Business License Application Steps
Applying for a City of Chicago Business License
Most businesses operating in the City of Chicago require a City of Chicago business license. Applications can be made in person (see the “visit us” page) or online through Chicago’s online business license application system. For information on business license types and regulations, see the business licensing guide.
The type of business entity under which you choose to register your business will depend on three primary factors: liability, taxation, and record-keeping. Before you establish a business, you may consider consulting with a Corporate/Business Law Attorney or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who specializes in your industry for advice about what type of business entity will meet your business needs and what your legal obligations will be.
You must register your business entity with the proper government agency:
- Sole Proprietors and General Partnerships, operating under an assumed name, must register with the Cook County Clerk's Office.
- All other business entity types (i.e. Limited Partnership (LP), Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), Corporation, or Not-for-Profit Corporation (NFP)) must register with the Illinois Secretary of State.
You must also register for your business taxes with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR). Registration for City of Chicago business taxes comes later as part of the City business license application process.
The chart below contains additional information about business and tax registrations.
|Assumed Business Name Registration
The Clerk's Office registers business names known as "assumed names" for new businesses in accordance with Illinois law. An assumed name is issued to any business entity that uses a name other than the name(s) of the individual(s) who own or operate the business. For example, a business called "John Jones, P.C." (i.e. owner's full name and title) does not have to file an assumed name, but "Jones Wrecking" does.
|50 W. Washington St.
West Concourse Level
|State of Illinois
50 W. Washington St.
555 W. Monroe
|Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is also known as a Federal Tax Identification Number, and is used to identify a legal business entity. Businesses are required to obtain an EIN to file and pay any federal tax obligation. You may register for an EIN with the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
IRS Guide to Starting a Business
Find links to basic federal tax information for people who are starting a business, as well as information to assist in making basic business decisions. The list should not be construed as all-inclusive. Other steps may be appropriate for your specific type of business.
|230 S. Dearborn St.
Complete a BIS pre-application form (in-person applicants only), or start an online application through the online business license application system. The following information must be provided by all applicants:
- The business name and ownership information, including business structure documents as listed below
|Limited Liability Corporation
Articles of incorporationBusiness org chart
Articles of organizationBusiness org chart
Business org chartCert of limited partnership
Partnership agreementBusiness org chart
|Proof of Chicago residence
- State of Illinois File Number – if applicable
- Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) Account ID Number – if applicable
- Federal (IRS) Employer Identification Number (EIN) – if applicable
- The business address
- Square footage of the business location
- A detailed description of all business activities conducted (on and off the business premises). For information on business license types and regulations, see the business licensing guide.
- Identification from all of applicants, such as a valid driver’s license, state ID card, or other government-issued photo ID
- Depending on the license type, additional documents may be required. Applicants will be prompted to submit the appropriate forms as part of the application process. Business license forms can be found on the business license form page.
- A separate license is required for each business location.
Please check the Business Licenses Guide for links to facts sheets containing additional information regarding specific documentation and application requirements.
Business license applications are reviewed for compliance with the Chicago Zoning Ordinance. Particular types of business activity are allowed based on the zoning district in which your business is located.
The zoning review for business license applications includes:
- Review of a detailed, accurate description of the proposed business activity and business space. This will include a review of the size of the business, the floor of a building on which the activity will take place, and the number of employees that will be present on site.
- Review of architectural plans approved by the Department of Buildings showing that the layout of the space aligns with the proposed business activity.
- Review for compliance with parking requirements.
- Verification of a valid driveway permit from the Chicago Department of Transportation for any driveways leading from the street to the business or the business’s parking lot.
See the Chicago Business Zoning Guide for general information on zoning in Chicago. For more information on how to use the Guide, watch the Business Zoning Guide Webinar, and use the Interactive Zoning Map to look up your zoning district by address. For more information on zoning, including on the Zoning Board of Appeals, please visit the Zoning Ordinance Administration.
For more information on zoning, call the Business Call Center at 312 74-GOBIZ (744.6249) or visit the Chicago Small Business Center.
- Do not enter into any financial commitment such as signing a lease unless you are certain that you are in the proper zoning district that allows your proposed business activity.
- Do not assume that the previous owner’s zoning designation applies to you.
Depending upon the license type, inspections may be required by one or more City departments prior to license issuance. Typical pre-license inspections include the following:
- All license applicants undergo a City debt check, meaning that any debt that the applicant or any controlling person owes to the City must be resolved before the license may be issued. The City offers payment plans for some debt types. See the Department of Finance for more information on debt and payment plans.
- License applications for some business license types require a fingerprint-based criminal history investigation for every owner, corporate officer, member, or any person with more than a 25% (5% for Liquor applications) interest in the business, as well as on-site managers for certain license types; a cost recovery fee of $40 per person will be assessed for the service of fingerprint processing. A completed City of Chicago Individual History Form (IHF) will be required.
- Premises for some license types are inspected by the Department of Public Health (food licensees), the Department of Buildings (public places of amusement, children’s facilities, etc.), the Fire Department (commercial garages, gas stations, etc.), and other departments. On-site departmental inspections will be scheduled as part of the license application process.
The Business License Guide contains information on specific inspection requirements for particular license types.