Beautiful weather. Pristine beaches. An abundance of indoor and outdoor attractions and activities. No wonder San Diego is sometimes called “America’s Finest City.” It’s the place to be for those who like to be active.
It’s also the place to be if you’re a small business owner. After all, the appeal doesn’t happen all on its own. People are drawn there for more than just the climate. Small businesses are a big part of the allure.
According to this study, small businesses are projected to drive San Diego’s economic growth, with 27% of the region’s employees working for a business with fewer than 20 employees.
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the competitive waters and join the ranks of entrepreneurs leading San Diego forward, we can help. First step? Getting a business license — or what the San Diego city government calls a Business Tax Certificate.
In this article, we’ll help you understand how to get one, where to get one, and how much it may cost.
Let’s do it!
When it comes to business licenses, every state is different. Some states require state licensure. Some don’t. And some states, like California, allow the city or county to decide which rules you need to follow.
So what does that mean for you? If you are going to operate a business within the city of San Diego, then you will need a “Business Tax Certificate.” The certificate is the “business license” in San Diego.
Let’s now take a look at what the city government will want to see when you apply.
Even if you run a business out of your home and haven’t yet earned any money, you still need a San Diego Business Tax Certificate.
When you’re ready to apply for one, we recommend having the following information handy:
Having this information at hand will streamline the application process.
The City of San Diego requires that you apply within 15 days of opening the doors to your business or you may be required to pay late fees and penalties.
Depending on the type of business you run, you also may need special permits in addition to your Business Tax Certificate.
For example, let’s say you’re a sidewalk vendor selling goods. For this business, you also must obtain a sidewalk-vending permit in order to operate your business in San Diego.
Now let’s look at the application process, including how and where to apply.
San Diego business license application
If you prefer to do it online, you can do that too. San Diego business license online applications can be submitted 24/7. However, you must register for a user name and password before you can begin the application process.
Heads up: When you list your business address on the application, you’re self-certifying that your business activity is allowed in the area where you conduct business.
If you’re unsure, check out San Diego’s Zoning Grid Map.
To get a business license — or Business Tax Certificate — in San Diego, you can apply online, by mail, or in person at the Civic Center Plaza in downtown (Suite 100).
As I mentioned before, if you apply online, you will first be asked to create an online customer account. Then you can begin the actual application process.
If you prefer to submit your information by mail, here’s the address (don’t forget to submit your fee with the application):
Office of the City Treasurer
Business Tax Program
PO Box 122289
San Diego, CA 92112-2289
The cost of the Business Tax Certificate depends on the number of workers you employ.
If you have 12 or fewer employees working for you, your business is considered “small.” You’ll pay a flat fee of $34 per year.
If you have more than 12 employees, your business is considered “large.” You’ll owe $125 plus $5 for each additional individual over 13 employees.
No matter the size of your business, you’ll also need to pay a $4 fee mandated by state law SB 1186. And you also might need to pay an additional zoning fee, depending on where your business is located.
If you forget to pay your San Diego business tax within 15 days of when your business starts, you’ll be charged a late fee of either $25 or 10% of your bill, whichever is greater.
And if you’re found conducting business in San Diego without a Business Tax Certificate, you’ll be charged a $68 penalty (for a small business) or $250 (for a large business).
Getting your Business Tax Certificate not only satisfies San Diego’s rules and requirements, it also can help ensure trust from customers and vendors.
But you know what else can help with that? Not to mention providing peace of mind for you? Business insurance.
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get that coverage.
We suggest taking the time to shop for business insurance while applying for your business license. It could have great benefits for you down the road. Business insurance coverage can help:
If you are curious about what business insurance coverage may cost in San Diego, you can get a customized quote in minutes, using our handy online quote tool.
Or if you want to talk to a helpful human (one of our licensed insurance agents), you can give us a call at 844-654-7272. We’re here Monday–Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET). We’ll answer your questions and help you get what you need for your business.
The hardest part about getting a San Diego business license? Knowing where to begin.
Understanding both California and city regulations and processes, as well as tracking down all the information you need, can feel tedious and overwhelming.
But hopefully, this article will help streamline the process for you. Because the sooner you can get your business running, the sooner you can get to work and be one of the entrepreneurs leading San Diego forward. Best of luck!
I went to college to be an accountant and graduated with a degree in creative writing. Words won out over numbers, but barely. All credit goes to my parents. Had they talked about anything other than banking at the dinner table growing up—and had they never bribed me with Pop-Tarts to read books, play with my Matchbox cars and quietly exercise my imagination—who knows where my left and right brain would be today.
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.