Practicing without a license

Practicing without a license is the act of working without the licensure offered for that occupation, in a particular jurisdiction.[1] Most activities that require licensure also have penalties for practicing without a valid, current license.[2] In some jurisdictions, a license is offered but not required for some professions.[3]


Fields where practicing without a license may carry civil or criminal penalties include lawyer, physician, physician assistant, optometrist, podiatrist, surgeon, coroner, medical examiner, paramedic, funeral director, osteopath, chiropractor, dentist, pharmacist, engineer, pilot, broadcasting, nurse, veterinarian, midwife, teacher, psychologist, surveyor, detective, social worker, architect, barber, hairdresser, electrologist, tattooist, cosmetologist, real estate agent, plumber, florist, accountant, and masseuse. If a person offering their services is licensed in one of these professions, any member of the public has a right to know if that person is validly licensed or not by the licensing authority. Anyone who claims to have a license and refuses to identify themselves properly by first and last name can possibly lose any one or all of their licenses. In many jurisdictions, it is illegal for service providers to hide their identities for purposes of making it difficult to verify licensure and past disciplinary actions or license violations.

License requirements vary widely with jurisdiction, sometimes even within a single country. Practicing a professional discipline without a license may be legal in some jurisdictions. For example, nine U.S. states have passed health freedom laws that protect alternative practitioners such as herbalists from prosecution for "practicing medicine without a license."[4] In the area of mental health, Oregon offers broad licensing exemptions for professional counselors and marriage and family therapists, allowing people to practice these professions either with or without a license.[3] Colorado requires registration but not licensing for psychotherapists.[5] Other states also have exemptions or registration requirements instead of, or in addition to licensing for some professions.

Other unlicensed activity

Other occupations, such as operating a business or working as a professional driver or mariner, may require specialized licensure, as well. Operating a business without proper licenses can result in financial and sometimes criminal penalties. These licenses can include a general business license, a liquor license, a specialized drivers license, and other types regulated by local, regional, state, or federal requirements. Certain occupations may require obtaining appropriate intellectual property licenses, such as music licensing, brand licensing, patent licensing, software licensing, and other permissions for use.

Nonprofessional activities may also require licenses for participation. These include driver's license, amateur radio license, dog license, firearms license, hunting license, marriage license, and pilot license. Using certain products or services may also require obtaining a license, such as a software license. Operating without these licenses can lead to civil and criminal penalties.

Penalties vary depending on the severity of the infraction, but practicing without a valid, current license may be punishable by one or more methods, including community service, fine, restitution, probation, and temporary or permanent loss of the license. Criminal charges can lead to incarceration, as they can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the severity of the infraction.[6]

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