Do You Have the Food Truck Licenses and Permits You Need?

 Food Truck Licenses and Permits

Posted: Mar. 26, 2018

Food truck operators have a trickier time getting their paperwork together than traditional restaurateurs. Cities, counties, and states have specific requirements that must be met, and they can be vastly different in their specifications. For example, some states don’t consider you a “food handler” if you’re only selling prepackaged foods. Or certain counties have less stringent requirements if your food preparations are reduced to scooping ice cream.

Not having the right paperwork can hold up your business for weeks or months. Worse, incomplete paperwork can shut you down indefinitely. To make sure your food truck rolls down the right side of the law, we recommend visiting the Licenses and Permits section of the Small Business Association (SBA) website. This comprehensive guide will be your go-to resource in the weeks before launch.

Food Truck Legal Advice

Before opening your food truck to the public, visit the SBA’s page for information on all the permits and licensing requirements you will need to operate a mobile food business. Enter the details of the city and state your food truck is in, select your business type as “restaurant,” and the site generates a list of required licenses and permits.

While it’s impossible to offer a complete breakdown of all the documents your specific business will be required to obtain, below is a list of universal requirements that you will most likely need:

  1. Tax Registration

As the owner of a food truck, you will need an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Depending on your location, there might be other licenses and tax-specific numbers to arrange for, too. Your state might require other tax permits when registering your food truck business. The SBA page will detail what these are.

  1. Food Service Establishment Permit

You won’t be allowed to operate a food truck without this crucial permit.

  1. Local Business Permits

Local permits for food trucks are entirely separate from the state permits. Each city and county are different, but some of the more common types of local permits include alarm permits, business license and tax permits, health permits, signage permits, and zoning permits. The average price for a permit is $100. If you aren’t sure what you need, visit your local tax office or county clerk.

Since you aren’t a brick and mortar restaurant, a building permit won’t be necessary until you make plans to expand your business.

  1. Incorporation Filing

Incorporating your business means that you formally register it as a legal entity and protect your personal assets. Any business-related lawsuits will now be directed to your food truck business, instead of to you. (This is the primary reason owners opt to file for incorporation instead of operating as a sole proprietorship.)

  1. DBAs

If you are planning on running your mobile food business under the truck or company name, then registering for a DBA (“Doing Business As”) certificate is a priority. A DBA shows that you are legally doing business under a fictitious name.  

  1. Commercial Driver’s License

For any business, driving a motor vehicle that weighs over 26,000 pounds requires a commercial driver’s license (CDL). If you, your partners, or employees intend to drive the food truck, you’ll have to take the written and driving tests related to your CDL class. Keep in mind that owning a CDL license puts you into a new class of drivers, and penalties for tickets and infractions will be more severe.

  1. Commercial Vehicle Registration

You might not need a CDL, but your food truck will need commercial vehicle registration. Check your state’s DMV website about how to properly register your food truck. 

  1. Employer Requirements

Being an employer is an exciting part of owning a business, so to have the most rewarding experience, you want to cross the t’s and dot the i’s on all employee-related paperwork. There are many requirements that you must follow, and not doing so will cause significant challenges to you as the owner.


First, having an EIN allows you to hire employees under your business name. Second, all employees must complete an I-9 (certifies that the employee can legally work in the United States) and a W-4 (to determine income tax withholding). Within 20 days of hiring a new employee, the government requires that you report him or her to the state directory. (The SBA also includes a link to your state’s reporting service.)


All US employees are entitled to certain rights, and as the business owner, you must inform your staff of what they are. You will be mailed posters that detail worker’s compensation and minimum wage information, and are required to display them prominently.

On top of this, two types of insurances are mandatory to set up:

  1. Unemployment coverage, which covers employees if they are fired.
  2. Worker’s compensation insurance, which covers employees in the event of an injury on the job.

Check with your state to learn the specifics of employee coverage that are required.

  1. Health Requirements

Last, but not least, your food truck will need to pass annual health inspections. The primary reason for health inspections is to spot any problem areas—potential or existing—that breed food-borne illnesses. Food and water supplies are checked, among other areas of interest. Want to be prepared for your next food truck health inspection? We have a complete checklist for you here.

Start your food truck business with the right legal paperwork, and keep your operations running smoothly with an easy-to-use and intuitive food truck POS system.

Posted: Mar. 26, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois


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