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How to get a food truck license

Obtaining a food truck license isn’t a one-and-done process. It certainly takes more than one piece of paper, permit, or license to legally run any food truck. Different requirements depend on where you plan to operate your business.

If you’ve done your due diligence in drafting a food truck business plan, you know expenses can vary greatly. When you’re considering operating in different cities or states, it’s essential to plan for a range of expenses. You’ll find that some licenses need renewal, whereas others are permanent.

The steps you need to take to obtain these various licenses are similar. You apply through a relevant agency or organization and wait for approval or feedback. You then amend any errors or receive your license. Read on for a more thorough breakdown of costs and necessary licenses.

What licenses, permits, and certifications do I need for a food truck?

Business license

A vendor license or basic business license allows you to operate a business in your desired city and state. Obtaining this license means your operation is recognized as a legitimate business. This also allows you to report taxes, expenses, and write-offs, too.

Application prices and terms vary depending on your city. Prioritize the application deadline and make sure you understand your license’s expiration date to simplify renewal. Some areas limit the number of licenses they release for food truck operations. To apply for a business license, visit your county clerk’s website or check the U.S. Small Business Administration website.

Employer identification number

An employer identification number, or EIN, is necessary for employment, taxation, and compensation. You need a business license and some form of incorporation to receive an EIN. As a food truck owner, you’re likely self-employed. Think of an EIN as the Social Security Number of your business. Without it, you can’t write off expenses, receive tax credits, or pay for things like insurance. Plus, applying for loans without an EIN isn’t possible, either.

Driver’s license

Driving a food truck isn’t like driving a regular vehicle. You need a special license for driving a food truck, but once you obtain it, you’ll be set to drive your truck wherever it needs to go. Check with the driver’s license office in the state or states you plan to operate your food truck to see what kind of driver’s license you need.

Food handlers permit

You need a food handlers permit for the sale, production, and distribution of any beverage or food goods prepared. Requirements vary between cities and counties. If you want to set up shop in more than one area, consider possible limitations on where you can sell your goods.

Health department permit

Different county health departments set various health codes. If you plan on selling food, you don’t just need a food handlers permit. You need local permitting from a county health department.

Seller’s permit

Just like you need a permit for handling food and operating a business, you need one to sell in certain areas, too. Each area has different sales taxes. Acquiring a seller’s permit ensures your transactions fall within the sales tax of that state. This also avoids double taxation for customers.

Fire certificates

Fire certificates prove your truck has been inspected and passed local fire codes. These are important to ensure you use proper ventilation for dangerous food truck equipment like fryers, griddles, and grills.

Parking permits

Some areas allow you to park a food truck for free. If you can find free parking, use it. However, not all areas allow free parking, especially if you plan to operate somewhere every weekday or weekend. If you park somewhere like a farmer’s market or another venue, you’ll likely have to purchase a parking permit.

Commissary letter of agreement

Wherever you fuel up, dump greywater, and potentially operate your business, you’ll need a commissary. Many of these charge rent for food truck owners, so prepare to do some research on finding a commissary with rental fees you can afford. Ensure you get this agreement in writing.

Special event permit

If you plan on setting up at a festival, concert, or some other special event, you’ll likely need to apply and pay for an event permit. It’s a great business opportunity for building recognition and increasing your revenue.

People enjoying lunch near a food truck
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How much does it cost to get a food truck license?

Getting a food truck license and all the other permits, licenses, and certificates varies in cost. The best way to determine costs and ensure you have a well-planned operating budget in your food truck’s business plan is to do your research. Visit your county or state’s appropriate websites and call around to determine the price for application and processing fees. Check out this calculator to help you estimate costs for getting a license.

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Amanda Hoyer
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Degreed in Psychology and English, Amanda fell into copywriting and blogging when she discovered an innate gift for narrative…
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