What permits and licenses do you need for your Canadian small business?

Permits and licenses may seem like just a formality, but they’re an essential part of running a small business in Canada. Most small businesses need a license of some sort to operate, even some home-based businesses. Without proper licenses and permits, you may have to pay major fines – not something you want to worry about when you’re starting a business and every dollar counts!

Here are some more details about Canadian small business permits and licenses, and where to get them.

What’s the difference between a license and a permit?

To many of us, a permit and a license can seem like the same thing. However, there is an important difference between the two:

  • A permit shows proof of compliance with certain laws
  • A license shows you’re allowed to operate in your area

What small business permit or license do I need in Canada?

The small business permits and licenses you’ll need will depend on your small business’ industry, city, and province. You might be required to have both a municipal and provincial license. Fees are required with licenses, so be sure to account for this.

Before you get a license, check to see if you’ll need to get approvals, inspections, or background checks. For example, commercial business locations are usually inspected by the fire department. Or, if you’re running your business out of your home, you may need a home occupation permit or need to follow other provincial regulations.

Example of small business licenses and permits in Canada

Here’s one example of the types of permits and licenses a small business might need:

A Calgary yoga studio could require an Alberta Sign Application, an Alberta Business Name Registration as well as a Canadian Business Registration, a Calgary Sign Permit, a Calgary Development Permit and a Commercial School License.

Where do you get a permit or license for your small business?

As early as you can, get in touch with your municipal or provincial department to talk about licensing. It’s important to not leave this to the last minute, because the costs and wait times for each of these permits are so variable. The last thing you want is to delay your business’ opening because you’re waiting for a permit!

Check out the Government of Canada’s BizPal website to find out what licenses and permits you’ll need. You may also need to get in touch with local authorities like Development and Building Approvals, Health Services, Fire Department, Gaming and Liquor Commission, or Police Services.

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