How to Apply for a Business License in Massachusetts

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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.

Carlos Serrano
Written by Carlos Serrano
Written byCarlos Serrano
Updated October 17, 2023
Edited by Alexis Konovodoff
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Launching a new business in the state of Massachusetts takes hard work, not the least of which is obtaining the right licenses.

You'll likely need a license if you're starting a corporation, sole proprietorship, or limited liability company. If you are a new business owner who hasn't previously tackled the Bay State's business entity rules and regulations, this guide will give you a solid head start. 

Massachusetts Business License: Key Takeaways

  • In Massachusetts, the types of licenses and permits required can vary depending on the nature of your business and its location.

  • Certain professions, including doctors, nurses, plumbers, and real estate agents, require professional licenses issued and regulated by state boards.

  • Maintaining your business licenses in Massachusetts is an ongoing process, with many requiring annual renewals.

Navigate Massachusetts 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?

Practically every business needs some form of a permit to operate legally. These permits can come from the federal government, state, or local governments and differ depending on the business type they cover.

Getting a business license is different from registering a business. Registering a business entails picking a business name, filing formation documents, and more. Licensing exists to keep businesses in line with state and local laws.[1]

In the state of Massachusetts, the licenses and permits you need to run a business legally can vary from one city or county to the next. You must also differentiate between federal, state, and local licensing requirements. To get started on the right foot, research what types of business licenses and permits you'll need in the area where you plan to set up shop.

Get Your Massachusetts Business License in 8 Steps

You may need several licenses, permits, and certificates, including a general business license, additional licenses, occupational tax certificates, and more.

Below, you can find a breakdown of the entire licensing research process to determine your business needs.

Step 1: Apply for Massachusetts General Business Licenses

Unlike some other states, Massachusetts doesn't require a general business license for all businesses. However, every business still requires licensing depending on the industry, scope of work, and location.[2] 

For example, local businesses that sell alcohol must get a license from the local governing body and approval from the federal Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC).

If you plan to open a restaurant, you need a food service license, and if you also want to sell alcohol in your restaurant, you need a liquor license. Generally, nearly every state or city has regulations on alcohol sales, such as liquor licenses, although their details can vary.

This is just one example. There is also a noteworthy distinction between business and professional licenses. We’ll discuss both in the steps below.  

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for Massachusetts Businesses

Federal agencies regulate some businesses involved in industries that explicitly or potentially transcend state borders. These businesses need federal licenses.

For example, broadcasting companies, like radio or TV stations, need a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Businesses selling livestock or transporting plants and animals across state borders need one from the Department of Agriculture. Similar applies to trucking companies, mining operations, tobacco manufacturing, and other activities beyond a state's borders or under strict federal regulations.

Federal licenses are, for the most part, industry-specific. That means you won't need these additional licenses unless your business falls under this category.

Step 3: Search for Massachusetts Permits and Licenses

The state of Massachusetts doesn't require a general business license, but depending on your business activities, you may need these state licenses: 

  • Sales and use tax registration: If you sell goods or taxable services, you must register for sales and use tax.

  • Alcohol license: If you plan to sell alcoholic beverages, your company must have a liquor license.

  • Environmental-related licenses and permits: If your business could impact the environment, such as performing pesticide application, you will need a license or permit.

The Eastern Point Lighthouse at Gloucester, Massachusetts | Swyft Filings

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

Along with state and federal licenses, there is a good chance you'll also need to obtain local licenses or permits that vary from city to city. Some cities or counties may also ask you to get a local tax permit.

For example, Boston requires businesses within a building in a public area to have a Certificate of Inspection (COI) to comply with the Massachusetts State Building Code. On the other hand, Cambridge requires licenses for vendors, peddlers, or hawkers. 

These examples highlight the importance of researching local requirements. They can greatly differ depending on the city and the nature of business. It's smart to contact the city clerk's office for additional information about the local government's demands.[3]

Step 5: Search for Massachusetts Professional Licenses

Certain professions need professional licenses to do business in Massachusetts. Some of these professions include:

  • Doctors

  • Nurses

  • Plumbers

  • Electricians

  • Lawyers

  • Real Estate Agents

  • Architects

  • Construction Contractors

In Massachusetts, you can check the status of professional licenses through the Division of Occupational Licensure. The state establishes requirements for professional licensing and lists the boards that oversee each type.

For example, the Board of Registration of Architects sets the conditions for architectural registration and building permits.[4] The Division of Occupational Licensure, an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, oversees 26 professional registration boards.

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

You might need a home-based business license if you plan to run your business from home. Not every home business needs this license, but it’s best to contact your local governing body to determine if your business does.

For example, home occupations like child care or family and child learning centers are subject to professional licenses, similar to nursing or healthcare. Consequently, if you run a home clinic, you may need a professional medical license and a home-based business license.

Home-based businesses should also comply with local zoning laws, depending on the business location, which can affect where you can do business and what you can do.

Step 7: Maintain Your Massachusetts Business License

Your responsibility to the law doesn't end once you get all the licenses your business needs. You must renew your licenses regularly.

How often you renew your license depends on the license type. Renewal fees can also vary. You may also need to submit annual reports and maintain a certain level of insurance. You can use a filing service like Swift Filings to take this responsibility off your shoulders and stay up-to-date.

Apply for a Massachusetts Business License Online

Obtaining a business license in Massachusetts can be complex, especially with the varying federal, local, and industry- or profession-based licensing requirements.

Thankfully, our business license service can guide you through each of the steps outlined earlier. After you pay a filing fee, we’ll do the necessary paperwork for you and submit it to the Massachusetts Secretary of State and other government bodies.

Stay Compliant in Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts?

You get a business license by applying through the proper Massachusetts state, federal, or local level agency. You can research the regulations that apply to your business type beforehand to determine which government body you need to approach.

Does Massachusetts require a general business license?

No, Massachusetts doesn't require a general business license for all businesses. Still, certain types of businesses will require different state, local, or federal licenses.

Can you sell things in Massachusetts without a license?

You must register for a sales and use tax permit if you sell goods or taxable services. Some products, like alcohol or lottery tickets, are under strict regulation and require additional licensing. 

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

There is no specific online business license. However, depending on your business activities, industry, and location, you may still need state, federal, or local licenses.

Can I collect sales tax in Massachusetts without a license?

To collect sales tax, you must register for a sales tax permit with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

How much does a Massachusetts business license cost?

Business licenses vary in price depending on which license you need, the city or county you're in, and renewal fees.

What's the penalty for not having a business license in Massachusetts?

Penalties for not having the right business license in Massachusetts can be severe, including hefty fines or possible closure of your business by the state.


  1. "Business Licenses & Permits." Accessed July 25, 2023.

  2. "Starting a New Business." Accessed July 25, 2023.

  3. Belmont, Massachusetts. "Business Licenses." Accessed July 25, 2023.

  4. Massachusetts Systems Contractors Association. "New Licenses, A1 Licenses." Accessed July 25, 2023.

Originally published on October 11, 2023, and last edited on October 17, 2023.
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