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California's entrepreneurs and established business owners are responsible for every aspect of their company's operations. This sometimes means exercising due diligence in researching other businesses and professionals. If you are considering a new partnership or contractual relationship, check on the status of the other party’s business and professional licenses. Doing so can help you avoid loss of time, money and reputation.
Calgold.ca.gov is a permitting assistance site maintained by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. You can use the search function on this site to look up business types by county. The results provided include all licenses, registrations and permits that may be required along with links to the agencies that issue these documents.
California Business License Verification
California has multiple layers of business and professional licensing laws, regulations and ordinances. The types of licenses that a business needs depends in large part on its location.
In addition to state-issued general business, professional and trade licenses, some counties and municipalities also require businesses to hold local licenses, registrations and permits. It is not unusual for business owners to have to apply for and maintain multiple licenses or permits for a single business.
License and Permit Types
Some common types of business licenses and permits that you might want to verify include:
- License to operate: Counties or cities may require a business to hold a license to operate within city or county boundaries.
- Building, zoning, environmental and health permits: Some types of businesses need special permitting from local building, health or environmental protection agencies. For example, a restaurant may have to pass a food service inspection before it can begin doing business.
- Professional or trade license: These licenses are issued to individuals who have met the qualifications necessary to practice a trade or profession. Examples of licensed trades and professions include cosmetology, dentistry, medicine, professional engineering, nursing and real estate appraisal.
Performing a License Search
Once you've determined the type of licenses or permits that a business might need along with the name of the licensing agency or agencies, you can begin a California business license check:
- Gather the necessary information to complete a search. This includes the address of the business, the county in which the business operates, the name of the business and the name of the owner or owners.
- Visit the agency website and find the license or permit lookup feature. Enter the requested information, making sure that you've spelled your entries correctly.
- Review the search results. In some cases, you may need to refine your search. For example, if you are using a person's name to search for a professional license, keep in mind that the license may be issued in an individual's legal name instead of the name by which you know him (which may be a middle name or nickname).
What if a Search Yields No Results?
The fact that you cannot find a license or permit via a website's database does not mean that the individual or business is unlicensed or operating illegally. The database that you are using may not be up to date, the legal name of a business or an individual may be different from the one that you are searching or you might be searching the wrong agency's website.
If you are having difficulty verifying a license or permit, try different ways of getting the information you need before making negative assumptions.
Considerations When Checking Licenses
When you check a business license in California, some things to consider include:
- How long has the license been in effect? This can give you an idea of how long a business has been in operation in its current location as well as how long a professional or trade person has been operating in California.
- Has the holder of the license been subject to a disciplinary process? The website you use may provide you with information about whether a license or permit holder has been subject to a disciplinary process, such as a suspension or fine due to legal or ethical violations.
- When does the license expire? It's important to ensure that the business or professional license is still valid and will be valid during the time that you plan to work with an individual or business.
Lainie Petersen lives in Chicago and is a full-time freelance writer. She has a long career in business and media, primarily in marketing, online content and regulatory compliance. She holds a master's degree in library and information science from Dominican University.