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How to Get a Liquor License for Your Business

By Lindsay Haskell Reviewed By Ann Cornell
By Lindsay Haskell
By Lindsay Haskell Reviewed By Ann Cornell

Businesses selling alcohol can enjoy healthy profit margins, but they must adhere to strict liquor license requirements. 

A liquor license gives you legal permission to sell alcohol at your venue. The approval process can take some time, so it’s important to apply for one as early on as possible when looking to open a restaurant, bar or liquor store.

Here’s what you need to know about getting a liquor license. We’ll look at the types of liquor licenses available, liquor license rules and cost by state.

Types of Liquor Licenses

The type of liquor license you need depends on whether you’re opening a liquor store, restaurant, bar, club or other venue and what sorts of alcoholic beverages you’ll offer.

The 2 major liquor license types are on-premise and off-premise licenses, also called on-licenses and off-licenses.

Off-Premise Liquor Licenses

If your business sells alcohol for customers to take home, you’ll need an off-premise liquor license. If it’s for customers to enjoy on location, you’ll need an on-premise license.

On-Premise Liquor Licenses

There are a few subtypes of on-premise licenses geared toward different business types. Some states require multiple on-premise licenses.

Tavern License

This license is for bars, live music joints and other businesses sourcing most of their revenue from alcohol sales.

Beer-and-Wine License

Restaurants, breweries, wine bars and other businesses selling beer or wine — but not hard liquor — need a beer-and-wine license.

Restaurant Liquor License

Restaurants with alcoholic drinks such as spirits and cocktails on their menus need a restaurant liquor license. While it doesn’t limit the type of liquor sold, it does limit the percentage of revenue that can come from alcohol sales.

BYO (Bring-Your-Own) Liquor License

If you plan to let your customers bring their own liquor to your business’s venue, you’ll need a bring-your-own liquor license.

A liquor shop employee hands a wine bottle to a customer.

Liquor License Requirements

Here are some criteria you should know before applying for a liquor license:

1. Registered Business

Before you can be approved to sell alcohol, you need to be a registered business. While it may be possible in your state to get a liquor license as a sole proprietor, it’s recommended you organize your business as an LLC or corporation. This way, you bear less personal legal liability. A corporation will give you more personal asset protection and startup funding opportunities.

2. Clean Background Check

If any criminal history comes up on the business owner’s background check, your liquor license application could be denied. In some states, a background check done by your local government is required before you apply to your local Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board. Some states also require tax clearance certificates to verify that you pay your taxes.

3. To Pass Inspections

There may be some sort of on-premise inspection before your liquor license application is approved, depending on your state’s laws. Here are some of the things that can be considered:

  • Your location: In states with zoning laws, you can’t sell alcohol within a certain radius of schools or churches.
  • Daily operations: If your establishment is already up and going, inspectors may check if your records of invoices and receipts from your vendors are maintained and organized and if the place is clean.
  • Your working manager: The working manager at your venue should be the same person registered on the liquor license application. In some states, an inspector will check this in person.
  • Fire safety: A fire inspector might check that your establishment is up-to-date with municipal fire safety codes.

4. Your Food Handler’s Permit

If your establishment serves food, you’ll need a food service permit (also called a food handler’s permit). These typically are quicker to obtain than a liquor license. You’ll apply for a  food service permit through your local health department.

To get your permit approved, you’ll need to pass a food safety inspection that ensures you’re meeting your health department’s food code.

5. Liquor License Availability in Your County

New liquor license availability is a potential hang-up in the application process. In some states, each county limits how many liquor licenses they’re allowed to issue, based on the county’s population. If licenses are maxed out in your county, you won’t be able to get one — at least not right away.

If there are no new licenses available, you can try to buy yours from an existing business. Be sure to check with your local county officials and find out if any new licenses are available before purchasing an existing liquor license.

Liquor License Cost

The cost of obtaining the liquor license will depend on the type of liquor license and your state’s requirements. Prepare to pay anywhere from $100 to more than $10,000.

Some states include a processing fee or a surcharge in addition to the license fee. Liquor licenses need to be renewed every 1 to 3 years, but in many states, you’ll pay less in subsequent years than you did to acquire the initial license.

How to Get a Liquor License

To get your license, you’ll need to go through the liquor license application process with the ABC board in your state. They’ll direct you to an online liquor license application form or send you the physical forms you need. They can tell you about any additional permits or paperwork you need to submit with your liquor license application.

It can take about 2 or more months for your liquor license application to be processed and approved. Be sure you apply for your initial license or renewals well ahead of when you’ll need them for operations.

To ensure you’re up to date with the regulations and required processes in your state, ask your local ABC agency.

Let’s explore each step in more detail:

Prepare Your Application

Here are some of the things you’ll need to have on hand before applying:

  • Your business license
  • Your employer identification number (also known as a federal tax identification number)
  • Alcohol tax permit
  • Zoning permit
  • Building permit
  • Signage permit
  • Health permit
  • Food handler’s permit

Find Out Your State’s Requirements

It would be a bummer to get your restaurant liquor license only to find out you can’t serve your full drinks menu until you’ve obtained a beer and wine license, too. In certain states, you may need multiple licenses. Other states require additional permits you need to purchase with your liquor license, such as a permit for selling liquor at later hours. Make sure you research your state’s requirements.

You can use the Small Business Administration website as a resource or ask your state’s ABC board.

Completing Your Liquor License Application

You’ll need to submit several items pertaining to your business along with your application form. It varies state to state, but in general, the application you submit will include:

  • The required fees
  • Background check disclosure: This is a written consent form you must sign allowing the ABC to run a background check on you, the business owner.
  • Fingerprints for the background check
  • Your business venue’s lease agreement
  • A financial verification sheet: This is a document you’ll need to fill out about your finances, which helps determine your expected alcohol revenue.
  • A certificate of good standing from the secretary of state certifies you pay your taxes and comply with state business regulations.
  • Your food handler’s permit or license

A group of people huddle together as they enjoy beer at a bar. Your on-premise liquor license can allow you to serve alcoholic beverages to customers.

Application Approval Process

It most likely will be several months until your application is approved.

If your establishment doesn’t pass the inspection, the process will be delayed until it does pass.

Keep in mind that the ABC board in your state may inform churches and schools within a certain radius of your business that you’ll sell alcohol. If any complaints are filed, a public hearing will have to be held, which could further delay the process.

Getting a Liquor License, State by State

Alabama

Necessary documents include:

  • Pre-application form and checklist
  • Articles of incorporation paperwork
  • Identification (e.g., driver’s license, birth certificate)
  • Liquor liability insurance certificate

Fees: $100-$1,000, depending on the license type

Renewal: Annual

Application processing time: 4-6 weeks 

For more information, go to the Alabama ABC website.

Alaska

Necessary documents include:

  • Restaurant designation permit application
  • Statement of financial interest
  • Public notice posting affidavit
  • Fingerprint card

Fees: License fees range from $200-$2,500, depending on the type, plus various application fees

Application processing time: 3-6 months

Renewal: Every 2 years

For more information, visit Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office website. 

Arizona

All applications must include a fingerprint card. Other required documents vary according to the license type.

Fees: Range from $100-$1,750 for a full year, depending on the license type

Application processing time: Can range from 75-105 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Arizona Department of Liquor website.

Arkansas

Necessary documents include:

  • Background check
  • Educational seminar attendance certificate 
  • Description of business and entertainment activities (for on-premises licenses)

Fees: $100-$3,000, depending on the license type

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Arkansas ABC website.

California

Necessary documents vary according to license type and business organization structure.

Fees: New general licenses’ costs range from $905-$15,835; new non-general licenses range from $100-$905

Application processing time: About 90 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website.

Colorado

Necessary documents can include:

  • Information regarding business’s organization structure
  • Proof of property possession
  • Fingerprint cards

Note: All applicants must receive local government approval and undergo a background check before applying at the state level

Fees: Vary according to the license type

For more information, visit the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Liquor and Tobacco Enforcement Division website.

Connecticut

Necessary documents include:

  • Lease/deed/evidence of the right to occupy
  • Diagram of the premises (for on-premises license)
  • Information regarding business organization structure
  • Authorization for release of financial information and personal history statement

Fees: $100-$2,750, depending on the type of license

Application processing time: 60-90 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Connecticut State of Consumer Protection website.

Delaware

Required documents and fees vary for each type of license

Renewal: Every 2 years

For more information, visit the Delaware Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner website.

Florida

Necessary documents can include:

  • Fingerprint card
  • Zoning information
  • Health department approval
  • Department of Revenue clearance

Fees: Vary according to county size, can range from $98 to more than $1,000

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Georgia

Necessary documents can include:

  • Financial affidavit
  • Notarized ATT-17 Georgia Alcohol & Tobacco Personnel statement
  • Citizenship affidavit

Fees: Range from $50-$1,000, depending on the type of license

Application processing time: 120 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Georgia Department of Revenue website.

Hawaii

In addition to your application, your respective county liquor commission might request a criminal background check

Fees: Range from $150 to more than $1,200, depending on the type of license, plus application fees and publication deposit

Application processing time: At least 3 months

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit your county’s liquor commission (e.g., Honolulu, Hawaii).

Idaho

Necessary documents can include:

  • Names and addresses of every person with a financial interest in the business
  • Fingerprint cards
  • Copy of the latest health inspection report
  • Copy of the business’s entity registration

Fees: Range from $750-$800 from the state; transferred existing licenses can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Application processing time: At least 90 days, but it can take longer to obtain an available license

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Idaho State and Federal Resources for Business website.

Illinois

Necessary documents can include:

  • Copy of local liquor license
  • Copy of your certificate of insurance
  • Proof of purchase for your business property

Fees: $750 for a retail liquor license; specialty retailer licenses (such as brewpubs and caterers) can range from $500-$1,500

Application processing time: 3-10 business days

For more information, visit the Illinois Liquor Control Commission website.

Indiana

Necessary documents can include:

  • County verification of business location
  • Property tax clearance schedule

Fees: Range from $250 to more than $1,000, depending on the type of new license; gaming site beer, wine and liquor license can run $25,000

Application processing time: Up to 10-12 weeks

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission website.

Iowa

New applicants must submit a notary form, and applicants can be asked to submit copies of declaration pages of their dram shop insurance policy.

Fees: Full-year licenses range from more than $300 to more than $900

Application processing time: Apply at least 45 days before you’ll need the license

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division website.

Kansas

Necessary documents can include:

  • Tax clearance certificate

Fees: Range from $25 to $10,000 depending on the type of license and venue

Application processing time: 20-30 days

Renewal: Every 2 years

For more information, visit the Kansas Department of Revenue’s ABC website.

Kentucky

Necessary documents can include:

  • Copy of business’s organization documents filed with the secretary of state’s office
  • Copy of the deed/lease/other paperwork indicating you own and/or have permission to operate on your business’s premises

Fees: Can range from less than $100 to more than $2,000, depending on the type of license

Application processing time: 30-60 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website.

Louisiana

Necessary documents include identification and fingerprint cards, as well as business information for on-premises applications.

Fees: Vary by license type

Application processing time: 35 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control website.

Maine

Applications for on-premise licenses must include detailed diagrams of where beverages are consumed in your establishment. Off-premise licenses must include detailed diagrams of where beverages are stored in your building. Other forms can include:

  • Alcohol dealer registration
  • Certificate of approval application
  • Tax forms

Fees: Vary by license type

Note that your business’s municipality must approve your application for a liquor license before you can apply to the state.

For more information, visit Maine’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverage and Lottery Operations website.

Maryland

Applicants can undergo a criminal background check before a liquor license is issued.

Fees: Statewide licenses can range from $200-$2,000, depending on the type of license

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Maryland Comptroller’s website.

Massachusetts 

Necessary documents include:

  • Retail license application
  • Notarized Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) form

Fees: $200

Application processing time: About 30 days

Renewal: Annual (expires Dec. 31 each year)

For more information Massachusetts Alcohol and Beverage Control website

Michigan

Necessary documents can include:

  • Local government authorization form (for on-premise licenses)
  • Copies of articles of incorporation
  • Fingerprint card
  • Property documents

Fees: Licenses can range from $100 to more than $600, plus other fees (including a non-refundable $70 inspection fee)

Application processing time: Varies, but could take more than a month

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs website.

Minnesota

Necessary documents can include:

  • Diagram of your premises
  • Contracts or articles of organization about your business’s legal structure
  • Brewer’s bond
  • Variance request

Note: You must have your local municipality’s approval before you can acquire a license from the state

Fees: Vary by license and establishment type

Application processing time: At least 60 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau website.

Mississippi

Necessary documents can include:

  • Fingerprint card
  • Menu (if you are a caterer or want to be an on-premise retailer)
  • Floor plan of your establishment
  • Copy of your business’s deed or lease

Fees: Range from $125 to $9,025, depending on the type of license

Application processing time: 

Renewal: 

For more information, visit the Mississippi Department of Revenue Alcoholic Beverage Control webpage.

Missouri

Necessary documents can include:

  • Reporting on all parties with a financial interest in your business
  • Assignment of certificate of deposit-excise tax
  • Criminal background check
  • Naturalization certificate or passport

Fees: Vary by license type

Application processing time: 5-10 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Missouri Department of Public Safety Alcohol and Tobacco Control website.

Montana

Applicants can undergo a background check before being approved for a license.

Fees: Range from $400-$800, plus new license and application fees

Application processing time: 3-4 months

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Montana Department of Revenue Alcoholic Beverages Licensing website.

Nebraska

Necessary documents can include:

  • Fingerprint cards
  • Copies of articles of incorporation (for LLCs or corporations)
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Copy of deed or purchase agreement or lease for business premises

Fees: $100-$450, depending on the type of license, plus a $400 application fee

Application processing time: About 60 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission website.

Nevada

Application requirements can vary. Retail liquor licenses are granted by the municipality where the business is located.

Fees: Range from $75-$550, depending on the license type; bond requirements can cost $1,000-$50,000

Application processing time: Up to 6 months

Renewal: Annual

For more information, you can review the license application form here. You can also call Nevada Alcoholic Beverage Control or visit the Nevada Department of Taxation’s FAQ section for liquor taxes.

New Hampshire

Necessary documents can include:

  • Local government approval
  • Warranty deed or lease agreement
  • Diagram of business premises to be used for beverage sales and/or consumption
  • Health and/or food service licenses

Fees: Range from more than $100 to more than $1,000, depending on the type of license

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the New Hampshire Liquor Commission Division of Enforcement website.

New Jersey

Applications will include detailed information about the owners and any other individuals or entities with a financial interest in the business. Applicants must also provide information about the business premises.

Fees: $31-$2,500 per year, depending on the license type and municipality rules, plus $200 fee 

Application processing time: 6 months or fewer

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control website.

New Mexico

Necessary documents can include:

  • Zoning statement
  • Detailed floor plan of your business’s premises, with photos
  • Business’s operating agreement and certificate and article of organization
  • Menu (for food establishments)
  • Fingerprint card

Fees: Vary by type of license, plus $200 application fee

Application processing time: 120-150 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department website.

New York

Necessary documents can include:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Photos of your business’s premises
  • Property lease or deed
  • Fingerprint cards

Fees: Range from $330 to $5,850, plus $100-$200 filing fee

Application processing time: Varies according to the license type

Renewal: Every 3 years

For more information, visit the New York Liquor Authority website.

North Carolina

Necessary documents can include:

  • Fingerprint card
  • Proof of alcohol seller/server training
  • List of individuals/entities with a financial interest in the business
  • Inspection/zoning compliance

Fees: $100-$1,000

Application processing time: 2 weeks

Renewal: Annual; however, on- and off-premises malt beverage, unfortified and fortified wine permits, as well as culinary permits can remain valid indefinitely.

For more information, visit the North Carolina ABC Commission website.

North Dakota

Necessary documents can include:

  • Personal information forms for the owner, manager, etc.
  • Business’s floor plan where alcohol will be sold/served
  • Copies of the business’s recent health and fire inspections
  • Copy of beer or liquor license from your local municipality

Fees: Varies according to the license type

Application processing time: 4-6 weeks

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Alcoholic Beverage License page of the North Dakota Attorney General’s website. You can also refer to the liquor license application form here.

Ohio

Necessary documents can include:

  • Financial verification worksheet
  • Summary of tenancy
  • Personal history and background check

Fees: Range from $124-$2,344

Application processing time: Usually 10-12 weeks

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Ohio Department of Commerce website.

Oklahoma

You can find the mail-in application here, and you can also apply online.

Fees: $55

Application processing time: About 30 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverages Law Enforcement website.

Oregon

Applicants must be completed online, and applicants then attend a class and take a test before receiving an alcohol service permit.

Fees: Range from $100-$1,000, depending on the type of license

Application processing time: 4-8 weeks

Renewal: Every 5 years

For more information, visit the Oregon Liquor Control Commission webpage.

Pennsylvania

Necessary documents can include:

  • Personal identification
  • Current health license
  • Questionnaires for officers, stockholders, directors, business trustees, etc.
  • Individual financial disclosure affidavit

Fees: Range from $125-$700

Application processing time: 8-12 weeks

Renewal: Renew every other year; validate every other year, according to your business’s district

For more information, visit the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website.

Rhode Island

Necessary documents can include:

  • Local liquor license
  • Zoning and fire compliance

Fees: Vary according to the license type

Application processing time: At least 6 weeks

For more information, visit the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation’s Liquor Enforcement and Compliance webpage.

South Carolina

Necessary documents can include:

  • Articles of incorporation for your business
  • Property lease/deed or tax bill
  • Criminal records check
  • Residency status verification affidavit

Fees: $5-$2,200, depending on your license type, plus a $200-$300 filing fee

Application processing time: 6-8 weeks

Renewal: Every 2 years

For more information, visit the South Carolina Department of Revenue’s Alcoholic Beverage Licensing webpage.

South Dakota

Liquor licenses are handled at the county level, with fees and applications set according to each county’s respective standards. For more information, visit the South Dakota Department of Revenue website.

Tennessee

Necessary documents can include:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship
  • Business property deed or lease
  • Business site plan
  • Copies of sales tax returns

Fees: Range from $150-$2,000, depending on the type and size of the venue

For more information, visit the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission website.

Texas

Applicants can use the online portal or download paper documents to complete and submit their applications.

Fees: Liquor permits range from more than $200 to more than $7,000, depending on the venue type; beer permits range from $25 for a temporary auction permit to more than $17,000 for a manufacturer with more than 5 establishments

Application processing time: Approximately 45-60 days

Renewal: Every 2 years

For more information, visit the Texas ABC website.

Utah

Necessary documents can include:

  • Ownership entity/business organizational documents
  • Fingerprint cards and criminal background check
  • Scaled floor plan
  • Certificate of insurance for public liability and liquor liability coverage

Fees: Range from more than $700 to more than $10,000, depending on the venue type; application fees can range from $300-$500

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Board website.

Vermont

Applicants can download the appropriate forms from the online portal. Some forms must be submitted to your local municipality, and other forms go to the state.

Fees: Range $25 to more than $2,000 depending on the type of license and type of venue

Application processing time: 2-6 weeks

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Vermont Department of Liquor and Lottery website.

Virginia

Necessary documents can include:

  • Valid identification
  • Business property lease or deed
  • Sales tax certificate
  • Copy of health inspection 

Fees: Range from $120 to more than $2,000, depending on the license type and venue type and size, plus a $195 application fee

Application processing time: 30 days after public notice is published in the newspaper; longer if

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Virginia ABC website.

Washington

Applicants can be required to disclose financial information about their business.

Fees: Range from $100-$2,000, depending on the type of license and venue

Application processing time: 60-90 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board website.

West Virginia

Necessary documents can include:

  • Valid health permit
  • Business’s floor plan
  • Lease
  • Menu (for private clubs and private wine restaurants)

Fees: Range from $150 to more than $5,000, depending on the license type and venue

Application processing time: About 30 days

Renewal: Annual

For more information, visit the West Virginia ABCA website.

Wisconsin

Liquor licenses are handled by the local authority where your business is located. License fees and rules are set by the respective governing body.

Application processing time: At least 15 days

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website and contact your local municipal authority.

Wyoming

Liquor licenses are handled by the local authority where your business is located. License fees and rules are set by the respective governing body.

For more information, visit the Wyoming Liquor Division website and contact your local municipal authority.

Lindsay Haskell Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Lindsay Haskell is a business writer who specializes in blog posts targeting niche audiences with a focus on business, marketing, health, fitness and beauty. She also writes sales and marketing copy, press releases, product reviews and buyer's guides.
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