When people consider opening a food truck, they often don't worry about permits or licenses until they're deep into planning their business. While waiting until later to get your permits isn't a terrible idea, it can be troublesome depending on your region. What licenses are needed to start a food truck business? The answer is that you'll need multiple licenses and permits.
Business or vendor licensing
Many countries require business or vendor licenses before a person can open and run a business. In the United States, applying for a food truck business license happens on the state level but often requires action through the county.
For example, if you're doing business in Michigan, you would register the business name with your County Clerk. Then they would provide you with a UIA number and Sales Tax license. Afterward, you would register the business through Michigan's Department of Treasury.
The U.S. Small Business Association provides a complete list of links for registering a business in the U.S. with state-by-state guidance.
Although business and vendor licensing is often the primary concern, it's not usually the first license you'll obtain. Almost all states require that you secure an EIN or Tax ID first.
Tax ID or Employer Identification Number
This particular license goes by many names. You may know this as a State Tax ID, Federal Tax ID, or an Employer Identification Number often shortened to EIN. This is a 9-digit number that allows both federal and state governments to identify your business easily. In Canada, the 9-digit number has accompanying characters to identify the businesses’ program and program account.
An EIN or Tax ID is the same number and is similar to a social security number. You'll use it when filing taxes and representing your business as a legal entity when addressing any concerns with state or federal government agencies.
Driver’s license and registration
Food truck regulations require that you must have a license and properly register the vehicle. This process is fairly straightforward, and you can obtain a driver's license and register the vehicle through your state's system for transportation such as the DMV, MVD, or DOT.
You must have a business permit, and you must have a driver’s license to get started with your other permit applications.
Mobile food vendor permit
Many areas even require a food cart license. Any mobile food service will still need to have a food vendor permit. These permits show that the local authority permits the person to conduct business as a mobile food vendor.
Usually, business owners will need to obtain these permits through the city or county and cost a few hundred dollars. The fees for these can change based on if you serve pre-packaged or fresh food and where you prepare that food.
Food manager certificate
Food truck laws and regulations often require that at least one manager (usually the owner) have a food manager certificate. The most common certification is ServSafe, and they offer an online managers course that covers in-depth elements of food handling safety and sanitation. ServSafe’s online manager course with the exam is $179 and takes a fair amount of time to complete.
Food truck laws by state vary, but a common regulation is that businesses cannot prepare food on the truck. That means that food trucks must use a commissary kitchen or commercial kitchen which meets local food safety standards. If you're in an area requiring a facility record, you must always have paper records on hand that show you used a food-safe facility, depot, or commissary kitchen.
When researching how to get a permit to sell food on the street, many people completely overlook parking permits. A parking permit for a food truck allows the business to park in certain places and sell food. These are different from traditional parking permits because you’re requesting permission to park on certain streets and remain on the curb or in an area for a set amount of time. You may also need to pay for parking separately.
A food truck parking permit in New York City is only $200. However, the city only issues 3,100 permits.
Food truck permits always involve the local health authority. While applying for a health permit, you’ll also need to ensure that you meet food truck equipment requirements for safety and sanitation standards.
The cost of a health permit varies by region. In Los Angeles, a notoriously expensive city for food service, a high-risk mobile food facility using a truck will face a $905 fee. That is if they pass the health inspection the first time. Additional inspections and return visits come with additional fees.
Food truck commissary permits
A commissary permit is an acknowledgment that you use a commissary to prepare and store food. A commissary is a commercial kitchen where many food-service businesses can prepare and store their food by renting space.
Special local permits
Regional and local permits are only becoming more common, which can create some difficulty for food truck owners. It's always best to check with your local government, including your city and county level.
Some areas offer a substantial amount of support, while others seem to make the process complicated on purpose.
Food truck license checklist for Los Angeles, CA
Business License with the State of California
L.A. County Public Health Operating
Mobile Food Facility Permit
Fire Safety Permit
Wondering how to get a food truck license in L.A.? The L.A. County public health office provides a comprehensive guide on how to get started.
Food truck license checklist for New York City
Mobile Food Vending Permit
Completion of a Food Protection Course from the City
Public Health Permit for Food Service
Permits or Licenses from NYC Parks to serve certain areas (Parking Permits)
Learning how to get a food truck permit in NYC could be a demanding task. Not only does the city have a complex system, but there are also many issues in obtaining these limited vendor permits, often involving illegal activity. Currently, the city is reconsidering volume restrictions and how to issue mobile food vendor permits.
Food truck license checklist for Chicago
Food Sanitation Manager Certificate
Shared Kitchen User or Retail Food Establishment business license
Mobile Food Dispenser License
Health and Fire Safety Permits
Mobile Food Vehicle or Preparer License
Licenses are expensive in Chicago but are more available than licenses in NYC. All the permits considered, it’s easy for food trucks in Chicago to pay thousands of dollars in fees.
Food truck license checklist for Vancouver
State Department of Labor and Industries Permit
City Business License
City Food Vendor’s License
City Street Use Permit
City Parking Services Permit for On-Street Parking
Food truck permits and licenses in Vancouver require a bit of time for research. You must ensure that you obtain the proper licenses for your truck. Opening a food truck in Vancouver, even with special permit requirements, only runs a few hundred dollars in fees. It's not likely food trucks will have thousands of dollars in fees.
Food truck license checklist for Toronto
Motorized Refreshment Vehicle Owner License
Mobile Food Vending Permit
Green P Permit - to Access Green P Parking areas
Fire Safety Permit
Toronto fees for a six-month mobile vending permit are $3,254, while the refreshment vehicle owner license is an additional $1,222.
General cost of food truck licenses
To determine a food truck permit cost for your budget, you'll want to focus on your region's requirements. Food truck license costs can include application fees, licensing fees, and renewal costs.
There are many different ways that permits can fluctuate in pricing. For example, in Los Angeles, mobile food vendors' fees vary based on whether the vendor uses a cart, truck, or trailer and if they sell prepackaged or unpackaged products.
Generally speaking, if you are not in a city requiring additional permits, you may only need to spend about $2,000 on license and permit fees. However, these fees can dramatically vary from a few hundred dollars to well over six or seven thousand dollars in major cities.