Do I Need a Business License to Sell Online?

by Kathy Burns-Millyard; Updated September 26, 2017
A couple paying bills online

Laws in starting an Internet business vary from one part of the United States to another. In most states, even if you are only planning to sell products online, you have to get all of the normal business licenses and permits that are required of any other business. Not all parts of the United States require this if your business is online only, however, so you may need to check with your local Small Business Association or your county or state business license office to find details specific to where you live.

General Business License

Office desk, close-up

A general business license is commonly required in most states, but it may be called a "Doing Business As" or DBA filing instead. A DBA is simply an official document filed with your county or state that declares you are running a business under a name that does not match your legal given name. In areas where general business licenses are required, you may have to file a DBA in addition to getting the business license. General business licenses are not issued in every state. Some may require you to obtain specific occupational licenses instead.

Local Permits

Local county and city governments sometimes require you to obtain specific permits when you're running a business in their jurisdiction. Local permits can range from simple home occupational licenses for a home-based business to a specialized permit that is based on the type of business you're running. It is unusual to need more than a home business permit for Internet-only businesses, but double-check the laws in your area first to be sure you're in compliance.

Sales Tax ID

Couple with credit card making vacation purchase online

A sales tax ID is also referred to as a resale tax permit. Some states require a business to get this permit only if it will be selling tangible items, and some states require all businesses to get it if they're selling any product or service within the state. If you sell products or services through your Internet business, the state you live in may require you to obtain a sales tax permit.

Federal Licenses

Wineshelf.

Certain types of businesses are regulated by the federal government, and this regulation requires you to obtain special federal licenses and permits regardless of what your local state or county may require and regardless of whether your business is online only. Some types of businesses that must acquire federal licenses include those that deal in alcohol, tobacco and firearms, drug manufacturing and broadcasting.

About the Author

Kathy Burns-Millyard has been a professional writer since 1997. Originally specializing in business, technology, environment and health topics, Burns now focuses on home, garden and hobby interest articles. Her garden work has appeared on GardenGuides.com and other publications. She enjoys practicing Permaculture in her home garden near Tucson, Ariz.

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