Your use of licence and license greatly depends on where you live: if you’re in the United States, license is the only spelling you should use. If you’re in any other English-speaking country, licence is how you spell it when you use it as a noun, and license is how you spell it when you use it as a verb.

Before you can legally drive a car, you have to pass a series of tests and obtain a license that proves you are a person capable of driving. After you finish medical school, you need to get a licence to practice medicine and actually treat patients. You can’t operate an airplane without a licence, and there are plenty of other professions that have licensing bodies whose approval people need in order to become practitioners of whatever their trade might be. Licenses are often used to control access to very important, serious, or dangerous activities, and for that reason, we should be glad they exist. Not that everyone’s psyched about them—there are always people who think there’s too much licensing going on and that it impedes progress or business or something else. But then again, you don’t need a license for most of the things you do in your life. You don’t need a licence to write or read, and you surely don’t need one to be able to notice that, so far, we’ve been spelling the word license in two different ways—license and licence. What’s up with that?

License the Verb: How to Use and Spell It

Like many other words in the English language, license is spelled differently in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world. However, this is not the case when license is used as a verb, as the verb is always spelled the same—license—and it always has the same meaning:

To issue a license, to give permission.

Here are a couple of examples of the word used in American online publications:

In the meantime, Atlanta, Georgia and the state of New York licensed him to fight, so in 1970 he finished off two tune-up opponents to prepare for his showdown with Frazier, who’d won the championship while Ali was sidelined.
The Daily Beast

Earlier this year at CES, we saw the first TVs from Sharp following the announcement that Hisense had licensed the company’s brand name for TVs in the U.S.
Digital Trends

And this is how they spell it in British online publications:

A kindergarten in a region often portrayed as Australia’s gun capital has “licensed” children who want to play with toy firearms.
The Guardian

North Somerset Council, which is responsible for licensing the event, said the Premises Licence was needed because there would be alcohol sales and regulated entertainment at the event.

As you see, there’s no difference in meaning between the two.

License the Noun: How to Use and Spell It

But license can also be used as a noun, which is where the different spellings come into play. In American English, the noun is spelled the same as the verb—license, but in British English, the noun is spelledlicence. All the while, the meaning stays the same:

Permission, a permit, an official document saying that you’re allowed or qualified to do something.

Here’s how they use license in American English:

A Chicago-area woman says she wants to fight for her right to wear a pasta strainer on her head in her driver’s license photo, claiming the item is an expression of her religious beliefs.
Chicago Tribune

Sometimes, licenses are required because employers know the jobs will be at sites across a region, and need employees to be able to get there reliably and on time.
The Atlantic

And try to spot the difference in these examples of British English:

The financial services board revoked the licence for allegedly serious transgressions.

Another 20 banks are in talks with the Bank of England about receiving a licence to launch in Britain, as the wave of new competition in the industry shows no signs of slowing down.
The Telegraph

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