How to Get a San Diego Business License


Beautiful weather. Pristine beaches. An abundance of indoor and outdoor attractions and activities. No wonder San Diego is sometimes called “America’s Finest City.” It’s the place to be for those who like to be active.

It’s also the place to be if you’re a small business owner. After all, the appeal doesn’t happen all on its own. People are drawn there for more than just the climate. Small businesses are a big part of the allure.

According to this study, small businesses are projected to drive San Diego’s economic growth, with 27% of the region’s employees working for a business with fewer than 20 employees.

If you’re looking to dip your toes into the competitive waters and join the ranks of entrepreneurs leading San Diego forward, we can help. First step? Getting a business license — or what the San Diego city government calls a Business Tax Certificate.

In this article, we’ll help you understand how to get one, where to get one, and how much it may cost.

Let’s do it!

Do I Need a Business License in San Diego?

When it comes to business licenses, every state is different. Some states require state licensure. Some don’t. And some states, like California, allow the city or county to decide which rules you need to follow.

So what does that mean for you? If you are going to operate a business within the city of San Diego, then you will need a “Business Tax Certificate.” The certificate is the “business license” in San Diego.

Let’s now take a look at what the city government will want to see when you apply.

San Diego Business License Requirements

Even if you run a business out of your home and haven’t yet earned any money, you still need a San Diego Business Tax Certificate.

When you’re ready to apply for one, we recommend having the following information handy:

  1. Your business name
  2. Your Federal Tax ID or EIN, or
  3. Your Social Security number (if you’re a sole proprietor)
  4. Your business entity (sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, etc.)
  5. Your personal address and phone number
  6. Your seller’s permit number, if you sell goods, as opposed to selling services
  7. The number of employees working for you

Having this information at hand will streamline the application process.

The City of San Diego requires that you apply within 15 days of opening the doors to your business or you may be required to pay late fees and penalties.

Depending on the type of business you run, you also may need special permits in addition to your Business Tax Certificate.

For example, let’s say you’re a sidewalk vendor selling goods. For this business, you also must obtain a sidewalk-vending permit in order to operate your business in San Diego.

How to Get a San Diego Business License

Now let’s look at the application process, including how and where to apply.

San Diego business license application

If you want hard copies of the application to complete and mail in (or submit in person), you can find the instructions here and the application here.

If you prefer to do it online, you can do that too. San Diego business license online applications can be submitted 24/7. However, you must register for a user name and password before you can begin the application process.

Heads up: When you list your business address on the application, you’re self-certifying that your business activity is allowed in the area where you conduct business.

If you’re unsure, check out San Diego’s Zoning Grid Map.

Where do I get a San Diego Business license?

To get a business license — or Business Tax Certificate — in San Diego, you can apply online, by mail, or in person at the Civic Center Plaza in downtown (Suite 100).

As I mentioned before, if you apply online, you will first be asked to create an online customer account. Then you can begin the actual application process.

If you prefer to submit your information by mail, here’s the address (don’t forget to submit your fee with the application):

Office of the City Treasurer

Business Tax Program

PO Box 122289

San Diego, CA 92112-2289

How Much Is a San Diego Business License?

The cost of the Business Tax Certificate depends on the number of workers you employ.

If you have 12 or fewer employees working for you, your business is considered “small.” You’ll pay a flat fee of $34 per year.

If you have more than 12 employees, your business is considered “large.” You’ll owe $125 plus $5 for each additional individual over 13 employees.

No matter the size of your business, you’ll also need to pay a $4 fee mandated by state law SB 1186. And you also might need to pay an additional zoning fee, depending on where your business is located.

What if I forget to pay the San Diego business tax?

If you forget to pay your San Diego business tax within 15 days of when your business starts, you’ll be charged a late fee of either $25 or 10% of your bill, whichever is greater.

And if you’re found conducting business in San Diego without a Business Tax Certificate, you’ll be charged a $68 penalty (for a small business) or $250 (for a large business).

Certificate + Insurance = Peace of Mind

Getting your Business Tax Certificate not only satisfies San Diego’s rules and requirements, it also can help ensure trust from customers and vendors.

But you know what else can help with that? Not to mention providing peace of mind for you? Business insurance.

In California, small businesses are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance only if they employ one or more employees. Other types of coverage, such as general liability are not required.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get that coverage.

We suggest taking the time to shop for business insurance while applying for your business license. It could have great benefits for you down the road. Business insurance coverage can help:

  • Prevent you from paying out of pocket for claims and lawsuits
  • Fulfill landlord or vendor requirements
  • Put potential customers at ease by demonstrating that you take their protection seriously
  • Protect both your personal and business finances against lawsuits
  • Secure loans, grants, or other financial funding

If you are curious about what business insurance coverage may cost in San Diego, you can get a customized quote in minutes, using our handy online quote tool.

Or if you want to talk to a helpful human (one of our licensed insurance agents), you can give us a call at 844-654-7272. We’re here Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET). We’ll answer your questions and help you get what you need for your business.

Get Insured in Under 10 Minutes

Get an affordable & customized policy in just minutes. So you can get back to what matters: Your business.

Good Luck with the Application Process!

The hardest part about getting a San Diego business license? Knowing where to begin.

Understanding both California and city regulations and processes, as well as tracking down all the information you need, can feel tedious and overwhelming.

But hopefully, this article will help streamline the process for you. Because the sooner you can get your business running, the sooner you can get to work and be one of the entrepreneurs leading San Diego forward. Best of luck!

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.