Rules & Regulations

Registering Your Business

The Washington Secretary of State is the chief corporations officer in Washington state. Prior to obtaining any license, an entrepreneur should register with the corporate division of the Secretary of State's office. Corporate organizing documents must be approved before the organization's legal existence may begin. A summary of registration and business renewal requirements as well as registration forms are available on the Secretary of State's online Information Center.

The Department of Revenue also has information about registering a business. DOR also provides instructions for registering out-of-state businesses.

The Washington Business Hub can help you understand if you need to register your business.  

Licensing

Washington State Licenses

Businesses incorporating in Washington State are required to obtain a state business license. The Washington state Department of Licensing (DOL) provides regulatory authority over various licensing services, but the Department of Revenue (DOR) processes business license applications and runs the Business Licensing Service (BLS).

Obtaining a Washington state business license requires filing an application with BLS. You may call 1-800-451-7985.

The BLS application can be used to obtain a Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number and to register trade names. A trade name provides a record of all owners of a business and is any name used in the course of business that does not include the full legal name of all owners of the business. The right to use a trade name belongs to the entrepreneur first using a given name in connection with the business. If a trade name is not registered, the business entity itself may not be party to a lawsuit. Learn more about trade name registration.

The Washington Business Hub is also a good resource for getting the right licenses and permits from the state.

Local Licenses

In addition to state licensing requirements, entrepreneurs may need to comply with city and/or county licensing requirements for each operation. Businesses operating in Seattle come under the jurisdiction of King County and City of Seattle regulations.

King County

King County does not require a general business license. Any business operating within the city limits of any of the major cities within King County is required to have a city business license (see below). However, if a business is located in unincorporated King County - an area outside of city limits - and engages in a regulated activity, a King County regulatory license must be obtained for each regulated activity. Learn more about regulated business activities in unincorporated King County or contact the King County Dept. of Permitting and Environmental Review at (206) 296-6600.

 

City of Seattle

Business License: Each business engaging in business activities in Seattle must obtain and annually renew a city business license unless the business activity is specifically exempted from licensing and taxes. Anyone engaging in business activities within Seattle is required to obtain a Seattle business license whether or not a place of business is maintained within city limits. A branch business license is required for each additional venue doing business. Learn more about or apply for a city business license online or call (206) 684-2489.

Regulatory License: The City of Seattle further regulates specific business activities and requires entrepreneurs to obtain a City of Seattle regulatory license for each regulated activity. Unless the business activity is specifically exempted, the entrepreneur must obtain City of Seattle regulatory license(s) in addition to the City business license. Find out what types of businesses require a regulatory endorsement.

Visit the Washington Business Licensing Service site for information pertaining to other cities and counties in the state.

Taxes

Businesses are subject to various federal, state, and local taxes. While businesses are likely to encounter all of the common taxes listed below, entrepreneurs are encouraged to consult a tax advisor and, depending upon the jurisdiction, relevant statutes.

Federal Unless you are a nonprofit, your business will be subject to federal income tax. Visit the Small Business Tax Center on the IRS website for further information about federal taxes and tax incentive programs, or contact the Seattle office of the IRS: (206) 220-6015; 915 Second Avenue, Seattle, WA 98174.

State Washington state does not impose a corporate, unitary, or personal income tax. However, most businesses will be subject to a business and occupations (B & O) tax, a retail sales/use tax, and state property taxes. The state also imposes taxes on such activities as public utilities, carbonated beverages, fish, timber, tobacco products, litter, refuse collections, petroleum products, and hazardous materials. However, some industries may be able to benefit from one of several state tax incentives. Learn more about state taxes on the Washington Business Hub website. The state's Department of Revenue (DOR) also has information online about filing and paying taxes, and you may contact their office at 1-800-647-7706.

King County All businesses in King County are required to file a personal property tax affidavit. The King County Assessor's Office is responsible for assessing personal property used by a business. Personal property typically includes items used by a company to conduct business, and generally does not include property attached to a building or the land. Once a Master Business License is obtained from the state, an account is established for your business and personal property tax affidavits are mailed at the end of each year, requesting information about business assets. For questions about the personal property tax valuation and process contact the King County Assessor's Office at (206) 296-7300.

City of Seattle Every person or entity doing business within the city limits is subject to the business license tax unless specifically exempted by the Seattle Municipal Code. Seattle maintains a general gross receipts business license tax and a gross receipts utility tax. Any business whose annual taxable revenue - reportable under the business license tax and earned within Seattle - is less than $50,000 is not required to remit a tax payment. However, a completed annual tax return must be submitted to ensure the City is made aware that no tax is due. No such tax threshold exists under the utility tax. Businesses conducting activities in some industry sectors may also be required to pay City admission or gambling taxes. For further city tax information visit the City's Business License Tax page or call (206) 684-8484.

Permits

Permits: Use and Construction Regulations

A number of City agencies are charged with ensuring compliance with City regulations by businesses and residents. Most commercial related permits are issued by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), which is responsible for developing, administering, and enforcing standards for land use, design, construction, and housing within city limits. However, depending on the industry and intended business activities, entrepreneurs may need to obtain permits from other city agencies, such as the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), or the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). SDCI provides entrepreneurs with comprehensive information on how to obtain permits from various City departments and it is essential that entrepreneurs consult with SDCI early in the process.

Available Resources
SDCI has developed a variety of personal, published, and online resources available for entrepreneurs.

  • Applicant Services Center (ASC). The ASC provides assistance to entrepreneurs applying for City permits, including Master Use Permits, Building Permits, and a variety of additional associated permits, including electrical, furnace, plumbing, boiler, sign, and Street Use. ASC staff advises entrepreneurs on City Code regulations and accepts SDCI permit applications.
    ASC 20th Floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower at 700 Fifth Ave. (206) 684-8850
    ASC Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm.
  • Public Resource Center (PRC). The PRC provides information documents and codes as well as access to current Master Use Permit files. The PRC also maintains the Microfilm Library, which chronicles property plan and permit history for your property.
    PRC 20th Floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower at 700 Fifth Ave. (206) 684-8467
    PRC Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30 am to 4:00 pm
  • Online Materials. SDCI publishes a variety of online resources for entrepreneurs. Several City departments (SDCI, SPU, DON, SDOT) also collaborate to publish a series of Client Assistance Memos (CAMs) that cover a range of City permitting, land use and code compliance policies and procedures.   

Types of Permits
See a list of City of Seattle permit types and information on King County permit types.

  • Use - the Seattle Land Use Code regulates business activities based on the use of real property. Land use permits assure compliance with City zoning requirements and environmental regulations. SDCI issues Master Use Permits (MUPs), which are required to establish a given use of property and to change a given use of property. However, if an entrepreneur is not changing the previous use of property, an additional use permit may not be required. SDCI has created an online Master Use Permit checklist to communicate specific submittal requirements to entrepreneurs.
  • Construction - the Seattle Building Code regulates business activities based on the intended use of a physical structure. Construction permits ensure projects comply with structural and fire/life safety regulations. SDCI issues a series of construction-related permits, including building permits, demolition permits, grading permits, electrical permits, and mechanical permits - see their building improvements checklist. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) regulates construction work in the public rights-of-way and issues Street Use permits
  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) Permits - SDCI issues thousands of over-the-counter permits annually, including electrical permits, fire alarms, boiler permits, pressure vessel permits, refrigeration permits, single family/duplex mechanical permits, and side sewer/drainage/sewer capping. OTC permits at SDCI's Applicant Services Center (ASC) are issued while the customer waits, with no plan review required.
  • Plumbing Permits - Plumbing permits are required to install, relocate, or change a plumbing system. Small business owners are encouraged to hire a professional plumber. Contact King County Environmental Health Services with questions about plumbing permits: (206) 263-9566.
  • Street Use Permits - SDOT offers more than 60 different types of street use permits for work in and use of the public rights-of-way. You may apply for a permit in person at the Street Use Permit Counter, located on the 23rd floor of Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave. Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30 am to 5:00 pm. Contact the Street Use Permit team at (206) 684-5253 or SDOTPermits@seattle.gov.

Employees

Additional sets of responsibilities arise when a business hires employees. Employers should consider federal, state, and local regulations.

The Seattle Office of Labor Standards provides information on the following city ordinances:

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries website helps you understand what L&I requirements apply to your business.

Find out what the IRS requires for businesses with employees.