How to Get a Business License in Pennsylvania and Some Helpful Resources
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. Now that he’s starting a new venture with Brazas BBQ Chicken, a 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 begin with, every business in Philadelphia must obtain a business activity license to operate in the city. And depending on your activity (restaurant, apartment rental, entertainment, etc.), you will need to apply for 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 registered with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia. I also belong to the 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.
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.
» READ MORE: How to Get a Small Business Loan in Philadelphia
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 business license from the city, you will pay $0. However, if you need a food preparation and serving license, you might be looking at licensing fees of $275 to $415. Food Truck licenses cost $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.”
“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 get started.
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 get started.
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, plus 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 (CDCs) 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, Elders 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 broadcasting, and transportation. You can find help with federal business licenses from free advisors using the SBA’s help search engine.
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 apply for them at pals.pa.gov.
The City of Philadelphia has a list of all business licenses offered by the city on its 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.