How to Apply for a Business License in Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee, USA at Hernando de Soto Bridge at dusk

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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.

Kevin McGrath
Written by Kevin McGrath
Written byKevin McGrath
Updated October 17, 2023
Edited by Carlos Serrano
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With its rich musical heritage, Tennessee offers a vibrant backdrop for small business owners. Did you know that Tennessee’s music industry, centered in Nashville, contributes billions of dollars yearly to the state’s economy?[1] This presents remarkable entrepreneurial opportunities. This comprehensive guide helps you master the business license application process, ensuring you’re well-prepared for your entrepreneurial journey in Tennessee.

Tennessee Business License: Key Takeaways

  1. Understanding the importance of a standard business license in Tennessee is crucial for entrepreneurs looking to tap into the state’s vibrant marketplace. A business license provides legal authorization, ensures compliance with regulations, and establishes credibility in the market. 

  2. Obtaining a business license in Tennessee involves several steps and considerations. While a general business license may not be mandatory statewide, it’s essential to research and fulfill the licensing obligations specific to your city and business type.

  3. Entrepreneurs can streamline obtaining a business license in Tennessee by leveraging the online application platform provided by Swyft Filings. This user-friendly platform simplifies the complex requirements, paperwork, and regulations associated with starting a business. 

Navigate Tennessee 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?

In Tennessee, a business license is a vital permit that authorizes businesses to operate legally within the state. It is a requirement to ensure compliance with Tennessee's regulations and guidelines. Business licensing in Tennessee covers diverse industries, and each type of business may have specific licensing requirements. 

Additionally, it is essential to note that different Tennessee cities may have unique licensing requirements. Entrepreneurs must carefully research and fulfill the licensing obligations specific to their city and business type. 

Benefits of a business license in Tennessee:

  • Legal authorization to operate a business within the state of Tennessee

  • Compliance with state regulations and guidelines

  • Establishes credibility and professionalism in the marketplace

  • Access to state resources, networking events, and business development programs

  • Eligibility for state-specific grants, incentives, and support programs for licensed businesses in Tennessee

Get Your Tennessee Business License in 7 Steps

Embarking on a new business venture in Tennessee? Unlocking the business license process is essential for legal compliance and operational success. Explore the critical steps in obtaining a business license in Tennessee, such as state licenses and occupational tax certificates, to unlock the full potential of your business in the Volunteer State.

Step 1: Apply for Tennessee General Business Licenses

In Tennessee, a general business license is not mandatory. However, it’s crucial to recognize that the state has specific rules and regulations governing business operations. When establishing a business in Tennessee, knowing that each county and city may have distinct requirements for obtaining a business license is essential.[2]

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for Tennessee Businesses

When establishing a business in Tennessee, federal licenses or permits may be required in addition to state and local licenses. Each industry has its own set of regulations overseen by federal agencies. For instance, compliance with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines is necessary if you operate a TV or radio station.  

If your business involves transporting animals or plants across state lines, you may need permits from the Department of Agriculture. Research the federal licensing requirements specific to your industry to ensure compliance and smooth operations for your Tennessee business.[3]

Step 3: Search for Tennessee Permits and Licenses

Knowing the necessary permits and licenses is essential when establishing a business in Tennessee. Here are vital examples to consider:

  • Sales and Use Tax Permit: Businesses selling taxable goods or services in Tennessee must register for a sales and use tax permit with the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

  • Contractor’s License: Construction contractors may need to obtain a contractor’s license from the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors based on the type and value of construction work.

  • Alcohol Beverage License: Establishments selling alcoholic beverages, including bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, must obtain an alcohol beverage license from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

  • Professional Licenses: Certain professions, such as healthcare providers, attorneys, or real estate agents, require professional licenses from state boards or agencies.

  • Home-Based Business Permits: If you plan to operate a business from your home in Tennessee, you may need to check with your local government for any required permits or zoning regulations.

For a comprehensive list of permits and licenses applicable to Tennessee businesses, you can visit the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance website.[4]

The Tennessee state flag waving along with the national flag

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

In Tennessee, specific cities and counties may have licensing requirements that businesses must comply with, irrespective of federal or state-level requirements. Here are a few examples:


Businesses operating in Nashville may need to obtain additional permits or licenses based on their industry. For instance, bars and nightclubs may require a separate liquor license.[5]


In Memphis, all businesses must register with the County Clerk’s Office within 20 days of starting operations to obtain a business license. A separate city business license is also necessary if the business is in a municipality.[6]


As state law mandates, businesses operating within the city limits must have a city and county business license in Knoxville. Exceptions apply to certain professions, manufacturers, and certain disabled persons. You must complete a form and pay the initial business license fee.[7]

Step 5: Search for Tennessee Professional Licenses

In Tennessee, certain professions necessitate professional licenses to ensure public safety and maintain industry standards. Doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, engineers, and contractors typically require specific professional licenses. 

For example, the Tennessee Department of Health must license healthcare professionals. At the same time, teachers must hold a teaching license from the Tennessee Department of Education. 

Suppose you are pursuing a profession that requires licensure. In that case, it is crucial to research and obtain the necessary professional license to practice legally and uphold professional integrity in Tennessee.

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

In Tennessee, home-based businesses may require a home occupation permit or a business license, depending on the local city or county’s regulations. Contact your local city or county offices for specific information on the requirements and application process for a home-based business license in Tennessee.

Step 7: Maintain Your Tennessee Business License

The renewal process for business licenses in Tennessee varies depending on the type of business and the local regulations of the city or county where the company operates. Some licenses may need to be renewed annually. In contrast, others may have different renewal schedules, such as biennial or triennial renewals. 

Tennessee business owners need to understand the specific renewal requirements and timelines for their licenses. Contact the local city or county offices or the Tennessee Department of Revenue for detailed information on business license renewal in Tennessee.

Memphis, Tennessee, USA Downtown Skyline Aerial.

Apply for a Tennessee Business License Online

Are you eager to bring your business idea to life and make a mark in the vibrant Tennessee business landscape? We understand the hurdles you face when acquiring a business license: the confusing regulations, the overwhelming paperwork, and the lack of time to tackle it all. 

We're here to guide you every step of the way. With our intuitive online application platform, we’ve simplified the process, allowing you to apply for your Tennessee business license effortlessly. Don’t let bureaucracy hinder your entrepreneurial spirit.

Stay Compliant in Tennessee 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 Tennessee? 

You can contact your local county clerk’s office or the Tennessee Secretary of State's office to obtain a business license in Tennessee. They will provide the necessary forms and guidance to apply for a business license based on your business type and location.

Does Tennessee require a general business license? 

Tennessee does not require a statewide general business license. However, depending on your business type and location, you may be required to obtain specific licenses or permits at the county or city level. 

Can you sell things in Tennessee without a license? 

Generally, you will need a business license to sell goods or services in Tennessee legally. Operating without a permit may result in penalties or legal consequences. It is essential to check with the local government authorities to ensure compliance with licensing requirements.

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

The need for a special license for an online business in Tennessee depends on the nature of your business. Certain online companies, such as those selling tangible goods or regulated services, may require additional permits or licenses. 

It is advisable to consult with the Tennessee Secretary of State's office and the local government agencies to determine the specific licensing requirements for your online business.

Can I collect sales tax in Tennessee without a license? 

No, to collect sales tax in Tennessee, you must obtain a business tax license permit from the Tennessee Department of Revenue. This permit allows you to legally collect and remit sales tax on behalf of the state.

How much does a Tennessee business license cost? 

A Tennessee business license registration fee varies depending on factors such as the type of business, business location, and annual revenue. The costs vary at the county and city levels as well. It is recommended to contact your local county clerk’s office or the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office for additional information on a specific license fee.

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

Operating a business without the required license in Tennessee can result in penalties and legal consequences. Penalties may include fines, suspension of business activities, or other enforcement actions. It is crucial to comply with licensing requirements to avoid these penalties and maintain good standing with the state and local authorities.


  1. Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. “Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.” Accessed June 25, 2023.

  2. Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. "Licensing & Regulations." Accessed June 25, 2023. 

  3. Federal Trade Commission. "Business Guidance." Accessed June 25, 2023. 

  4. Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. “Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.” Accessed June 25, 2023. 

  5. "Apply for Business License." Accessed June 25, 2023.

  6. Shelby County Government. "Business Tax Division." Accessed June 25, 2023. 

  7. City of Knoxville. "Business License & Tax Office." Accessed June 25, 2023. 

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