Steps to Apply for Business Licenses and Permits in Wisconsin
- Search for any necessary Wisconsin general business licenses
- Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Wisconsin business
- Check for Wisconsin permits and licenses
- Check with the city or county for local licensing in Wisconsin
- Search for applicable Wisconsin professional licenses
- Obtain any other necessary Wisconsin business licenses and permits
- Apply for Wisconsin home-based business licenses
- Maintain your Wisconsin licenses and permits
Starting a business is an exciting process, but it’s important to remember that there are many licensing and permitting requirements you must adhere to. Don’t risk getting into trouble with the state — use our guide below to learn more about how to comply with your business license and permit obligations in Wisconsin, and how our Business License Report service can help you get it done easily.
What is a business license?
Most businesses will need some license or permit to legally operate. These licenses and permits may be required at the federal, state, and/or local levels and can sometimes be industry-specific.
Additionally, some states and localities require a general business license before a business is able to conduct business at all. There are many licenses and permits that may be required based on the particular facts and circumstances surrounding your business.
Because there is no central database through which you can identify all the licenses and permits you may need, many business owners are often left to navigate the extensive research on their own. Fortunately, you don’t have to.
company (LLC), our services can help you take care of the formalities, so you can focus on operating your business.
Step 1: Search for any necessary Wisconsin general business licenses
Although the State of Wisconsin doesn’t require a general state business license to operate, some local counties or municipalities may. Check for any locally required general business licenses in the particular locations in which you plan to operate.
Also, it’s important to note that obtaining a general business license isn’t the same as registering your business with the state. These are two separate and distinct steps in the Wisconsin business formation process.
Step 2: Obtain applicable federal licenses for your Wisconsin business
You may also need to obtain federal licenses for your Wisconsin business. Because the federal government regulates certain industries of business, if your business operates in one of these areas, you may need to obtain certain federal licenses before you can legally operate.
The particular licensing requirements for your Wisconsin business will vary depending on the industry in which your business operates and the services it provides. Below are some industries and business activities that are regulated by the federal government and require federal licenses or permits:
- 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 in, 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.
Of course, your particular business may not be regulated by a federal agency. Nevertheless, you’ll still need to be aware of and comply with any applicable state and local licensing requirements.
Step 3: Check for Wisconsin permits and licenses
Certain things require licensure at the state level. Examples of state-level licenses and permits in Wisconsin include:
- Raffle license
- Christmas tree grower license
- Dairy plant license
- Bed and breakfast establishments license
This isn’t an exhaustive list of required licenses and/or permits for Wisconsin businesses. Check with the state to verify what other licenses or permits you may need for your business at the state level.
Step 4: Check with the city or county for local licensing in Wisconsin
Additionally, local counties and municipalities may have their own licensing requirements. This might even include a general business license to operate in a particular area.
If you operate in multiple cities or counties throughout the State of Wisconsin, it’s important to verify your local licensing requirements for each specific location in which you plan to operate. It can be difficult to track down all the information about licensing at the various local levels. However, you can check your county and city websites, the county clerk’s office, and the local tax office for more detailed information on local requirements.
Step 5: Search for applicable Wisconsin professional licenses
Additionally, your profession may require a specific professional license to operate. For example, the following professions will require professional licensure:
- Real estate appraisers
- Funeral and cemetery services
- Substance abuse professionals
- Home inspectors
- Interior design
In Wisconsin, these and other professions are licensed by the Department of Safety and Professional Services. If your profession requires licensure to operate within the State of Wisconsin, make sure to appropriately obtain and stay up to date with your requisite licenses.
Step 6: Obtain any other necessary Wisconsin business licenses and permits
Other potential business licenses and permits you might need for your business include:
- Sales, use, and service tax license
- Construction permits
- Outdoor business signage permits
- Zoning and building permits
- Health permits
- Environmental permits
Not all businesses will need these types of licenses and permits. If you’re uncertain as to whether your business requires additional licensing to operate, contact the appropriate state or local agency for more information.
Step 7: Apply for Wisconsin home-based business licenses
Some businesses may want or need to operate from home. If you plan to operate your business out of a home, you may also need to obtain specific licensure to do so.
There is no statewide home-based business license in Wisconsin. However, local cities and counties will have their own regulations and requirements.
For example, Waukesha County doesn’t require a permit to operate a home occupation from a residential property. However, the City of Milwaukee does require businesses to submit what’s called a Home Occupation Statement in certain situations.
Additionally, you may need other types of licenses to operate a business out of a home. Possible examples include:
- Fire permits
- Zoning permits
- Signage permits
As always, check with your local offices to verify what home-based business licenses you may need.
Step 8: Maintain your Wisconsin licenses and permits
Lastly, it’s imperative that you properly maintain your Wisconsin licenses and permits. Failure to do so can result in severe consequences for your business.
Most business licenses and permits will expire after a certain period of time. It’s important to stay up to date on your licensure expiration dates so that you can timely file any necessary renewals.
Keep your Wisconsin business compliant by obtaining the required licenses and permits today
Keeping up with all of the various licensing requirements for your business can be stressful and time-consuming. Let us help you keep your business compliant with Wisconsin law. With our Business License Report, we help you identify the local, state, and federal licenses and permits that you need to run your business. And if you’re looking for more comprehensive compliance assistance, check out our Worry-Free Compliance service. From formation on, we’ve got the tools and resources your business needs to hit the ground running.
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 Wisconsin businesses need a license?
No, not all businesses in Wisconsin will need a license. However, many do. Use our Business Licenses Service to help determine the licensing requirements for your business.
- Can you sell things without a license in Wisconsin?
Many businesses in Wisconsin will require a Seller’s Permit to sell taxable merchandise or property within the state. However, there are certain exemptions that may apply to some businesses.
- Is it legal to run a business from home in Wisconsin?
Yes, it’s legal to run a business from home in Wisconsin. However, don’t forget to first check with the local government agencies in which you plan to operate to determine what licenses or permits you may need.
- What kind of license do I need for an online business in Wisconsin?
There is no specific “online business” license requirement in Wisconsin. However, as with all other Wisconsin businesses, you’ll want to verify if there are any other licensing requirements for your particular profession, location, or operations.
- Do I need a license to collect sales tax in Wisconsin?
Yes, there are various Sales and Use Tax Permits that you may need to obtain for your Wisconsin business to collect sales tax.