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Start a business? Here’s how to get a business license in Pennsylvania

Even for seasoned business owners, like restaurateur Juan Placencia, getting the business licenses you need can be difficult.

“I have a bit of a lead and it was still tough for me to navigate,” Placencia said.

A former owner of two restaurants and recent operator of a cloud kitchen (no restaurant, commercial kitchens for delivery services only), Placencia has gone through the business licensing process many times before and in different states. As he embarks on a new adventure with Brazas BBQ Chickena Peruvian rotisserie chicken restaurant on Philly’s South Street, he’s in the process again.

If you are doing business in Pennsylvania, you need at least one or more licenses.

To get started, every business in Philadelphia needs to get a Commercial activity license to operate in town. And depending on the business you have – restaurant, apartment rentals, entertainment, etc. — you will need to request additional, more specific licenses. It can be tricky.

“One thing I did that was really helpful in trying to navigate getting all of these licenses and permits was to find local groups and organizations specific to your industry or type of business. “, said Placencia. “I signed up for Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. I also belong to Association of Mexican Business Owners of Philadelphia.”

Keep in mind that Philadelphia can be a difficult city to do business with due to taxes and regulations imposed on new and small businesses in the city.

There are many aspects to ensuring your business is above the edge, including registering your business with the state, obtaining a federal tax ID, zoning ordinances , among other business requirements.

This guide will explain how find the business licenses you need and how to apply for them.

Key points to remember

  • Be patient. Obtaining a business license can be a long process with many back and forths between government agencies.
  • Find out which commercial licenses you need government websites, business resource centers or local business organizations.
  • Some commercial licenses cost money. From free to $500, commercial licenses have a wide range of costs depending on your business.
  • Visit the government agency that issues the license you need in person. You can call or visit their website, but the most efficient way to get your questions answered is in person.
  • Document everything. You will receive documents and to-do items along the way that you will need throughout the process. From the agencies you’ve spoken with to the steps you’ve already taken, write it all down and save it for later.

A commercial license is a document that certifies a company to a government agency and allows it to do business in a specific area – like a city, state or country. They come in the form of licenses and permits and are issued by local, state and federal agencies.

Pretty much in any situation you are going to do legal business. Whether you sell products or provide a service, you must be certified to conduct this business through the government.

It depends. Some companies will have licenses free of charge, while others will pay hundreds of dollars in license and permit fees. For example, if your business only needs a Commercial activity license of the city, then you would pay $0. However, if you need a Food preparation and service licenseyou might be looking at between $275 and $415 in license fees. Food Truck licenses are $341.

No – unless you have an official business, such as an LLC or physical store. Most places where you sell things online don’t require you to have a business license. This includes eBay, Facebook, Shopify and Craigslist.

No, because you work for Uber, Lyft, or whatever delivery service hires you. The employer is required to have business licenses, but not you as the driver.

According to Placencia, business owners must do their own due diligence to obtain the licenses they need. In his experience, getting in touch with different government agencies is difficult because the agencies often do not communicate with each other – usually an agency can only answer questions about the specific licenses they issue.

“A phone call with any department or any of these entities is probably the least effective way to communicate or get these questions answered,” he said. “I’ve found the best way to ask questions is to make an appointment or go in person.”

Here’s what you can do to get started:

  • Find the licenses your business needs on the websites of federal, state, and local government agencies.
  • Ask for help from the business resources below.
  • Make an appointment or visit a government agency in person.

“Whoever you speak with, you should definitely document the name and position within the department you spoke with, that way there is a reference for the next time,” Placencia said.

Below are resources you can use to learn more about commercial licenses and get help applying for them.

This free online tool is for Philadelphia business owners to plan, start and grow their business in the city. You can find all commercial licenses you need — by business category — on this site. It will provide a checklist of the documents you need, including business licenses, tax documents and other certificates. Visit business.phila.gov to start.

This free online tool can be used by business owners across Pennsylvania to find out what licenses they need. It provides an interactive checklist and business plan templates to guide you through the process.

You can call 1-833-722-6778 for assistance from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Visit business.pa.gov to start.

These resource centers provide free business services to entrepreneurs throughout Pennsylvania. Here you can receive in-person advice on the business licenses you need, help applying for them, and free business training and events. In the Philadelphia area, Temple University and Widener University have SBDCs. You can seek free business advice online.

🌐 pasbdc.org 📞 877-472-7232

Community Development Corporations (CDC) are non-profit organizations that provide services to communities around housing, employment, businesses and more. You can find information about the licenses you need or find references to other places that can help you. Here is a list of CDC resources for small businesses.

🌐 pacdc.org 📞 215-732-5829📍1315 Walnut St, Suite 1600

A local nonprofit organization that provides workshops, business planning, and small business counseling for entrepreneurs in the Philadelphia area.

🌐 thebizctr.com 📞 215-247-2473 📍 7500 Germantown Avenue, Seniors Room, Suite 113

This free resource center at the Free Library of Philadelphia helps established business owners access a variety of research databases, business resources, and government program information to meet business needs.

🌐 freelibrary.org 📞 215-686-8663 📍 1901 Vine St.

You will need to apply for business licenses from the issuing agency. Each level of government has different websites where you can apply for their licenses.

Find out which federal business licenses you’ll need (if any) on the Small Business Administration (SBA) website. Here you will find information on all licenses issued by the federal government, including agriculture, radio and television broadcastingand transportation. You can find help with federal business licenses from free advisors using the SBA Support Finder.

Pennsylvania Licensing System (PALS) is the website where you will apply for state business licenses. Here you can see all the requirements and documents needed to apply for a license. They offer an application checklist on the homepage to help you through the process. Find out which business licenses you need and request them at pals.pa.gov.

The city of Philadelphia has a list of all business licenses offered by the city on their website. Here you can see if your business is included in the list of business licenses and get instructions on how to apply. For city assistance, visit the Office of Business Services website at business.phila.gov.

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