If you run a business in Virginia, you might need a Virginia business license, permit, or certificate of some kind in order to operate. And you might even need more than one of these documents, depending upon the work that you do.
What kinds of business licenses out there and what are Virginia’s business licensing requirements? This article will tell you what you need to know about getting a business license in Virginia.
Federal Licenses and Permits
For most small businesses, the federal government doesn’t require licenses or permits. But there are certain types of activities that are regulated by one or more federal agencies and might require a federal license or permit.
The types of business activities that are regulated by federal agencies (may require a federal license or permit) are:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Firearms, ammunition, and explosives
- Fish and wildlife
- Commercial fisheries
- Maritime transportation
- Mining and drilling
- Nuclear energy
- Radio and television broadcasting
- Transportation and logistics
If you’re involved in any of the activities on this list, contact the federal agency that’s in charge of that activity and find out the licensing requirements.
For example, if your business is involved in fish and wildlife, you’d be regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and that’s where you would go for more information.
Tip: You can access a list of all federally licensed activities, along with links to more information, by visiting this website maintained by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
VA Business License Requirements
There are seven states in which all businesses need to obtain state business licenses, in addition to any required local licenses. The good news is that Virginia isn’t one of those states and doesn’t have a statewide business license requirement.
However, just like other states, Virginia does have license and/or certification requirements for specific business activities. These are occupations that require extensive training or that expose consumers to potential hazards, including:
- Medical professionals
- Building contractors and other construction-related occupations
- Barbers and cosmetologists
- Architects and engineers
- Real estate brokers and salespersons
- Private investigators and other security services
Here’s an example:
If you want to work as an architect in Virginia, you’ll need to get a license from the Virginia Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, Certified Interior Designers and Landscape Architects.
Where to find information about Virginia state licenses
The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation oversees many of the state boards that enforce these licensing requirements.
To view a comprehensive list of all regulated professions and occupations in Virginia, and get the link to the appropriate board that oversees your profession, click here.
The procedures for getting your Virginia state business license varies by occupation. You might have to meet specific educational or training requirements or need experience in the field. You might even have to take and pass a written exam. And, you’ll also need to pay a licensing fee.
Who needs to get a Virginia business license?
Let’s say that you aren’t required to get a federal or a state license. You might think that you’re in the clear. Not so fast. There’s actually a good chance that you’ll need to get a local Virginia business license.
Each Virginia city and county establishes its own licensing requirements and procedures.
But, most counties and cities require the appropriate Virginia business licenses or permits for all businesses, including one-person, home-based operations.
- If you’re conducting business within a city’s limits, check with your city government to determine its licensing requirements.
- If you’re in an unincorporated area, check with the county government.
- If you have an office in more than one city or county, you might need to get a license for each one.
How much is a business license in VA?
Usually, you have to pay a fee to get a local Virginia business license, but some cities exempt very small businesses, which is helpful for little guys who are just starting out.
Fees vary by locality, and they could range from as low as $15 to as high as a few hundred dollars. In Virginia, business license fees for larger businesses (typically those with over $100,000 in revenue) are usually based on your projected gross revenue (for example, 30 cents per $100 of projected revenue).
Each year you’ll pay the applicable fee. Also, you’ll be required to renew your license periodically, and that might involve an additional fee. Oftentimes, a renewal is required every one to three years. Be sure to mark your calendar so you keep your business license in good standing.
How to get a business license in VA
The good news is that getting your local license is pretty easy. Your city and/or county has a website that explains its licensing requirements.
Depending on where you live, you may have the option to apply for your license online. Otherwise, you might be able to download an application and email it to the appropriate party or mail it in.
When you apply for a Virginia business license, you’ll likely be asked for the following information:
- Social Security Number or Federal Employment Identification Number
- A description of your business activities
- Your legal business name and any assumed name or “dba”
- Your business start date
- The number of employees and your expected annual sales
- Your business address and contact information
- Each business owner’s contact information
- Your business sales tax number, if any
- Estimated gross revenue
After submitting your application, you usually receive your license or certificate with a business license number within a few weeks in the mail. Once you have it, you may be required to post the license at your place of business.
Do I really need to get a business license in Virginia?
It’s true that a lot of self-employed individuals, particularly those who work from home, never get a state or local Virginia business license.
But, if the state discovers that you’re working in an occupation without a required license, a host of bad things can happen. You’ll undoubtedly be ordered to stop doing business and you might also be fined. Depending on your occupation, failure to obtain a Virginia state license might even constitute a crime
If your local government finds out that you’re running an unlicensed business, you could also be fined and you might even be prevented from doing business until you get the license.
Bottom line: going through the proper steps to get your license before you start conducting business is always a wise move.
An easier way to tackle business licenses!
If the idea of figuring out how to get a Virginia business license makes your head spin, we get it. It’s a daunting and time-consuming process! That’s why we’ve created a way to make it easy for freelancers to get the licenses they need to operate.
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From forming your LLC to obtaining and renewing your licenses, we’ve got you covered. You won’t have to worry about missing an important deadline, filling out an application incorrectly, or failing to pay the appropriate fees on time.
Ultimately, Virginia business licenses can be confusing at first. But once you know what’s required of your particular business in your specific niche, you’ll be well on your way to running your business professionally and legitimately.
Stephen has dedicated his career as an attorney and author to writing useful, authoritative and recognized guides on taxes and business law for small businesses, entrepreneurs, independent contractors, and freelancers. He is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of articles and has been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Among his books are Deduct It! Lower Your Small Business Taxes, Working with Independent Contractors, and Working for Yourself: Law and Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants.