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How to Get a Master Business Licence in Ontario

As an entrepreneur, one of your first key actions is registering your business name for a Sole Proprietorship. This means applying for a Business Name Registration for a Sole Proprietorship, which you might know by its previous name, Master Business Licence (MBL). This name change is part of Ontario’s recent updates to its business registration, but don’t worry, both the contents of a business name registration and a master business licence remain the same. 

Right from the get-go, there is a seemingly endless list of important tasks to do as a new business owner, from opening up a business bank account to setting up your POS systems, but one of the most important tasks is ensuring your business is operating legally—a business name registration is a crucial step in that process.

What is a Master Business Licence?

A Master Business Licence is a type of Ontario business licence that lists your business name, address, business number, and a brief description of your business activities. 

Most business structures are required to register a business name provincially or federally in order to operate legally. If you choose to register provincially in Ontario as a Sole Proprietor, a Master Business Licence serves as your business name registration with the Ontario government under the Business Names Act and provides you with a unique registration number called a Business Identification Number (BIN) that identifies your business.

It’s important to note that your BIN is distinct from your business number (BN). BINs are issued by the Government of Ontario and are used by the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services to identify provincial business accounts. Your unique BIN is issued when you register your business in Ontario.

Conversely, BNs are a nine-digit number issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) that gives businesses access to federal government program accounts, such as import/export numbers and payroll. 

Do I need a master business licence?

Whether you need to register for a Master Business Licence will depend primarily on your business structure. If you are registering a sole proprietorship and you wish to do business under a name other than your full legal name, you’ll need a Master Business Licence to do so.

For example, if your name is John Smith and you wish to do business simply as John Smith, you don’t need to register your business. However, if you plan to do business as something like John Smith Professional Organizing, you’ll have to register for a Master Business Licence. 

For new entrepreneurs, the most common scenario requiring a Master Business Licence is when setting up a sole proprietorship.

Types of business structures eligible for a Master Business Licence in Ontario

The Master Business Licence is the former name of the document which is issued to sole proprietorships when they register their business name. As such, the only business type that is eligible for a Master Business Licence is a sole proprietorship.

How to register your business with the Ontario government

Unless you’re operating your sole proprietorship under your own legal name, you’re required to register your business name, and there are a number of benefits to registering your business  name even if it’s not legally required. 

You can register your business directly through Service Ontario, or you can register with Ownr to save time, money, and stress. If you choose to register by yourself, here are the steps to registering your business in Ontario:

  1. Register for a ONe-key account. This will allow you to log into Service Ontario to start the registration process.
  2. Sign into your ONe-key account and register for a Service Ontario account.
  3. Submit the Business Name Registration for a Sole Proprietorship application by providing your business name, your mailing or office address, a valid email address, and a description of what your business will do. You’ll also need to pay the application fee at this stage.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re done! You’ll receive your Master Business Licence document as well as your nine-digit BIN and then you’ll be ready to practice business in Ontario. Don’t forget to check if your business needs additional permits and licences to operate legally.

What does a master business licence provide? 

Once you’ve submitted your registration and obtained a master business licence, you are granted the following: 

  • Registration with the Province of Ontario for five years, after which time you have to reapply
  • A business name registration document that gives you the legal right to operate under your business name within Ontario
  • The ability to open a business bank account under the name that you registered
  • The right to advertise under the business name that you registered and to promote your business name on marketing materials such as business cards

When your application is processed, you’ll receive a document that looks like this:

Before the recent update, this is what you would have received:

As you can see, the information contained in the new business name registration for a sole proprietorship is generally the same as the master business licence. 

One improvement is the number issued to each business is now listed as the “business identification number,” making it easier to distinguish between the federally issued business number.

What does a Master Business Licence include?

When you register your sole proprietor business name in Ontario, you’ll receive your Master Business Licence, which is simply a document that acts as proof of business registration with the Ontario government. 

What is a Master Business Licence number?

Your Master Business Licence  number, or BIN, is a unique nine-digit number that you’ll receive when you register your sole proprietorship. Your BIN will be required if you decide to pursue business incorporation, create an import/export account, or register for an account with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

What are some limitations of a Master Business Licence?

A Master Business Licence, while important, is limited in terms of the protections it offers your business. 

Here are some limitations of business name registrations:

  • There is no name protection against other businesses in Ontario operating under a similar or identical name
  • Sole proprietors do not have liability coverage
  • No have access to corporate tax advantages
  • There is limited ability to make changes to your registration

These are some of the reasons entrepreneurs choose to incorporate their business, even as a single-person corporation. 

If your business exposes you to a high degree of risk for personal liability, you might want to consider incorporating rather than obtaining a Master Business Licence. A corporation is a separate legal entity, meaning the liabilities and debts incurred by the corporation are not automatically yours. 

For many types of businesses, registering as a sole proprietor is a great place to start. Later down the road, you may choose to incorporate for the extra benefits.

How do I apply for a master business licence

Registering online is fast and easy with Ownr. You can also complete your business registration online, by mail, or in person at a Service Ontario location. 

Keep in mind that if you choose to register by mail, the processing times may be longer.

What you need to provide with your application

All you need to register your sole proprietorship business name in Ontario is your business name, your mailing or office address, a valid email address, and a description of your business activities.

Obtaining your master business licence with Ownr

If you want to make the registration process as simple as possible, Ownr can help you register your sole proprietorship in a matter of minutes. It’s easy and quick, and it actually costs less to register with Ownr than it does to register directly with the Ontario government!

Who can register a master business licence?

The registration requirements for a Master Business Licence leave it open to most adults in Ontario. 

As long as you are 18 or older, you can likely register for a Master Business Licence in Ontario. Unlike incorporations, you don’t have to be a permanent resident or citizen of Canada to register. 

If you are not sure if your immigration status qualifies you to apply, it’s best to check with Immigration Canada.

How much does it cost to get a Master Business Licence?

Registering your business through Ownr costs just $49, and gives you access to unlimited NUANS business name searches, which may be valuable if your first choice of name has already been taken. 

If you choose to go with a different registration option, NUANS reports can cost between $8 and $26 depending on the records you include in your search. This is on top of the filing fees.

Registering your sole proprietorship online with the government has a $60 filing fee while registering in person or by mail through Service Ontario costs $80.

How to cancel a Master Business Licence

You can amend or cancel a business registration at a Service Ontario location, by mail, or online by using your Ontario ONe-Key login. If you don’t have this login, you can request a company key online.

If you decide to change your business name, you’ll need to cancel your previous Master Business Licence and register for a new one. 

If you close your business, you should cancel the associated business licence. It’s recommended you also advise the Canada Revenue Agency of the cancellation so that the abrupt end in your business activity doesn’t trigger an audit. 

How do I renew my Ontario Master Business Licence?

Your Master Business Licence will be valid for 5 years, at which point you have to renew it. The easiest way to renew your Ontario Master Business Licence is through Service Ontario’s online portal. You can also call Service Ontario or submit the Renew a Registration form by mail or email. 

How do I get a copy of my master business licence in Ontario?

If you lose your MBL and just need to know your BIN, you can log in to the Ontario Business Registry to identify it.

You can also obtain a copy of your master business licence by contacting Service Ontario by phone or email, or by signing in to the same online portal through which you first registered.  

Note: if you obtained an MBL before October 2021, your business information has been migrated to the new system. You’ll have to get a company key to log in for the first time. If you’re registering your business any time after October 2021, you’ll be issued this company key when you register. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Master Business Licences

Do I need a business licence in Ontario?

If you’re operating a sole proprietorship in Ontario under any business name other than your legal name, you need a master business licence as proof of registration.

Do I need to have insurance?

Different businesses have different needs when it comes to insurance. Types of business insurance you may need include general liability insurance, commercial property insurance, business income insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and more. It’s best to speak to a professional insurance broker to make sure your business is fully protected.

Getting a Master Business Licence is an easy and important step for many new businesses. By making sure you register your licence from the beginning, you can feel confident that you are operating your business legally and that everything is above board, giving you the peace of mind to focus on growing your business. 

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