How to Get a DC Business License

Man wearing a mask while barbering a young boy's hair.

Whether you’ve been dreaming of opening your business for years or you had a recent epiphany, starting a new company is an exciting time. You get to come up with your business name and dream about the success you hope to build.

Before you get ahead of yourself, though, you should know that creating a business in the nation’s capital may come with some red tape. Registrations, licensure, and insurance are beneficial to you, your customers, and the government. So you should consider educating yourself on requirements so you get it right the first time.

Digging through government websites is hard, as my computer can attest to, as I have too many tabs open at once. Fortunately, you won’t have to start from scratch when it’s time to get your DC business license.

That’s because we’ve done the research and broken down the complex process into a few steps. Let’s get started.

Do I Need a DC Business License?

The first question people ask when they learn about DC business licenses is, “Do I need one?” If you’re operating in Washington, DC, the answer is “it depends.”

There’s no one-size-fits-all obligation. Instead, qualifications depend on your occupation and your specific business activities.

Today we’ll be exploring what it takes to get a license for businesses such as barbers, contractors, and tow truck drivers, for example. If you’ll be selling goods from a public place, like a hot dog stand or ice cream truck, you most likely need a vending license.

Keep in mind that if you have additional locations in Maryland or Virginia, you may need to secure licenses there as well.

How Do I Get a Washington, DC Business License?

1. Register your business.

Before you can apply for a basic business license (BBL) in DC, you need to register your company. The three registration steps to typically complete this process are:

  • 1.Setting up a corporate entity, such as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC)
  • 2.Registering with the IRS for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) for taxes
  • 3.Filing your business location with the Office of the Zoning Administrator to get a Certificate of Occupancy (COO) or a Home Occupation Permit (HOP)

These steps typically apply to all businesses in DC, even if you don’t have occupation-specific obligations.

2. Find your licensing requirements.

After registering your business, it’s time to check for prerequisites related to your business type. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) offers licenses for 12 categories and 24 regulated industries. After finding your business on the list, click on the related link for requirements, fees, and applications.

Examples of prerequisites for various industries may include:

If you want to make life even easier, check out the Washington, DC Business Wizard. This tool allows you to answer a few questions and receive a personalized checklist for getting licensed.

3. Prepare your supporting documents.

Besides documents based on your business type, you’ll need a few extra documents for your application. Before you apply, make sure you’ve completed the following:

DC business license applications are typically straightforward, but it helps to have all of your information handy. Here’s what we suggest having to make the process as easy as possible, we suggest having the following:

  • Personal information like your name, SSN, driver’s license number, address, and phone number
  • Business information including your trade name, Federal Tax ID or EIN, address, and phone number
  • Certificate of insurance (COI), if applicable

4. Choose to apply in person, online, or via mail.

Once you’ve gathered all of your information, you’re ready to submit your application! I’ve spent the past few weeks learning about state licensing requirements across the country, and DC’s application is very accessible. . To submit your application, you can:

  • Apply online with the Washington, DC Business Center website, and print your license right then for some categories.
  • Visit the DCRA Business License Center to apply in person, with no appointment necessary.
  • Send your application, supporting materials, and a check for the application fee to the DC Treasurer.

How Much Does a Basic Business License Cost in DC?

Each DC business license comes with a fee, and the cost depends on your business type. You’ll also need to renew it every two or four years. Since prices vary, the best place to find your fee is with the DCRA or DC Business Wizard. I’ve compiled a list of current licensing fees for a few business types:

DC Business License + Insurance Info

You may have noticed a mention of a Certificate of Insurance (COI) in the section regarding supporting documents. Laws between states and districts vary, but some businesses need to show proof of general liability insurance to start their business.

Business insurance can potentially help cover costs in case of accidents, third-party property damage, and more. Plus, it can give potential customers peace of mind and build trust in your business.

Examples of DC occupations with business insurance requirements:

Even if insurance isn’t required to submit your application, it’s a smart business move to have it. Accidents can happen to anyone, and taking a few minutes to use our free quote comparison tool to see policy coverage options could save you trouble down the road.

Applying for a DC Business License?

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

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

Getting a Business License Is the Next Step in Your Journey

I get it — looking at all of the forms and fees for licensure can be overwhelming. There seems to be so many forms to complete and government agencies to work with. Taking a few minutes each day to chip away at your application is important, though.

Besides the fact that you may need a DC business license to make your first sale, getting set up properly is essential for your reputation. It shows customers that you’re serious about your business and it may be useful in fulfilling your business’s leasing obligations. It also could help you if you decide to apply for business financing.

Whatever your aspirations may be, know that they start here and now. It will be worth it in the long run.

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.