How to Apply for a Business License in Hawaii

View on Na Pali Coast on Kauai island on Hawaii in a sunny day

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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.

Charlie Mitchell
Written by Charlie Mitchell
Written byCharlie Mitchell
Updated October 17, 2023
Edited by Carlos Serrano
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Once you form your new business as a limited liability company or C corp, you’re almost ready to be an active business in Hawaii. Your last step is to get all the business licenses you need from the federal, state, city, and county governments. This article will guide business owners through getting the correct business licenses for their Hawaii business.

Hawaii Business License: Key Takeaways

  1. All Hawaii businesses must acquire a general excise tax license by filing Form BB-1.

  2. A Hawaii business license is essential for conducting specific business activities in the state.

  3. Renewing and staying compliant with various licenses is a continuous responsibility for business owners.

Navigate Hawaii 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.

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What Is a Business License?

A business license gives your entity the right to conduct a particular type of business in a specific place. The state of Hawaii, the federal government, and your local city, town, or county all issue business licenses that serve a variety of purposes, including:

  • To collect specific taxes, as in a sales tax permit from your city or a state license to sell gasoline.

  • To ensure that you follow health and safety regulations, as in a liquor license or building permit.

  • To ensure only qualifying professionals practice specific types of business, such as law, medicine, tattooing, or auto repair.

  • A “doing business as,” or DBA, allows you to use a different business name than the one you registered. In Hawaii, this is called a trade name.[1]

Some states also have a general business license, which Hawaii uses to collect its general excise tax.

Note: Forming a limited liability company or other business entity with the Hawaii Secretary of State and getting an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS are the first steps to having a real business. But after incorporation, when you register your company with the business registration division, you’ll need to acquire the proper business licenses before starting your operations. 

The business licenses you need will depend on the type of business your small business is engaged in and where you’re located.

Get Your Hawaii Business License in 7 Steps

In these eight steps, we’ll show you how to nail down every business license you need, from your general state license in Hawaii to the additional licenses that may be required depending on the type of business you’re building. In some states, your business license is called an occupational tax certificate.

Step 1: Apply for Hawaii General Business Licenses

The state of Hawaii requires every business in the state to acquire a general excise tax license.[2] To get one, small businesses will have to fill out Form BB-1, a basic business application, which will secure them the general state license they need and enroll them to pay sales tax and use tax with the state of Hawaii department of taxation.[3]

Suppose you file your general excise tax license on Hawaii business express. In that case, you’ll have faster service — but you can drop it off in person at any Hawaii DCCA business action center or state tax office.[4] The filing fee for Form BB-1 is $20. When the form is accepted, you’ll receive a taxpayer identification number from the Hawaii Department of Taxation.

After receiving your general excise tax license, you may still require other state licenses or professional licenses to do your work in good standing.

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for Hawaii Businesses

Most business owners won’t need a Federal license or permit to operate. But if your business activities take you into any of the realms listed below, you should contact the relevant government office and see if additional licenses are required. 

Because Hawaii is such an isolated state, many businesses import plants and animal products, which may carry licensing requirements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[5]

Other business activities that may require federal licensing or permits include: 

  • Moving plant or animal products across state lines

  • Mining or drilling on federal lands

  • Maritime transport, commercial fishing, or wildlife services

  • Manufacturing, retailing, wholesaling, or importing alcoholic beverages,

  • Aviation

Remember that even with the proper federal business license for these activities, your new business will probably require additional permits at the state and local levels.

Step 3: Search for Hawaii Permits and Licenses

Alongside the general excise tax license, Hawaii has additional licenses for businesses needing to collect other taxes. These include:[6]

  • Transient accommodations (leasing or renting for fewer than 180 days in a year)

  • Carsharing and motor vehicle rental businesses

  • Manufacturing or selling liquid fuels

  • Selling alcoholic beverages (requires a Hawaii state alcohol license)

  • Selling cigarettes and tobacco products

You can get these state licenses immediately when you fill out the basic business application or get them at Hawaii Tax Online ( Building permits are usually administered at the county or city level, so we’ll cover those next.

Skyline of Honolulu, Hawaii and the surrounding area

Step 4: Search for Local County or City Hawaii Business Licenses

Check the county and city government websites on the island and city where you are building your Hawaii business to see if you will need additional licenses to comply with local ordinances and requirements. For instance:

  • The Honolulu Liquor Commission has its own liquor licensing paperwork.[7]

  • The Hawai’i County Department of Public Works oversees building permits.[8]

  • Kauai County’s guide to permitting can help you get building permits on Kauai.[9]

  • Several Hawaii cities and counties have an additional sales or excise tax, which may require a sales tax permit at the local level.[10]

Professional licenses, which we’ll cover next, may also apply in cities and at the state level. 

Step 5: Search for Hawaii Professional Licenses

While a business license generally pertains to regulations and taxes, a professional license certifies that you’re qualified to do the work you do, such as practicing law or medicine. Usually, a state license is sufficient as a professional license, but some municipalities require local permits, so inquire with your local government.

This webpage from the professional and vocational licensing division at the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has a helpful list of additional licenses you may need to practice a specialized profession, from plumbers to optometrists, travel agencies, accountants, and veterinarians.[11]

Step 6: Apply for a Hawaii Home-Based Business License

If your business location is at your home in a residential area, some municipalities may require you to get a residential business license to comply with zoning laws. The state of Hawaii doesn’t have such a requirement for small businesses. Refer to your county and city government for questions about a “home occupation” office for your new business.

Childcare, a type of business that is commonly based in a home, has a licensing process for small businesses through the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services.[12

Step 7: Maintain Your Hawaii Business License

Like an annual report maintains your business structure with the Hawaii Secretary of State, your various business licenses must be renewed regularly. This means working with whoever issues you your licenses, from the state department of health to your local tax office and the Federal government, to stay in good standing.

If this sounds like a lot for a business owner to juggle, you’re right. This is why Swyft Filings is such a helpful resource. We take care of all your business license needs in one place and help you to stay in good standing with minimal effort.

Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head, Honolulu, Oahu Island, Hawaii

Apply for a Hawaii Business License Online

You can’t automate a visionary business plan, or program the bravery it takes to found a startup. But the paperwork side of running your small business? There’s no need to do it by hand anymore.

Swyft Filings is a complete one-stop-shop for getting your new business officially ready to roll with all the government offices you need to keep happy. We will search high and low for every last business license you need. 

But that’s just one of many administrative tasks we can take off your hands. We offer business owners all of these services in one place:

  • Business name search

  • Articles of organization

  • Registered agent services

  • Business license applications

  • Annual report and compliance

Swyft Filings is ready to make your paperwork a breeze, so you can spend more time focused on your customers and less time dealing with the Hawaii secretary of state.

Stay Compliant in Hawaii 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 Hawaii?

File Form BB-1 online or in person with the State of Hawaii Department of Taxation.

Does Hawaii require a general business license?

Yes, Hawaii businesses are required to have a general excise tax license.

Can you sell things in Hawaii without a license?

No, all Hawaii businesses generating revenue require a general excise tax license.

Do I need a special license for an online business in Hawaii?

Hawaii does not have a special license for online businesses. But you will still need a general excise tax license.

Can I collect sales tax in Hawaii without a license?

No, the general excise tax license is required.

How much does a Hawaii business license cost?

The filing fee for Form BB-1 is $20.

What’s the penalty for not having a business license in Hawaii?

Depending on the situation, fines can range from $500 to $3,000.[13]


  1. Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. “Trade Name, Trade Mark, or Service Mark.” Accessed June 14, 2023. 

  2. State of Hawaii Department of Taxation. “Licensing Information.” Accessed June 14, 2023. 

  3. State of Hawaii Department of Taxation. “Form BB-1 Basic Business Application.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  4. State of Hawaii Department of Taxation. “Tax Facts 31-1.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  5. U.S. Small Business Administration. “Apply for licenses and permits.” Accessed June 12, 2023.

  6. State of Hawaii Department of Taxation. “Licensing Information.” Accessed June 14, 2023. 

  7. City and County of Honolulu Liquor Commission. “Forms/Documents.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  8. County of Hawaiʻi Department of Public Works - Building Division. “Residential/Nonresidential Building Permit Checklist.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  9. Kauai County, HI. “Building Permit Guide.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  10. State of Hawaii Department of Taxation. “County Surcharge on General Excise and Use Tax.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  11. State of Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Professional & Vocational Licensing Division. “PROFESSIONAL AND VOCATIONAL LICENSING (PVL).” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  12. State of Hawaii Department of Human Services. “Applying for a Child Care Center License.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

  13.  State of Hawaii Department of Taxation. “An Introduction to the General Excise Tax.” Accessed June 14, 2023.

Originally published on September 22, 2023, and last edited on October 17, 2023.
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