Export Business - Do You Need A License?

Approximately 70% of the people who are consindering entry into the Import Export Business have questions and end up either calling or emailing them to us.

One of the MOST COMMON questions is a very BASIC question that CANNOT and IS NOT answered by any one publication or web site.

The question is:


On the surface this seems like a simple question, however, when you question someone as to what exactly they are asking, there are TWO PRIMARY questions that emerge:

Do I need a license (or business license) to operate this business from where I live?

Disclaimer: Nothing in this web site should be construed as Legal advice, any information published here simply illustrates the publisher's knowledge and experience in the subject being discussed. If you are so concerned about this question that you will not feel comfortable without seeking advice from an attorney, then you should do so. Additionally, if you follow the examples of my own business, as described here, and you encounter some sort of legal problem of any sort, understand that the decision to follow my methods are your decisions and the burden of any consequences are yours and yours alone.

Now with that out of the way, this question "generally" means, do I need to Incorporate or file any legal documentation with my state or county government? My answer is stated above, neither I nor any business or governmental organization or web site can tell you what the requirements are for doing business in your little area of the world.

The world is made up of countries that have provinces (or states) each of which have smaller jurisdictions (or feifdoms as I like to call them) such as counties, then within those there are often small town or townships (at least here in the USA).

So can you begin to see why there is NO ONE AUTHORITY on this subject since each little fiefdom has it's own little set of rules and regulations and employees (bureaucrats) whose jobs are dependent upon gathering as much in the way of fees from the unknowing as they possibly can convince to send them those fees.

I have been operating Coble International for 20 1/2 years now. In the county of York Pennsylvania is all I can speak for here - there are no requirements to file a "ficticious name" application with the county if you are using your own "given" name (in my case COBLE) in the name of the business.

I honestly cannot remember back 20 1/2 years ago, but I "think" that I did call the county government office and ask to speak with the party that registers businesses. I explained to them the name of my business, nothing more. If you never served in the military you probably never heard the expression "Never volunteer for anything", well the same goes when you are dealing with bureaucrats, NEVER volunteer information that they do not ask you for or about.

Get the full name, extension, office of the bureaucrat and the date and time you spoke with them and keep it in your records should you ever need it. You probably never will but it does tend to have them give you the right information when you are talking with them.

If they sound like they are not sure, ask to speak with their supervisor. Remember they work for you but they tend to believe it is the other way around.

Our import export business training course, especially the export part, recommends you start out as an agent/broker. Although the course will show you everything you need to know to build up to being an Export Management company, it is not recommended that you start out at that level.

That being said, as an Export Agent/Broker, you most likely will be operating from a spare room in your home (as I have done for 20 1/2 years) thus you will not be putting signage up, having tractor trailers backing up to your home, etc., I think you get my point.

In other terms, you are basically a home based business, doing everything via your Phone, Fax and computer. Don't get into details with the bureaucrats, they don't have a clue what you are doing, they are simply trying to get you to agree to a specific "job title" of some sort so they can find a need to charge you some sort of fee.

The ONLY "LICENSE" I have every required in 20 1/2 years in this business is a "SALES TAX LICENSE" because we were doing direct to consumer sales via our web site for one of the automotive products we were marketing internationally for a period of years and in the first 15 years we also purchased the import export courses and processed the orders, shipped them, etc..

We were required to collect Pennsylvania State Sales tax on any orders we sold to residents of Pennsylvania, thus we needed this license. In most instances, working as an export agent/broker, you will not be buying, inventorying and reselling any goods to anyone in your state, which may or may not even have a sales tax.


If the person calling or emailing me is asking "do I need a license", if they are not referring to the above "general business license" question, they are referring to an "export license".

Here is where I refer back to the fact that we offer a training course that will provide you with "everything" you need to know in order to start and operate an exporting business. Whether that business is working as an export agent/broker on a strictly commission basis or working as your own export management company.

The course will teach you the Organizations, both government and private, that you need to deal with or refer your potential suppliers to (once you have a commission agreement with them).

Each type of product is different but in most instances an export license is not required, however, the organizations you will learn about in our course materials will advise you if a particular product does or does not require a license.

One additional note - if you are working as an agent/broker and matching potential buyers to sellers, in most instances, you should know what organizations can advise your supplier of the export requirements and the course materials teach you that, but in reality, as an agent/broker, it is not necessarily your responsibility to know.

I sincerely hope that this post will clear up some of the misunderstanding about business licenses and export license requirements. Bottom line, get the training materials because even if all you ever do is work as an agent/broker, you should have an understanding of the process and level of knowledge that your supplier/client can ask you who or what they need to do and you can assist them in a competent manner.

Ron Coble
International Business Center