenses
The commonwealth of Virginia has a business start up service for entrepreneurs, but it’s not necessarily exhaustive. Remember, your business might need licensing from federal agencies in addition to commonwealth and local agencies.
Step 5: Check city or county for local licensing in Virginia
Counties, cities, and other municipalities in Virginia can have their own licensing requirements. The majority of your licensing obligations will likely come from local governments. In fact, some Virginia municipalities require a general business license. You may also need licenses regarding zoning, occupancy, signage, home business, and other local matters. These requirements change from one location to another throughout the state. It’s important to contact the local government officials in your jurisdiction to find out what their business licensing and permit requirements are. You might need to visit your county and city websites, your county clerk’s office, and your local tax office for more information.
Step 6: Search for applicable Virginia professional licenses
Providing a professional or occupational service to the public can be lucrative, but also heavily regulated. In this case, your Virginia business license obligations will likely include professional or occupational licenses. Professionals and tradespeople who need licensing include:
- Home inspectors
- Waterworks professionals
- Real estate professionals
- Athletic agents
- Certain professional athletes
- Interior designers
- Gas fitters
- Waste management professionals
- Healthcare professionals
This list is not exhaustive. You can contact the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation or your profession’s commonwealth board for more information. In many cases, different commonwealth boards regulate and license these different professions and occupations.
Step 7: Obtain any other necessary Virginia business licenses and permits
There can be multiple other authorizations your business needs that don’t fall neatly under the term “business license” but are crucial to running a business legally.
At the commonwealth and local level, government entities might require you to have certain registrations or permits to regulate and track activities that affect the public. These permits and registrations include:
- Sign permits
- Sales and use tax registrations
- Environmental permits
- Health permits
- Zoning permits
- Building permits
You might have to contact the commonwealth, your county, and your city to fulfill these obligations. For instance, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality handles a lot of environmental permits, whereas zoning and sign permits are often matters for a county or city to decide. You might need permits not only for ongoing business activities, but also for temporary business activities such as sales or events.
There can also be other permit or registration requirements at the federal level. One common federal registration requirement is applying for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). An EIN is your identification for paying federal taxes and is issued by the IRS. Not every business needs an EIN, but many do. A business needs an EIN if it:
- Has employees
- Is run as a corporation
- Is run as a partnership
- Withholds taxes on non-wage income for non-resident immigrants
- Has a Keogh plan
- Is involved with certain kinds of trusts, organizations, or other entities
Having an EIN can also be helpful when opening up a business bank account or applying for certain business benefits.
Step 8: Apply for Virginia home-based business licenses
In this age of accessible technology, running a business from home is a great way to save money and cut down on time-draining, business-related activities, such as commuting. Though a home-based business has many advantages, you might have to get through a lot of paperwork before you can run one. Depending on the location of your home, your home-based business could need the following licenses, permits, or registrations:
- General business license
- Home occupation permit
- Zoning permit
- Permits for utilities
- Sales and use tax registrations
- Short-term rental permit
- Event permit
After getting the appropriate licenses, your home-based business might also have to follow a number of stringent rules and regulations to stay compliant with local standards. Some Virginia municipalities have concerns about keeping up the residential character and safety of their neighborhoods, and they want to make sure your business doesn’t disrupt those qualities.
Step 9: Maintain your Virginia licensing
Like most features of your business, you need to tend to many of your licenses, permits, and registrations regularly. Most licenses, registrations, and permits need periodic renewals. If you don’t keep up your renewal obligations, you could lose your business temporarily or permanently.
Fortunately, our Worry-Free Compliance service keeps track of your business compliance requirements, so you can have peace of mind about keeping your business going. We stay on top of your filing deadlines and alert you when one is approaching, so you can easily stay in line.
Keep your Virginia business state compliant with our help
As you can see, licensing your business can be a complicated process, and sometimes it’s hard to know if you’ve covered everything you need. Our partnership with Avalara can alleviate that difficulty quickly. Our Business License Report is your central resource for determining all your licensing, permit, and registration needs at the local, state, and federal levels. Our partners at Avalara look at your industry, business practices, and location to research and compile one simple report you can reference to understand your licensing obligations. Using our Business License Report, you can run your business with confidence.
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.
- Do all Virginia businesses need a license?
Though the commonwealth of Virginia doesn’t require general business licenses, it’s unlikely you can run a business without some kind of license, permit, or registration at the local, commonwealth, or federal level.
- Can you sell things without a license in Virginia?
Generally, you need to register to collect sales tax if you sell, rent, or lease tangible personal property in the Commonwealth. In some cases, an exemption can apply. You can contact Virginia Tax if you have questions about exemptions.
- Is it legal to run a business from home in Virginia?
It can be. Generally, it’s legal to run a business from home in Virginia if you have the right licenses, permits, and registrations from local, commonwealth, and federal entities.
- What kind of license do I need for an online business in Virginia?
The kinds of licenses you need to run an online business in Virginia depend on the industry you’re in, your business activities, and your location.
- Do I need a license to collect sales tax in Virginia?
You need to register to collect sales tax in Virginia.