Business License FAQ
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Business License FAQ

What is business license tax?

Business License Tax is an annual tax for doing business within the incorporated area of the City of Foster City. The Foster City Municipal Code requires that you obtain a business license when you conduct any business activity within the City - even if your business is located OUTSIDE the city limits or you have a business license from another city.

Who needs a business license?

A business license is required in the City of Foster City when one of the following occur: 

  • Conducting any kind of business within the City of Foster City
  • Have a fictitious business name certificate registered using Foster City address
  • Have a State Board of Equalization resale permit registered using Foster City address
  • Have a listing in the Commercial Directory Yellow Pages, Business White Pages, the newspaper, local business guides, real estate multiple listing books or any other similar listings
  • Have a home based business

How to obtain a business license?

Always check with our Planning Department to ensure that your business is permissible in the location you are considering, this includes home occupations.

Appropriate permits and/or approvals from Planning, Building, Police and/or any other department of the City may have to be secured before your business may start. All applicable federal, state, county and city laws, ordinances or regulations must be followed before your business may start.

Complete the Business License Application and return to us with the required fee at 610 Foster City Blvd. Foster City, CA 94404. City Hall hours are 0800-1700 Monday - Friday except holidays. Completed application can also be returned to us via email at or fax it to 650-574-3483.

The application will be processed and you should receive your registration within 2-4 weeks. Business registration fees are non-refundable.

How to renew a business license?

Business License Renewal fees are due on or January 1 annually.  Renewal notice is being sent out beginning of December.  If you do not receive any information or notices, please contact business license at or 650-286-3258.  It is the responsibility of the business to file and pay when required.

What if I am an independent contractor?

Independent contractors are generally issued an IRS Form 1099 Statement of Earnings.  The business license tax applies to independent contractors.

I am a solicitor/ peddler, what must I do?

If you intend to go door to door to solicit funds or sell a product, you first must go to the Police Department and obtain an application for a solicitor's permit. After receiving approval to obtain the solicitor's permit from the Police Department, you must obtain a business license with the City and pay the business license tax. Once you have both documents in hand, then you may start soliciting. It takes approximately 3 weeks to obtain a solicitor's permit because a background check is required.

I want to do massage therapy in Foster City. What do I need to do?

A massage establishment permit must be obtained through the City's Police Department. The permit must be included to the business license application.  Failure to submit all requested documents together will result in delay of processing the application. 

Once I've applied for my business license and paid the fee, how long before I receive the actual business license?

It usually takes 2-4 weeks to process the completed application. The business license will be mailed to the mailing address you indicate on the application when complete.

What is the fee to get a replacement copy of a business license?

The fee for a new copy of an existing license is listed in the City Master Fee Schedule.

What is the fee for changes to an existing business license?

If the ownership changes, the business license is not transferable and you will need to apply for a new business license and pay the appropriate fees. There is no charge to change a mailing address or business name on a business license. However, if the business license certificate is required to be reprinted after business information updating, a fee is required based on Master Fee Schedule. If your business address is changing, it will require new zoning clearance and payment of zoning clearance fees.

How long does my business license last?

Your business license tax is a non-refundable annual tax. The business license needs to be renewed annually. You will receive a courtesy renewal notice early December each year. The City does not assess late filing charges 60th days after the certificate expired. It is business owner's responsibility to renew the business license on time even if the renewal notice is not received. Penalties are assessed for delinquent accounts, regardless of whether you received a renewal notice.

What if my business is in my home?

You are still required to obtain a business license if your residence is in Foster City city limits. Check with Planning Department to ensure that your business is permissible from your home.

Can I start my business as soon as I pay the fee?

No. All the appropriate permits and/or approvals from Planning, Building, Police and/or any other City department may have to be secured before your business can start. All federal, state, county and city laws, ordinances and regulations must be complied with as well.

Are there any restrictions on where I do business?

Every business must meet zoning requirements to ensure that the business activity and site are compatible. BEFORE SIGNING any lease or rental agreement, we suggest that you check with the City's Planning Department to make sure your business activity is appropriate for the area's zoning and it will not require a public hearing or special parking considerations. Call (650) 286-3232 for additional information.

I have a wonderful idea for a great sign!

Check with the Planning Department 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.

How do I obtain a Fictitious Business Name?

The City does not issue Fictitious Business Names. You must file a Fictitious Name registration or a "doing business as" (dba) with the County of San Mateo if you are using a name other than your own. Contact the County Clerk's office at (650) 363-4712 or visit their website.

The fictitious business name must be filed before applying for a business license with the City.

How can I pay for the business license tax?

All new business license applications must be accompanied by a payment. Payment methods include, cash (in person), check or money order (payable to City of Foster City), and credit card (VISA or MasterCard in person or by phone). Application may be submit in person, by mail or email.

City of Foster City
Business License Division
610 Foster City Blvd.
Foster City, CA 94404
(650) 286-3258

What if I have more than one business or more than one location?

If you own more than one business, a separate business license is required for each type of business.

If you have one business with multiple locations within the City, each location is required a business license certificate. The fee for additional copy of an existing license is listed in the City’s Master Fee Schedule.

I just purchased this business. Can I use the business license from the previous owner?

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

What do I need to do if my business is a nonprofit organization?

If your business is a nonprofit organization, it is exempt from the business license tax. However, a business license with the City is still required. Tax-exempt organizations are required to provide proof of their nonprofit status in order to receive a business license. They must provide a copy of a statement from the California Secretary of State or the Internal Revenue Service stating that the business has a nonprofit status of 501(c)(3).

Do state-licensed contractors also need a Foster City business license?

Any person licensed as a contractor by the State Contractor's Board must obtain a business license if they are (1) conducting business in the City of Foster City; or (2) based in the City, whether conducting business in or outside of the City.

Can I use my license to do business in another city?

No. This license is for doing business in the incorporated area of the City of Foster City only. If you plan on doing business in another city, you must contact them in order to obtain their requirements for a business license.

What do I need to do to close my business?

Business Licenses are NOT automatically canceled. When a business is sold, closed, or moved out of Foster City, the business license must be inactivated. You may send written notification to or come in person to City Hall. Please be prepared to provide the date the business is closed or sold and the name of the new owner, if applicable.

What business records are subject to inspection?

The license collector and any person designated as an agent by the license collector may inspect, at any time during business hours, the accounts, books, papers and documents of any business that holds any permit or tax certificate of the city.   

Why is there a need for an audit?

Tax compliance requires enforcement in order to ensure equal application of the law and collection of the tax.  An audit provides the means to increase compliance with the law. 

Isn't this information confidential?

The ordinance guarantees the confidentiality of the information and prohibits revealing the information to anyone not charged with the administration and enforcement of the ordinance.   Business name, location, phone number, and owner's name are subject to Public Record Act.

Who can I contact with additional questions?

Business License Division (650) 286-3258 or

City Hall - 610 Foster City Blvd.
Foster City, CA 94404
(650) 286-3200