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Whether or not you need a South Carolina business license depends on the county where your business will operate. Of the state's 46 counties, nine counties require most businesses to obtain a business license before operating. These are not necessarily the largest counties nor the most populous, so don't assume that you don't need a business license because your business will be in a smaller or less-populous county. In addition, most cities and towns in SC require a local business license.
Knowing if You Need a Business License in SC
If you're planning to set up shop in Beaufort, Charleston, Dorchester, Horry, Jasper, Marion, Orangeburg, Richland or Sumter counties, you are required to obtain a business license from the county. The counties' individual websites will explain where to go to get one, and most also offer online services that include obtaining the application form to apply for a business license. However, while you may be able to download the application form, only Horry County allows you to submit your completed license application online; all others require that you go in person.
Whether or not you need a South Carolina business license, which in SC is actually a county license, also depends on the type of business you will operate. In general, if your business will sell items to the public or if you will offer professional services such as accounting, you will need to obtain a business license in the counties that require them. Of course, you don't need a license if you're an employee of a company offering products or services; your employer is responsible for obtaining the business license.
In many cases, businesses that are based out of state but have a retail outlet, warehouse or office in SC, deliver their goods regularly in SC, have a salesperson or agent in SC or advertise in SC will also need a South Carolina business license.
Getting Your County Business License
If you live in one of the counties that requires business licenses, go to your county’s website and see if you can download the business license application. Each of the nine counties that require business licenses handles the process differently, and unfortunately, some county websites are easier to navigate than others.
Typically, though, before the county will approve your business license application, it will check the zoning of your proposed business’s location. In Charleston County, the current fee for a commercial zoning permit is $50 for a facility size up to 5,000 square feet and $75 for a building over 5,000 square feet. Issuing a zoning permit indicates that the location is zoned for the type of business you will be conducting.
For Dorchester County as with some other counties, applications for new business licenses can be downloaded from the county website. Be prepared to answer questions such as the type of business (sole proprietorship, LLC, etc.), whether food will be prepared on the premises and offered for sale and your estimated annual gross receipts. If your business will be operated out of your home, you’ll need to complete the home-based business form and attach it to the business license application.
Obtaining City/Municipality Business Licenses
If your business will operate within the boundaries of a city or municipality, you’ll need to obtain a business license from it, usually in addition to the county license. For example, the city of Greenville requires all businesses to have a license from the city. To get the city license, you can download the application, which asks for your business location, estimated gross receipts and the activities the business will conduct.
Both county and city business licenses must be renewed annually, and there are penalties for late renewal. Note that the deadlines for filing renewals may differ among counties and cities, and business owners are responsible for knowing when each renewal is due. Some, like the city of Greenville, offer discounts for paying early.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more, as well as advertising copy and materials. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.