Do I Need to Register My Business in San Francisco?

“Registering” a business can mean several different things. If you operate a business in San Francisco Bay Area in California, there may be various licenses, permits, registrations, and certifications you need, including:

1. Local business license (aka business tax registration certificate)

Most cities and counties in California require all local businesses to get a “business license” also sometimes known as a “business tax registration certificate.” For the city of San Francisco, you will need to get a Business Registration Certificate within 15 days of doing any business in the city. For the city of San Jose, you need a Business Tax Certificate within 90 days of starting business in the city. Or check with your city and/or county for more info.

FYI: there is no such thing as a general “California business license.”

2. “Incorporating” or registering your entity

If you want to form a business entity such as an LLC or corporation, you will need to register with the California Secretary of State. See our Guide to Business Entities.

3. Registering with FinCEN

As of January 1, 2024, most small businesses in the U.S. must register with the federal agency FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), part of the U.S. Treasury Department, to report who owns the business.

4. Seller’s permit

If you are selling any goods, you will need a seller’s permit and collect sales tax.

5. Brick and mortar permits

For businesses with a physical location, you may need to get a “zoning” permit to perform your business activities at that location. Check with the SF Planning Department, or your city and county.

6. DBA or “Fictitious Business Name Statement

If you are doing business as other than your own name or your registered entity’s name. See our Guide to the DBA for more.

7. Registering as an employer

If you have employees, you will need to register with the state. See our Guide to Hiring for Your Business.

8. Tax ID/EIN or Employer Identification Number

This is separate from registering as an employer with the state. You would get an EIN from the IRS, regardless of whether you have employees or not. It is the Tax ID of the business.

9. Registering your professional or business activities

You may also need to register or get a license for your professional or business activities, such as practicing architecture or medicine, working as a building contractor, or much more. See our Guide to Professional Licenses for more.

10. Optional certifications

There may also be various optional certifications you can obtain, such as a “Green Business Certification.”

Further Resources

See our Guide to the Law for Entrepreneurs and Business Owners in California

Also see more at California Business Portal.


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