Do I Need A Travel Agent License?


One of the most frequent questions I get comes from people thinking they need to get a “license” or pass a “test” to become a home-based travel agent. These are fairly typical:

“How do I get my travel agent license?”

“In order to be a full-fledged travel agent do you need to be licensed or certified or take a test?”

Only one state, Rhode Island, had something they referred to as a “license.” But it was really just a requirement to register and post a bond. And Rhode Island repealed the law that required that “license” in June of 2010.

So there really is no such thing as a travel agent license – if by license you mean having to pass some sort of state-administered test, like you do when you apply for a driver’s license.

However, some local governments (counties, towns, cities, etc.) might have “license” provisions for those operating a home-based business. This is more in the nature of a tax than a license (in the “driver’s license” sense of the word). The local municipality uses ordinances like this to keep tabs on who’s operating businesses in residential neighborhoods.

This is pretty much a formality and you shouldn’t be worried that the local powers that be will tell you that you can’t run your business. Their main concern is that you don’t start a manufacturing business that might involve dangerous chemicals or processes, or a retail business that might bring a steady stream of cars and customers to your house, thus compromising the residential character of the neighborhood. And, of course, they get some more money for the municipal coffers.

Regulations like this are not a universal rule. There is a very good chance your local area has no such regulation. There is no such requirement in New York City, which is one of the most heavily taxed and regulated business environments in the country. (Sssh! Don’t tell them!)

If your local government has such a rule, you should abide by it (although I suspect that many home-business operators don’t – out of ignorance or otherwise – and the local authorities are none the wiser). Check with your local Chamber of Commerce; they should be able to tell you all about local ordinances. And don’t worry about it. Like I say, it’s just a formality and it shouldn’t cost you all that much.

What About Travel Agent Certification?

Likewise, you do not have to be “certified” as a travel agent to become a home-based travel agent. Now there are several travel agent certification programs out there, most notably those operated by The Travel Institute, but that is something else entirely. Seeking travel agent certification and becoming a “certified travel agent” is a matter of professional pride, not a must-have to become a travel agent.

Some host agencies only want to deal with agents who have experience. So if you’ve just graduated from a travel school, you may have a “certificate” but no experience. Other host agencies won’t deal with rank beginners but will deal with recent travel school graduates; in this case a certificate can be helpful. Some host agencies will require that you have some form of travel agent certification (like that from the Travel Institute) to qualify for a higher commission split without paying a fee.

Many, many host agencies, however, including the vast majority listed in my home study course, will sign you up pretty much no questions asked. No travel agent certification required. No travel agent license needed

Another thing that can seem something like a “license” or “certificate” is the “fictitious name certificate,” which is called different things in different places. Essentially, it’s a legal formality that allows you to cash checks written to your business name. Let’s take the case of Sue Jones and her home-based travel business, called Travel With Sue. Now the bank will not deposit a check made out to “Travel With Sue” into Sue Jones’ personal account. The solution? Sue registers her business name at the town hall or county court house (for a fee of course), gets her fictitious name certificate for “Travel With Sue,” takes it to the bank and opens a business account in the name “Travel With Sue.”

Again, this is a formality (a bit like a tax, too). You don’t have to “pass a test” or “get a travel agent license” to do this.

Some states (California and Florida among them) have laws that require travel agents to register. Again, these are not true licensing laws. In my opinion they are a misguided form of taxation on travel agents that lets the state pretend it is protecting the interests of consumers. You don’t need to pass a test to register under these laws; all the state wants is your money. So these laws have nothing to do with a real travel agent license, travel agent certification, or becoming a certified travel agent.

By the way, all these sorts of housekeeping matters are covered in my home-study course in the section called “Getting Serious.”