New York is a place of big dreams, rolling mountain ranges, famous pizza, and more. Wherever you live in the state, one thing is certain — small business owners like you are the heart of their communities.
With small businesses (100 employees or fewer) comprising 98% of all New York businesses, there’s no shortage of people like you who have taken a chance on their dreams of running a business.
Before you join the ranks of business owners, you may need to secure a New York business license. To help save you time, we’ve researched the process and broken it down into a few manageable steps.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know where to find the requirements that apply to your business and what to do next.
Ready? Let’s go!
While every driver needs a driver’s license, not every business owner needs a business license. While there’s no universal state process, there’s still a good chance you’ll need one.
Your license obligations depend on your business type and where you will work. At the state level, the Department of State Division of Licensing Services oversees 35 occupations, such as barbers and real estate appraisers.
Even businesses that don’t need a state license still need to do a little more research. Your city or county might regulate industries that the state doesn’t, so a local business license may be in order.
The first step in getting your business license is finding out exactly what obligations you have. To start, review this New York State site to explore different types of licenses. You’ll also find useful business starter guides on the NY Business Express site.
My favorite tool, and the one I recommend most, is the Business Wizard. This is a simple tool that asks questions about your business and gives you a custom checklist of what rules apply to you. As far as state government websites and tools go, it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen.
After getting your checklist from the Wizard, it’s time to shift your attention to your neighborhood. Visit your city and county’s website to find New York business license requirements, fees, and applications.
To get you started, I’ve listed links for some of the state’s largest cities:
Before you get mad at me for ignoring NYC, we have a section for the Big Apple below.
The reason state and local governments have different license prerequisites for each occupation is the unique skills and impact of each job.
For example, general contractors in New York need to prove they have experience and training. An incompetent business owner going in to fix something in a client’s home could lead to damage or even injury. So licenses protect the reputation of the industry as a whole and especially consumers in the state.
Licensing applications also may include unique forms or certificates. If a camera supply store in the state offers photo development services, they must submit a form related to the business’s impact on groundwater.
Depending on your occupation’s requirements, you might need to take a course or exam, prove your experience and education, or apply for certificates.
After you’ve completed any extra business license steps such as examinations, you’re ready to apply for your license. Each license may vary, but you’ll likely be able to apply online on the New York State License Center website. There also will be an application fee, but we’ll explore that a little further down.
The application will ask about you and your business, so it’s helpful to have the following info handy:
Before you start looking for your license requirements in New York City, check state laws with the NYS Business Wizard. Then follow the process I outlined above to secure state-level licensing.
Next, visit the New York City Business Wizard to get your custom checklist. Answering the NYC Wizard’s questions also can help you double-check your state-level to-dos, since each list breaks down steps by federal, county, and city.
An NYC business license application is likely to ask for some of the same information as state licenses. That means you’ll need to know things like your SSN (for sole proprietors) or EIN (for corporations like an LLC). It’s also helpful to have your home and business addresses and phone numbers, along with your driver's license number.
You’ll likely be able to submit your application online, but you should always read directions carefully. If you need to mail in your application, be sure to have everything necessary for the initial mailing to make the process as fast as possible. Be sure to also learn your application fee beforehand, so that you aren’t surprised when it comes time to pay.
Every dollar counts for small business owners, and some startup costs are to be expected. The cost of NY business licenses varies, but they’re usually under a few hundred dollars. To give you an idea, here are some sample costs as of the date of this posting:
The term of each license is also unique. Some licenses require annual renewal, while others are valid for four years. Thankfully, the cost of renewing is often cheaper than getting a new one.
One term that has popped up a few times in this guide is a “Certificate of Insurance.” This is simply proof that your company has general liability coverage. Business insurance could help offset costs from accidents, third-party damage, and more. Having a specific amount of coverage might be required to get some business licenses in New York.
Even in cases without an insurance mandate, it’s a good idea to protect your business. Having a policy can help when renting business space and in building trust with potential customers. Not to mention how your policy could shield your business finances if you were to get sued.
If you don’t have business insurance yet, don’t worry. If you have a few minutes, you can use our free quote comparison tool to get custom quotes from top insurers.
It’s that simple!
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 >
Simply Business’s mission is all about helping small business owners like you. Looking down a long to-do list for setting up your business can be overwhelming, so it helps to take it one step at a time. Just by being here, you’ve set the wheels in motion to build the business of your dreams.
If you have other questions about running a business, check out our blog. You’ll find guides to starting your business, protecting what you’ve created, and taking your company to the next level. We also can help match you with insurance that adapts to your changing needs.
Now get out there and make it happen. We can’t wait to see what you do!
* 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'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.
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.