How to Apply for a Business License in Rhode Island

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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 byCarlos Serrano
Alexis Konovodoff
Edited byAlexis Konovodoff
Updated October 17, 2023

Opening a new business in Rhode Island requires a great deal of careful planning and consideration. The business owner must tackle creative challenges, like devising a business name and branding, and the more tedious, bureaucratic undertakings, like obtaining an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

One such challenge is obtaining the necessary business license for operating your business, whether a limited liability company (LLC), partnership, or sole proprietorship. 

We’ve broken down the process of obtaining this license into several actionable steps to help you go through it without feeling overwhelmed by all the licensing requirements. Keep reading to learn more.

Rhode Island Business License: Key Takeaways

  • Rhode Island business licenses grant legal permission to operate within a specific area and industry, ensuring compliance with state and local regulations.

  • Rhode Island businesses often require a combination of licenses and permits at the federal, state, and local levels.

  • After obtaining business licenses, staying current with renewals is crucial, as operating with an expired license can lead to fines and legal consequences.

Navigate Rhode Island 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 is a legal document issued by the appropriate governing body allowing an individual or a business entity to run a specific type of business within a predefined area. Simply put, it greenlights your business to operate legally in a given location and industry.

Businesses in Rhode Island will often require more than one license and a few permits to stay compliant. 

Although licenses and permits are often equated online, they do differ slightly. A business license is more general, allowing you to run a specific business. A permit, on the other hand, goes into the specifics, allowing you to take a certain action. Here are some examples:

  • A zoning permit: For operating a specific business in certain areas

  • A signage permit: For posting physical material about your business publicly using words, symbols, and pictures

  • A building permit: For constructing or renovating a building for your business

  • A health permit: For operating any facility that prepares and serves food

  • An environment permit: For undertaking activities that might affect the environment

These and similar permits are usually issued at a local level. The same goes for specific licenses. However, licenses can also be issued at state and federal levels, depending on your business activity. 

The best course of action is starting at the top with the federal level and going down to the municipal level to determine which ordinances concern your business. This process might be time-consuming and overwhelming, but it’s the only way to remain state-compliant and avoid hefty fines. 

Despite what some business owners believe, simply registering your business with the Rhode Island Secretary of State won’t take care of all the legalities. These are two completely different processes and should be treated as such.

Get Your Rhode Island Business License in 7 Steps

To help make this process smooth sailing, we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide on obtaining your business licenses in the state of Rhode Island.

Step 1: Apply for Rhode Island General Business Licenses

A handful of U.S. states require a general license for a new business, regardless of the business structure, industry, and exact location. Rhode Island isn’t one of these states. In other words, there isn’t a business license you must get by default. Instead, licenses are issued at federal, state, and local levels, sometimes varying from county to county.

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for Rhode Island Businesses

Is your business of importance to the federal government? If so, you’ll need to obtain a federal license, regardless of its location.[1] By important to the federal government, we mean businesses that affect interstate commerce, the environment, or general safety and are thus overseen by federal agencies.

Wondering if your business falls under this category? Check out some of the most common business activities and industries controlled by federal agencies to quickly find out:

  • Agriculture (Department of Agriculture)

  • Alcoholic beverages (Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau)

  • Aviation (Federal Aviation Administration)

  • Firearms, ammunition, and explosives (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives)

  • Maritime transportation (Federal Maritime Commission)

  • Radio and television broadcasting (Federal Communications Commission)

  • Transportation and logistics (Department of Transportation)

For a full list and more details on each industry, visit the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website.

The Castle Hill Lighthouse on the coast of Rhode Island | Swyft Filings

Step 3: Search for Rhode Island Permits and Licenses

The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation regulates state licensing for most Rhode Island businesses.[2] Here are some of the state-level licenses this department issues:

  • Loan broker license

  • Check casher license

  • Lender license

  • Small loan lender

However, the Department of Business Regulation regulates more than just financial businesses. It also regulates businesses in specific industries in Rhode Island. 

For instance, if you own an auto body shop, a real estate business, or a liquor store, you’ll need a license to operate it legally, such as a liquor license. Though all these licenses have separate names, they’re all referred to as commercial licenses in the state of Rhode Island.

But to obtain most of these licenses, you’ll need a sales tax permit first. This legal document allows you to sell or lease products or services in Rhode Island. 

Obtaining this permit involves paying a $10 filing fee, creating an account on the ri.gov website, and submitting your request. Business owners can also apply by mail using the following address:

State of Rhode Island

Division of Taxation

One Capitol Hill

Providence, Rhode Island 02908

Step 4: Search for Local County or City Rhode Island Business Licenses

Due to the sheer number of counties and municipalities in Rhode Island, it can be tricky to determine which local licenses your business needs. Since this information isn’t always readily available online, your best bet is to contact your local tax office and inquire about your business.

For example, the city of Providence requires business licenses for many types of businesses operating in the city.[3] Some of the businesses that must obtain a license from the Providence Board of Licenses include the following:

  • Liquor stores

  • Second-hand shops

  • Pawnbrokers

  • Motor vehicle repair businesses

  • Employment agencies

  • Private detectives

Warwick is no different. For instance, you’ll need a license to work as a palm reader, permanent makeup technician, or a fireworks vendor in this city.[4]

Step 5: Search for Rhode Island Professional Licenses

Besides licensing your business, you might need to obtain an official certification to offer your services legally. These certifications are known as professional licenses and only refer to specific professions, including the following:

  • Accountants

  • Architects

  • Attorneys

  • Chiropractors

  • Doctors

  • Dentists

  • Physical therapists

  • Veterinarians

To ensure compliance, check whether your profession requires a license in Rhode Island before launching your business. You can do so by combing through the Department of Business Regulation’s website or contacting them directly.

Alternatively, you can work with a third-party service, like Swyft Filings, that can take care of the research for you.

Step 6: Apply for a Rhode Island Home-Based Business License

Are you considering opening a home-based business in Rhode Island? If so, this type of business also comes with specific licensing requirements. Some might be the same as the ones other Rhode Island businesses are subject to, while others might be specific to your home occupation.

For example, a home-based childcare business will require a specific license and several permits, including those pertaining to health, safety, and fire hazards.

Step 7: Maintain Your Rhode Island Business License

Once you obtain your business license, don’t forget you must renew it after a year or two. The exact renewal period depends on the type of license(s) your business requires.

For example, the Rhode Island sales tax license must be renewed annually. Luckily, you can do this online after paying a $10 renewal fee.

However, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have only one business license to take care of. Forget to renew even one license or permit, and you can face hefty fines and misdemeanor charges. To avoid this unfortunate scenario, we can take care of renewing your business licenses.

Apply for a Rhode Island Business License Online

With Swyft Filings’s Business License service, you won’t experience any downsides of the business licensing process in Rhode Island. We only need some basic information from you, and we’ll handle the rest. Doing extensive research, submitting business license applications, and renewing them — leave it all in our capable hands.

Stay Compliant in Rhode Island 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

FAQs

How do I get a business license in Rhode Island?

To get a business license in Rhode Island, you must apply through the appropriate regulatory body. For instance, obtaining a sales tax license goes through the Rhode Island Division of Taxation. In contrast, many state-level professional licenses require submitting a request to the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation. For local licensing, turn to your city clerk’s office.

Does Rhode Island require a general business license?

No, Rhode Island doesn’t require a general business license. However, most businesses will need at least one license to operate, whether a sales tax permit or a professional license.

Can you sell things in Rhode Island without a license?

No, you can’t sell things in Rhode Island without a license. Get a sales tax license, also known as a Permit to Make Sales at Retail, from the RI Division of Taxation before selling products to consumers.

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

No, you don’t need a special license for an online business in Rhode Island. Online and brick-and-mortar stores require the same license(s), starting with a sales tax permit.

Can I collect sales tax in Rhode Island without a license?

You can’t collect sales tax in Rhode Island without a license. You'll need a sales tax license to collect sales tax. This license is also known as a Permit to Make Sales at Retail or a seller’s permit.

How much does a Rhode Island business license cost?

The cost of a Rhode Island business license depends on the license type and your business’s location and industry. The most common license, the Rhode Island sales tax license, costs $10 annually.

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

The penalty for not having a business license in Rhode Island is a misdemeanor conviction and a fine of up to $500.


Bibliography

  1. U.S. Small Business Administration. “Apply for licenses and permits.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  2. State of Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation. “About the Department of Business Regulation.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  3. City of Providence, RI. “Welcome to the Board of Licenses!” Accessed July 25, 2023.

  4. City of Warwick Police Department. “Licenses & Permits.” Accessed July 25, 2023.

Originally published on September 20, 2023, and last edited on October 17, 2023.

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