How to Apply for a Business License in North Dakota

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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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If you’re ready to create a new business in North Dakota, you might already have a business name reserved and started the Articles of Organization for your limited liability company. 

Those documents grant your fledgling company the right to do business in the state, but they’re often not the only thing you’ll need. You may also have to apply for a business license, or even several, depending on what your company does.

What business licenses do you need in North Dakota? How do you apply for those licenses? This article answers both questions and more for any prospective business owner.

North Dakota Business License: Key Takeaways

  • When starting a business in North Dakota, you may need various licenses, including state, federal, local, and professional licenses. 

  • The Secretary of State has specific licenses for different types of businesses, including charitable solicitation, construction, notary public, and professional fundraising licenses. 

  • Obtaining licenses is just the first step; many licenses require periodic renewal.

Navigate North Dakota 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?

Your limited liability company (LLC) or corporation will likely need multiple business licenses in North Dakota. Some of those licenses are at the state level, others are at the federal level, and you’ll find that many cities and counties have licenses, too.

You rarely need only one general license to get your small business off the ground. You may need industry-specific licenses, your people may require professional licenses, and you may even have to get temporary permits for specific events or actions that you take.

What Does a Business License Contain?

Most business licenses contain basic information about your business, such as its name, including your “doing business as” (DBA) name, if relevant, and information about what the license permits you to do.

The license will also contain authorization from relevant authorities, such as the federal government or the North Dakota Secretary of State. Typically, this authority is the individual or organization that oversees both the license granting and the industry in which you receive your license.

Types of Business Licenses

Business licenses break down into the following categories:

General or Generic Business License

Some states require all businesses to have a general business license before selling. You can consider these types of licenses part of your formation documents.

Federal Business Licenses

The federal government may get involved if you operate in certain industries, such as the financial sector, alcohol, or agriculture. Federal licenses are valid across the entire United States, but having one doesn’t mean you can do business if your state or city requires you to have additional licenses.

State Licenses

Even if a state doesn’t have a general business license, it’ll often have licenses required to operate in certain industries. For example, you may need a federal license to manufacture alcohol and a state license to do so in the state in which you operate.

Local Licenses

Every local municipality has laws and ordinances which you must respect and follow. For instance, a city may require you to have a general business license to operate in that location, even if the state doesn’t require a general license.

Things get more complicated when you operate in multiple cities. Each local branch of your business may need different licenses based on specific city laws.

Professional Licenses

Professions such as lawyers, doctors, plumbers, and even massage therapists need specific licenses. Each state has its own laws about which professional licenses you and the people in your employees must have.

Difference Between Licenses and Permits

Many states and cities use the terms license and permit interchangeably. 

Generally, a business license differs from a permit because it is permanent, though it may require renewal. A permit is temporary. For example, you may need a permit to use fireworks at a corporate event and a license to sell what your company offers year-round.

But that isn’t a hard-and-fast difference, with many organizations interchanging the terms to the point where they’re hard to separate. For simplicity’s sake, just remember that both are forms of permission that you need to have before taking certain business-related actions.

Get Your North Dakota Business License in 7 Steps

It’s mandatory to understand the types of business licenses you may need in North Dakota and ensure that your company has the appropriate licenses to stay in good standing with the state.

These seven steps take you through different federal and state business license requirements and how to ensure your company stays on top of licensing over the longer term.

Step 1: Apply for North Dakota General Business Licenses

Some states have a standard business license that all companies operating need to get to do business.

The state of North Dakota isn’t one of those states. However, that doesn’t mean that every type of business is immune to initial licensing requirements. There are four state licenses, each for a different type of business, that you may need to get from the Secretary of State before you can start transacting in North Dakota.

These are different from state licenses that cover issues like selling alcohol. Your company may need one of the following four licenses and additional state licenses, which are covered later in this article.

1. Charitable Solicitation License

If your company engages in any charitable solicitation, from knocking on doors asking for donations to running full-blown fundraisers, you need a charitable solicitation license.[1]

This state license often goes hand-in-hand with the formation documents you must complete to form a nonprofit corporation in North Dakota.[2] However, it’s not unheard of for LLCs, sole proprietorships, and for-profit corporations to need this license, especially if they engage in fundraising on behalf of charities.

You can get your charitable solicitation license on the North Dakota Secretary of State’s website or send the relevant forms to the following address:

Secretary of State

State of North Dakota

600 E Boulevard Avenue, Dept 108

Bismarck, ND 58505-0500

2. Contractor License

North Dakota classifies anybody working in the construction, repairs, or general building business as a contractor. You need a contractor license if any work you do exceeds $4,000 in value.[3]

You can apply for a contractor’s license via North Dakota’s FirstStop business portal.

3. Notary Public License

North Dakota considers notary publics to be “officers of the state,” meaning anybody who performs notarial acts as part of their business needs a notary public license.[4] Those acts include:

  • Administering oaths and affirmations

  • Serving as a witness to signatures

  • Certifying or attesting to the legitimacy of a copy

  • Taking acknowledgments

  • Verifying oaths and affirmations

  • Noting protests in negotiable instruments

4. Professional Fundraisers

A professional fundraisers license is not the same thing as a charitable solicitation license. The latter is a license you may need if your company runs fundraisers on its own behalf, whereas you need the former if you receive financial compensation for arranging fundraisers.

It’s a subtle difference, but the license separates those who arrange events for a living.

You have to complete the Professional Fundraiser Application form and provide a $20,000 surety bond to be a professional fundraiser. You’ll also pay a filing fee of $100 to submit the paperwork to the Secretary of State.[5]

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for North Dakota Businesses

Your new business may require additional licenses from a branch of the federal government before it can move forward.[6]

For instance, does your new business sell alcohol? If so, you may need a federal license from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau before you can start selling. If you’re operating aircraft, you’ll usually need a license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Those are just a handful of examples. Others include the U.S. Department of Agriculture for importing or transporting animals and the Federal Maritime Commission for sea freight or ocean cargo transportation.

As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to determine if your business activities fall under federal jurisdiction. If they do, you’ll need the appropriate federal license in addition to any state or local licenses your business requires.

Step 3: Search for North Dakota Permits and Licenses

The four licenses issued by the North Dakota Secretary of State mentioned above are far from the only ones you may require at the state level.

For example, the state of North Dakota has an attorney general’s office, which is responsible for providing additional licenses related to several industries, including:[7]

  • Alcohol license

  • Tobacco license

  • Amusement game license

  • Gaming licenses

Beyond that, you may also need permits for specific activities, with these permits often ensuring you can engage in that activity for a set time.

North Dakota State University maintains a good list of state-level organizations that handle these permits.[8] For example, you need permits to construct and operate from the North Dakota Department of Health’s Air Quality Division to build or alter a facility that may emit pollutants into the air.

These state permits and licenses can get complicated, especially when you need several for a single project. Working with a filing service such as Swyft Filings is often a good idea to stay on top of the many state licenses your new business may require.

An aerial view of Grand Forks, North Dakota | Swyft Filings

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

Move beyond the state level, and you’ll find that every city in North Dakota has its own city ordinances.

Those ordinances specify any additional licenses your business needs to operate in the city. Examples of city business licenses include the following:

  • Fargo: Fargo has dozens of business and occupational licenses for work as varied as excavation, pawnbroking, and selling alcoholic beverages. Most require you to pay fees, such as the $1,000 per year you’ll pay for a commercial hauler’s license.[9]

  • Bismarck: Bismarck requires businesses to apply for permits and licenses for everything from selling alcohol to operating fire alarms. You’ll even need special permits if you’re planting trees on or near the street as a landscaping business.[10]

  • Grand Forks: Though Grand Forks doesn’t have a general business license, it has several licenses and permits related to different types of businesses, including construction, towing, and food establishments.[11]

The city’s local tax office is often the best resource for information about the various licenses you’ll need for each city in which you operate. Furthermore, the tax office can also provide information about any permits or licenses related to taxation, such as a sales tax permit, that you may need.

Step 5: Search for North Dakota Professional Licenses

By this point, your company may have a business license from a federal agency, several state licenses, and additional licenses from the city or cities where you operate. However, you and your employees may also need professional licenses to certify your work qualifications.

An obvious example is that any lawyer in North Dakota must pass the State Bar exam. Doctors often face similar exams to show they’re fit to practice, and plumbers often have to get professional licenses before they can do their work.

Professional licenses don’t necessarily cover your business. It’s the people in the company who need the licenses. So, your company may have a license to offer plumbing services, but it won’t mean anything if the people who provide those services don’t have relevant professional licenses.

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

Some states and cities have specific licenses for people who run the type of business that you can operate from home. 

For instance, if your new business involves selling items online, with the storage and selling taking place in your home, you have a home occupation. The same goes for some daycare and childcare facilities.

The state of North Dakota doesn’t require you to have a business license to run a business from your home.

However, that doesn’t preclude you from getting any of the licenses necessary to operate your small business based on the type of business. Plus, some cities or counties in the state may have home-based licenses you need to get.

Step 7: Maintain Your North Dakota Business License

Many of your licenses require regular renewal, often with filing fees, to stay valid. As a business owner, it’s your job to stay on top of these licenses, ensuring you file to renew and maintain them at the appropriate times.

That’s tough, especially when you have several licenses that you’re trying to juggle across multiple cities. Thankfully, you can use a filing service to stay on top of your various licenses so you stay in good standing with the state.

Apply for a North Dakota Business License Online

Completing a business license application is one thing. Completing several and maintaining them for the length of your small business’s life is another. 

We’ve helped over 300,000 business owners handle their companies' licensing and formation needs. If you have a new business and need to handle license applications, our Business License service shows you what licenses you need and handles the application process on your behalf.

Stay Compliant in North Dakota 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.

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How do I get a business license in North Dakota?

You have to apply for your license with the relevant authority, which you can usually do online or by mailing the organization that oversees the license.

Does North Dakota require a general business license?

North Dakota doesn’t have a general business license, but the Secretary of State operates four business licenses for the following:

  • Professional fundraising

  • Construction

  • Charitable solicitation

  • Notary publics

Can you sell things in North Dakota without a license?

You need a Sales and Use Tax license from the state and any equivalent local sales tax licenses before you can sell things under the auspices of a business in North Dakota.[12]

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

North Dakota doesn’t have a special license for online businesses.

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

You need a Sales and Use Tax license to collect North Dakota’s standard 5% sales tax. The city you operate in may also have its own sales tax licenses.

How much does a North Dakota business license cost?

The cost varies depending on the license, though you don’t have to worry about paying for a general license in North Dakota.

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

Again, penalties depend on the specific license but usually extend to fines and revoking your ability to work in your sector.


  1. Official Portal for North Dakota State Government. “Licensing Information.” Accessed July 23, 2023.

  2. North Dakota Secretary of State. “Nonprofit Corporation.” Accessed July 23, 2023.

  3. North Dakota Secretary of State. “Contractors.” Accessed July 23, 2023.

  4. North Dakota Secretary of State. “Notaries Public.” Accessed July 23, 2023.

  5. North Dakota Secretary of State. “Professional Fundraisers.” Accessed July 23, 2023.

  6. U.S. Small Business Administration. “Apply for Licenses and Permits.” Accessed July 24, 2023.

  7. Official Portal for North Dakota State Government. “Licensing Information.” Accessed July 24, 2023.

  8. North Dakota State University. “Business Reports, Forms and Licenses Required in the State of North Dakota.” Accessed July 24, 2023.

  9. The City of Fargo. “Business Licensing.” Accessed July 24, 2023.

  10. The City of Bismarck. “Permits & Licenses.” Accessed July 24, 2023.

  11. City of Grand Forks. “Doing Business in Grand Forks.” Accessed July 24, 2023.

  12. NDTax. “Sales and Use Tax.” Accessed July 24, 2023.

Originally published on October 04, 2023, and last edited on October 17, 2023.
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