Pride Flag

The City of San Rafael celebrates Pride Month


Business License Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to provide proof of insurance for my business license?

Applicants conducting film shoots in San Rafael should provide a certificate for their commercial general liability policy (with endorsement naming City of San Rafael as additional insured) in the amount of $1 million per occurrence, $2 million aggregate.

How can I pay for my business license when City Hall is closed?

There is a mail drop near the rear doors of City Hall.  Otherwise, payments can be made online at or via U.S. mail.

How can I print a copy of my business license?

Create an account profile at  By logging into this profile, you can renew, close, or print documents from one or more linked business license accounts.

What is a business license?

A business license is a tax for doing business. The San Rafael Municipal Code requires that you obtain a license to conduct business within the city limits of San Rafael, even if your physical office is located outside city limits. A business license is not a permit. It is not evidence that the holder is qualified to operate the business or that the business is being conducted in compliance with applicable legal requirements.

Who is required to have a San Rafael business license?

Anyone who conducts business within San Rafael city limits must obtain a business license.

I am paid on a 1099 basis, not as a W2 employee. Do I need a business license?

Yes, if you are not paid as an employee, you are considered an independent contractor and are required to have a business license.

Do I need a license if I run a business out of my home?

Yes. In addition, a home-based business must comply with City of San Rafael Zoning Standards.

Does a non-profit organization need a business license?

Yes. However, the business license tax is waived upon presentation of proof that the business has a non-profit status.

What if I have more than one business location?

A separate business license is required for each location.

I conduct business in several cities. Can I get one license for all cities?

No, each city has its own business license requirements, fees, and taxes. Check with the appropriate city or county for its rules and regulations.

What if I close or sell my business?

Please provide written notification of a business closure or sale.  Include the date the business was closed or sold and the name of the new owner, if applicable.   For your convenience, you may contact us via email at 

You can close your license online.  You will need your account number and your PIN, both of which can be found at the bottom of your renewal notice or in a reminder email.

I just purchased an existing business. Can I use the previous owner’s license?

No, a business license cannot be transferred. As a new owner, you need to apply for a business license in your name.

What if I want to move the business/change my business address?

Always check with the City’s Planning Division to verify that the new location is zoned properly for the intended use and whether a Use Permit or another type of approval is required.  Please submit a new business license application for the new location.  If you are registered with other government agencies such as the State Board of Equalization, you may need to update your address of record.

What if a corporate officer changes?

The president, treasurer, and other officers of a corporation may be shareholders, but they are not the owners of the business for our purposes.  We consider the corporation itself the owner of the business.  Just send us a follow-up email to with updated contact information.

Why isn’t there an expiration date on my business certificate?

To save paper, postage, and staff time, we are no longer printing new certificates every time a license is renewed, unless there is a significant change such as a new business name or address. You can view expiration dates in the online business registry.

How can I ensure the timely processing of my business license application or renewal?

There are a few things to be sure to do so we can process your business license in a timely fashion:

Why did I receive a business tax certificate?

“Business tax certificate” is simply a more accurate term for what is commonly referred to as a “business license.”  Our Finance Department collects business tax but does not regulate businesses; therefore, we are trying to minimize the use of the term “business license,” which suggests the granting of permission.

My bank/mortgage company or another government agency wants to see my business license.

Third parties occasionally ask to see your business license.  On the top of our main business license webpage, there is a business registry search feature that third parties can use to see if your San Rafael business license is current.

Will the City of San Rafael notify me when it is time to renew my license?

As of January 1, 2022, the City no longer mails paper renewal notices, but will continue to send renewal notices via email. However, it is your responsibility to renew your business license in a timely manner even if the renewal notice is not received. Penalties are assessed on delinquent accounts, regardless of whether you received a renewal notice. Please verify that your email address on file is current.

I mailed my Business License renewal by the due date. Why was I charged late penalties?

As indicated on the renewal notice, your renewal must be physically received by the City by the due date. We do not accept postmarks.

The City received my business license renewal only a few days after February 15. Why was I charged late penalties?

Annual renewals are due January 1 (unless you operate a financial institution, an insurance company, or a non-profit on a July – June renewal cycle). There is a 45-day grace period, after which penalties are assessed. If your payment was received after February 15, you were actually more than 45 days late.

Why am I being charged a Fire Inspection Fee on my business license renewal?

Commercial locations are periodically visited by Fire Inspectors for compliance with life safety regulations. This fee covers the cost of these inspections. If you have additional questions about this fee, please contact the Fire Prevention Bureau.

Do I need a seller’s permit?

Most businesses engaged in the sale of tangible goods require a California Seller’s Permit in addition to obtaining a business license. To apply, contact the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

California Department of Tax and Fee Administration
50 D Street, Room 230
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 890-6267

Are there any restrictions on where I do business?

Every business must abide by the City’s zoning requirements. Before signing any lease or rental agreement, please contact the City’s Planning Division to make sure your business activity is appropriate for the area’s current zoning designation and that it will not require a public hearing or special parking considerations.

Can I make installment payments on my balance due?

Yes, we typically allow people to make payments.  However, depending on the amount due and the number of installments, we may require you to sign a promissory note and to pay interest and a processing fee.  Please contact the Business Tax Division at (415) 485-3051 for details.

What about selling food?

If selling or preparing food is a part of your business, you must apply for a health permit from the County of Marin Food Program in addition to obtaining a business license.

Environmental Health Services 
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903 
(415) 473-6907

Does San Rafael regulate business signage?

Check with the City’s Planning Division Sign Requirements before using or installing any type of sign, flag, or banner, even balloons. Permanent and temporary signs require review and approval prior to issuance of permits and installations.

Do I need a Fictitious Business Name?

Check with the Marin County Clerk to see if you need a Fictitious Business Name in Marin.

Marin County Clerk
3501 Civic Center Drive #234
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6772

What is BID?

In the downtown area, there is a Business Improvement District (BID), which is comprised of standard and premium zones. If you are thinking of starting up a business downtown, you might want to review the map below to see if your address falls within either of the zones. If so, you may be charged a BID assessment on your business license renewal. For more information regarding the BID program check out their website using the link: Downtown San Rafael – Business Improvement District

Business Improvement District Map


Can I leave handbills at homes to advertise my business?

No, you can’t distribute any commercial handbill or advertising at any homes without having permission of the owner or occupant.

Is my business information confidential?

Only certain information is available to the public – for example, business and owner names, physical and mailing addresses, and business types. This information is printed on your business license certificate. We do not disclose phone numbers, e-mail addresses, or financial information to the public, except as required by law.

Per Business and Professions Code Section 16000.1(a)(2), you may protect your residential business address by substituting an appropriate alternative address such as a post office box or private mail box that accepts service of process.  Please provide an appropriate substitute address in writing if you do not want your residential address on your business tax certificate.

How do I pay my Business License?

Business License Tax payments can be made online, whether it is a balance due payment or renewal. You can also pay in-person on the 3rd Floor of San Rafael City Hall.

How do I register my new business?

If you would like to register your new business, you should first check with our Planning Division to make sure your business location is zoned properly for the business you want to do.  Once a location has been secured you will need to complete a Business License Application online, within 45 days of operation.

How do I file a complaint about a business?

We don’t regulate business conduct, but you can contact the Marin County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit and/or the Better Business Bureau.

How do I renew or close my business license?

You can quickly renew your license or close it online. You will need your account number and a PIN, both of which can be found at the bottom of your renewal notice or in a reminder email.
We have gone paperless! For annual licenses, we will email your courtesy renewal reminder around 3 weeks before your expiration date to the email address on file. For quarterly licenses, we will email your courtesy renewal reminder at the beginning of every quarter your account is eligible to renew.

If you have moved, changed ownership, or have any questions about your renewal, please contact us at or (415) 485-3051 before renewing.

Do I need a business license and how do I get one?

A business license is a tax required of most businesses that conduct business within the city limits of San Rafael, even if your physical office is located outside city limits. Business license taxes help to pay for street maintenance, police and fire protection, and other services that benefit businesses and the general public.

You need a business license if your business is physically located within San Rafael or you conduct business within the San Rafael city limits. You should apply for a business license within 45 days of the start of the business.

There are four types of business licenses:

  • In Town (for retailers, professionals, home-based businesses, and most other physical locations within city limits)
  • Out of Town (for businesses such as contractors and gardeners from outside city limits as well as pumpkin patch/Christmas tree lot operators without a physical office in San Rafael)
  • Apartments (for apartments or certain other residential rental properties)
  • Film Shoot (for filming on public or private property)

You can apply for a business license online.

Why isn’t there an expiration date on my business tax certificate?

In order to save paper, postage, and staff time, we are no longer printing new certificates every time a license is renewed, unless there is a significant change such as a new business name or address.   Our online registry displays expiration dates.

How do I get a liquor license?

To sell alcoholic beverages, you’ll need a liquor license. California has four types (3 for full liquor and 1 for beer & wine only). You can find information about buying a liquor license from the California Department of Alcohol & Beverage Control (ABC). The nearest local ABC office is in Santa Rosa, and you can call them at (707) 576-2165. Your business may also require special review and approvals from the City of San Rafael. Contact us and we’ll let you know.

Temporary licenses can also be obtained for events through the California Department of Alcohol & Beverage Control.

How do I start a business?

San Rafael is a great place to start and grow a successful business. We are the economic heart of Marin County and home to many incredible companies. From biotech to real estate, finance to auto sales, construction to education; one of our most notable restaurants grew from our farmers’ market! Our Economic Development department is here for you.

Is my business license tax deductible?

Your business license tax is generally deductible, but you should consult your tax adviser about your particular circumstance.

Close window