The Ultimate Guide to Food Truck Licenses and Permits

‍ Food Truck Licenses and Permits Photo by volzi on Pixabay

Are you passionate about food and dream of taking your culinary creations on the road? Starting a food truck business can be an exciting and rewarding venture. However, before you can hit the streets and serve your delicious dishes, you’ll need to navigate the world of permits and licenses. Each state and city has its own regulations, making the process seem overwhelming. But fear not! This ultimate guide will walk you through the essential licenses and permits you need to open and operate a food truck successfully.

1. Business Licenses: Lay the Foundation for Your Food Truck

To operate a food truck, you must first establish your business legally. A business license, also known as a vendor license or a basic business operation license, is a requirement in most areas. This license is issued by your state and registers your food truck as a legitimate business. It also ensures that you can track your business for tax purposes. The cost of a business license varies depending on your location, ranging from $50 to $500.

In addition to a business license, you’ll also need a Tax ID, which enables you to collect sales tax. This number is essential if you plan to purchase ingredients or supplies in bulk. It is often obtained through the same process as your business license. Another important identification number is the Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is issued by the IRS. This federal identification number is used for tax purposes and replaces your personal social insurance number.

2. Vehicle Licenses: Drive Your Food Truck with Confidence

Since your food truck is essentially a mobile restaurant, you’ll need to comply with vehicle licensing requirements. A valid driver’s license and registration are the basic prerequisites for operating a food truck. Depending on the weight and size of your truck, you may also need to obtain a commercial driver’s license. It’s crucial to check with your local DMV to determine the specific license requirements for your food truck.

3. Health Permits: Ensure Safe Food Handling Practices

Food safety is of utmost importance in the food truck industry. Health permits, also known as building health permits, are issued by the local health department. These permits confirm that your food truck has passed a health inspection and is compliant with food safety regulations. To obtain a health permit, you’ll need to submit an application, undergo an equipment inspection, develop a food plan, and provide building plans. The cost of a health permit can range from $0 to $200, depending on the size and type of your establishment.

Additionally, many states require food handlers to have a food handler’s permit or a certified food manager certificate. This certification ensures that you and your staff are knowledgeable about proper food handling practices, including storing, cooking, and handling food safely.

4. Commissary Permits: Find a Home Base for Your Food Truck

A commissary is a commercial kitchen space where you can prepare and store food, serving as your food truck’s home base. Some cities require food truck owners to use a commissary kitchen rather than preparing food on the truck. Renting a commissary from a larger commercial kitchen is a cost-effective option. In this case, you’ll be covered by the licenses already in place at the commercial kitchen, but you’ll need to provide your own insurance.

Alternatively, you can establish your own commissary. This involves obtaining and maintaining all the necessary permits and licenses required for a commercial kitchen in your city. These may include a food service establishment permit, a building health permit, and an employee health permit.

5. Parking Permits: Secure Your Spot on the Streets

Finding a parking spot for your food truck can be a challenge. Most cities have regulations and restrictions on where food trucks can park and operate. To legally park and sell your food, you’ll need to obtain parking permits for the areas where you plan to operate. Some cities may require you to pay for parking, and there may be specific time and location restrictions to adhere to.

6. Special Event Permits: Catering to Festivals and Events

If you plan to participate in special events, such as festivals or concerts, you may need to obtain special event permits. These permits allow you to sell food at specific venues during the duration of the event. Each event may have its own permit requirements, so it’s essential to coordinate with event organizers and local authorities to ensure compliance.

7. Seller’s Permits: Track Sales Tax

In some states, food truck owners are required to have a seller’s permit to track sales tax. This permit allows you to purchase ingredients and supplies at wholesale prices without paying sales tax. Instead, the tax is collected when you sell your food to customers. Depending on your location, you may also need a resale certificate if you sell products in different forms.

To obtain a seller’s permit, you can register online through your local government’s website. While the permit itself may not have a fee, you may be required to pay a security deposit for tax payments.

8. Liquor Licenses: Adding Spirits to Your Menu

If you plan to serve alcoholic beverages from your food truck, you’ll need to obtain a liquor license. The specific requirements for liquor licenses vary by state, and there may be different licenses for beer, wine, and spirits. Liquor licenses can take months to get approved, so it’s important to begin the application process early.

Check with the Alcohol and Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and your state’s specific requirements to ensure you have the necessary permits to serve alcohol from your food truck.

9. Additional Permits: City-Specific Requirements

Each city has its own unique regulations and requirements for food trucks. It’s essential to research the specific permits and licenses needed in your city. Major cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and others may have additional permits and certifications. For example, in New York City, you’ll need a mobile food vendor personal license, a mobile food vending unit permit, and a New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene permit.

Make sure to check with your local city and state business offices to obtain a comprehensive list of the permits and licenses you need for your food truck.


As you embark on your food truck journey, acquiring the necessary permits and licenses is a crucial step. Each state and city has its own regulations, so it’s important to research and comply with the specific requirements in your area. From business licenses to health permits, parking permits to special event permits, ensure that you have all the necessary documentation to operate your food truck legally. By following the guidelines outlined in this ultimate guide, you’ll be well-prepared to serve your delectable dishes to hungry customers from the comfort of your food truck.