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Washington General Contractor License: How to Become a Contractor in WA

November 28, 2023 6 min. read
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If you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a highly lucrative industry, getting your general contractor license in Washington state is an excellent choice. 

The average salary for a general contractor in Washington is around $135,000, and the Economic Research Institute finds that top earners in the state bring in closer to $165,000. Basically, it’s the perfect time for you to get started in this profitable industry. 

Do you need a general contractor license in Washington?

While you technically don’t need a license, Washington state general contractors do need to register with the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).

According to the state legislation, the term “contractor” covers three different definitions related to construction and building: 

  1. Any person or entity that, as an independent business, offers to or performs construction, repair, or improvement work on buildings or land—this includes property owners who manage more than one type of specialty contractor to complete a single job or project
  2. A building consultant acting as a general contractor
  3. Any person or entity who offers to sell their property without occupying it or using it to operate a business for more than one year since construction or improvements were completed

Essentially, registered general contractors are involved in the planning and completion of any construction projects in Washington state. 

Types of contractor licenses in Washington

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries separates construction contractor registrations into two different categories: 

Certification/License TypeDescription 

General Contractors*
Registration holder can perform most types of construction work and hire subcontractors. 
Specialty ContractorsRegistration holder can work on projects involving one of 63 types of specialty work regulated by L&I. 
This type of registration covers all skilled trades except for those requiring additional certifications like plumbing and electrical.

* In Washington state, general contractors can perform most types of construction work, but work involving plumbing, electrical, elevators, mobile home installation, boilers, and asbestos carries additional requirements.

How do I get a general contractor license in Washington? (steps)

There are no educational or work experience requirements to meet before becoming a registered general contractor in the state of Washington. To register, you need to follow these steps: 

  1. Determine whether your general contractor business will be a sole proprietorship, partnership, or incorporated entity
  2. Register your business entity with the Washington State Department of Revenue and receive your Uniform Business Identifier
  3. Fill out the Continuous Contractor’s Surety Bond form and purchase the $12,000 surety bond for general contractors
    • There is also the option to complete an assignment of account form in lieu of the bond if you meet certain financial requirements
  4. Get a general liability insurance policy of $200,000 and property damage of $50,000 (or $250,000 combined single limit)
  5. Complete the Department of Labor & Industries contractor registration application and attached Principal Affidavit
  6. Pay the required application fee and wait 3-4 weeks for the registration to process and activate

All forms and applications can be mailed to the DLI Contractor Registration office at the following address: 

P.O. Box 44450
Olympia, WA 98504-4450 

It’s important to note that contractors also need to provide a Model Disclosure Statement Notice to customers for residential jobs over $1,000 and commercial jobs between $1,000 and $60,000.

Washington general contractor exam

General contractor registrations do not require an examination in Washington state—only certain specialty trades like electrical, plumbing, and boilers require an exam for licensing. 

That said, the L&I does provide free training workshops that contractors can attend to learn about everything from site safety to managing workers’ comp claims to public works contracting.

Does Washington reciprocate general contractor licenses?

Reciprocal licenses allow contractors from out of state to apply directly for an equivalent license in Washington. 

Washington state currently doesn’t reciprocate licenses for general contractors, but they do for other licenses, like plumbing

How much does a general contractor license cost in Washington?

To become a registered general contractor in Washington, you can expect to pay around $124.17 for the initial application and an additional $124.17 for renewal. 

Here are the main fees associated with registering as a Washington general contractor:

Registration StageFees

On top of these administrative fees, you also need to factor in the cost of your liability and property damage insurance policies and the $12,000 surety bond required to complete your registration.  

Renewing your general contractor license

According to the state legislation, general and specialty contractor registration is valid for two years in Washington. You can renew this registration online through the state’s web portal, by sending in the form through mail, or in person at a local L&I office.

Keep in mind that your contractor registration renewal is only valid if you have met the insurance and bond requirements. 

What happens if my general contractor license expires? 

If you think your contractor registration may have expired, you need to stop all work immediately—it’s a gross misdemeanor to work as a contractor without valid registration, and fines can range from $1,200 to $10,000. 

You can then use the L&I’s online contractor, tradesperson, and business verification tool to determine whether you need to renew or reinstate your registration. 

If you still qualify for renewal, you can fill out the form and submit it online, by mail, or in person at the closest L&I office. 

Information on the reinstatement process will be sent to you by mail, and the form can be submitted either in person or online. 

How to start a contracting business in Washington

Registering as a business is actually part of the overall process for becoming a general contractor in Washington state. Here are some of the general business license topics outlined by the Department of Revenue:

  • How to fill out a business license application
  • Getting your Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number
  • How to renew your business license
  • Rules around marketing a contracting business

Once you know where your business will be located, check to see if your business requires any city, county, and/or state endorsements. The Department of Revenue also has an FAQ page for any specific questions you may have surrounding business licenses. 

Once you’re registered, there are few more things you’ll need to think about to truly set your business up for success:

See our library of free contracting business resources for expert advice and templates you get you started.

Does a general contractor license in Washington increase your earning potential?

Because the state of Washington requires all contractors, including general ones, to register, completing this process greatly increases your earning potential. The average salary for a registered Washington general contractor is around $135,000, which is much higher than the average for individual skilled trades. 

Plus, if you continue to grow your business and skillset, you stand to make upward of $165,000 like the rest of the top earners in Washington.

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