If you run a business in Washington, you’ll need a Washington state business license, permit, or certificate of some kind in order to operate. In fact, you’ll probably need more than one of these documents, depending on the work that you do and where your business is located.
What types of business licenses are there in the state of Washington and which ones do you need to get? We’re breaking down everything you need to know about getting a business license in Washington.
Federal Licenses and Permits
For most small businesses, the federal government doesn’t require licenses or permits. But there are some activities that are regulated by one or more federal agencies and those activities might require a federal license or permit. These activities include:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Firearms, ammunition, and explosives
- Fish and wildlife
- Commercial fisheries
- Maritime transportation
- Mining and drilling
- Nuclear energy
- Radio and television broadcasting
- Transportation and logistics
If you’re involved in any federally regulated activity, the next step is to contact the federal agency that oversees the activity. Find out what the requirements are and then follow through so that you can conduct business legally.
For example, if your new business is involved with alcoholic beverages, you’d be regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the Local Alcohol Beverage Control Board. That’s where you’d go for more information.
Tip: You can access a list of all federally licensed activities, along with links to more information, by visiting this website maintained by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
State of Washington business license requirements
There are a few states where all businesses need to get state business licenses, in addition to any required local licenses. Washington is one of these states.
Virtually all businesses in Washington need to obtain a Washington state business license.
This application registers your business with several Washington state agencies, including the Departments of Revenue, Employment Security, and Labor and Industries.
Once registered, you’ll receive a business license and Washington state UBI number, which is your Unified Business Identifier number from the Business Licensing Service. The UBI is a nine-digit number that allows you to do business in Washington state.
Professional and occupational licenses in Washington
In addition to getting a general business license in Washington state, you may also need to obtain a professional or occupational license.
Like all other states, Washington has license and/or certification requirements for business activities and occupations that require extensive training or that expose consumers to potential hazards.
- Medical professionals
- Building contractors and other construction-related occupations
- Barbers and cosmetologists
- Architects and engineers
- Real estate brokers and salespersons, and
- Private investigators and other security services
For example, if you want to work as a real estate broker in Washington, you’ll need to get a license from the Washington State Department of Licensing.
Here’s a comprehensive list of all of the occupations that are regulated by Washington state agencies and the links to the appropriate agency.
The procedures for getting an occupational business license in Washington varies by profession. You might have to meet specific educational or training requirements or need experience in the field. You also may need to take and pass a written exam and, usually, there’s a license fee that you’ll need to pay.
All these requirements are complicated. Luckily, the State of Washington has an online Business Licensing Wizard that you can use to figure out which licenses you need and where to get them.
Do you really need to get a WA state business license?
If the state discovers that you’re operating a business without a state of Washington business license, all sorts of bad things can happen. You’ll undoubtedly be ordered to stop doing business and you might be fined.
Also, failure to obtain a license can constitute a crime. So going through the proper steps to get your licenses before you start conducting business is always a wise move.
What about getting a local business license in Washington state?
In addition to a Washington state business license, you might need to obtain a local business license from the city or county that your business is located in. You may even need multiple licenses if you do business in more than one area.
Each Washington city and county establishes its own licensing requirements and procedures. Keep in mind, though, that most counties and cities in Washington require business licenses or permits for all businesses, including one-person, home-based operations.
Usually, you just have to pay a fee to get a local business license in Washington. Fees will vary by locality and could range from as low as $25 to as high as a few hundred dollars. Fees can also be based on your projected gross revenue (for example, 10 cents per $1,000 of projected revenue).
How to get a business license in Washington state
The good news is that getting your local license is pretty easy. Your city or county has a website that explains its licensing requirements. You can find a comprehensive set of links to license information for Washington state cities and towns here.
Many localities let you apply for a business license using the State of Washington Business Licensing Service.
Others allow online filing through the FileLocal website. Otherwise, you might be able to download an application and email it to the appropriate party or just mail it in.
You’ll likely be asked for the following information when you apply for a local Washington state business license:
- Social Security Number or Federal Employment Identification Number
- A description of your business activities
- Your legal business name and any assumed name or “doing business as” (“dba”).
- Your business start date
- The number of employees and your expected annual sales
- Your business address and contact information,
- Each business owner’s contact information
- Your business sales tax number, if any
After submitting your application, you’ll usually receive your license or certificate with a business license number within a few weeks in the mail. Once you have it in your possession, you may be required to post it at your place of business.
Also good to know: You’ll be required to renew your license periodically and that might involve an additional processing fee. Usually, a renewal is required every one to three years, so be sure to mark your calendar.
Can you get away with not getting a local business license in Washington state?
It’s true that some self-employed individuals, particularly those who work from home, never get a local business license. But if your local government finds out that you’re running an unlicensed business, you could be fined or prevented from doing business until you obtain the license.
It’s always best to avoid problems by researching the license(s) you need and applying for them so you can do business without having to worry.
Stephen has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for small businesses, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and freelancers. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Among his books are Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, Working with Independent Contractors, and Working for Yourself: Law and Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants.