How to Register a Business in Ontario

In most cases, registering a small business is one of the tasks you'll need to complete when starting a business in Ontario. Fortunately, registering a business is a relatively simple and inexpensive process. You can do it online, in-person, or by mail.

If you are thinking about registering your Ontario business, there are several details you need to be aware of. For starters, you might not even need to register!

Do I Need to Register My Business in Ontario?

If you are doing business in Ontario you will likely need to register your business with one exception. If you are operating your business as a single individual under your own name, you don't need to register your business. Otherwise, you’ll have to register.


And if you previously had a registered business but your business name has expired, you need to register again.


What happens if I don’t register?


You could be fined up to $2,000 if you fail to register your business, or if you register with false information.

How Much Does It Cost to Register a Business in Ontario?

The cost of registering your business depends on whether or not you do it online.

  • If you register online the cost is $60.
  • If you register in person or by mail it’s $80.

Business Name Search cost – In addition to the cost of registering your business, you will likely need to pay for a business name search. Before registering your business, you should see if there is already a business with that name. To search Ontario’s Enhanced Business Name Search business registry, the cost ranges from $8 - $26 depending on the search report. See the section below for more on using the database.

Ontario Business Registration and Master Business License

In Ontario, a registered small business is officially known as an "Ontario Business Registration." You might also hear people call it a "Form 1," because of the form number you need to complete, or a Master Business License (MBL).


When you register your business name you will receive a Master Business License (MBL) that includes your Business Identification Number (BIN). The BML is proof of your legal business name registration. You can use it when dealing with the Ontario government or financial institutions.


Business registration is managed by the Central Production and Verification Services Branch of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services.

Steps to Register a Business in Ontario

Name Your Business

The first thing you’ll want to do is settle on the business name, you’ll need to state it when registering.


Check if an existing business has the name


Before registering, it’s a good idea to know if there are already existing businesses with that name. While Ontario does not prohibit more than one non-incorporated business from having the same name, to avoid confusion and protect yourself from legal liability it’s usually a good idea to have a unique name.


Ontario’s Enhanced Business Name Search


You can use Ontario’s Enhanced Business Name Search database to see if there are already businesses with that name. There is a per-search fee to use the business search service.


When you perform a search on a name, you will be provided with a report:

  • Detailed Business Names Report – If your search resulted in a match, meaning one or more businesses with that name where found, you will receive a Detailed Business Names Report for $8, which can be certified for $16.
  • Statement of No Match Found – If no match is found, you will receive a Statement of No Match Found report for $8, which you can make a Certificate of Non-Registration for $26.

The search service is only available from 8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday – Friday excluding holidays.


Note that you can also do a business search in-person, with immediate results, or by mail, which will take between 4 – 6 weeks. See the registering your business section below for address information.


Additional ways to check for a business name


In addition to Ontario’s business name search, you might also want to check for trademarks with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) and search the Nuans database, which contains business and trademark information for all of Canada.


Restrictions on business names


When deciding on a name, there are a few restrictions on naming your business you should be aware of:

  • Obscene or objectionable words or expressions, or words prohibited under federal or Ontario law.
  • A business name that could deceive regarding the type of business it is, e.g. using “LLC” in your business name if you are a sole proprietorship. “Limited”, “Limitée”, “Incorporated”, “Incorporée”, “Corporation”, or the corresponding abbreviations “Ltd.”, “Ltée”, “Inc.” or “Corp.” are prohibited, unless "limited" is used in the name of a limited liability partnership.
  • The words “college,” “institute” and “university” are prohibited without special permission.
  • Business names cannot imply a connection with the Canadian government or the Crown.
  • Using another person’s name is prohibited without their permission unless the person has been dead for more than 30 years. 

It is your responsibility to make sure your business name doesn’t violate these rules. Even if you are granted a registration, it could be revoked at any time if it is in violation.

Choose an Entity Type

When registering your business, you need to understand what kind of legal entity you are registering. You can register a business name as a sole proprietorship, a general or limited partnership, or for an existing corporation.

  • Sole proprietorship – One individual owns all the assets, is responsible for any debts, and receives all the profit.
  • General Partnership – Two or more people doing business together and sharing all profits and liabilities.
  • Limited Partnership – Ownership is shared by two or more people who are either general partners or limited partners. The general partner or partners are fully responsible for all debts, liabilities, and obligations, while limited partners have limited liability based on their investment in the business.
  • Incorporating your business - The other option is to incorporate your business, which creates a legal entity that separates owners from the business. You can incorporate at the provincial or federal level. Only lawyers or accountants may incorporate a business.

Most small businesses register as either a sole proprietorship or a partnership.


Protecting your business name


One aspect you might want to keep in mind when deciding whether to incorporate is protecting your business name. Registering does not give you exclusivity to that name. To prevent others from using the name of your business, you will have to either register a trademark or incorporate your business, as Ontario prohibits corporations with identical names.

Register Your Business

Once you know your business name and the type of entity you want to form, you can apply for business registration with the government.


You will need to provide:

  • The name of your business
  • Business address
  • Principle place of business
  • The name of the owner or partners and addresses (you can’t use a PO Box)
  • What type of activity the business conducts
  • The person authorizing the registration (usually the business owner, used if someone else is registering the business on behalf of another)
  • Business activity – A brief description of what makes most of your revenue, e.g. operating a restaurant, house painting, etc.

Will you have employees or hire contractors?


During the application process, you’ll have to answer if you have, or plan to have, employees or hire contractors. If you answer yes to either of those, you’ll need to register with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board within ten days of hiring a worker. This provides employees with workplace insurance coverage. Note that you will still be able to register your name if you haven't yet registered for insurance. 


Do you need Employer Health Tax?


During the registration process, you'll be asked if your estimated annual payroll is greater than $450,000. If so, you need to file for an Employer Health Tax number. Note that you will still be able to register your name if you haven't filed yet.


Online, In-Person, or By Mail?


When you are ready to register your business, you can do it online, in person, or by mail.


Registering Your Business Online


Registering your business online can be done in as little as five minutes. You'll need a Visa or MasterCard credit card for payment, as well as an email address.


To register online you use the “Integrated Business Services Application” service. You can register online at any time, however, if it's done between 8:30 am. - 5 p.m. you’ll get a temporary printable Master Business License you can use right away.


You’ll receive your MBL via email within 2 days if you provide an email address. If you don’t provide an email it will arrive by mail within 10 business days.


If you need access to a computer you can use ServiceOntario centre to find a public computer near you


Registering Your Business by Mail


To register by mail or in person, fill out Form 1. Complete the form and mail it with a payment of $80 in check or money order made out to “Minister of Finance.” Mail your completed forms and payment to:


Ministry of Government and Consumer Services

Central Production and Verification Services Branch

393 University Avenue, Suite 200

Toronto, ON M5G 2M2


It will take 6 – 8 weeks to receive your MBL.


Registering Your Business in Person


You can register and search business names in person from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. on normal business days at the following address:


Central Production and Verification Services Branch

Ministry of Government and Consumer Services

Second floor, 375 University Avenue

Toronto, ON M5G 2M2


For in-person payment, you can write a cheque or money order, cash, or a Visa or MasterCard. Service time is immediate and your Master Business License will arrive within 20 days.


Call for Help


If you need help or have questions about registering or conducting business in Ontario, you can call ServiceOntario at 416-314-9151 in Toronto or Toll-Free 1-800-565-1921.


For how long does my registration last?


When you register your business, it is good for five years before it needs to be renewed.


Potential Issues When Registering a Business in Ontario


While you are in the process of completing your business registration there are several potential issues to keep in mind.

  • The business name already exists - One of the issues you could face is an already existing business having the same name. Refer to the business name search section above for more information.
  • Name restrictions – Make sure your business name doesn’t conflict with any of the restrictions on business names. Refer to the naming your business section above for more information.
  • Do you need to register – Understand if you need to register. If you are conducting business under your own name, you aren’t required to register your business. Although you are free to do so if you want.
  • Additional requirements - In addition to registering your business, there are likely additional legal requirements to comply with. Make sure you get the appropriate licenses, registration, or certificates needed to operate legally. Depending on the size and type of business, you may need to get a Federal Business Number (BN), Retail Sales Tax Vendor Permit, Employer Health Tax number, or register with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
  • If information changes – If any of your business information changes, you will have to notify CPVSB within 15 days.
  • You will have to submit a new business name registration if you change the name of your business, if there is any change in partners, or if there is a change in business type.
  • For any other changes, including a change of address, you can use the Change of Business Information page.
  • Canceling your registration – If you stop operating your business you should cancel your business name online, in person, or by mail. There is no filing fee to cancel a business.
  • Protect your business name – Simply registering your business does not mean you have exclusive rights to that name, meaning another business could use your same name. If you want to protect your business name you’ll have to register as a corporation or register a trademark.

Make Sure You Renew


Business registration expires in five years. The expiration date will be printed on your MBL. It is your responsibility to make sure you renew it, CPVSB does not provide a reminder. Note that you can renew your business up to 60 days after it expires, but don't let it get to that point!

Checklist for Registering a Business in Ontario

Registering your business is a straigtht-forward process. To register a business, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Name your business
  • Decide the type of business (sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation)
  • Decide how to register – online, in person, or by mail. Registering online saves you $20.
  • Complete business information including business description, address, legal name of the owner(s), etc.
  • Pay for your business registration

While it can be intimidating to comply with federal and provincial laws when operating a business, registering your business name in Ontario is a simple process. 


About the author 

Maurice

Maurice (Moe) Muise learned the ins-and-outs of government while an employee of the Government of Canada in Ottawa for 10 years. His current focus is helping small businesses in Ontario to identify and maximize government grants to grow their business.
Click here to learn more about Moe's background and how he can help your business.

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