Many people dream of operating a nail salon, combining customer service with a creative cosmetic industry and the relative freedom of self-employment. They may even make some money from it. However, in order to legally operate a nail salon, an individual must ensure that she obtains all the necessary paperwork and licenses.

Business License

All businesses operating in the United States are required to have a general business license. The licensing body with which a proprietor must register carries between states and is dependent on the operating setup of the business, such as whether it is a sole proprietor business or a partnership, whether it is a corporation or a nonprofit organization. Businesses may be licensed by a state’s clerk court office, the office of the secretary of state, or division of corporations. The U.S. Small Business Administration website details each state’s terms.

Cosmetology License

A nail salon owner will usually perform some services for customers herself, particularly at the start, when building up the business. Any individual performing cosmetic treatments -- such as manicures and pedicures, hairdressing and styling, or skin treatments -- must have a cosmetology license. These are issued by the state. While specific certification requirements vary between states, most demand that an individual have a high school diploma or GED, attend an approved cosmetology course and pass a written examination. Some states also set oral and practical components to examinations.


A nail salon requires premises from which to operate. The building is liable to need certain licenses. A land use permit or zoning permit is required, dependent upon the business’s position and usage of municipal land. A health department permit, issued after an inspection by the authorities, certifies the salon as fit for customers, while a salon must also have a sales tax license to pay taxes. All these permits are issued by the state department and/or the city authorities.

Employer Number

The owner of a nail salon must have an identification number, which is used by the state for tax and legal processes, and will be required if an owner applies to a bank for a loan. Usually, this number is the owner’s social security number but can be an identification number from the IRS if she doesn’t wish to use her social security number or doesn’t have one. This number is issued by the IRS.


If a nail salon owner wishes to employ staff, she must notify the Department of Homeland Security. The department will analyze the data on all prospective employees to ensure that they are entitled to work in the United States. Any of the salon’s employees performing cosmetic services will also need a cosmetology license.