Can a Sole Proprietor Have a Business in Multiple States?

By Wayne Thomas

For new business owners, complying with all of the laws in one state can be tricky. Owners who wish to conduct business in multiple states have additional, sometimes contradictory, requirements to juggle. Fortunately, the ease and speed in setting up a business as a sole proprietorship generally holds up across state lines. However, owners should be aware of specific local rules, particularly with regard to certain regulated industries, to ensure a successful multistate operation.

Overview of a Sole Proprietorship

When it comes to liability for the debts and taxes incurred by a business, the owner of a sole proprietership is personally responsible. In a sense, the owner and the company are treated as one, with only one tax return filed and no separation between personal and company assets. For this reason, so long as the owner operates the business under his or her name, most states do not require the company to be registered, provided that the business is not operating in a regulated industry and no professional licenses need to be obtained.

Multistate Operations

Operating a sole proprietorship in multiple states can be straightforward, but it requires compliance with the specific requirements of each state, which can be conflicting. A small number of states, including Nevada, do mandate that all companies, regardless of type, register their business with the state. In addition, certain regulated industries require that specific licenses be obtained before beginning operations. An example would be a business owner wishing to sell tobacco products in Alaska, which requires obtaining a state business license endorsement.

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Tax Considerations

In addition to occupational and professional licenses, some states require a sole proprietor to obtain a local sales and use tax permit if the business will sell goods or services within its borders. Further, regardless of what transactions are involved in the business, any state where income is generated typically requires the filing of a state return and payment of associated taxes.

Registering Fictitious Names

By default, sole proprietorships take the name of the owner. However, for the purposes of branding, many owners choose to operate under a fictitious, or Doing Business As, name. DBAs often require state registration, and in most states, no two businesses can have the same fictitious name. For that reason, an owner must register the fictitious name in every state where the business operates and DBA registration is required.

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A sole proprietorship functions as an alter ego of its owner. State law requires you to operate the business under your own name, so the public knows who to hold responsible for business activity. For example, a personal trainer named John Smith must have his customers pay him by writing a check to “John Smith.” He cannot call his sole proprietorship “In Shape Personal Training” and operate under that name unless he registers the name with the state as a fictitious business name, also known as a “doing business as” (DBA). Most states process DBAs at the county level, so the name registration is only good in that one county. A few states, like Florida, process DBAs at the statewide level, which entitles the owner to use the name anywhere in the state.


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