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Alameda County, CA,
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FAQ's Business License Tax

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What is a Business License?

A Business License is an annual tax you pay each calendar year for doing business within the unincorporated area of the County of Alameda.

The County Ordinance requires that you obtain a license for conducting any business activity within the unincorporated areas --; even if your business is located OUTSIDE our limits or you have a Business License from another city.

The Business License is evidence only that your tax has been paid. Other permits may be required to open your business. And, a separate license is required for each branch location of your business.

Who is required to have a license?

Any person who conducts business in or is based from the unincorporated area of the County of Alameda must obtain a Business License. Conducting business in the unincorporated area of the County of Alameda without a license can result in penalties, notice of violations, and finally, court action.

What if my business also conducts business in another city or county?

Check with the city's or county's Business License Bureau. You will need a Business License to conduct business in any other city or county.

What if my business is transient or temporary?

Please read the definition of an Itinerant Vendor in the Alameda County Ordinance.

I conduct business in several cities. Can I get just one license to do business in ALL of them?

Unfortunately, no. Each city has its own Business License requirements and you must have a Business License to conduct business in each one. Fortunately, you only pay the tax on the portion of gross receipts that is generated in each particular city or county.

It is important to know that most California cities and counties have a Business License tax ordinance. However, each city has its own tax rate, structure, and requirements. Check with the appropriate city or county for theirs.

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What if I have more than one business?

It you own more than one business, you may be eligible to consolidate your Business License taxes. Call our staff for details and refer to Section 3.04.530 of the County Business License Ordinance.

Why must I pay a tax to do business in the unincorporated area of the County?

By County Ordinance, the tax imposed through the taxing power of the County is solely for the purpose of obtaining general revenue. Business taxes help pay for services like roads, fire and police, and other community services within the unincorporated areas.

How long is this license good for?

Your license is current for the license year in which you obtain it and must be renewed each January 1 as long as you are in business.

Will the County notify me when to renew my license?

Yes. However, it is your responsibility to obtain a renewal license whether or not a renewal notice is received. Penalties are assessed for delinquent accounts, regardless of whether you receive a renewal notice or not. Business Licenses can be renewed online at If you do NOT receive a notice by January 1, contact our staff immediately.

How much will the Business License cost?

The Business License rates range from $0.10 to $1.50 per $1,000 of your gross receipts or gross payroll depending on your Business Classification. Some classifications have a flat rate. The Tax Collector's Office assigns all rates.

What exactly are "gross receipts"?

Gross receipts are what you receive such as cash, credit, and/or property taken in lieu of cash payments for the goods or services that you sell. There are a few deductions that you can take in calculating your gross receipts. Call our staff for a more detailed description of those deductions.

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What if my business does not generate any gross receipts?

Some businesses, such as administrative offices, do not generate gross receipts. In these cases, use gross payroll to calculate your Business License tax. Again, call our staff for details.

What if my business does not make much money?

If your gross receipts are less than $5,000 you do not pay a business tax. However, you must file and report your actual gross receipts even if your business generated zero revenue.

Section 3.04.540 of the Alameda County General Ordinance Code:

Except as otherwise noted in this chapter, every person doing business within the unincorporated area of the county and having gross receipts or payroll within the unincorporated area of the county of five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) per year shall pay a minimum annual license fee of twenty dollars ($20.00). (Prior gen. Code 2-200.49)

Do I need a Business License even if I conduct business on a part-time basis?

Yes. Even if you conduct business on a part-time, limited, or hobby-related basis, you are required to obtain a current Business License.

What businesses are exempt from having a business license?

The Business License Ordinance may grant an exemption to a business based on its type. An application for exemption statement must be filled annually with the Tax Collector. Depending on the type of exemption you are applying for, you must submit with your statement a proof of exempt status such as State or Federal or medical certification or other documents, if any. If you are mailing your application or stopping at our office, you must include a copy of your proof. Failure to submit proof may cause us to deny or delay processing of your application.

Can I claim an exemption by virtue of State or Federal law?

Section 3.04.590 (b) - General Exemption: a business license is not required for transacting and carrying on any business exempt by virtue of the Constitution or applicable statutes of the United States, or of the State of California. The following businesses currently are generally exempt:

Exempted by State Laws and Statutes

Exempted by State Laws or Statutes
National banking companies
Insurance companies
Blue Cross of California
Bail bond agencies (Insurance Bonds)
Title insurance companies (as opposed to Title guaranty co).
Alcoholic beverage manufacturers and/or distributors

Do I pay a business tax if my business is a non-profit organization?

Section 3.04.620 - Non-Profit Organization Exemption: a business license is not required of any charitable or non-profit institution, corporation, or association organized or conducted for non-profit purposes only and having non-profit tax exempt status under State or Federal law, when the receipts derived are to be used for the benefit of such organization and not for the private gain of any person.

Do I pay a business tax for growing or producing agricultural products?

Section 3.04.630 - Agriculture Exemption: a business license is not required for carrying on the business of agriculture except for the retail of agricultural products not grown or produced by the agricultural business that is exempted.

Is there any other exemption I could apply?

Section 3.04.520 - Exemption for Physical Infirmity, Unavoidable Misfortune or Poverty: the Tax Collector may grant one annual free license to any person who merits exemption because of physical infirmity, unavoidable misfortune, or unavoidable poverty. The free license may be revoked whenever such conditions no longer exist for the exempt year.

Do I need a D.B.A. or Fictitious Business Name?

If your business name is anything other than your surname or has more than one owner -- a partnership, association, or company -- you may need to file a fictitious Business name with the County Clerk's Office. Should you accidentally "infringe" upon another business you may face legal action and will have to pay to refile your Business License -- and that gets expensive. So, it is a good idea to do this before you apply for the Business License.

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What is the Application procedure and timing?

The actual process to obtain the Business License takes only a few minutes. However, a newly established business must register and pay a registration fee of $20.00 within 15 days from the date of commencement of business activity to avoid a penalty.

Must I apply in person or can I do it by mail or by Internet?

You may apply in person, by mail, or by using the online application on the county's Web site. However, if you use the mail, take care in calculating your tax or call our staff for assistance. Calculation errors delay the process because we may either request additional or refund overpaid tax. If you are not sure of your calculations, give us a call.

If you use the online application, please note that a non-refundable convenience fee of $3.00 will be charged for all credit card payment options and this fee will be added to your tax amount. Also, be advised that neither the Tax Collector nor Alameda County benefits from any part of the convenience fee as it is imposed by the credit card companies and cannot legally be absorbed by the County.

Are there any restrictions on where I do business?

Every business must meet zoning and building requirements to ensure that its business category and site are compatible BEFORE SIGNING any leases and moving in.

Check with County Zoning/Planning Department to make sure you locate your business at an address where it is allowed and that it does not heavily impact the neighborhood or require special parking consideration.

I'm not sure my business address is the legal address. Where do I go to find that information?

As your business address will appear on all filing documents, make sure it is accurate and legal to save you the trouble and expense of refiling changes later. If you need assistance in determining the legal address, contact the County's Planning Division.

Are there any requirements I must meet before hanging my business sign?

Please check with the Planning Department before using or installing ANY type of sign: wall, window, banners, even balloons. Temporary signs require review and approval prior to issuance of permits and installation.

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Do I need a license if I work out of my home?

Yes. Businesses operated from the home also require payment of a Business License tax. The Zoning Ordinance regulates the type of business operations that may be done in the home.

I am paid on a "1099" basis with my employer (not as an employee). Do I need a Business License?

Yes, if you are not an employee, you are considered an Independent Contractor. Providing services to, or on behalf of a business, may be of an employee/employer or an independent contractor relationship depending on the nature of the work and span of control involved. Determining the relationship between you and your employer (or employee) can sometimes be confusing. However, simply put, if you are not paid as an employee, you are considered an Independent Contractor and are required to have a Business License.

Fortunately, the State Department of Employment Development (EDD) has a very helpful booklet highlighting specific guidelines to follow in determining the correct relationship between you and your employer or employee.

Contact EDD if you are unsure of the relationship. Once a determination has been made that your relationship is not that of an employee/employer, then by default, it is that of an independent contractor subject to a Business License.

Do State Licensed contractors need a Business License too?

Any person licensed as a contractor by the State Contractor's Board must obtain a Business License if 1) conducting business in the unincorporated areas of the County, whether based in or outside of this area, or 2) if based in the unincorporated area of the County, whether conducting business in or outside this area.

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When do I need a Seller's Permit?

Every business intending to sell tangible goods -- wholesale or retail, commercial or home based, sales or repair oriented -- requires a California Seller's Permit. To apply, contact the Board of Equalization.

What if my business has employees?

Contact the Employment Development Department for their requirements regarding State Withholding Taxes, Disability and Unemployment Insurance.

What if I'm self-employed?

If you have NO EMPLOYEES, contact the Franchise Tax Board regarding Withholding Taxes, and Corporate State Taxes.


Instructions for submitting forms.
  1. Read the information below.
  2. Select the appropriate form below, and fill it out online. You'll need Acrobat Reader (available free from Adobe Systems) to view the forms.
  3. Print the form on your printer.
  4. Carefully proofread the printed form.
  5. Sign your form, and return it with your check for the appropriate fee. (The Fee Schedule is included on the form).
  6. You will be notified by mail when your application has been processed.

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Which forms do I need?

For new businesses, you'll need these form(s):

If you are conducting business...

  • From a residence in an unincorporated area of the County of Alameda.
  • From a commercial location in an unincorporated area of the County of Alameda.
  • In an unincorporated area of the County of Alameda, but your office location is not within an unincorporated area of the County of Alameda.

For more information

Alameda County Treasurer-Tax Collector's Office
Business License Tax Section

224 W. Winton, Suite 169
Hayward, CA 94544-1220
(510) 670-6400

Alameda County General Ordinance Code
Title 3 -- Business Licenses and Regulations

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Federal Government

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
1301 Clay Street
Oakland, CA 94612
(800) 829-1040

State Government

CAL OSHA -- Occupational Safety and Health Agency

Contractors State Licensing Board

Department of Consumer Affairs

Employment Development Department

Franchise Tax Board

Secretary of State

State Board of Equalization

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County Government

Assessor's Office

County Clerk-Recorder's Office

Environmental Health Agency

Fire Department

Planning Department

Public Works Department

Sheriff's Department, Permit Division

Treasurer-Tax Collector's Office

Zoning Department

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City Business License Tax Offices












San Leandro

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Better Business Bureau

Alameda County Chambers of Commerce List

Alameda Chamber of Commerce

Albany Chamber of Commerce
1108 Solano Avenue
Albany, CA 94706-1612
Roxanne Wiley, Director
(510) 525-1771 (Voice)
(510) 525-6068 (Fax)

Berkeley Chamber of Commerce

Castro Valley Chamber of Commerce

Dublin Chamber of Commerce

East Bay Office of U.S. Small Business Administration

East Bay SCORE -- Service Corps of Retired Executive Association<

Alameda County Small Business Development Center

Emeryville Chamber of Commerce

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Fremont Chamber of Commerce

Hayward Chamber of Commerce

Livermore Chamber of Commerce

Newark Chamber of Commerce

Oakland Korean-American Chamber of Commerce
160 Indian Road
Piedmont, CA 94610-1223
Fred Drewes
(510) 547-4371

Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce

One Stop Capital Shop

Pacific Indonesian Chamber of Commerce
1946 Embarcadero, Suite 200
Oakland, CA 94606-5213
Jeremy Potash, Executive Director
(510) 536-1967

Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce

San Leandro Chamber of Commerce

Union City Chamber of Commerce

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