Professional and business licensure

What You Need to Know About Performing Certain Professional or Business Activities in California

Do I need a license to do that?

In order to offer certain services or goods in California, or to use certain titles, you must get a special license, permit, registration, or certification. Performing these services without complying with the requirements can subject you to significant fines and/or prison time. For example, practicing medicine without a license can lead to up to 3 years in state prison.1Penal Code 2052

Here are activities and titles which require a special license, permit, registration, or certification:

Real estate professional services

Design related services

  • Architect: services related to designing buildings and other structures

Exceptions. A person may design certain basic types of the following without an architect or engineer license, if the local building department is OK with it: single-family homes, multiple dwelling plans of no more than 4 units, garages or other structures added to dwellings, agricultural and ranch buildings, nonstructural or nonseismic storefronts, interior alterations or additions, fixtures, cabinetwork, furniture, or other appliances or equipment.

  • Landscape Architect: services related to designing landscaping
  • Interior Designer: NOT required, but you can get an optional California state endorsed certification for drawing up interior building plans

Entertainment industry

Educational services

Legal and Financial services

Physical Health & healing arts

Mental health & counseling

Automotive/car related


Beauty services

Construction & building maintenance

  • General building contractor: building or remodeling structures such as homes
  • Plumber: maintaining water, gas, and other pipes and plumbing
  • Refrigeration: maintaining refrigerators and other refrigeration appliances
  • Sheet metal services
  • Solar: providing solar panels and related services
  • Swimming pool: building and maintaining swimming pools
  • Welding: services related to creating or maintaining metal materials
  • Tile & tiling services
  • Painting services
  • Roofing services
  • Painting & decorating services

Engineering, Land Surveying and Geology

  • Engineer (PE): professional engineering services, including civil engineering, geotechnical, soils, structural, mechanical, agricultural, chemical, control systems, electrical, fire protection, industrial, metallurgical, nuclear, petroleum, traffic.
  • Land Surveyor: land surveying services, including photogrammetric, geodetic, geometronic or survey engineer
  • Geologist: geological and geophysical services, including geophysicists, engineering geologists, and hydrogeologists.

Security and Investigative Services

  • Security guard services
  • Locksmith services
  • Private investigator services
  • Training instructors (firearms and baton)
  • Alarm services
  • Private patrol services
  • Repossession agency services (“repo”)

Other consumer services and goods

No special licensing requirements for the following:

  • Massage therapist/masseuse (but state provides optional certification)
  • Nutritionist/dietitian services
  • Fitness instructor/personal trainer services
  • Interior designer (you can get an optional certification)

Other Business Licensing

If you operate a business in California, there may be other licenses, permits, registrations, and certifications you need, including:

  • Local business license: many cities and counties in California require all local businesses to get a “business license” also known as a business tax registration certificate. Check with your city and county.
  • Seller’s permit: if you are selling any goods, you will need a seller’s permit and collect sales tax
  • 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. Again check with your city and county.
  • Registering or forming your entity, such as a corporation, LLC, dba, etc: see Entrepreneurs and Business Owners page.
  • Registering as an employer or if you have independent contractors. Again, see Entrepreneurs and Business Owners page.

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

See more at California Business Portal.


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