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PROTECT YOUR BUSINESS

How to Get Your Pennsylvania Contractor License: A Simple How-To Guide

10-minute read

Kat Ambrose

6 January 2022

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Do you want to become a licensed contractor, handyman, or home renovator in Pennsylvania, but aren't sure where to start?

There's a lot of information out there—a lot of it confusing. The last thing you want to do is miss a step in the process or act on incorrect information. Well, you’re in luck! I've done all the research for you.

This guide includes everything you need to know about how to get a Pennsylvania contractor license.

Let's get started!

Do PA Contractors Need a License?

Unlike other states, Pennsylvania contractors licenses and registration are handled at the city level, not the state level. In other words, depending on where you live will determine the licensure requirements for your specific trade. Also, the specifications vary depending on the type of license you want to obtain.

What Licenses do Contractors in Pennsylvania Need?

With that said, there are two types of contractors who do need state-issued licenses in Pennsylvania. They are crane operators and asbestos and lead removal contractors.

If you’re looking to become a home improvement contractor, there are not any state-level licensing requirements, but you will need to register with the PA Attorney General’s Office.

In addition, there are a few blanket details that apply to all contractors, including:

  • Contractors that meet the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act requirements must register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.
  • Contractors will need general liability and workers compensation insurance, tax identification numbers, and more.

You don't need a state license to work as a handyman in Pennsylvania; however, because of the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act passed in 2008, if you make more than $5,000 doing home improvement work per year, you must register with the Attorney General's Office.

So what's considered home improvement work?

According to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, home improvement projects include things like repairs, remodeling, demolition, installation, etc., "when they are done in connection with land or a portion of the land adjacent to a private residence or a building or a portion of the building which is used or designed to be used as a private residence for which the total cash price of all work agreed upon between the contractor and owner is more than $500."

Under this law, a home improvement contractor includes a subcontractor or independent contractor working with a home improvement retailer to serve that retailer's customers.

Penalties for unlicensed contracting in Pennsylvania.

Much like the requirements for licensing, the penalties for not being licensed vary by municipality. It’s important to know that in addition to any local legal action, working while not registered with the Attorney General’s Office can result in fines of $1,000 or more.

Contractor license vs. contractor registration.

It’s easy to use these terms interchangeably, but it’s important to understand how they relate to getting a contractor license in Pennsylvania.

Licenses - To get a contractors license in many states, you need to meet a number of requirements, including passing an exam. That’s not the case in Pennsylvania. You only need to register at the state level.

Remember, each municipality may have its own licensing requirements.

Registration - Registering a business is often more simple than getting licensed. There is generally less paperwork, fewer fees, and often no exams.

Now, let's take a look at the process of obtaining a license in more detail.

Here's How to Get Your Pennsylvania Contractor License

All contractor licenses and permits are distributed at the city level.

Because PA contractor licenses are handled at the city level, where you operate your business will determine the license you'll need to acquire.

Typically, these requirements pertain to home improvement contractors, electrical contractors (or electricians), and plumbing contractors (or plumbers).

The registration process is simple. To apply, create an account, submit the non-refundable $50 application fee, and register with the Office of Attorney General. You may register for your license online or by mailing your application to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

Of course, completing your registration online is quicker; you'll receive your registration number and a temporary registration certificate immediately after you submit your application.

You'll need to provide information like:

  • The type of business you've filed (e.g., limited liability company, Sole proprietor, etc.)
  • Your business address
  • Personal information like your Social Security Number and your driver's license number

If this is your first time applying, you'll be issued a Pennsylvania Home Improvement Contractor number (PAHIC#), which is unique to you. If you're re-registering, you'll use the same number you were given initially.

Your PAHIC# is how customers can find you within the Pennsylvania Attorney General's database and verify that you're operating legally.

It's mandatory to include this number in all advertisements, contracts, estimates, and proposals you submit in the state of Pennsylvania.

Each registration is valid for two years. For more information about this process, visit the Attorney General's Contractor Frequently Asked Questions page.

Though every contractor follows the same process to apply, there are a few nuances depending on the type of contractor you are. Let's break it down further.

Applying for a PA Contractor’s 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 $22.50/month.*

Start Here >

Does a Handyman Need a License in PA?

If you're interested in becoming a handyman, a builder, or another type of home improvement contractor, simply follow the process outlined above. Just make sure your application is accurate and complete; applications that are not complete will take longer to process.

Visit the Registered Contractors page or call their toll-free number at 1-888-520-6680 to verify your registration once you complete the application process.

Plumbers follow a separate contractor licensing process.

Because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania doesn't oversee the licensure of contractors, those who wish to apply will need to follow their local jurisdiction's process.

Depending on the type of plumber you are will determine the application process for your license in Pennsylvania.

Journeyman and master plumbers need a license, which enables them to work as plumbing contractors. However, apprentice plumbers do not need a license to operate in the state of Pennsylvania.

For more details on the information required for each level of plumbing contractor per city, check out the resources below.

Electricians have their own category of contractors license.

There are a few routes you can take to become a licensed electrician in Pennsylvania. Because journeyman electrician follows apprenticeship, let's focus on that.

Whether you've completed an apprenticeship program, attended a trade school, or worked under the direct supervision of a licensed electrician, becoming a licensed journeyman electrician will vary depending on where you live—just like for plumbers.

It's worth noting that not all Pennsylvania cities—like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia—offer a journeyman electrician license, so your process will be unique to your jurisdiction. Contact your local government to learn more about the specific application process.

HVAC services can apply for city-based licensing.

For those who want to pursue a career in HVAC services, licensing occurs at the city level and may vary depending on the type of license you're after.

A few of the types of HVAC licenses offered include:

  • Sheet Metal Systems Apprentice and Technician
  • Engineer - Boiler, Stationary, and Refrigeration
  • Warm Air Installer
  • HVAC Contractor

Many of these applications require years of experience and a passing score on the designated exam. Below are resources for applicants who live in the three largest cities in Pennsylvania, so be sure to contact your local jurisdiction for more details on your city's application requirements.

Take the Designated PA Contractor Licensing Exam

In addition to the application, all contractors in the state of Pennsylvania will need to take and pass a licensing exam to operate legally. Depending on the type of contractor you want to become, that will determine the exam you'll need to take.

When you contact your local government, ask for information regarding the exam you're interested in taking to ensure you have everything you need to complete your application.

Other benefits of taking a licensing exam.

Virtually no one likes to take a test. Even with the right preparation, there can be a considerable amount of nervousness and anxiety. That’s why it can be helpful to focus on some of the additional benefits of getting your license.

If you're searching for new leads and clients, being officially licensed is the best marketing strategy out there. People want to work with someone they can trust, and prominently displaying and mentioning your accreditation throughout your advertising will earn that confidence.

1. It can help you land more business.

Having a license can go a long way to establishing your credibility. Think about your own experience. If you were hiring someone to work on your vehicle, would you want a mechanic with accredited certification or just someone with tools and a garage?

Many customers look at contractors the same way. Featuring your accreditation on your website and in your marketing materials can help a customer feel more confident about awarding you the job.

2. It can help you land bigger jobs.

The same thinking can apply when you’re bidding for bigger projects. There’s often more on the line for the project owner, so they want as much assurance as they can get that the person they hired can and will get the job done right.

Plus, in many parts of Pennsylvania, the only legal way to work on a construction project over $5,000 is with a license.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Contractors License in PA?

According to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website they will work to make the registration process as quick and easy as possible.

Registration may be completed online or by mailing an application to their office. They encourage applicants to complete their registration online to get a registration number and a printable temporary registration certificate instantaneously.

Get Your Business Paperwork in Order

Before you can start swinging a hammer you’ll have to spend some time setting up your business.

This usually involves registering for tax identification numbers, licenses or permits. This includes income tax withholdings, sales and use tax, and unemployment insurance tax.

This doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may sound. In fact, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offers an online registration resource called, the PA Online Business Entity Registration (PA-100).

Don't forget, you may need to get a Pennsylvania business license as well. Read our guide for more information on that process!

How do I Check a Contractor's License?

Because contractor registration happens at the state level and licensing often happens at the local level, consumers will generally need to access two or more sources to check if a contractor is licensed.

To find a licensed contractor, some municipalities, such as Philadelphia, offer information on their websites.

You can find a registered Pennsylvania Home Improvement Contractor by searching the PA Attorney General’s database or calling 1-888-520-6680.

You can also look up which contractors have had their licenses revoked or suspended.

Don't Forget to Get Insurance

As much as we try to plan in business, the unexpected can happen. Before you start operating, make sure you get business insurance, particularly general liability coverage.

As I mentioned above, some cities may require you to have different levels of coverage depending on the type of contract work you do. For example, if you're a roofer, you may be required to have a certain level of GL coverage to get your PA contractor license.

Before you start to pull your hair out, take a deep breath and keep reading.

Here at Simply Business, we believe that something that’s so essential for contractors shouldn’t be that hard for them to get.

Even with a quick online search, the results can be overwhelming and confusing.

We work hard to do two important things for small business owners: understand insurance and understand their particular type of business, especially contractor businesses.

We make it easy and hassle-free to get insured. For instance, if the only time you have to deal with insurance is at 11:00 at night, you can get an online quote from us in just 10 minutes on your favorite device.

Got questions, or want to better understand what types of policies you may need and what they cover? We’ve got licensed insurance pros who can explain insurance in plain English. You can talk with one of them Monday through Friday, 8am to 8 pm (ET). Just call 844-654-7272.

We work with the nation's top insurers. That not only lets us find the coverage you need, it often lets us find it with a number of competitive quotes. In fact, we can often find general liability policies as low as $22.50/month.* All you need to do is pick the coverage and price that work best for you.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the coverages that we can help with:

General liability insurance — What’s your go-to tool? A trusty hammer? Reliable level? Indispensable tape measure? When it comes to insurance, you can think of general liability (GL) coverage in much the same way.

A GL policy can do a lot when it comes to financially protecting your contractor business. It can cover the costs related to claims of:

  • Third-party bodily injury
  • Third-party property damage
  • Personal and advertising injury
  • Claims arising from product defects
  • Medical expenses
  • And more

Even for the most conscientious and professional contractor, these types of incidents can and do happen. And when they do, they can have a significant financial impact. Consider this: the average claim for property damage or customer injury is an eye-popping $30,000.

Without general liability coverage, you could be faced with paying that claim yourself.

Workers compensation insurance - Pennsylvania requires that you carry workers compensation insurance if you have one or more employees. This includes full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees.

While compliance will keep you on the right side of the law, having workers comp also can make good business sense.

First off, if an employee gets sick or injured while working for you, workers compensation could financially cover those resulting claims, up to the limits of your policy.

Workers comp can protect your business's finances in the event a claim is filed. It could pay your employees’ medical bills (including rehabilitation expenses), lost wages, and even death benefits.

Plus, a workers compensation policy also could pay for legal fees if you need to defend yourself against a lawsuit.

Inland marine insurance - Remember that go-to tool I mentioned earlier? What would happen if you lost it or it was stolen? What would happen if that also included your other tools and equipment?

Inland marine insurance can help financially protect the tools and equipment you use while in transport or on a job site.

Inland marine coverage can financially protect your business from occurrences like:

  • Damage to business property
  • Loss of business property
  • Theft of business property
  • And more

Inland marine insurance also can cover someone else's property that gets damaged or stolen. So if you’re renting or leasing tools, your insurance may cover repairs and replacements, up to the policy’s limit.

What If I Have Other Questions About a Pennsylvania Contractor License?

Do subcontractors need to register? What about landscapers? Do I need to show my registration to potential customers? These are all good questions. And for contractors in the Keystone State, there’s a handy online resource to answer them, and many others.

Once again, the Attorney General’s website is there to help. Just check out their FAQ page.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

This well-known piece of advice certainly pays off when you’re working on a job, but it also can save you a lot of time and effort when you’re getting your Pennsylvania contractor license work off the ground. The information here should help get you off to a solid start, but as a small business owner knows, there’s always something else you need to do to build your business.

That’s another area where we can help. Check out our small business online resource center, Simply U. Whether you’re looking for help to create a website, find the best bank, or get financing for your operation, it’s filled with articles, templates, and guides to cover nearly every aspect of starting and growing a small business.

* 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.

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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