Ah, Massachusetts. 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 their small businesses 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 business in Massachusetts to how to tell if you need a specialty license, you’ll find most of those answers — and more — here!
Chances are, if you’re starting a business in MA, you probably need a Massachusetts business license.
But here’s the thing: There’s no one-size-fits-all business license to get in the Commonwealth. Instead, Massachusetts breaks its business licenses down into three main categories:
Depending on what you do and how your business entity is set up, you may need just one of these, 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 Massachusetts business license can unlock a lot of potential for your business. For example, having your license can help:
Convinced? Good! Let’s finally solve the mystery of how to get an MA business license.
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 your Massachusetts business license.
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 Secretary of State’s site and search through the MA 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.
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 your business online here.
If your business is incorporated as a profit, professional, or nonprofit corporation, select your business type, and follow the prompts to register your business 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.
The state requires certain entities and trades to apply for a specialty Massachusetts business license. These trades include:
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.
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!
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 Here >
MA business license fees differ by city and town, so the answer really depends on where you’re applying.
As previously mentioned, Massachusetts business license fees 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.
No matter what type of business you own, getting your Massachusetts business 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!
* 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 January - December 2020 data of 10% of our total policies sold.
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!
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
*Harborway Insurance policies are underwritten by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by Munich Re, an A+ (Superior) rated insurance carrier by AM Best. Harborway Insurance is a brand name of Harborway Insurance Agency, LLC, a licensed insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. California license #6004217.