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Alameda County Business License Guide

13-minute read

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Chris Bousquet

Chris Bousquet

26 January 2023

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Location. Location. Location. It’s a phrase often used in real estate to emphasize how important location is to property value. The same could be said about its importance to a business.

Yes, the product or service you offer is extremely important. But so, too, is locating your business in the right place, surrounded by the right customers.

Alameda County, known for its diverse culture and geography, might be just that place. It’s the 7th most populous county in California, and Niche research gives it an “A” rating as one of the best places in the U.S. to live. One of the reasons? There’s so much to do.

If you’re thinking about starting your own business in one of Alameda County’s many cities or communities, that’s exciting. If you’re wondering how to make it official, you’ve come to the right place.

One of the first things you’ll need is a business license. That’s a must. And possibly permits. It sounds like a lot, but fear not. That’s why we wrote this article.

I’ll tell you what you need to know about getting an Alameda County business license (it varies from location to location) — and point you in the right direction on other important things, too.

Let’s get started.

What to Know About a County of Alameda Business License

One of the first things you should know about starting a business in Alameda County is that you’ll need a business license. This includes businesses you operate out of your home, such as a child daycare or even an online business. It also includes commercial and residential real estate rentals, as well as vacation rentals.

Another important thing to know - the process for getting your business license might differ, depending on your location. Keep reading and I’ll break it down for you.

How to Get a Business License in Alameda County

There are two ways to get a business license in Alameda County: through the municipality (if your business is located in one of its incorporated 14 cities) or through the county (if your business is located in one of the six unincorporated communities).

The unincorporated communities are:

  • Ashland
  • Castro Valley
  • Cherryland
  • Fairview
  • San Lorenzo
  • Sunol

The incorporated cities are:

  • Alameda
  • Albany
  • Berkeley
  • Dublin
  • Emeryville
  • Fremont
  • Hayward
  • Livermore
  • Newark
  • Oakland
  • Piedmont
  • Pleasanton
  • San Leandro
  • Union

You may ask yourself “What if my business is situated in the city but my services extend out to one of the unincorporated communities?” The answer is you’ll need two business licenses — one from the city and one from the county.

Let’s take a closer look at how it all works.

How to Get a Business License in the Unincorporated Communities of Alameda County

If you plan to do business within any of the unincorporated areas of Alameda County, the county requires you to get a business license.

The good news is you can submit your business license application online, making it as easy and painless as possible. But before you begin, you may want to know the rules:

  1. Alameda County issues business licenses only for the unincorporated communities of Alameda County.
  2. If your business is located within one of Alameda County’s cities , you should contact that respective city (more on that later in this article).
  3. Your business address must be an actual business or residential address (i.e., don’t use a P.O. box number).
  4. The $20 business license application fee is nonrefundable; however, it will be credited toward your first year’s business license tax.
  5. Before applying as any other entity, you must have a business name statement on file with the Alameda County Clerk. If you haven’t decided on a final business name yet, you can create a fictitious one.

Along with applying for your business license, you also may need to apply for a permit, depending on what kind of business you own. For example, if you’re opening an eatery, you’ll probably need a food and restaurant permit.

Other types of permits include:

  • Land use and zoning permits. If you bought a piece of property on which you plan to redevelop an existing structure or put up a new structure, the Planning Department will want to see plans before issuing a permit.
  • Tree permits. Alameda County is serious about protecting its trees. If you’re thinking about pruning or removing trees to make way for your business — or even planting trees around your business — you’ll need to apply for a tree permit.
  • Encroachment and grading permits. Let’s say you found the perfect location for your business but want to use some of the land it’s on to add more parking space. Before you hire a construction crew to make that happen, you’ll need to apply for a permit so that Alameda County can review the plans and make sure you’re satisfying regulations around erosion control and storm drain systems.

How to Get a Business License in the Incorporated areas of Alameda County.

If you’re looking to run a business in one of Alameda County’s 14 incorporated cities, the process for getting a business license goes through the city where your business is located.

No matter which city you go through, the information you’ll need to provide is basically the same. So before filling out your application, you may want to be sure you have the following info on hand:

With these basics behind you, let’s now look at how to get a business license in your specific location.

City of Alameda business license.

The city of Alameda (not to be confused with Alameda County or its unincorporated communities) requires all individuals, partnerships, corporations, and sole proprietors doing business in the city to get a business license.

However, before you fill out the application, you should first complete the zoning clearance form and get it signed by the Permit Center, located at City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue, Room 190.

If you plan to operate your business from your home, you will need a home occupation permit.

Once you have all your ducks in a row, it’s business license time. To apply online, start here. Your other option is to pick up an application at City Hall (printable forms are not available online at this time).

You can also call 510-747-4851 if you have any questions.

City of Albany business license.

Obtaining a business license in Albany goes through the Finance & Administrative Services Department.

License applications are available in person at City Hall, located at 1000 San Pablo Avenue. Or if you prefer to apply electronically, you can get the form here, fill it out, and email it to: [email protected].

To avoid penalties and interest, be sure to get your business license within 15 days of your business start date. City staff are happy to help you through the process and make sure you have the permits and approvals you need. Their phone number is 510-528-5730.

City of Berkeley business license.

In the city of Berkeley, obtaining a business license goes through the Office of Economic Development.

There are two types of applications that can be found here — one that you can fill in digitally then print, or one that you can print then fill out by hand.

There are two ways to submit your application:

  1. Return your application in person at the Customer Service Center: 1947 Center Street, 1st Floor. Or,
  2. Mail your application to: Finance Department, Revenue Collection, 1947 Center Street, 1st Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704.

When you submit your application, be sure your business meets address, zoning, and safety regulations. More information about that can be found here.

City of Berkeley business license renewal.

The city of Berkeley, California requires businesses to renew their business license every year. Licenses expire on December 31 of each year and must be renewed by March 1 of the following year to avoid late fees.

You can renew by mail or in-person. Certain businesses also can renew online. For more information, check out their website.

City of Dublin, CA business license.

In Dublin, obtaining a business license goes through the Community Development Department.

The application can be found here, and you can submit it online. Or if you’d rather handle it in person, you can drop by the Community Development Department at 100 Civic Plaza.

One note that may interest you: Currently, Dublin prides itself on having the lowest business license fees in the Tri-Valley area. A list of those fees can be found here, along with other business license resources and FAQs.

City of Emeryville, CA business license.

The city of Emeryville has created an online business license portal to streamline the process of obtaining (and renewing) a business license.

A printable version of the business license application can be found at the bottom of the page in the “download forms” section,butthe city encourages business owners to file online, as it’s the most efficient way to apply. However, you can call the city at 510-725-4161 or email ([email protected]) if further assistance is needed.

City of Fremont business license.

The city of Fremont issues “business tax certificates” instead of “business licenses.” They are basically the same thing.

There are a few ways to get started:

  1. Apply online
  2. Print the application from the City of Fremont website and mail it back or submit it in person.
  3. Pick an application up at the Revenue Division Cashier Window in the Development Services Center.
  4. Request that an application be mailed to you by calling 510-494-4790.

When filling out the three-page application, you need to provide information on the business you plan to open. It’s more extensive than the list provided earlier in this article. You can find what types of information you need to provide here under the heading “What information do I need to apply for my Fremont business tax certificate?”.

One note: If you plan to operate your business from your home, you also will need to obtain a Fremont home occupation permit, in addition to your business tax certificate.

City of Hayward business license.

The city of Hayward requires every business to have a business license. There are two different application forms, depending on your location.

For businesses operating within Hayward (including home-based businesses), you can find the application form here. For businesses operating outside city limits (e.g., construction contractor), find the application form here.

There are two ways to submit either application:

  1. Fax: 510-583-3644

When the application has been approved, you’ll be contacted with the amount due, along with payment instructions.

City of Livermore business license.

Obtaining a business license in the city of Livermore goes through the Business License Division.

There are three ways you can apply:

  1. Phone. Call 925-215-4906, and you can process your application over the phone.
  2. Online. The business license online application can be found here. Click the “Begin” button to start.
  3. Mail. You also can request an application be mailed to you by calling the same number above — 925-215-4906. Completed forms can be mailed to Livermore’s Business Support Center, 8839 N. Cedar Ave., #212, Fresno, CA 93720.

Payment is not required until your application has been reviewed and accepted.

A few notes regarding at-home Livermore business licenses:

  1. Similar to Fremont, if you plan to operate your business from your home, you will need to obtain a Livermore home occupation permit, in addition to your business license.
  2. If you’re using your home for daycare/childcare, you need to contact the State of California at 510-622-2602.
  3. If you plan to care for more than eight children, you also will need to contact the Livermore Planning Department at 925-960-4450.

City of Newark business license.

The city of Newark specifically identifies four categories of business that require a license:

Click on the link most relevant to you, as there may be additional rules and regulations to know before filling out an application.

After you do that, the business license application form can be found here.

You can either complete the form online or print it out and mail it to:

City of Newark

Business License

37101 Newark Blvd.

Newark, CA 94560

If you’d prefer submitting your application in person, you may want to call first 510-578-4310. According to their website, over-the-counter services may not be available at this time.

The review process takes approximately 10 business days.

City of Oakland business license.

If you do business of any kind in the City of Oakland, you will need a business license. Even renting a room in your home qualifies as “doing business.”

However, prior to applying for a license, you should obtain zoning clearance, if you think that applies to you. The Zoning Department can be reached at 510-238-3911.

After you’ve done that, you can apply for your business license (also called a “business tax certificate”) online or at the Business Tax Office located at 250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 1320, Oakland.

If you choose to apply in person, be aware that walk-in services are available only on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other times are available by appointment by calling 510-238-3704.

For fees and answers to frequently asked questions regarding business licenses, check out this site.

City of Oakland business license renewal.

A business licenses in Oakland needs to be renewed annually by March 1 every year. You can do that by mail, in person, or online.

You can find more details on renewal fees, office hours, and other information on their website.

City of Piedmont, CA business license.

In Piedmont, the City Clerk’s Office issues business licenses. It also coordinates home occupation permits and street use permits, which you also may need, depending on the type of business you own.

The city does not allow online submissions at this time. You must download, complete, sign, and submit all forms either in person or via mail to the City Clerk’s office at 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont.

Or to receive forms by mail, you can call the City Clerk’s Office at 510-420-3040.

City of Pleasanton business license.

The business approval process in the city of Pleasanton often begins with the city’s Permit Center, which is where the Planning, Building, and Engineering departments are located. They can help with everything from zoning and new construction approval to running a home-based business.

You may want to start there. However, getting a business license goes through Pleasanton’s Business License Division. About halfway down the page you’ll see a section named “New application forms available here.”

Note that there are different business license forms, where your business operates from. If your business operates within the city, you’ll need to fill out the in-city form. But if you’re an out-of-city or construction contractor doing business in Pleasanton, fill out the out-of-city form.

Also, if you plan to start a home-based business, you’ll need to submit a home occupation zoning permit, along with your business license application.

According to Pleasanton’s website, mailing and drop-off are the only methods of submission. The address is: 200 Old Bernal. Mailing, PO Box 520, Pleasanton, CA 94566.

City of San Leandro business license.

The city of San Leandro requires anyone conducting any type of business activity in the city to obtain a license before they open their doors for business.

You can apply for a business license online. Or you can apply by calling the Business License Support Center at 510-809-3133.

The City also has a business guide that’s filled with tips for starting a business in San Leandro.

City of Union City business license.

If you plan to carry out business transactions with customers, clients, or tenants in Union City, you need a business license.

Everything you need to know about why you need one and how to get one is contained in this brochure (if the other cities had done this, this article wouldn’t be so long). If you want to skip the brochure and go straight to the application, you can find everything you need right here.

Additional permits and licenses.

I’ve touched on this throughout the article, but it bears repeating. Depending on the type of business you own — and where it’s located — you also may be required to get other types of licenses and permits.

For example, if you plan to handle food, you will need to contact the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health at 510-567-6700. Ask about a health inspection or health permit.

If you’re going to sell alcohol, you will need to contact the Alcoholic Beverage Control and discuss your liquor license.

If you plan to sell tobacco, there’s a separate license for that as well. The same goes for massage establishments.

A good rule of thumb is to contact your local City Hall’s office to determine which additional permits and licenses you may need. This checklist might be helpful to you.

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Protecting Your Business with Insurance

So far, we’ve talked a lot about how to get your business license in Alameda County, and we’ve touched on some of the permits and other licenses that may need to accompany the application.

One thing we haven’t touched on yet — but that’s important in its own right — is insurance. Business insurance may help financially protect you and your company from certain claims associated with accidents, property damage, mistakes, and injuries. Without it, the cost of these claims can cripple any financial gains you’ve worked so hard for.

Types of business insurance to consider.

There are many types of insurance to consider. And the type of business insurance you might need often depends on a number of factors, including the type of business you own and its location. Let’s look at a few:

General liability insurance: Can provide coverage against costs associated with third-party accidents, property damage, and bodily injury.

Professional liability insurance: Can provide coverage if a customer sues your business for mistakes related to your services.

Workers’ compensation insurance: Can protect you and your business if an employee gets hurt, injured, or sick while working on the job. In California, even if you have just one person working for you, you need to purchase a workers’ comp policy.

Home-based business insurance: Designed to help cover your business’ property, equipment, and potentially even client information that’s stored in your home office.

Business personal property insurance: If you rent or own a building, this type of insurance can cover the costs of damage to equipment, furniture, inventory, and more.

We know. Thinking about insurance on top of all the licenses and permits you might need is a lot. But that’s why we’re here — to make things easier for you.

At Simply Business, we specialize in small business insurance, so we can help you get the coverage you need — and help you understand what it is you’re buying.

The process is simple. Spend a few minutes online with our handy quote tool, and we’ll get to work looking for quotes from respected insurers. If you receive one or more quotes, all you have to do is choose the one that’s best for you.

Or if you’d rather speak to one of our licensed (and friendly) insurance agents, give us a call at 844-654-7272, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET). We’ll help you find an insurance policy that suits your business needs so that when your business license application gets approved, you’re good to go with insurance, and you can move forward with some peace of mind.

Business License. Permits. Insurance. Go!

Starting your own business requires a lot of research, planning, and decision-making.

Although this article doesn’t help you write the business plan, hopefully it helps you identify the action items to add to your checklist — and points you in the right direction — so that you can bring your business plan to life.

Just remember: Apply for your business license. Get your permits. And secure your insurance. You got this. Ready. Set. Go!

Chris Bousquet

Written by

Chris Bousquet

I went to college to be an accountant and graduated with a degree in creative writing. Words won out over numbers, but barely. All credit goes to my parents. Had they talked about anything other than banking at the dinner table growing up—and had they never bribed me with Pop-Tarts to read books, play with my Matchbox cars and quietly exercise my imagination—who knows where my left and right brain would be today.

Chris writes on a number of topics such as legal resources, small business taxes, and social media marketing.

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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