A lot of things can happen in a New York minute, but starting a business isn't one of them. New York City's laws on business licensing are complicated and can require multiple licenses and permits. The city understands that its regulations can easily confuse potential business owners, so it created its Business Express website to help entrepreneurs sort through the maze of licenses and requirements with the help of an online planning wizard. The only way to know exactly what your licensing fees might be – if you need a license at all – is to consult the site or someone in the city's Business Express office.
At the time of publication, registering your business with the state of New York will cost around $100.
Several simple businesses require no city license at all. Although owners must establish proper business formation as a proprietor, partnership, corporation or limited liability company, no specific city permit is required. Clothing retailers, for example, fall into this category. All businesses must establish city tax identification numbers for the Unincorporated Business Tax (UBT) and payroll tax accounts should they hire employees.
New York City has a long list of business categories that it regulates. Many have to do with public safety and health. Auto garages or mechanic shops, for instance, require special permits. City fees to register your business cost around $100 to $120 with additional fees if your business is structured as a corporation. Meanwhile, gas stations operating convenience stores need a $25 permit for the store itself but may need additional licenses including those for selling tobacco, alcohol and milk.
Before the city will issue any permit, it requires proof of any appropriate state approvals and authorizations. For example, foreign corporations – those founded outside New York state – must have authority to operate from the New York Division of Corporations. This requires an application and $225 fee to the state. Foreign companies must also pay the state fee before doing business. Domestic corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) must also have proof of state approval which, as of May, 2011, require a fee of $125 and $200 respectively.
The New York City Department of Finance requires businesses to register and pay all appropriate taxes. These include city sales taxes, taxes for corporations operating within the city, the UBT and payroll taxes. Although there are no up-front fees for any of these, proper accounting, reporting and regular payment is necessary. Contact the department to determine which taxes are necessary for your business.
Once you know whether or not you need a business license, it's time to apply for a business license. You can do so online using New York State's business express service (as seen the references below). This website makes it ultra easy and will walk you thought the process with a step-by-step checklist. Think of it as TurboTax for your licensing and permits!
Applying online is certainly the easiest way and NYC seems to actively discourage obtaining a business license in person by not really listing a location on their website. You can typically apply at city hall, but you might want to check out the Business Express offices. The county clerk's website look like it only processes marriage licenses rather than business licenses. Either way, you're looking at some pretty long lines if you manage to get through where as an online application is almost instant.
If you need a DCA license, you can apply in person at the DCA Licensing Center at 42 Broadway, Lobby, in Manhattan. They license more that 81,000 businesses from electronics stores and cafes to locksmiths and parking lots. You can also apply for this type of license online.