How to Obtain a Business License in North Carolina

by Pat Fontana; Updated September 26, 2017

Obtaining a business license in North Carolina depends on many factors, including the legal structure and type of business. There is no one North Carolina business license issued by the state. According to the state’s Department of Commerce website, “there are over 700 State business license requirements for certain types of business.” Privilege licenses in North Carolina are issued primarily by the city or county in which the business is established. The state regulates certain types of businesses, issuing permits and licenses for specific requirements.

Step 1

Determine the legal structure of your business. North Carolina offers many resources to help you in deciding whether your business will be a sole proprietorship, corporation, or partnership. Consult with a Small Business Center counselor associated with one of the state’s 58 community colleges for assistance in setting up your business structure.

Step 2

If your business is a corporation, partnership, or limited liability company, you must file a Certificate of Authority with the North Carolina Secretary of State, Corporations Division. Sole proprietorships do not have to obtain a state business license in North Carolina.

Step 3

If your business is to be operated within city limits, apply for a privilege license with the city’s finance department. If your business is outside the city limits, apply with the county’s revenue department.

Step 4

To operate a business under a different name than your own legal name, you will need to apply for a Certificate of Assumed Name. Contact your county’s Register of Deeds office for the appropriate application and information regarding fees.

Step 5

Using a checklist from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, determine if your business requires additional permits or licenses from the state. Agricultural products in particular, a popular industry in the state of North Carolina, require certain regulatory permits. Visit the Department of Commerce’s online Business Licenses and Permits Keyword Search to find your type of business and its required state licenses and permits.


  • Consulting with a Small Business Center counselor located in the city or county of your business location will help you determine the specific requirements related to your geographic area and type of business.


  • File all appropriate paperwork with North Carolina’s Department of Commerce before conducting business to ensure your business is operating legally.

About the Author

Pat Fontana began her career in 1981. Her extensive experience includes work in small business, entrepreneurship, marketing communications, adult education and training. She has written for Entrepreneur, Atlantic Publishing and other clients. Fontana earned a Master's degree in English with a concentration in Technical and Professional Communications from East Carolina University.