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 is a misdemeanor and 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. If you do NOT receive a notice by January 1, contact our staff at (510) 670-6400 immediately.

How much will the business license cost?

The Business License costs $20.00 plus a $4.00 CASp fee.

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.

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 at (510) 670-6400 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, and pay the license and CASp fee.

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 or limited 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, however you must still apply for a business license and are responsible for the $4.00 CASp fee. 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

  • Amtrak
  • Railroads

Exempted by State Laws or Statutes

  • Banks
  •  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, you must do this before you apply for the Business License.

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 and a $4.00 CASp fee 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 website. 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 restricts 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.

You will also be required to obtain County Zoning/Planning Department clearance 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?

You must 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.

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. You must also adhere to any Homeowner CC&R restrictions as those are not enforced by the Zoning Department but may result in fees from your Homeowner’s Association.

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.

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.


What is the utility user's tax?

The utility users tax is a tax imposed on the users of the following utility services in an unincorporated area of the County:

  • Intrastate, interstate and/or international telephone, cellular or wireless communication services.
  • Electrical energy services.
  • Gas services delivered through mains, pipes, or mobile transport.
  • Video and cable services.
Who must pay the utility user's tax?

The utility users pay the tax to the utility services suppliers. The utility service suppliers collect the tax and remit it to the Tax Collector’s Office.

Who is exempt from paying the utility user's tax?

Federal, state, and local government departments, bureaus and agencies.

  • Persons qualifying for the Low Income Rate Assistance Program (LIRA) offered by the Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation (PG&E).
  • Persons on life support systems who do not already qualify for the LIRA program (gas and electric charges).
  • Agricultural users for that portion of charges separately billed and metered electrical energy and gas provided by the service supplier as agricultural service use and non-residential agricultural business use.
  • Telephone companies, from the telephone tax only.
  • Gas and electrical companies such as, PG&E, from the electricity and gas tax only.
How much is the tax?

The tax is 6.5% of the charges made to the utility user by the service supplier.


Is there a maximum tax that can be paid?


What are the duties of utility service suppliers in unincorporated areas of the County of Alameda?
  1. To register the business with the Tax Collector’s Office by obtaining a business license;
  2. To collect the Utility Users Tax from the users;
  3. To file a return and remit the tax collected to the Tax Collector’s Office; and
  4. To keep for seven (7) years all records necessary to determine the amount of such tax that the service supplier may have been required to collect and remit.
When must the utility user's tax be remitted

The service supplier must remit the full amount of the tax collected for each month to the Tax Collector, on or before the last day of the following month. The return must be on the form provided by the Tax Collector.

What if a utility supplier fails or refuses to collect the tax from the utility user?

The utility supplier will be liable for the tax and for penalties and interest. The County of Alameda Tax Collector’s Office will determine and assess the utility users tax due, plus penalties and interest. The penalty is 5% of the tax due. If the tax due is not remitted within 10 working days after the date of delinquency, the utility supplier shall pay a total penalty of 20% of the amount of tax owed. In addition, the utility supplier shall pay 1½% interest per month on the amount of tax owed exclusive of penalties, from the date on which the tax first became delinquent until paid.

How long do records need to be kept?

Every person required to collect and remit utility users taxes must keep all records for a period of 7 years. The Tax Collector has the right to inspect these records at all reasonable times.

Where can I get more information?

For more information on the utility users tax, refer to:

Alameda County General Ordinance Code (Chapter 2.12 Utility Users Tax)

Treasurer Tax-Collector logo


1221 Oak Street, Room 131
Oakland, CA • 94612
(510) 272-6800

Treasurer Tax-Collector logo


1221 Oak Street, Room 131
Oakland, CA • 94612
(510) 272-6800

Treasurer Tax-Collector logo


1221 Oak Street, Room 131
Oakland, CA • 94612
(510) 272-6800