Chicago Business License Guide

To conduct business in Chicago, business owners must first obtain the appropriate business license(s) with the City of ChicagoDepartment of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP)Small Business Center (SBC).  Your business registrations (e.g. EIN with the IRS, DBA with Cook County, or CORP/LLC with the State of Illinois) are not business licenses, but are prerequisites for your City of Chicago business license application.

The SBC is the business licensing division of BACP, and the City’s “one stop shop” for business licensing, public way use permitting, and connecting entrepreneurs and business owners to business resources.  Schedule a free appointment to meet with an SBC Business Consultant by calling 312-74-GOBIZ (744-6249). The following is a guide for business owners, and/or their legal representatives, looking to apply for business licenses in Chicago.

Chicago City Hall
Photo Credit: Chicago City Hall, Eric Allix Rogers

Step 1: Learn

Find out about the City’s licensing requirements and processes.

BACP regulates, and enforces the Municipal Code of Chicago (MCC) on, businesses in the following industries:
  • Accommodations, Animal Care and Services, Children Services, Commercial and Business Services, Entertainment, Food, Home Based Businesses, Home Repair and Construction Services, Hospital and Commercial Care Facilities, Liquor, Manufacturing, Motor Vehicle Services, Outdoor Vending, Parking Lot/Parking Garage, Pawnshop/Secondhand Dealer, Personal Services, Pharmaceutical Representative, Pop-Up Establishment User & Host, Public Vehicles, Shared Housing, Tobacco, Valet Operator and more
  • Review the list of City of Chicago business licenses, with license fees and terms, in the SBC Business License Guide page
About City of Chicago business licenses
  • Most businesses operating in Chicago require a City of Chicago business license issued by BACP
  • Businesses that require a City of Chicago business license may not conduct business until receipt of their City of Chicago business license certificate (for establishments) and/or photo ID badge (for individuals)
  • Most business licenses have a two-year term; regardless of the term, all businesses must renew their license(s) at the end of its term to continue legal operations
  • Businesses with multiple locations must obtain separate business licenses for each location
  • Business licenses are not transferrable; new business owners purchasing an existing business must apply for their own business license; an existing business moving to another location must apply for a new business license
  • Business licenses from other municipalities are not valid in Chicago, and vice versa
Business license exemption
  • Professions Regulated by IDFPR; Individuals licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDPFR) are exempt from obtaining a City of Chicago business license issued by BACP (e.g. Doctors, Attorneys, Architects, CPAs, etc.)
  • Trade Licenses Issued by DOB; Individuals licensed by the City of Chicago Department of Buildings (DOB), which administers trade licenses and registrations, are exempt from obtaining a City of Chicago business license issued by BACP (e.g. General Contractors, Electricians, Plumbers, Carpenters, etc.)
Attend, or view online, the BACP “Business Licensing 101” workshop

Step 2: Prepare

Before applying for a City of Chicago business license, your business entity must be registered with the appropriate government agencies; if applicable, obtain any professional/industry-specific State of Illinois license(s) or certification(s); find out the license application requirements.

Register your business entity with the appropriate federal, state and county government agencies
Obtain any professional/industry-specific State of Illinois license(s) or certification(s) (if applicable)
Know the license application requirements
  • Complete a Business Information Sheet (BIS) business license pre-application form with your business registration information
  • Depending on the license type, additional documents may be required; please check the SBC Business Licenses Guide for links to info sheets containing additional information regarding specific documentation and application requirements<
  • Since liquor licensing is complex, please review the additional requirements in the SBC Liquor Licenses page, if it applies to your business activity
Get Assistance

Step 3: Apply

There are two ways to apply for a City of Chicago business license: (1) In-person at the SBC in City Hall, or (2) online via the Chicago Business Direct, which is the City’s online business license application, renewal, and management system.

To apply for a business license in-person
  • Go to the Small Business Center (SBC), on the 8th floor of City Hall, 121 North LaSalle Street, Room 800
  • The SBC walk-in schedule is Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
  • To save time, make an appointment to meet with an SBC Business Consultant by calling 312-74-GOBIZ (744-6249)
  • SBC Business Consultants will help determine which license(s) you need, process your business license application, and connect you with business resources
To apply for a business license online
  • Go to www.chicagobusinessdirect.org, create a system user account, and follow the prompts to submit an application
  • Chicago Business Direct is accessible anytime, however, application processing by the SBC Business Consultants occurs during business hours
  • For assistance with the system or an online application, call 312-74-GOBIZ (744-6249); Monday through Friday; 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
  • Most business license types, with the exception of some specialty licenses, can be applied for online

Step 4: Process

Regardless of your business license application method, in-person or online, the application requirements and process are similar.

Provide business entity and owner(s) information
  • Find standard, and additional license-specific, business license application information requirements in the SBC License Application Requirements page
  • All business owners must provide a valid, government-issued, photo ID with current home address
Zoning review of the business location address
  • The City of Chicago is divided into distinct zoning districts that reflect the diversity of business and neighborhood uses; each zoning district has different regulations about the types of business activities that are permitted
  • Location-based business license applications must have the provided business location address approved by a License Zoning representative; non-location-based license applications will not require a Zoning approval
Submit all required business license application documents
  • Either your SBC Business Consultant, or the online application system, will inform, or prompt, you of any required documents
  • Submit your required documents to your SBC Business Consultant (if in-person), or upload to attach to your application (if online)
Health Consultation (Food-related license types only)
  • Either your SBC Business Consultant, or the online application system, will inform you if a “Health Consultation” is required
  • If applying for a food-related business license, then you will be prompted to meet with the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) – Food Protection Sanitarian, at the SBC, to review equipment and food safety operations
Payment of license fee(s)
  • Only after all requirements are met, and the application is approved, will payment be requested
  • Either your SBC Business Consultant will generate your payment coupon (if in-person) or the payment page will display (if online)
Scheduling of inspection(s)
  • Either your SBC Business Consultant, or the online application system, will inform you if any inspections are required
  • If inspection(s) is/are required as part of the business license application, then your SBC Business Consultant will schedule your appointment (if in-person), or the inspecting department(s) (e.g. Department of Buildings, Fire Department, Department of Public Health) will contact you to schedule the appointment (if online)
Business license certificate, photo ID badge, or decal printed
  • The business license certificate, photo ID badge, or decal will not be printed if any required inspections have not been passed, and/or if any applicant(s) have any outstanding City debt
  • As a reminder, businesses that require a City of Chicago business license may not conduct business until receipt of their City of Chicago business license certificate (for establishments), photo ID badge (for individuals), or decals (for vehicles/carts)

Step 5: Signage

In addition to issuing business licenses, BACP, through its Public Way Use (PWU) unit, is the City department that issues general Grants of Privilege for the use of the public way.

Public Way Use Permit
  • Business owners who have any items (e.g. signs, canopies, awnings, benches, sidewalk cafes, etc.) that extend out (i.e. over, under, or on) to the public way from their commercial business locations require Public Way Use Permits
Sign Construction Permit
  • In addition to a public way use permit, all business identifiers such as signs, awnings, canopies, marquees and banners are required to have a Department of Buildings (DOB) sign construction permit. Only a licensed sign contractor may apply to obtain a sign construction permit