How to Apply for a Business License in Washington, DC

Washington DC Capitol Building | Swyft Filings

Swyft Filings is committed to providing accurate, reliable information to help you make informed decisions for your business. That's why our content is written and edited by professional editors, writers, and subject matter experts. Learn more about how Swyft Filings works, our editorial team and standards, what our customers think of us, and more on our trust page.

Swyft Filings is committed to providing accurate, reliable information to help you make informed decisions for your business. That's why our content is written and edited by professional editors, writers, and subject matter experts. Learn more about how Swyft Filings works, our editorial team and standards, what our customers think of us, and more on our trust page.

Carlos Serrano
Written by Carlos Serrano
Written byCarlos Serrano
Updated October 17, 2023
Edited by Alexis Konovodoff
Share this guide

You’re preparing to create a new business in Washington, DC, and you’re getting your documents in order. Your limited liability company (LLC) needs formation documents and a business license (or multiple licenses) to cover its business activities.

Securing the latter is what this article focuses on, from getting your basic business licenses to any special federal, state, or local licenses your company requires.

Washington, DC, Business License: Key Takeaways

  • Washington, DC, business licenses serve as permission slips that allow your business to operate legally within the district.

  • Obtaining the necessary business licenses is critical for starting and operating a business in Washington, DC. 

  • Depending on your business operations, industry, and location, you may require various federal, state, and local licenses.

Navigate Washington DC Business Licensing with Ease

Ensuring you have the right business licenses and permits is crucial. Let us manage the complexities for you, so you can stay focused on what you do best — running your business.

Apply For My Business Licenses

What Is a Business License?

In the District of Columbia, a business license is like a permission slip that signifies you’re allowed to do business there. You may require several permission slips, from the basic business license (BBL) that all companies in Washington, DC, need to more specific licenses based on what your company does.

Therein lies a key point — no single business license covers everything your business does. While some companies can get away with only having a BBL, others work in industries regulated by federal, state, and city departments, each of which has licenses for which you need to apply.

It’s also worth noting that securing business licenses or permits isn’t the same as registering a business with the Secretary of State. You may have a registered business that can’t transact because it doesn’t have licenses, or you may have all the licenses you need and be unable to sell because the company isn’t registered yet.

As for what a business license contains, you’ll often find the following:

  • Business name and any “doing business as” (DBA) or trade names

  • Type of business 

  • Approval from the relevant authority for the license, such as the state’s business licensing division

Get Your Washington, DC, Business License in 7 Steps

From your basic business license application to any additional licenses your company needs, these are the seven steps to ensure you get the licenses your DC-based business needs.

Step 1: Apply for Washington, DC, General Business Licenses

Every Washington, DC, business must apply for the state’s basic business license (BBL).[1] Your small business has to go through the following four-step process to get the BBL.

  1. Register your official corporate name and any trade names associated with your company.

  2. Register your business with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the DC Office of Tax and Revenue.

  3. Register with the Office of the Zoning Commission, which requires you to get either a Home Occupation Permit or a Certificate of Occupancy, depending on your business premises.

  4. Complete the BBL application.[2]

You can either use the My DC Business Center website to complete the application online or complete a paper version and send it via mail to the following address:

1100 4th Street, SW, 2nd Floor,

Washington, DC 20024

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for Washington, DC, Businesses

Once you have your BBL, you’ll focus on federal business licenses. Your new business may not need a federal license, as they only apply if you operate in a sector that a federal agency directly oversees.

For instance, anybody transporting cargo or people via plane needs a federal license from the Federal Aviation Administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is your first port of call if you need a license to transport livestock or plants across state lines.

The Small Business Administration website maintains a list of additional licenses a business owner may need from federal agencies, along with contact details for the agencies in question.

A view of downtown Washington, DC, with the Capitol Building | Swyft Filings

Step 3: Search for Washington, DC, Permits and Licenses

A BBL doesn’t necessarily mean your business is sorted on the state level regarding licenses. You may need additional licenses based on what the company does, such as building permits for construction companies and alcohol licenses for businesses that sell alcoholic beverages.

The Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection (DLCP) oversees state permits and licenses, occasionally with help from the state’s Department of Health and similar professional licensing bodies.[3]

Step 4: Search for Local County or City Washington, DC, Business Licenses

Next, dig into the licenses you need at the local level. Although technically a district, Washington, DC, also functions as its own city and county. Therefore, the District of Columbia sets criteria for any licenses you need to operate on a local level in addition to the state licenses you already have.

Note the use of the words “in addition.” A state license isn’t enough to operate in cities that require your business to have additional licenses. Similarly, a business license or permit from one city won’t be usable in a different city.[4]

It’s always a good idea to speak to your city’s local tax office or city clerk to confirm whether your budding company needs additional licenses.

Step 5: Search for Washington, DC, Professional Licenses

Many people confuse professional licenses with business licenses. But they’re not the same thing. A business license covers your entire company, but a professional license often only covers an individual within that company. 

For example, you may need an accounting license to run a CPA firm, with every accountant in that firm also requiring the same license.

Washington, DC, offers several professional or occupational licenses overseen by various board commissions associated with the DLCP. Examples include the Board of Funeral Directors, which oversees licenses related to funeral services, and the Real Estate Commission.[5]

Failure to obtain professional licensing when needed usually means you can’t work within your company, even if the business is licensed to transact in Washington, DC.

Step 6: Apply for a Washington, DC, Home-Based Business License

If you intend to run your new business out of your principal residence, you must apply for a Home Occupation Permit. The requirements are simple:

  • Be a resident of Washington, DC

  • Make your primary residence the home out of which you work

Assuming you meet those conditions, you can get this permit for almost any type of business by applying via the AccessDC portal. Some small business owners, such as independent consultants and salespeople, can get joint BBLs and Home Occupation Permits if they use their homes as their primary business addresses.[6]

Step 7: Maintain Your Washington, DC, Business License

After a ton of research and work, including applying for licenses with everybody from the Secretary of State of the District of Columbia to multiple state and local departments, you finally have all your licenses.

Your final step is to ensure you keep them.

Maintaining business licenses is all about keeping track of any time limits applied to them so you can renew them as and when needed. That’s tough, especially when you have several licenses and a complex business to run, which is why many people use third-party filing services to keep track of their business licenses.

Apply for a Washington, DC, Business License Online

As a potential new business owner, understanding the varied business license application processes you must deal with in Washington, DC, is key. With the help of Swyft Filings, you can stay in good standing by ensuring your small business has all of the licenses it needs.

Our Business License service shows you which licenses your business must have. We’ve helped over 300,000 companies with their filing needs, and we’re ready to help you obtain and maintain the licenses and permits your company needs in Washington, DC.

Stay Compliant in Washington DC Without the Hassle
  • Focus on Your Business: Dive into your passion while we handle the intricacies of acquiring the necessary local, state, and federal business licenses and permits.

  • Simplify Your Paperwork: Complete our straightforward questionnaire, and we’ll handle all the required filings for you, accurately and promptly.

  • Stay Compliant: Avoid the risks and severe repercussions of non-compliance. We’re here to ensure your business remains in good standing.

Begin My License Application Today


How do I get a business license in Washington, DC?

You must apply for the license via the relevant authority, often the DLCP in Washington, DC.

Does Washington, DC, require a general business license?

Washington, DC, requires all businesses to have a basic business license before transacting in the state.

Can you sell things in Washington, DC, without a license?

No business can sell anything in Washington, DC, unless it has a basic business license.

Do I need a special license for an online business in Washington, DC?

There isn’t a special license for online businesses in Washington, DC, though an online business owner may need several licenses, depending on what their company does.

Can I collect sales tax in Washington, DC, without a license?

Most businesses operating in Washington, DC, need a sales tax permit before collecting sales tax. You can apply for this permit online via the MyTax DC portal.

How much does a Washington, DC, business license cost?

The cost of a BBL in Washington, DC, varies depending on your company type, though you’ll typically pay somewhere in the $100 region.

What’s the penalty for not having a business license in Washington, DC?

Depending on how long you've been without a license, you may get charged late fees of $250 to $500, with additional penalty fees on top for companies that operate without a BBL for six months or more.


  1. DC Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection. “Steps to Obtaining a Basic Business License.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  2. DC Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection. “Basic Business License Application.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  3. DC Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection. “Business Licensing Division.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  4. “Business Permits, Licenses and Certifications.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  5. DC Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection. “Occupational and Professional Licensing (OPL).” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  6. D.C. Department of Buildings. “Get a Home Occupation Permit.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

Originally published on September 14, 2023, and last edited on October 17, 2023.
business types

Learn more about each type of business

No matter the business type, Swyft Filings can help you form your new company.