How to Apply for a Business License in Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA downtown city skyline on Lake Michigan at twilight

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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.

Megan Ferringer
Written by Megan Ferringer
Written byMegan Ferringer
Updated December 20, 2023
Edited by Carlos Serrano
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As a Wisconsin entrepreneur, your state is filled with incredible things. It produces the finest beer, cheese, and sports teams and significantly supports small business owners. 99% of Wisconsin companies qualify as small businesses or start-ups, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).[1]

So, what does it take to be a part of this fast-growing group of small business owners? For many, it starts with getting your business license.

Wisconsin Business License: Key Takeaways

  • In Wisconsin, no general business license is required at the state level.

  • Business licensing is primarily handled at the local level by cities and counties. 

  • The specific requirements and procedures for obtaining a general business license can vary depending on your location and the nature of your business.

Navigate Wisconsin 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 one of the first licenses you’ll need as you start laying the groundwork for your business. Also known as a business tax certificate, it helps your business stay compliant during tax season. 

To legally establish your business in the Badger State, you must wade through a maze of licenses and permits. Similar to other states, Wisconsin doesn’t require a general business license. Instead, various specialty licenses, tax permits, and localized operating permits are necessary to ensure your business complies with the law.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the licenses and permits you might need to run your business in Wisconsin successfully: 

Local Licensing: While Wisconsin doesn’t have a state-level business operating license, local jurisdictions and municipalities often require businesses to obtain specialized operating licenses. These licenses vary depending on your location and the type of business you’re running. For example, Milwaukee offers a diverse range of licenses, covering businesses such as pet stores, bars, bed and breakfasts, and even snowplow operators. 

Specialty State Licenses: Certain industries in Wisconsin may necessitate specialty state licenses, and these requirements are overseen by three primary state departments: The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, the Department of Safety and Professional Services, and the Department of Health. 

Federal Licensing: Sometimes, your business may need federal licensing to operate legally. While federal licenses are relatively rare, they are mandatory for companies involved in specific industries such as agriculture, aviation, firearms, mining, and more. 

Lastly, it’s important to note that obtaining a general business license and registering your business with the state are two separate and distinct steps in the Wisconsin business formation process. 

Get Your Wisconsin Business License in 8 Steps

Understanding the types of licenses and permits you need will significantly help your business (and your ability to stay in business). 

The process of getting a business license will depend on the location of your business and what type of business it is. To help you navigate this process, we break down the state, local, and federal licenses and permits you might need. 

Step 1: Apply for Wisconsin General Business Licenses

As mentioned, Wisconsin has no general business license requirement at the state level. Instead, business licensing is primarily handled at the local level by cities and counties. The specific requirements and procedures for obtaining a local business license can vary depending on your location and the nature of your business. However, depending on your city, business type, or industry, you may need to apply for specific federal, local, and specialty licenses. 

Step 2: Apply for Federal Licenses for Wisconsin Businesses

There isn’t a federal business license that applies universally to all businesses. Instead, federal licenses and permits are typically required for specific industries and activities subject to federal regulation. These industries and activities often involve national interest, public safety, or federal oversight. 

Here are some examples of businesses and activities that may require federal licensing or permits in Wisconsin:[2]

  • Alcoholic Beverage Sales and Distribution: If your business involves the sale, importation, manufacture, or distribution of alcoholic beverages, you will likely need federal licenses and permits from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

  • Agriculture: Certain agricultural activities, such as cultivating and selling certain crops, may require federal licenses or permits from agencies like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • Aviation and Transportation: Companies operating in aviation, ground transportation, or maritime industries often require federal licensing, as these sectors are regulated by various federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

  • Mining and Drilling: Companies involved in mining, drilling for oil and gas, or mineral extraction may need federal permits from agencies like the Bureau of Land Management or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  • Radio and Television Broadcasting: Companies in the broadcasting industry may need licenses from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate radio and television stations.

If your business falls into one of these regulated categories, contact the relevant federal agency to inquire about specific licensing requirements and the application process. Remember that non-compliance with federal regulations in these industries can result in legal and financial penalties.

Step 3: Search for Wisconsin Permits and Licenses

The specific licenses and permits required for businesses in Wisconsin are often industry-specific, and they can vary depending on the nature of your business and its location.

To help you better understand where to start, here is a list of some common types of licenses and permits that Wisconsin businesses may need:

  • Business Tax Registration (Seller’s Permit): Most businesses in Wisconsin must obtain a Business Tax Registration, including the Wisconsin seller’s permit. This permit is necessary if your company sells tangible goods or services subject to sales tax.[3]

  • Food Service License: If your business involves preparing and serving food, you may need a food service license, especially if you run a restaurant, food truck, or catering service.

  • Alcohol License: Establishments that sell alcoholic beverages, like bars, restaurants, and liquor stores, need alcohol licenses. These licenses may have different categories, such as beer and wine licenses or full liquor licenses.

  • Health and Safety Permits: Businesses that provide services related to health and safety, such as tattoo parlors, nail salons, or childcare facilities, may need permits to ensure they meet specific health and safety standards.

Madison, Wisconsin USA Dane County Farmers- Market

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

Once you’ve checked any federal and state requirements off of your list, you should check with your local city authorities for any additional permits that might be needed. That’s because, in some instances, permits might need to be issued by your local government offices instead of state or federal agencies. 

Here are a few examples: 

  • Madison: If you’re opening up a bicycle store, tattoo parlor, or anything that sells second-hand items, for example, you’ll need a business license from the City Clerk’s Office.[4]

  • Kenosha: Businesses like gas stations, towing services, and dog kennels must have a business registration.[5]

  • Green Bay: Some businesses will need a business license, such as those selling alcohol, mobile food vendors, and certain landscape businesses (like tree trimmers).[6]  

You can search for specific Wisconsin state licenses or permits by visiting the state of Wisconsin’s government website. 

Step 5: Search for Wisconsin Professional Licenses

A professional license is required if you’ve pursued special education or training to enter your profession, like doctors, engineers, plumbers, lawyers, teachers, and nurses. The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions usually issues these professional licenses to those with the proper training and education. 

Wisconsin’s Department of Safety and Professional Services and Department of Health Services can provide more information on which professions require special licenses. It’s important to note that many of these professional licenses may be needed at the state and local levels.

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

Are you thinking about running your business out of your own home? If so, the licensing requirements may differ in Wisconsin, depending on where you live and the nature of your business. For example, a childcare or family learning business is more likely to be home-based. It may require specific licenses and permits to operate. 

While Wisconsin has no statewide home-based business license, certain cities and counties will have their own requirements. Waukesha County, for example, doesn’t require a permit to operate a home-based business, but Milwaukee does require a Home Occupation Statement in certain situations. 

It’s important to note that you may also need other types of licenses to operate a business out of a home, like fire, zoning, and signage permits. 

Step 7: Maintain Your Wisconsin Business License

Wisconsin businesses must maintain general state, federal, and professional licenses. The general state and federal licenses expire after one year and are automatically renewed. You’ll need to pay the annual fees to renew. For example, a business tax certificate costs $10 to renew. You are subject to fines or penalties if you don’t renew your business license or permit. 

On the other hand, Wisconsin’s professional license rules differ. To maintain a professional license, individuals must complete additional education or training requirements to recertify. 

To make navigating the license renewal process a little easier, third-party services like Swyft Filings will work with you to ensure you’re always in good standing–and that all your licenses are up-to-date. 

Young businessman working on a tablet of the future, he sees the inscription licensing

Apply for a Wisconsin Business License Online

Now that you understand Wisconsin business license requirements better, it’s time for your next step: Finally submitting your applications. You’ll want to conduct an exhaustive search to ensure you know all requirements.

To make this step more accessible for new business owners, we leverage our experts and database to do the work for you. We’ll pull a comprehensive list of the licenses and permits you’ll need, walk you through the business license application process, and even help you stay on top of renewals so you’re always compliant. That means you’ll be one step closer to your entrepreneurial dreams without the headaches that can come with tedious paperwork. 

If you’re ready to start, contact us today. 

Stay Compliant in Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin?

You can obtain a Wisconsin business license by applying with the relevant licensing or regulatory agency. The agency you apply with will depend on your business’s location and activities.

The application typically requires basic information, such as your LLC name, EIN Number, business address, and contact information. Many also include a questionnaire that asks about your business activity.

Does Wisconsin require a general business license?

Wisconsin does not require a general business license at the state level, but local, city-wide requirements may vary. 

Can you sell things in Wisconsin without a license?

All businesses selling tangible goods or services subject to sales take must acquire a Business Tax Registration, which includes the seller’s permit. 

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

No, but you must obtain a seller’s permit to sell items online. 

Can I collect sales tax in Wisconsin without a license?

If you plan to collect sales tax in Wisconsin, you need a seller’s permit. 

How much does a Wisconsin business license cost?

The filing fees and cost of a Wisconsin business license vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of business, its location, and the specific licenses or permits required.

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

If your business requires a license, not obtaining one could lead to fines and even the closure of your operations. 


  1. US Small Business Administration. “Wisconsin Small Business Economic Profile.” Accessed October 20, 2023. 

  2. US Small Business Adm. “Apply for licenses and permits.” Accessed October 20, 2023. 

  3. State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue. “DOR Business Tax Registration.” Accessed October 20, 2023. 

  4. City of Madison. “Licenses & Permits.” Accessed October 20, 2023.

  5. The City of Kenosha. “Licenses & Permits.” Accessed October 20, 2023.

  6. City of Green Bay. “Other Licenses.” Accessed October 20, 2023.

Originally published on December 20, 2023, and last edited on December 20, 2023.
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