While people from the mainland think of Hawaii as a vacation spot, savvy locals see opportunities to make their entrepreneurial dreams come true. If you’re ready to make the leap to business ownership, there are a few details to iron out first.
Luckily, the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has an overview of starting a business in the state. You need to choose a name, create a business plan, and decide on a legal business structure. As you work your way down the list of steps to starting a business, you’ll come across a section about licensing and permits.
Nearly any question you might have about getting a Hawaii business license carries the answer, “it depends.” There are a lot of variables, which can make finding the info you need frustrating.
We want to help business owners get up and running as quickly and easily as possible, though, so we’ve created this handy guide on how to get a Hawaii business license.
Let’s get started!
Since you’re likely familiar with driver’s licenses, you already have a basic understanding of business licenses. Both types are issued by the government to ensure you’re qualified and to hold you accountable for your actions.
Here are the Hawaii state business licenses to be aware of:
A General Excise Tax License applies to anyone who “receives income from completing business activities in the state of Hawaii.” Translation — if you’re running a business, you need this tax license.
Depending on your occupation, you might also need a state or county-level business license. Local governments sometimes require business owners such as mechanics and accountants to prove their knowledge or experience in their field before running a business (we'll address that later on). There also are Hawaii business licenses for selling specific items, such as cigarettes.
In the next section, we’ll cover how to get the business licenses that apply to you.
Every business owner needs to apply for a tax license in Hawaii. It’s a simple three-step process to get it going. Here’s what you need to do:
After completing your Hawaii state business license application, you need to check for occupation-specific requirements. State and local governments set their own rules, so you need to check each applicable site to make sure you haven't missed anything.
Check these sites to find statewide requirements that may apply to you:
Next, you need to check for county licensing requirements. Here are links to get you started:
Keep in mind that you may need a Hawaii state business license, local license, or both. If you live in the County of Maui, you can refer to this business guide. Examples help make abstract ideas more concrete, so let’s explore a scenario.
Let’s say you want to open a pawn shop in Maui. You would, of course, need a General Excise Tax License. There are no state-level Hawaii business licenses for pawnbrokers, but you would need one from the County of Maui.
After you’ve done the hard work of finding Hawaii state requirements for your new venture, it’s time to apply. Here are the main things you’ll likely need for your application.
Exam results or proof of knowledge/experience. Not every Hawaii business license requires an exam or proof of education, but some might. For example, a taxicab driver in Maui needs to pass an exam, and athletic trainers in the state need to prove their education.
Personal information. Your application may ask for your name, address, phone number, criminal record, and SSN (if your business is a sole proprietorship).
Business details. Your application also will need your business name, address, Certificate of Insurance (COI), if applicable, and your Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) for taxes.
Depending on which types of Hawaii business licenses you need and which department oversees them, you may be able to apply online, via mail, or in person. You can file for General Excise Tax License applications online, but occupation-specific ones might not have that option.
When it’s time to apply, be sure to read application instructions carefully. Sending all of your supporting documentation in with your application will make the process go faster.
Another item to look out for is renewals. The fees and cadence will vary, but you’ll probably need to update your Hawaii state business license to keep your business legally running for years to come.
You’ll likely need to submit an application fee when you send in your materials for a Hawaii business license. The exact amount varies and may change in the future, but here are a few examples to give you an idea of what to expect:
There’s one final, vital item to cover before we send you on your way. As you explore your license requirements and application, you might find a business insurance requirement. Some business owners need to carry general liability insurance before starting their business.
For example, a bicycle tour operator in Maui needs a $3 million insurance policy. Governments sometimes require businesses to carry a policy that may cover accidents, third-party property damage, and more.
Even scenarios that don’t require business insurance, it’s always a good idea to have it. A single accident in your business could land you in the middle of a lawsuit, complete with legal fees and damages.
If you’d like to get an insurance policy quickly and efficiently before applying for a Hawaii business license, we can help. Simply Business’s free quote comparison tool helps you find custom quotes in just a few minutes.
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 $19.58/month.*Start Here >
Unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, and take a deep breath. Reviewing everything you need to do to set up your business can be daunting. But remember that you don’t need to do it all at once or build a business alone.
Use the guide above to tackle a few tasks a day, and before you know it, you’ll have your Hawaii business licenses in hand. Once you’re ready to move ahead in your journey, we’ll be here to support you. You can check out our other guides to starting your business, or talk to our helpful support team about insurance for your growing brand.
Know that with hard work and perseverance, you’ll look back on this time and be grateful for the effort you put into it. It’s time to grow!
*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 - March 2023 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.
Stephanie writes on a number of topics such as state insurance regulations, business licenses, and small business administration.
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.