The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s official slogan is "Pursue Your Happiness." Fitting, because when you start a business, that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Small business owners get the great satisfaction of building something from the ground up — and hopefully seeing it flourish. That’s pretty satisfying. But with great reward comes great responsibility. You have to work hard, and sometimes, that means dealing with administrative work along the way, such as licensing.
Fortunately, the commonwealth makes it easy for an entrepreneur to get started. But they do require you to register with the state and check with your local municipality regarding taxes, zoning requirements, local licenses, and permits.
It’s not too complicated, but it can take some time and effort to get it.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the licensing process in Pennsylvania, so you don’t have to spend hours online, searching for instructions.
After all, you want to get through the licensing paperwork fast and start working!
Here’s the deal. While everyone needs to register their business in Pennsylvania, not everyone necessarily needs a PA business license for it. It depends on what you do and where you work. For example, the state requires many professionals in healthcare or safety to get state licenses first.
You may need to get a business license if you work as a:
But even if you don’t work in healthcare or safety, your local city or town may require a business license anyway. It’s important to check with your local government office first. Usually they have registrations, permits, and zoning requirements to follow.
Fortunately, it’s easy to find your local office’s contact and get Pennsylvania business license information by visiting the PA Business One-Stop Shop website.
Pennsylvania also offers small business development centers across the state. These centers offer a wealth of resources for entrepreneurs, including business consulting services and training. They’re the place to go to make sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s when launching your business or working through the licensing and permit process.
Plus, they can give you guidance and tips on how to grow your operation. Chances are, there’s a center within driving distance of where you work or live.
Here’s something else to consider. Even if your city or town doesn’t require business licenses, you may want to consider getting one anyway. If it’s possible, go for it! Business licenses offer many benefits, especially to new owners. They can:
Convinced yet? If you’re ready to take the next step, I’ll explain how to register and get your license in Pennsylvania.
Every business owner in Pennsylvania — whether they work in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or somewhere in between — needs to register. You’ll likely need to fill out paperwork with the Pennsylvania Department of State, Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, and Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
But don’t worry, the state breaks it down for you and even helps you get your Pennsylvania business license by creating your own registration checklist. The site says it typically only takes about 5 to 7 minutes to get a customized checklist.
Here’s what you can usually expect to see on your business license “to-do” list:
Check with your financial institution and business insurance company to find out if they have any requirements. If you don’t have coverage, now’s the time to look for a policy.
Determine if you need to seek additional registrations, permits, or licenses. Depending on your line of work, you may need a special Pennsylvania business registration.
Make sure your professional licensure is up-to-date. Licensing requirements depend on your profession, but professional licenses are required for people who work in dentistry, law, medicine, accounting, and other similar professions.
Register your business’s name, DBA (“Doing Business As”), and structure with the Pennsylvania Department of State. You can even check if your business’s name is available.
Apply for a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) online.
Register with the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. You can get a PA business tax account online and provide your Workers Compensation Account information (if you have employees).
Depending on where you work, there may be licensing, zoning, and permit requirements in your city or town.
For example, Philadelphia has requirements for most small business owners. You can find out how to get your Philadelphia business license here.
As you pursue a local license, it helps to have this information on hand. It’ll make the paperwork go faster:
Remember, the more information you gather beforehand, the less time it’ll take you to complete licensing paperwork at your local municipal office.
Spoiler alert — starting a business in Pennsylvania has its share of costs. But hopefully, you may be able to recoup the cash once you're up and running.
First, you should expect to pay a fee to register your corporation, partnership, or LLC. You’ll also need to pay a minimal fee for a trademark and to register a fictitious business name. The Pennsylvania Department of State website lists annual costs here.
Your local municipality may require license costs too, but it varies based on where you work. Contact your local office to find out what license and permit fees you should expect to pay — either initially or every year.
Finally, if your profession requires licensing, you’ll likely need to pay a fee too. Usually it’s easy to find out the costs by contacting your local professional board or association.
When you get a business license in Pennsylvania, it’s also a good time to get business insurance.
Usually you’ll need to present a certificate of insurance (COI) to get your business license. But even if you don’t need a license, a business insurance policy is always a good idea.
Here’s why: Business insurance, including general liability insurance and professional liability insurance, may be able to protect you financially if there’s an accident or injury at your worksite. It also can help cover legal costs if you’re engaged in a civil lawsuit.
Trust me, these claims can be costly and enough to close down a small business. You don’t want to be caught without additional financial protection.
If you’re interested in comparing insurance policies in Pennsylvania today, check out Simply Business’s free quote tool. All you have to do is answer a few quick questions about your business. Then it’ll show you policy options that may be able to work well for you.
There’s no better time than right now to protect your business’s future.
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 >
* 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 earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.
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.