If you're doing business in Washington state, you need a universal business identifier (UBI). The nine-digit UBI number identifies your business the way your Social Security number identifies you as an individual. You take out your UBI when you file for a business license in Washington state.
Business licenses are common around the country. They're permits that make it legal for you to work in a particular jurisdiction, such as a county, city or state. Business licenses don't replace any other licensing your company needs – a doctor in Seattle would need both a medical license and a state business license.
Washington state's Business Licensing Service says businesses have to take out a license if they meet any one of the state's criteria:
- The business grosses at least $12,000 a year.
- You do business under any name other than your full legal name.
- You plan to hire employees within the next 90 days.
- You sell a taxable product or service. If you're in retail sales and pay sales tax, for example, you need a business license.
- Your business needs a specialty license.
The state requires specialty licenses from an assortment of businesses, such as architects, cigarette wholesalers, collection agencies, egg handlers, marijuana researchers, scrap metal dealers, X-ray facilities, retail stores and several others. Along with the specialty license, they'll have to take out a regular business license as well.
If you don't meet any of the state's criteria, you don't need a license or a UBI number.
You can apply online for your state business license or you can send in a paper copy of the application. The exact process depends partly on your business structure. If you're a corporation, partnership or limited partnership, you have to register with the Washington Secretary of State before applying for a license. Otherwise, you go through the state's Business Licensing Service.
In addition to filing when you open a business, you may have to apply for a license if your business changes in any of the following ways:
- You open a new location.
- The business ownership changes hands.
- You register or change a trade name.
- You're hiring employees.
- You wish to add a specialty license to your existing business.
- You employ a housekeeper, nanny or other workers at your home.
If you're already in business, you just use your existing UBI number when you apply for a license. If you're a new company, one of the first things the licensing service does is assign you a UBI number.
The business license cost is $19 at the time of writing. You pay this as a processing fee when you start the application process. If a problem crops up and you can't get your license, the fee is nonrefundable.
If you need other licenses, you'll have to pay the fee for them as well. Architectural firms, for instance, pay $278 for their specialty license at the time of writing; a pesticide dealer pays $67 per business location.
If you do business under other names, you pay $5 each to register them. If, say, John Smith wants to do business as both Electrical Installation Wizard and Overnight Electrical Repair, that would be $10 plus $19 for the business license.
If you need to research a business operating in Washington, you can do it on the Washington Department of Revenue's website. The DOR gives you several options for the search:
- UBI number.
- General license.
- Trade name.
- Business name.
- License number.
- Tax account.
- Reseller permit.
The results will give you the business's name, address, mailing address, trade name, UBI number and specialty licenses, among other information.