How to Get a Washington State Contractors License

A Washington contractor working on the outside frame of a house

Wondering what steps to take when starting your business? Starting out can inspire a lot of questions, including when and how to get a Washington contractor’s license. When it comes to answers, we’ve got you covered.

The idea of starting your own business comes with a whole host of emotions. You’re excited about the possibilities, proud you’re finally taking the step, and likely overwhelmed or confused about the legal side of things. Never fear, Simply Business is here. We’ve scoured the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries website to bring you a simple, how-to guide for getting your Washington contractor license.

Why Do I Need a Washington Contractor’s License?

If you’ve ever taken an exam and paid a fee to get a driver’s license, then the Washington contractor’s license process won’t be completely foreign.

Business licenses make sure that contractors in the state are knowledgeable and reputable. Licensure requires passing an exam and sometimes has experience standards as well.

On the other hand, business registration doesn’t have experience or exam requirements. It’s simply a way for the state to keep track of who is operating a business so that contractors can be held responsible for their actions (or inaction).

Business insurance protects the business owner and their personal assets. Even with precautions, property damage or bodily injury can happen on a job site. Having general liability insurance prevents you from having to pay those damages out of pocket, and it’s also required by the state.

If you decide to skip a few steps and start operating a business without the required license, registration, or insurance, you could be fined and arrested.

After receiving your license or registration from the state of Washington, you’ll be listed on their database of contractors for potential customers to use.

Can I Be My Own General Contractor in Washington State?

Yes. A homeowner is not required to hire a general contractor to make improvements to their own property.

Owner-builders still need to follow the same rules as contractors, so it’s important to check with the local building department or permit office for more information.

In most cases, while you may not need a contractors license, you still may have to pull a building permit and comply with all applicable building codes and ordinances.

How Do You Get a General Contractors License in Washington?

Being organized makes the registration and licensure process much more manageable. Let’s break down how to become a general contractor in Washington into small steps.

1. General contractors vs. specialties

Every state handles contractor licensing differently, and in Washington, general contractors don’t need to apply for a license. Instead, general contractors are required to register. If, however, you’ll be working on the specialty skills listed below, you’ll need to pass an exam.

If you’re a general contractor, you only need to register. General contracting covers:

  • Construction
  • Remodeling
  • Repairing buildings
  • Demolishing

We’ll go over registration requirements and process in a moment.

If you’re a specialty contractor, you must meet education and exam standards to become licensed. There are 63 specialties and project types that you may need to be licensed to perform. The main license categories that have education and exam steps are:

If you have any questions about whether the work you’re planning on doing requires licensure or not, contact your local L&I office or the Contractor Information line at 1-800-647-0982. For this guide, we’ll be focusing on general contractor registration.

2. What you need before registering.

The registration application itself is straightforward, but you do need to take care of a few things before applying. Here’s what you need to send in along with your registration application:

  • Business registration. Your first step is to decide on a business structure, such as a corporation or sole proprietorship. If you set up a sole proprietorship, you’ll need to decide on a name. If you choose to set up an LLC or corporation, contact the Secretary of State.
  • SSN or FEIN. If you’re a sole proprietor, you’ll use your social security number for tac identification. If you set up a business entity, you’ll include your Federal Employer Identification Number.
  • Surety bond. General contractors need to secure a $12,000 surety bond before registering. This ensures you’re able to pay damages for uncompleted work.
  • Business and mailing address. Your business must have a listed non-P.O. Box address, but your mailing address can be a P.O. Box.
  • Previous registration info. If you, your spouse, or any principal owners in your business have ever been a registered contractor, you have to tell the state. They’ll ask for past business names and registration numbers.
  • Worker’s compensation insurance. If you have or will have employees, you need worker’s compensation insurance. Washington also refers to it as “industrial insurance”.

3. Get business insurance.

Business insurance can include a number of different coverages. That’s one of the reasons why it can seem confusing for many small business owners. But you don’t have to be an insurance pro to get the right coverage for your contractor business. That’s what we’re here for.

We work tirelessly to know a lot about insurance and a lot about running a small business. That means we won’t hit you with a ton of insurance jargon while you apply. And we’ll make it as convenient as possible to get covered, either online on the phone.

We can help you compare quotes from the nation’s top carriers with our free quote comparison tool. You also can talk with one of licensed insurance pros at 844-654-7272. They’re here to help Monday through Friday, 8 am to 8pm (ET).

Either way, it’ll take less than 10 minutes to get the right coverage and policies for your business.

Here’s a summary of some of the coverages you may need:

General liability insurance.

The state requires that you have general liability insurance coverage when you apply for a Washington contractors license.

General liability coverage can protect you in the event of third-party accidents, property damage, or injury; it’s a good way to secure your finances in the event of a civil suit if a customer decides to sue you.

General liability can cover you, up to your policy limits, in the event any of these occur:

  • Third-party bodily injury
  • Third-party property damage
  • Personal and advertising injury
  • Claims arising from product defects
  • Medical expenses
  • And more

You’ll need coverage for $200,000 in public liability and $50,000 property damage, or $250,000 combined single limit.

Workers compensation insurance.

If you have or will have employees, you need workers compensation insurance. Washington also refers to it as “industrial insurance.”

If an employee gets sick or injured while working for you, workers compensation could financially cover any resulting claims, up to the limits of your policy.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what workers comp can cover:

  • Medical payments
  • Lost wages
  • Rehabilitation expenses
  • Death benefits

Inland marine insurance.

As a contractor, you depend on your tools. Now imagine what you would do if your tools were stolen, lost, or damaged. Truth is, you couldn’t really do anything.

If you’re like many contractors, you’ve invested a lot of money in your tools and equipment. And like many contractors, having to replace them could take a huge bite out of your wallet.

That’s where inland marine insurance can help. It’s coverage that helps to financially protect the tools and equipment you use while in transport or on a job site.

Inland marine coverage can financially protect your business from occurrences like:

  • Damage to business property
  • Theft of business property
  • And more

Applying for a WA Contractor’s License?

You may need to show proof of business insurance to get your license.

That’s where we come in. Compare insurance quotes today.

4. Sign and notarize your Washington state contractor’s license application.

You’re in the home stretch of getting your Washington general contractor registration. After gathering your documents, you need to fill out an application and have it notarized.

You can either have the application notarized separately, or visit your local L&I office to fill out the forms and apply in person.

What is the Easiest Contractor License to Get?

One of the most common, and often easiest ways that people without any prior experience can gain access to a contractor license is by utilizing either a Responsible Managing Officer (RMO) or Responsible Managing Employee (RME).

With this approach, you are hiring a licensed RMO as a project manager and in essence “borrowing” their license to comply with the law.

Cost of a contractor’s license in Washington state.

Once you have your forms ready, you’ll need to submit them in person at the L&I office, or mail your application, supporting documents, to:

Contractor Registration P.O. BOX 44450 Olympia, WA 98504-4450

Be sure to include and a check, money order, or cash payment of $117.90

Washington State Contractor’s License Renewal fees.

Getting your Washington contractor’s license initially doesn’t mean the work is done. You’ll need to keep your general contractor registration up to date by renewing every year.

If none of your business information has changed, including your bond or insurance, you can simply renew online or via mail. Any changes to your business or coverage will need to be documented, and the renewal fee is $117.90.

If you still have some Washington contractor’s license questions unanswered, check out the state’s Labor and Industries website.

If you still need to get general liability and worker’s comp insurance before you can apply, get a contractor’s insurance quote to ensure you’re covered.

We also have some other guides you might find helpful:

Getting a Washington State Business License

How to Start a Handyman Business.

Stephanie Knapp

I’m a freelance writer who has always had an interest in entrepreneurship, starting way back with lemonade stands. These days I write to help business owners with their everyday challenges and choices. When I’m not typing away, you’ll find me eating pizza, volunteering at the animal shelter, or taking too many pictures of my cats.

Stephanie writes on a number of topics such as state insurance regulations, business licenses, and small business administration.