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How to Get a Massachusetts Business License

3-minute read

A food truck with a Massachusetts business license cashes out a customer.
Mariah Bliss

Mariah Bliss

7 December 2021

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Ah, Massachusetts. It's home to beautiful fall foliage, several championship titles (Go, Pats!), and the second-most Dunkin' stores per capita in the entire country (but we’re not mad about #1 at all).

Also, Massachusetts is home to an in-depth — and sometimes confusing — business license application process. And unfortunately, Massachusetts happens to require many new business owners to register before being allowed to operate.

Fortunately, we’ve got the scoop on how to get a Massachusetts business license without having to tear your hair out.

From registering a Massachusetts business to how to tell if you need specialty licenses, you’ll find most of those answers — and more — here!

Signs You Need One

Chances are, if you’re opening your doors in MA, you probably need a license.

But here’s the thing: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in the Commonwealth. Instead, the Commonwealth breaks licenses down into three main categories:

  • A "Doing Business As" (DBA) certificate
  • A business certificate for LLCs and corporations
  • A specialty or professional license

Depending on what you do and how your business entity is set up, you may need just one of these licenses, or you may need all three. Regardless, the next section explores the steps you need to take to get each type of MA business license.

But before we move on, let’s take a minute to explore why you need a business license.

After all, if you’re not sure what the value might be, it’s tough to prioritize getting it, especially if you’re already busy (and as a business owner, you are!).

Getting a license can unlock a lot of potential . For example, it can help:

  • Establish you as a credible and trustworthy owner
  • Meet any state requirements for your trade or profession
  • Fulfill obligations for a commercial lease of an office or building
  • Make it easier to open up a second location
  • Keep you on the right side of the law
  • And more!

Convinced? Good! Let’s finally solve the mystery of how to get an MA business license.

What You Need to Know to Register a Business

1. If you’re a sole proprietor, you may only need just a business certificate.

The business certificate is more commonly known as a "Doing Business As" (DBA) certificate, which is filed at the city or county level. This certificate essentially lets a town know that you’re running a business within its vicinity.

The process for getting a Massachusetts business certificate is straightforward: Most cities allow you to download an application to be sent through the mail. You also can apply in person at the City Clerk’s office, but we recommend checking their office hours before choosing this option.

DBAs are relatively inexpensive to get (although subject to change). Some major cities charge $50 for a DBA, while some smaller towns typically charge $20 for a business certificate. Keep an eye out for filing fees, which typically take on an extra $20 to $40 for the total cost of getting licensed.

Each city has its own website where you can find out the steps you need to take to get your DBA. To find your city’s website, head to the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s site and search through the directory here.

Helpful hint: If you’re on a town’s website and you’re having trouble finding where to apply for a business certificate, look for the "Town Clerk" section (usually under "Departments") and explore from there. That’s usually where you’ll find information on registering a business in Massachusetts.

2. If you’re an LLC or corporation, you’ll need to register with the state.

Registering a business in Massachusetts is slightly different from getting a DBA, as this process is done through the Secretary of State’s office (instead of at the local level).

If your business is incorporated as a limited liability company (LLC), you can register online here.

If your business is incorporated as a profit, professional, or nonprofit corporation, select your business type, and follow the prompts to register online here.

You also can apply by mail or walk-in, although you may need an appointment for the walk-in. If you want to use these options to register your business, head to the "Mail or Walk In" section of the Secretary of State’s website and follow the instructions.

3. Check to see if you need a specialty or professional license.

The state requires certain entities and trades to apply for specialty licenses. These trades include:

  • Contractors
  • Electricians
  • Some healthcare providers
  • Services that use pesticides
  • Towing companies
  • And more

You can see if you need to get a specialty license or permit here.

Here’s another helpful hint: We’ve created a guide for contractors on how to get a Massachusetts contractors license. Our guide breaks down the exact steps to take to apply for your contractor’s license, so you can start working sooner.

Insurance Requirements

Depending on where you’re registering your business, you may be required to show proof of business insurance.

For example, if you have employees, you’re required at the federal level to carry a workers compensation policy. As another example, some professional licensing requirements may include carrying general liability insurance or professional liability insurance.

Because different cities have different requirements, it’s a good idea to have a business insurance policy right from the get-go. That way, you won’t find yourself being held up in the application process by insurance requirements.

If you need a policy — or if you want to check if you can get a cheaper one — try our free quote comparison tool. It’s a great way to compare policies from the country’s top insurance providers, including how much they cost and what kind of coverage they carry.

Plus, you can buy right online or over the phone — whichever option works best for you!

Before you apply.

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

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

Start Here >

A Breakdown of License Fees

MA business license fees differ by city and town, so the answer really depends on where you’re applying.

As previously mentioned, business license fees in Massachusetts aren’t ridiculously expensive; most run anywhere between $20 to $50 to apply.

If you need to get a specialty license, you may need to pay a little more. For example, if you need a Home Improvement Contractor License, you should expect to pay $150 with your application.

Note: These fees are current as of the date of this post and may be subject to change.

Enjoy Being a Licensed Massachusetts Business!

No matter what type of business you own, getting your license opens up a world of opportunities to you. Plus, having one can help keep you focused on running your business instead of worrying about getting penalized for not being licensed.

Congratulations on starting your new business venture in our beautiful Bay State!

Mariah Bliss

Written by

Mariah Bliss

I love writing about the small business experience because I happen to be a small business owner - I've had a freelance copywriting business for over 10 years. In addition to that, I also head up the content strategy here at Simply Business. Reach out if you have a great idea for an article or just want to say hi!

Mariah writes on a number of topics such as small business planning, contractor insurance, and business licenses.

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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