How to Apply for a Business License in North Carolina

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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 19, 2023
Edited by Alexis Konovodoff
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You’re starting a new business in the state of North Carolina, which means you need to get the right business license.

Or, as the case may be, you’ll need multiple licenses on the federal, state, local, and professional levels. It’s no easy task. But by following the steps in this article, you’ll cover all of your licensing requirements so your budding limited liability company or corporation stays in good standing with North Carolina.

North Carolina Business License: Key Takeaways

  • North Carolina requires businesses to acquire various federal, state, local, and professional licenses. 

  • Businesses operating in industries regulated by federal authorities must obtain federal licenses or permits, often in addition to state licenses. 

  • Business owners must stay vigilant about renewal deadlines and ensure compliance, as failure to renew licenses can result in penalties and business restrictions.

Navigate North Carolina 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 isn’t business registration. Where registration is about outlining your business structure, setting your business name, and forming the company, licenses are more like permission slips.

They either permit you to do certain types of business or serve as general permission to run a company in the state of North Carolina.

Furthermore, no single business license covers every one of your business needs. In many cases, you’ll need one, some, or even all of the following:

  • General business license

  • Federal business licenses

  • Statewide business licenses

  • Local permits and licenses 

  • Professional licenses

For instance, let’s say you have a limited liability business entity providing legal services in North Carolina. Every individual in that company who practices law will need a professional license, and the business itself may need state and local licenses to operate. Hence, the licensing issue can get complicated, especially when you involve multiple licensing boards and databases.

Get Your North Carolina Business License in 7 Steps

By following these seven steps, you’ll get everything from your generic license to any local or state license your business requires.

Step 1: Apply for North Carolina General Business Licenses

According to the Secretary of State of North Carolina, the state has no general or generic business license that covers every aspect of your activity.[1] This applies to any business type, from sole proprietorships to large corporations.

As a result, your small business doesn’t have to worry about this step. But, the Secretary of State also points out that North Carolina has more than 700 occupational, regulatory, and state licenses, and each city has local licenses, so you can’t rush into selling right after formation. We'll discuss each of these in the steps below.

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for North Carolina Businesses

A business owner may need a federal license if they operate their new business in any industry that a federal organization oversees. But these aren’t state licenses. You’ll usually need separate state licenses to accompany your federal license, especially when working in industries like alcohol or firearms.

A few examples of federal licenses or permits your company might need include:[2]

  • Permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture if you plan to transport any plants or animals across state lines

  • License from the Federal Communications Commission if you’ll broadcast any information by radio, TV, or cable

  • Commercial fishing license from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service if you do any commercial fishing

You can find more on the Small Business Administration website, and you’ll usually need to apply via the federal organization in question. 

Should your company fall under federal jurisdiction, you can’t conduct business in North Carolina, even if you have all the other licenses that you need, without federal approval.

Step 3: Search for North Carolina Permits and Licenses

As stated earlier, the state of North Carolina has no generic business license but has over 700 state licenses and permits. Listing every state business license is impossible, given that there are so many. Here are just some examples:

  • Alcohol licenses and permits for retailing, counseling, distilling, and providing fuel-related alcohol

  • Construction licenses, from residential and commercial properties to building dams or wells

  • Healthcare permits and privilege licenses for dentists, doctors, and even massage therapists

The list is exhaustive, and those three examples only scratch the surface.

Thankfully, North Carolina recognizes that it has more stringent licensing policies than most, which is why the state’s Department of Commerce operates an online database covering every possible license you may need.[3]

Art piece in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina | Swyft Filings

Step 4: Search for Local County or City North Carolina Business Licenses

You’ll likely need additional licenses to form a business in a specific city or sell goods there. There’s no way around this, as each city ordinance contains rules for what licenses it has and how it deals with issues like zoning and event permits. 

A few examples include:

  • Raleigh: You will need a beer and wine license to accompany your federal and state licenses to sell alcoholic beverages in Raleigh. The city also charges $275 for a pawnbroker’s license and other licenses for specific occupations.[4]

  • Charlotte: The city requires you to secure permits for everything from holding events to developing land.[5]

  • Greensboro: Certain types of businesses need permits to operate in Greensboro, such as mobile food vendors, who must pay an annual $50 fee for their license.[6]

You should start looking into city-wide permits once you’ve registered your business with the Secretary of State. The city’s county clerk’s office is a good starting point, as it’ll often be able to provide the forms you need or point you to the local government body that handles the specific license or permit.

Step 5: Search for North Carolina Professional Licenses

You may think that having a business license, such as a state license to operate a plumber’s business, means you’re covered. But it doesn’t. 

On top of state licenses and any additional licenses from local or federal authorities, you may also need a professional license.

A professional license certifies that you, as an individual, can work in your industry. That makes it different from a business license certifying your entire company.

Coming back to the plumbing example, your company may only need one business license, but each person carrying out plumbing for your clients will likely need a professional license.

The same applies to legal firms and healthcare facilities, which employ people who need individual professional licenses on top of the company’s business license.

You can find more professional licenses via the North Carolina Business and Occupational License Database mentioned earlier.

Step 6: Apply for a North Carolina Home-Based Business License

Do you plan to run your business out of your home? If so, you might need another type of business license because of your business location.

In North Carolina, these at-home business licenses are usually granted at the city level and break down into two categories:[7]

  1. Home Occupation License: The company provides a service that occurs solely within your home, without any customers, clients, non-resident employees, or other visitors entering the premises. For instance, somebody running a small business selling goods online from their home.

  2. Live-Work License: You’ll need this license if you have a commercial business in or attached to a residential structure that welcomes employees, customers, or clients. A home-based daycare is a good example.

Furthermore, you may have to obtain zoning permits to reclassify or jointly classify your home as a place of business. Again, the rules vary depending on your city, so speak to the city clerk’s office for more information when setting up a new business.

Step 7: Maintain Your North Carolina Business License

Many federal, state, local, and professional business licenses require renewal regularly to prevent falling out of good standing.

For example, the renewal process for an insurance business license requires an insurance company to renew its license on April 1 every year, with payment made via the National Insurance Producer Registry.[8] That’s just one renewal example of many.

As a business owner, staying on top of these renewals is your job. That’s a tough task, especially when you have several licenses. If you’d like to avoid the DIY route, we’ll handle your business license applications and renewals for you.

Apply for a North Carolina Business License Online

One business license application is manageable. Several, spread across federal, state, and local territories, can become a nightmare for a small business owner. 

Backed by our experience working with over 300,000 existing and new business owners, we’ve created a simple flow service that tells you exactly what licenses you need for your type of business and helps you file for them. Would you like to learn more? Check out our Business License service today to make business license applications simple.

Stay Compliant in North Carolina 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 North Carolina?

You usually have the option of submitting an application for the business licenses you need online or by getting the contact information for the licensing body and sending your application via mail.

Does North Carolina require a general business license?

No, North Carolina doesn’t have a general business license. However, your business will likely need statewide licensing and permits, along with those at the local level.

Can you sell things in North Carolina without a license?

You can’t sell anything as a business in North Carolina without first getting a Certificate of Registration from the North Carolina Department of Revenue.[9] This is essentially North Carolina’s version of sales and use tax approval.

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

North Carolina doesn’t have a general or generic business license for selling online. You may need a state or local license, depending on what you sell, your business activities, or your industry.

Can I collect sales tax in North Carolina without a license?

You can’t collect sales tax without a seller’s permit, known as a Certificate of Registration.

How much does a North Carolina business license cost?

Prices for business licenses vary depending on the types of licenses you need.

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

Penalties vary depending on the license type and the organization that oversees it. Typically, you’ll receive a fine and may have permission to do business in your industry revoked.


  1. North Carolina Secretary of State. “Licenses & Permits.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  2. U.S. Small Business Administration. “Apply for Licenses and Permits.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  3. N.C. Department of Commerce. “NC Business and Occupational License Database.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  4. “Permits and Licenses for Businesses.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  5. “Permits.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  6. Greensboro North Carolina. “Business Permit.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  7. “Home-Based Businesses.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  8. North Carolina Department of Insurance. “Renew of Change an Insurance Business License.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

  9. North Carolina Department of Revenue. “Sales and Use Tax Registration.” Accessed July 19, 2023.

Originally published on October 18, 2023, and last edited on October 19, 2023.
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