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PROTECT YOUR BUSINESS

Getting a Washington State Business License: A Simple Guide

6-minute read

Kat Ambrose

Kat Ambrose

22 October 2020

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Are you running a small business in Washington state? If so, you’ll likely need a business license.

Getting a business license may seem like an overwhelming task to add to your never-ending to-do list. Especially since Washington State typically requires you to obtain business licenses at both the state and local levels and apply for additional permits depending on your business’s nature, it can be a confusing process.

But that’s why we’re here! We’ve done all the digging for you, so with this article, you’ll know how to get a Washington state business license and what steps you usually need to take to get one.

Let’s get started.

Do I Need a Washington State Business License?

If you run a business in the state of Washington, it makes sense that you’d also need a Washington business license and the appropriate permits to operate in compliance with the law.

But what if you’re a freelancer? Or what if you turned your hobby into a business from home?

Even then, you will likely need to apply for a Washington state business license.

Why? Well, some reasons may be that getting a business license can help the state identify your business for reasons such as taxes, protecting the public, and holding your business accountable in the case of any legal action.

Failing to have a current business license could mean that your business is out of compliance in various ways. If you don’t have the proper licenses, both the city and county governments potentially could:

  • Enforce fines and penalties
  • Prevent your business from opening other locations
  • Lock up your existing location, preventing you from entering
  • And more

But what about when it comes to your clients or customers? Without a business license, you could be risking things like:

  • Your credibility and trustworthiness as a business
  • Your ability to market your business
  • And more!

You know the “why” behind needing a Washington state business license; now let’s take a look at how you can apply for one.

How to Get a Business License in Washington

You may know how to get a business license in Washington, but maybe you still aren’t sure if your unique business requires one. If one of the following statements applies to your business, it’s a smart idea to apply for a business license:

  • Your business requires city and state endorsements
  • Your business name is different from your full legal name
  • You plan to hire employees within the next 90 days
  • Your business sells a product or service that requires you to collect sales tax
  • Your gross income is $12,000 or more annually
  • Your business must pay taxes or fees to the Department of Revenue
  • Your business buys or processes specialty wood products

Also, if your business structure falls into one of the following categories, you’ll need to file with the Washington Secretary of State before applying for your business license:

  • Washington (Domestic) Corporation
  • Washington (Domestic) Partnership
  • Washington (Domestic) Liability Company
  • Washington (Domestic) Limited Liability Partnership

It is important to note that the categories above are not listed in full - there could be other reasons you are required to get a business license in Washington depending on your business.

Now that you know what the requirements are to apply for a business license, let’s look at how to approach it.

Step 1: Gather your business details and documents.

Before you start your application, it’s a good idea to have all your documents and business information on hand. This includes:

  • Your Certificate of Insurance (COI) for your business insurance policy
  • Your business name
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Your personal contact information
  • Your business’s contact information (if different from your personal contact information)
  • Your business entity type
  • Your seller's permit number (if you sell goods)
  • Your Federal Tax ID or EIN, or Social Security number
  • Your business plan, including information like anticipated revenue and expenses

That way, when you apply for your business license, you won’t be running around trying to find this essential information.

It’s also a good idea to apply for your business license on a desktop or laptop computer, as at the moment, some Washington state city and county websites may not be compatible with a mobile device.

Step 2: Submit your application.

Through Washington’s Business Licensing Wizard, you have the option to apply online or by mail. Visit the Business Licensing Wizard portal to start a scenario and download the forms you need to apply.

If you apply online, applications are typically processed within 10 business days. Then, create an account with the My DOR system. This system is where you can file your taxes, as well as update your business’s contact information or record a change in business activities.

If you apply by mail, complete the application and any other required forms and mail the documents to the address shown on the form. Mail-in applications may take up to six weeks to process. So if you’re looking for a faster method to obtain your business license, it’s worth considering applying online, if possible.

Washington Business License Costs

For all business licenses, a nonrefundable fee is required for each application. The fee breakdown by business situation is:

  • Open/reopen a business — $90
  • Add an additional location — $0
  • Add a city Nonresident Business Endorsement to an existing location — $0
  • Any other purpose — $19 (e.g., if you’re hiring an employee, registering a trade name, etc.)
  • Annual Renewal processing fee — $10

It’s important to note that you must review your Washington State business license annually. You’ll be required to pay the $10 fee no matter how many endorsements you possess.

Keep in mind that depending on the city you operate your business in, your fees may vary. Be sure to check out this page on the Washington State Department of Revenue website to confirm the most up to date required fees.

Also, depending on your business’s nature, you may be required to obtain a state endorsement. For example, if you’re a private investigator or architect firm, you’ll typically need a state endorsement. For more information on state endorsements, visit this page of the Washington State Department of Revenue website.

Washington State Business License + Insurance: What You Need to Know

Once you’ve applied and your application is approved, you may receive information from some or all of these agencies. We advise you to keep this information handy if you need to refer to it at some point.

Department of Revenue

You’re required by the Department of Revenue to file an excise tax return either monthly, quarterly, or annually, even if you have no business to report for a particular time frame. The Department of Revenue will usually assign you a filing frequency once you apply.

You’ll receive a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number to be used when you file your taxes or if you need to make any changes to your business. You’ll also receive your business license, with any endorsements you requested. The Department of Revenue advises to not start any business activity until you receive this license.

After you receive your Washington business license, you must display/post the license at every business location.

Employment Security Department and the Department of Labor & Industries

If you plan on hiring employees, you’ll be required to submit quarterly reports for all active employees. If you don’t have any employees at the time, you’re still required to submit a quarterly report. You can write “0” in the active hours’ space.

The state of Washington may require you to have workers compensation insurance, depending on the nature of your business. For example, if you’re a contractor and have several employees working for you, having this insurance coverage is likely a good idea.

Federal, state, and local requirements

Depending on your business, there may be additional state or local agencies you’ll need to contact. You can find this information in the Business Licensing Wizard.

For example, if you’re a contractor, there may be additional requirements for you to follow. You can find that information here.

In addition to your business license, it’s also important to think about business insurance if you don’t currently have a policy in place. Adding a general liability insurance policy to your insurance plan is a great way to protect your business and assets, as well as cover you from excessive fines and fees that you may encounter.

Washington state requires businesses that have employees to have workers compensation insurance. Having this insurance coverage means that both you and your employees are protected if injuries, sickness, or other events occur while on the job.

If you need assistance getting business insurance or want to learn more, our team of experts are standing by, ready to help. You also can check out our free quote tool to start comparing quotes in minutes.

Applying for an WA Business License?

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

That’s where we come in. Compare free insurance quotes for policies as low as $25.95/month.*

Start My Quote

Obtaining a Washington State Business License Will Help You Grow

Business licenses are essential for several reasons. But perhaps the most important reason is that a business license can help your business grow.

As a licensed business, your customers may feel more inclined to work with an “official” business. A business license also can protect you from fines or getting into potential legal hot water for not being in compliance with the law.

The application process may call for some dedicated time out of your busy day, but the benefits far outweigh the application process!

* Monthly payment calculations (i) do not include initial premium down payment and (ii) may vary by state, insurance provider, and nature of your business. Averages based on Q1 2020 data of 10% of our total policies sold.

Kat Ambrose

Written by

Kat Ambrose

I’m a writer who specializes in creating value-packed blog content for eCommerce and SaaS companies and small businesses. When I'm not writing, I’m probably out running, checking out a thriller novel—or two—from the library, or trying to pet the nearest dog.

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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