Licenses & Regulations


Nearly all businesses are required to obtain some sort of license or permit from either a local, state, or federal agency. Furthermore as a small business owner and employer you should be aware of the consumer, workplace, and environmental laws and regulations that might affect your business. Different businesses must comply with different rules, so it is critical you take the time to find out what rules apply to you. Mistakes can at best be costly and at worst result in serious legal trouble.

Local Licenses and Permits

The most common local permit is the privilege license, sometime referred to as a business license. A privilege license is an annual tax levied on all for-profit businesses within a jurisdiction's limits, for the privilege of engaging in a particular occupation or business activity.

Contact your city or town directly for more information about their requirements.

Other Local Rules and Regulations

Many towns and some counties have zoning restrictions that limit what type of businesses can operate where, including whether or not home-based businesses are allowed. The size and location of signs is another common business item that is regulated by local government. Furthermore, some subdivisions and neighborhoods have restrictive covenants or other deed restrictions that may be more stringent than the local zoning requirements.

In order to be sure that you are in compliance check with your homeowners association and local Planning or Inspections Department:

State Licenses and Permits

North Carolina has over 700 business license requirements for certain types of businesses.  There are also businesses for which there are no state license requirements. To find out if your business activity requires a state license contact the Business ServiCenter at the N.C. Department of Commerce.

Other State Rules and Regulations

In addition to obtaining appropriate state licenses, small businesses must comply with a number of state rules and regulations. The most common relate to the responsible stewardship of the environment, the promotion of the health, safety, and well-being of workers, and the protection of consumers from fraudulent business practices.

The links below can help you learn more about what state regulations potentially affect your business:

Federal Licenses and Permits

Most small businesses are unlikely to have to acquire special federal licenses or permits to operate a business. Some more tightly regulated industries though do require federal licensing including businesses engaged in investment advising, preparation of meat products, ground transportation involving interstate commerce, and the manufacture of tobacco, alcohol, or firearms. In these cases it is best to consult an attorney regarding federal licensing requirements before starting your business.

Other Federal Rules and Regulations

Small businesses are subject to a number of federal laws and regulations governing how they operate their business including rules barring workplace discrimination, guaranteeing unpaid leave for medical or family reasons, and regulating harmful pollutants.

The links below can help you learn more about what federal regulations potentially affect your business:

  • Employment Law Guide
    The U.S. Department of Labor’s overview of the major federal statutes and regulations governing employers. The guide includes descriptions federal rules on wages and hours of work, workplace health and safety, the provision of health, retirement, and fringe benefits, and family and medical leave.

  • Environmental Protection Agency Small Business Ombudsman  
    The U.S. EPA’s liaison to the small business community not only providing assistance for complying with environmental regulations but also offering small business ways to improve both their environmental and financial performance.

  • Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers  
    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guide to prohibited personnel practices including discrimination based on disability, race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.