Whether you're considering doing business with a new company or hiring a licensed professional to work for you, you should perform a business-license lookup to avoid potential issues with safety, financial loss or reputational damage that can arise when someone illegally offers services. Before you can verify a business license, you'll need to determine the credentials for which you're looking. You can then search through government-agency websites, hire a license-verification service or contact the company directly.
Business-License Lookup Basics
Depending on the industry, a business will often have several licenses, from the local to federal levels. So, it pays to do some research on the company's line of work, occupational requirements and the location where the business operates. For example, a restaurant might have a federal business license, a state liquor license and local licenses for food service and health. A plumber would need a state occupational license along with any required local operational licenses.
Once you've determined the levels of licensure for which to check, gather some basic company information needed to perform a search online. Often, the name of the business or its owner will be good enough unless the locale has multiple businesses that match. Lookup tools often let you search by address, license number and license type to refine your search.
When performing a search, expect to see information such as the business's license number and expiration date, trade name, address and owner name. Occupational searches for lawyers, cosmetologists, nurses and other professionals may also show information about credentials, disciplinary actions and the initial licensure date.
Check a Federal Agency's Website
If you're looking up a business that performs activities related to agriculture, weaponry, aviation, wildlife, transportation, mining, broadcasting or alcohol, then a federal license may apply. You can look up such licenses through the websites for agencies such as the following:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
- Federal Aviation Administration
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
- Federal Communications Commission
- U.S. Department of Transportation
When visiting these websites, look for a menu option related to licensing, registration or certification; you can use the site's built-in search tool if you have trouble finding this link. For agencies that offer several credentials, you'll likely need to narrow down your search or choose from multiple search tools.
Check a State Agency's Website
When you need to verify an occupational license or general business registration, you'll often turn to state resources.
The state's government website will usually have a special section dedicated to the Secretary of State, Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs or similar organizations. Along with providing a way to register a business, this section will usually prominently list a business-license verification tool and provide instructions for doing a search.
When looking for a professional license, check which state agency licenses or registers individuals for the occupation. For example, you might find attorney-license information through the state's supreme court website and a doctor's license through the state medical board's website.
Check a Local Agency's Website
You'll usually find a local business-license lookup tool on a city or county's treasurer or tax collector website. For example, you can do a business-license search in Los Angeles through the County of Los Angeles Treasurer and Tax Collector. Simply look for a link for the license-lookup tool to begin your search.
Request It From the Company
State laws often require businesses to display their licenses at their locations, and they'll need to have the license available to present upon request in any case. So, if you're local to the business, you could visit and see the license in person. You can also reach out to the company to ask it to show proof of having a business license. If you're far away, it might send you a copy electronically or through the mail.
Use a License-Verification Service
If you'd rather let a third party do the business-license lookup, you can use paid services such as Crimcheck or Vcorp Services. Such companies often focus on doing background checks and can provide you with more than just proof of appropriate licensure. For example, you can verify that a potential professional you want to hire has the education and experience claimed on the application.
- Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation: License Lookup
- Vcorp Services: Business License Verification
- District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs: Business License Verification
- Montana Secretary of State: Business Services
- INBiz: Business Search
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Starting a Business? A Guide to Business Licenses and Permits
- Crimcheck: Professional License Verification
- FreeAdvice Legal: Is Posting of the Business License or Permit to Operate My Business Required?
- County of Los Angeles Treasurer and Tax Collector: Search Existing Business Licenses
- Not finding a business license doesn't necessarily mean a person or business isn't licensed. It might be that the license is in someone else's name or a different legal name, registered with a different state or of an unexpected type. The more information you have about the person you're searching, the more likely you are to find his license.
Ashley Donohoe started writing professionally about business topics in 2010. Having eight years experience running all aspects of her small business, she is knowledgeable about the daily issues and decisions that business owners face. She also has earned a Master of Business Administration degree with a leadership and strategy concentration from Western Governors University. Some other places featuring her business writing include JobHero, LoveToKnow, PocketSense, Chron and Study.com.