LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney Mark D. Walters | May 13, 2011

Licensing a Business in Washington State

Every Washington business owner should complete the following steps on or before opening day:

  1. Register and form a business entity with the Washington State Secretary of State's office.

  2. Obtain a Federal Tax Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS.

  3. Obtain a Master Business License from the Washington State Department of Licensing, as well as the appropriate Specialty Business License (if any) for your industry.

  4. Obtain a License from the City where your business is located as well as the county (if required).

Register and Form a Business Entity

We recommend that most business owners form and operate their business as a limited liability company entity to protect their personal assets from business related liabilities, to the extent possible. We also believe that operating as a LLC will give your business a greater appearance of business legitimacy in the marketplace. We like the limited liability company entity option because the compliance formalities are easier to follow. You can register a Washington Domestic Limited Liability Company on the Washington State Secretary of State’s website (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.secstate.wa.gov%2Fcorps%2FOnlineApplicationForms.aspx&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzez3S4TQ7YrNIj6GIVZyYKEEdbY1g) . (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.secstate.wa.gov%2Fcorps%2Feforms_notice.aspx&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcBDH9m_iWe5tLfae2B18KD-pg1wQ)

Federal Tax ID Number (EIN)

If you are a corporation or a partnership, you will need to obtain a Federal Tax ID Number, which are also called EINs. If you are a single member limited liability company without employees, the IRS will accept your social security number as your LLC’s Federal Tax ID Number, but you can obtain a EIN even if you are an single member LLC with no employees. To protect the privacay of your social security number and to present your business as a more professional enterprise, we suggest that single member LLCs should obtain an EIN. (If the single LLC is an individual, it is taxed as a sole proprietorship; be sure to talk to your accountant about this issue). You can apply for your EIN from the IRS online (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.irs.gov%2Fbusinesses%2Fsmall%2Farticle%2F0%2C%2Cid%3D98350%2C00.html&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEze8sXRQDRfUMkzHIJxxu7o6oFtUFw) . (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.irs.gov%2Fbusinesses%2Fsmall%2Farticle%2F0%2C%2Cid%3D98350%2C00.html&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEze8sXRQDRfUMkzHIJxxu7o6oFtUFw)

You will need an EIN to obtain a Master Business License; complete this step first.

Master Business License

Most businesses operating in the State of Washington must obtain a Washington State Master Business License. The Master Business License registers the business for State tax purposes and registers the trade name. You need to file a Master Business Application when you first start your business, or when you change or update your business. You will need to complete a Master Business License Application with the Washington State Department of Licensing. You can complete this task online at the Washington State Department of Licensing's website (http://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ffortress.wa.gov%2Fdol%2Fmls%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzd3csOxdwhM9irL3xeDs0Iv0VsSKw).

If you meet ALL of the following elements, you do not need a Master Business License

  • Your business grosses less than $12,000 per year; and
  • Your business does not perform any service for which retail sales tax must be charged; and
  • Your business is not required to collect or pay any other tax which the Department of Revenue collects (e.g. use tax, forest tax, public utility tax, etc.); and
  • Your business is not required to obtain any renewable or regulatory license with the Master License Service; and
  • You do not have, or plan to have, employees within the next 90 days; and
  • You work only under your legal name and do not use a separate firm name or "doing business as" name.

Specialty Business License

Some businesses are required to obtain a Specialty License. You can research this online at the Department of Licensing website (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dol.wa.gov%2Flistoflicenses.html&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzeo5wjTy99Z0fNNgwPSd6SJZukI0w).

Business that Operate in King County

Businesses operating in King County come under the jurisdiction of State, County, and, where applicable, City regulations. The location of the business, as well as the nature and scope of the business, determines what types of business licenses are required. Click on this link for an explanation about King County Business Licensees (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.kingcounty.gov%2Fbusiness%2Flicenses.aspx&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzdmR0lek3hnfPeIG-C46HwWKCqk9A).

If your business is located or operates within the city limits of any city within King County, contact that city to inquire whether a city business license is required.

For example, the City of Seattle requires a business license for all businesses who perform services or operate within the city limits of Seattle. Other specialty/regulatory licenses may also be required. For more information, or to request a license application, please contact the City of Seattle Revenue and Consumer Affairs Division (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.seattle.wa.us%2Frca%2Flicenses%2Flicmain.htm&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzd5een5KuUmM3o-CAXnjJOiqhVOgw) or by calling at 206-684-8484.

A KingCounty business license is required only if:

See types of licenses (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.kingcounty.gov%2Fbusiness%2Flicenses%2Ftypes.aspx&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcIIqL8nwDCAOuGo9yEvNL3N6IN2w) for more information.

City Business License

Most cities require businesses to obtain a business license before starting the operation of the business. If you already missed this deadline, some cities allow you to “back file" and catch up on any back taxes owed without penalties as long as you turn yourself in. Using the links below you can apply online or download the forms for your city.

Telephone numbers and Web sites (subject to change) for King County cities are listed below.

City Phone Algona (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cityofalgona.com%2Flicenses.asp&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzffWQR0EHdy7G2ekpxD_OPJlkvxIQ) 253-833-2897 Auburn (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.auburn.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzfAIxy9jBvldFZIz_6bv7y2cvuuQw) 253-931-3039 Bellevue (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.bellevue.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzeGewMNqs9drXJoXfwslkix0tX3lg) 425-452-6851 Black Diamond (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.blackdiamond.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcH4XQ3X2tNYkLCGKanC9jVUuml_g) 360-886-2560 Bothell (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.bothell.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzc3iAGanSY8wleadviRvaWjexjRyQ) 425-486-3256 Burien (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.burien.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcVknVfRrTRbtRbaSUhzHvWqBwQeA) 206-241-4647 Carnation (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.carnation.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzf3-3dQKcDw_mopesv7zb44WdjUjw) 425-333-4192 Clyde Hill (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.clydehill.org%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzffs3Vo00DdHclsyI8OGaNduaZo3A) 425-453-7800 Clyde Hill (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.clydehill.org%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzffs3Vo00DdHclsyI8OGaNduaZo3A) 425-453-7800 Covington (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.covington.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzdhcMz24n8WM-6VmDow_QbNBf-03w) 253-638-1110 Des Moines (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.desmoineswa.gov%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzdZomKKwz9fBzZu1o5g29z4LKlBZA) 206-878-4595 Duvall (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cityofduvall.com%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzeJe2KKvurws0pbBZchIrMFML-nQw) 425-788-1185 Enumclaw (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.enumclaw.wa.us%2Fcityinfo.htm&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzdNnlA_iQLFAQWXTsFNTTbB5LLMcQ) 360-805-0226 Federal Way (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fcityoffederalway.com%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEze-pTczvJvY4kLZRlVbZ_MJimA2WQ) 253-835-2527 Hunts Point (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huntspoint-wa.gov%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcG0R9yYbjo85eaFpilcDGIbcuZJA) 425-455-1834 Issaquah (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.issaquah.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEze0nL_PhOQJTpfPTOtC4Deni3uXOA) 425-837-3000 Kenmore (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.kenmore.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzdEkgmWj8YJPgeIaYt-pF2O1dEIGA) 425-398-8900 Kent (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.kent.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzfCQDBKcygacMge9UsFysX3VJAkzw) 253-856-5200 Kirkland (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.kirkland.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzeUkLHxVcWcQfqwtyM9MjB51XN17w) 425-828-1264 Lake Forest Park (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cityoflfp.com%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzfwRIpgUnklLf5XNfI9Tjb4EgMVtw) 206-368-5440 Maple Valley (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.maple-valley.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzerJTWjeO1_ruaBCWsjMJnB8VjhQA) 425-413-8800 Medina (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.medina-wa.gov%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzfbMZtaak0CCSVA_fKQOhk694mleA) 425-454-9222 Mercer Island (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.mercer-island.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEze7THf_6j3yN0XRfFy8Sf2y9gfvkg) 206-236-3562 Newcastle (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.newcastle.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcVvdDJr9wApnfc6hYPwHDoiqdO0A) 425-649-4444 Normandy Park (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.normandy-park.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzd5FFJRZMMxBzobgJKRJhTwq60Rcw) 206-248-7603 North Bend (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fcityofpacific.com%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzeZRMouMaQ9nioDNj09kEM8rOrKSQ) 425-888-7812 Pacific (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fci.north-bend.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzd2tI8KM8UIzJIkS7R11xxEO3XyeA) 253-929-1100 Redmond (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.redmond.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcpz-0r6vkcbYaOibzTBSDLwcqpRA) 425-556-2193 Renton (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Frentonwa.gov%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzck6AKwvS0w1EdBRyyB0MhohRQVCA) 425-430-6851 SeaTac (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.seatac.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzeVinT9X16nWoJO3bUoQBNnugRBXA) 206-241-9100 Seattle (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.seattle.wa.us%2Fhtml%2Fbusiness&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzf0YEkhBvuwFNLm-V4tN4Zw66M1cA) 206-684-8484 Shoreline (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.shoreline.wa.us%2Fcityhall%2Fdepartments%2Fclerk%2Findex.cfm&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzey8wkAny_JrYa8oQGIgFWDmXLYBg) 206-546-1700 Skykomish (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.town.skykomish.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzfUGTlJINjy_6YO2i5VYyXaRcKo8A) 360-677-2388 Snoqualmie (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.snoqualmie.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzd0GPNcq-xCYXjNf_PP4I0pMw3xQQ) 253-888-1555 Tukwila (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.tukwila.wa.us%2Fclerk%2Fbuslic.html&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzfRu5BBPIyeXrF83gXFUbD51mTCeg) 206-433-1800 Woodinville (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.woodinville.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzfqMEyRTj1GB4FRsDdoF_DEQKW5jA) 425-489-2700 Yarrow Point (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ci.yarrow-point.wa.us%2F&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzcsAH2DhUdh53qudSPEp6JtZxhN5w) 425-454-6994

Industrial Insurance (Workers Compensation)

If you have employees, you are required to obtain industrial insurance (workers compensation) from the Department of licensing. You can learn more about this here (http://www.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dol.wa.gov%2Fbusiness%2Findustrialinsurance.html&sa=D&sntz=1&usg=AFrqEzeZJG8LH_6Z5CJAwpSaPCH5S_cjnw).

Note: sole proprietors, partners, or LLC members with management responsibility are not required to obtain industrial insurance.

Additional resources provided by the author

Rate this guide


Can’t find what you’re looking for?


Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer