If you are starting a business you may need to submit a business license application before you can start to trade. Here’s a detailed guide to the different types of trade licences and how to apply for a business license.
Certain businesses require a trade license before they can commence operations in South Africa. If you are starting a new business it is best to check whether your business needs a business license before it can trade.
If you have purchased an existing business the trade licences cannot be transferred to you or to other premises, rather you will have to apply for a new business licence.
Do I need a business license?
The Business Act 71 of 1991 governs which businesses need a trade license. Although not all businesses require one, there are certain types of business which may not trade without a proper business licensing:
- Health facilities: Health clinics, spas, saunas, and public baths as well as facilities that provide massage, laser, and ultraviolet treatments
- Food providers: Places that serve food, provide takeaways or transport meals, including hawkers who sell food
- Entertainment facilities: These include cinemas, nightclubs, pool rooms and arcades, as well as a business that has three or more vending or slot machines
- Escort agencies
- Adult shops
Businesses excluded from requiring a trade license
According to the Business Act there are certain businesses from the list above that are excluded from needing a business license. These include:
- A business which is conducted by the State or a local authority.
- A business which is conducted by a charitable, religious, educational, cultural or agricultural association, organisation or institution of a public nature, if all profits originating from the business are devoted entirely to the purposes of that organisation.
- A business which is conducted by a social, sports or recreation club (non-proprietary club) that offers its members or sells food on the business premises
- A business that prepares and sells meals in a private dwelling
If your business is not included in the Business Act for requiring a trade licence then you do not have to apply for one.
How do I apply for a trade licence?
Your application for a trade license will be dependent on the location of your business. You would then apply to a metropolitan council, local town council or an area district counsel, dependant on your area.
Depending on the type of business that you are setting up, you may also need to comply with additional requirements:
Zoning regulations are laws defining how you can use your property. Check your title deed to see whether or not your property qualifies for the relevant business rights.
Once you have determined the zoning of your property your next step is to visit the Town Planner responsible for your area. The Town Planner will let you know whether you need to apply for consent use or the re-zoning of your property.
Common land-use or zoning categories include:
- Residential zones: Such as single residential dwellings, group housing schemes or blocks of flats
- Open space zones: These include public open spaces, parks, sports fields, cemeteries or private open spaces
- Business and commercial zones: Such as shops or office blocks
- Industrial zones: Factories, motor repair garages or warehouses
- Government zones: Areas reserved for government buildings
- Agricultural zones: Farms
- Special use zones: For example petrol stations
If your business serves food or drink to the public you will have to comply with laws that make sure your food is safe for consumption.
Regulations generally differ from area to area so to find out exactly what you need to do for your business, contact your local municipality and enquire about how to comply.
A certificate of acceptability
If your business is involved in the provision of food then you are required to have a ‘Certificate of Acceptability’. Until such time as you have the necessary certificate no person on your premises may handle food. If you are found to be preparing and selling food without the certificate then you may be liable to a fine.
The Certificate of Acceptability must be in the name of a natural person who is responsible for the food premises, or the owner of the food premises. The Certificate of Acceptability is not transferable from one person to another or from one premises to another.
Liquor licenses are divided in three distinct categories:
- On Consumption Liquor License: Liquor sold can only be consumed on the premises and may not be removed from the premises.
- Off Consumption Liquor License: Liquor sold can’t be consumed on the premises.
- Distributors Liquor License or Wholesale Liquor License: Liquor can only be sold to licensed establishments like liquor stores and pubs
If your business is planning on selling alcohol then you will have to apply for a liquor licence. You can contact the liquor officer at your nearest police station or alternatively contact theLiquor Board.
The National Liquor Authority (NLA) deals with the processing of applications for macro manufacturing and distribution of liquor. It is also responsible for conducting inspections and investigations to ensure compliance with the liquor act. The requirements of licenses may differ from province to province.
You can only apply for your liquor license on the first Friday of every month. These dates are advertised on the Government Gazette and should you miss one of these dates the lodgement of your license will be delayed by a month.
To apply for your business liquor license you must reside in South Africa, have no criminal record, or be insolvent. If you are not going to be present at your premises at all times then a manager must be appointed to oversee the business in your absence.
You also need to display the liquor license in a conspicuous place on your premises. It is even advised that you attach your proof of payment to your business liquor license.
In Gauteng your business premises must visibly display the name of your business, type of business, type of liquor license that you hold, operating times as well on the liquor license number on either the front door or window of your premises. You liquor license must be renewed annually.
If you are going to be playing music from your premises even in the background, then must apply for a license from The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO), as well as a license from The South African Music Performance Rights Association (SAMPRA).
You will have to apply for two separate licenses as they are separate divisions. SAMRO is responsible for the copyright in a song (the music and lyrics), whereas SAMPRA covers the copyright in the recorded version of a song.
Once you have applied for licenses from both of these organisations you can then apply to the South African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) for music rights. You can contact them on:
Applying for a business license in Johannesburg
- Complete the RPI application form for the issue of a trade licence. This is obtainable from the city council offices, as well as online
- Attach copies of your company memorandum and articles, or founding statement in if it is a close corporation. Additionally attach the identity document or passport and visa certificates of all members/shareholders as well as the manager in charge of the business.
- If your business is a restaurant, a fast food outlet, or a coffee shop, include a copy of your proposed menu.
- Submit the completed application form and pay the relevant licence fee. The following documents must also be included with your business licensing application:
- Copy of liquor licence if relevant to your business
- Copy of SARS tax certificate
- Copy of approved building layout plan
- Zoning certificate
- Once your form has been submitted the trade licence division will provide you with a verification of your application and payment. This division will then draft a statement which will be sent to the following divisions:
- Noise and Air Pollution Management
- Building Inspection
- City Planning
- Community Safety, and;
- Environmental Health.
- These divisions will inspect your premises and individually draft reports on their findings. If reports received from the departments indicate that other requirements need to be satisfied, the Trade Licence Department will send a notice to the applicant. The applicant must comply with the requirements and then arrange a re-inspection with the officer concerned.
The business licence will only be issued when all five departments have sent their recommendation for approval. Once your business license has been approved it will be
Inspection of business premises
Expect your business premises to be inspected by the following divisions. Should you need more information you can contact these departments:
1. Environmental health services
- Address: Environmental Health Building Cnr Avon Street & Main Reef Road, Longdale
- Tel: 011 226 8300
2. Noise and air pollution control
- Address: Environmental Health Building, Cnr Avon Street & Main Reef Road, Longdale
- Tel: 011 226 8300
3. Metropolitan public and safety and emergency service - fire safety
- Address: Street Level, B Block, Civic Centre, 158 Civic Boulevard, Braamfontein
- Tel: 011 407 6374/5
4. Urban planning unit
- Address: 7th Floor A Block, Civic Centre, 158 Civic Boulevard, Braamfontein
- Tel: 011 407 6231
5. Building control unit
- Address: 4th Floor, Roodepoort Civic Centre, 100 Christiaan De Wet Road, Roodepoort
- Tel: 011 761 0472
- Address: B-block, Sandton Civic Centre, Cnr West and Rivonia roads, Sandown
- Tel: 011 881 6320
Applying for a business license in Cape Town
Trade licenses can be applied for at any Environmental Health office in the City of Cape Town.
To apply for a business license in Cape Town you need to supply the following documents:
- Identity document and a copy for each member/ shareholder. Foreign nationals must supply their passport as well as a copy.
- If you applying for a trade license for a certain type of health or entertainment facility you must bring your certified South African Police clearance certificate which you can obtain from your local police station. If you are a foreign national you may need a police clearance from your country of origin.
- Before your application will be approved, you must obtain the necessary Land-use Planning clearances and ‘Certificate of Occupancy clearances’ that are issued by the Building Development Directorate.
- Once you have supplied these documents the Business Licencing official, you must make a cash payment at the nearest City of Cape Town cash office.
- Once you have paid you must submit your receipt to the Licensing official. You will then be contacted for site inspection and final approval of your trade license.
Applying for a business license in Durban
When applying for a trade license in Durban you will need to submit the following documents:
- Complete the application form with your property description ( the Erf number)
- Include the original landlord’s consent
- Submit a copy of your members/ shareholders identity document.
- Include your close corporation, certificate of incorporation and directors or members details.
- Submit a proxy letter if you are lodging on behalf of a close corporation or a company.
- Present an SAPS fingerprint report clearly stating ‘no illicit activity identified’ for all health facilities or entertainment license applications.
- Obtain and submit an electrical certificate of compliance for an accommodation establishment only.
- Supply proof of ownership if the building is a share block
- Payment can be made by cash at the Durban Licensing Offices or via electronic funds transfer.
What is the cost of a business license?
Trading licenses differ from province to province and the rates provided on the municipality websites are not updated regularly. It is best to contact your local municipality directly to request the most up to date rates for your province.
Main metropolitan municipalities:
- Johannesburg Municipality
- Western Cape
- Cape Town Municipality
- Durban Municipality
Liquor license applications:
- Gauteng Liquor License Application
- Western Cape Liquor License Applications
- Kwa-Zulu Natal Liquor License Application