With the second largest economy in the world and rapid advancement, China is increasingly becoming a coveted market for Western companies who are seeking to expand their global brand. While some companies are establishing separate legal entities in the country, others are focusing on incorporating e-commerce business in the country.
For this group of companies, it is necessary to acquire an ICP license. Our experts at New Horizons Global Partners can explain;
- what an ICP license is
- how to get the ICP license
- how we can help you acquire this license to help grow your business in China.
What Is the ICP License
ICP stands for Internet Content Provider. An ICP license is a state-issued registration that allows a China-based website to legally operate in the country.
Having an ICP license lets you host your website on a server in mainland China. It is required for all businesses that have an e-commerce site in China. It is also required for other types of sites in China.
In fact, all sites hosted on a mainland Chinese server must apply for and receive this license before their site goes live.
Types of ICP Licenses
There are generally two forms of ICP licenses, which include the following:
ICP Commercial License
An ICP license for commercial websites lets you operate an e-commerce site in China. This license is necessary if your business primarily conducts business online.
This license is required if you plan to generate income from any of the following activities in China:
- Make online sales
- Conduct business activities that involve payments through your platform
The following entities may acquire an ICP commercial license:
- Chinese-owned businesses that have a Chinese business license
- Joint-venture companies
A Bei’an or ICP filing is a license for non-commercial websites that provide information to people who use the website. Consumers in mainland China can access this type of site, but you cannot sell your products directly online with this type of ICP license.
Why You Need an ICP License
Acquiring an ICP license is a legal requirement in China in order to operate a website in mainland China.
Having an ICP license also allows you to access a Chinese content delivery network. You can also get hosting services in China with an ICP license, which allows you to have a faster-loading website.
Ultimately, having an ICP license allows you to have a better-performing website so that customers take your business more seriously.
Can You Avoid Getting an ICP?
As stated above, acquiring an ICP is necessary if you wish to host a website in mainland China.
If your site is not hosted on the mainland, you do not technically need an ICP. If you do not plan on marketing to Chinese consumers, you may not wish to go through the extensive process of acquiring an ICP.
However, if you want a serious online presence in China, it is best to pursue this route.
Some businesses take a chance and a site outside China hosts their website. They may hope that their website does not get blocked. They may even try to carefully avert detection by avoiding any politically sensitive keywords and are not hosted on blocked domains.
However, if their site later does get blocked, it cannot be unblocked in the future.
It is also important to understand that even if you have an ICP, that is not a guarantee that your website will not be blocked.
Having an ICP merely means that you are approved to host your website on a mainland Chinese server, not that your site will be visible or will not be blocked.
Some businesses choose to host their Chinese website in Hong Kong to avoid the rules that apply to mainland China sites. There are different rules for Hong Kong than for mainland China.
If you do not acquire an ICP when you need one, you will not be able to purchase hosting in mainland China. All hosts are required to ask for an ICP license before they can release server credentials to a business.
If you defy the laws in China, your site can be permanently blocked and you will have no right to appeal or alter this decision.
Who Is Eligible for an ICP License?
Not all individuals or businesses can successfully obtain an ICP license.
Some entities and individuals are not technically eligible for an ICP license while others may have difficulty procuring a license even if they are technically eligible for one.
Generally, Chinese citizens or companies find it much easier to be approved than international applicants.
Individuals and entities that can apply for an ICP license include the following:
- Chinese national who use their state-issued ID. They are eligible to apply for an individual ICP.
- Foreign passport holders who use their passport as identification. They must be physically present in the country for a long enough duration that they can fulfill basic registration requirements. They can acquire an individual ICP.
- Chinese-owned businesses with a Chinese business license can apply for a business ICP license.
- Wholly foreign-owned businesses with a Chinese business license can apply for a business ICP license.
- Joint venture businesses where more than 50% of the company is owned by a Chinse company can apply for a business ICP license.
Other entities or individuals may be able to acquire an ICP license, but they may face additional obstacles and a decreased likelihood of being approved for their license.
For example, joint venture companies in which more than 50% of the company is owned by a non-Chinese business can apply, but commercial ICPs are rarely issued to these types of companies.
Foreign individuals who hold a passport but who are not physically present in the country may be able to acquire an ICP if they take many substantial steps, including:
- Obtain a Chinese landline number
- Obtain a Chinese cell phone number
- Set up an Alipay.com account that is connected to an international credit card or other source of funds
- Have a representative who can accept your mail and mail in necessary application materials and responses
- Learn to speak and read Mandarin
There may be additional requirements based on the province and type of website.
Foreign businesses that do not have a legal business presence in China or foreign individuals who do not have a passport are not eligible to apply for a business ICP.
Who Issues an ICP License?
The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issues ICP licenses. The process with this government agency begins after you purchase your hosting but before the hosting account is unlocked for you.
You must submit your ICP application to the web host, which reviews them and then submits them to the provincial branch of the government branch.
If the application is approved, MIIT notifies the host, who unlocks your account. You do not personally have interaction with the MIIT. The hosting company is responsible for this interaction.
Role of Aliyun
Aliyunis China’s most popular hosting-related company. Many site owners go directly through this site to obtain their ICP numbers. Many site owners choose to go through this company for their hosting needs.
The company can sell hosting and domains that are tied together with your ICP license application. The Aliyun website and user forums offer additional information regarding the ICP licensing procedure.
It is important to know, though, that Aliyun’s website and management are only currently available in Chinese, so you will need to be familiar with the language or have staff to make the most of these services.
Servers and Domains
Before beginning the application process for an ICP license, it is important to understand that you must provide a particular IP and domain name during the registration process.
You cannot use a domain name that is registered outside of China. If you move your site to a new server, you will need to update your ICP license with new server information.
You must register for your ICP license in the province where your business license was issued. This restriction does not apply for individual ICPs.
While most provinces follow the same basic process, some have special rules. For example, the Hebei Province does not allow non-Hebei residents to register there. You can find an interactive map that shows the individual provincial rules here.
Process of Acquiring an ICP License
There are several steps involved in the ICP license application process. These steps are detailed below.
Register a Domain in China and Purchase Hosting
The first step is to register a domain in China and purchase hosting. You must go through a Chinese provider for this, such as Aliyun. Fill in your domain and server information on your ICP license registration form.
Get Your ICP Service Number
You then acquire a Bei’an service number, which is a special identification number that attaches to your server and domain and binds these together with your ICP application filing.
You can obtain more than one such service number. You bind this number to the server that you purchased.
Register for the Aliyun ICP Management System
You then register for an account in the ICP application system.
Log into the Aliyun ICP Management System
Log into the Aliyun ICP Management System here. This will take you to the first page of the ICP application. You will need to provide a lot of information in this application, including:
- Bei’an service number
- Domain name
- The province and district you are registering from
- The type of ICP you are filing for
- Type of identification you will provide
- Identification number
- Chinese landline number
- Chinese mobile phone number
- Passport photo
- Details about your website, such as the type of content and the language it will be in
- Details about your business
Complete the registration form in its entirety. You will need to choose a service type and provide your service number. You will also need to upload certain information, such as a copy of your passport and business license.
Submit Your Documents for Approval
Review your application. Once you are sure that you have completed all of the necessary information, submit it to Aliyun for approval.
Aliyun conducts a pre-approval process to determine if your application is likely to be accepted or rejected and give you additional time to take any corrective action.
Submit a Recent Picture of Yourself
You must include a recent picture of yourself that meets certain criteria. Typically, this requirement was met when foreigners went to certain sites to have their picture taken.
However, Aliyun offers an alternative in which applicants can ask for the official curtain and have their picture taken with this official backdrop. They then upload their headshot to Aliyun.
Wait for MIIT for Approval
Aliyun or the other hosting service that you choose then submits your application for official approval to the MIIT.
You cannot use your hosting account until you obtain your ICP.
Many hosting companies will not charge for the time delay caused until the application is approved. In most situations, this entire process is completed within four weeks. However, it can take anywhere between three and six weeks.
The waiting time varies by the province and the nature of your business.
The pre-approval process is an additional step that is added to the application process for many businesses. This step is required for certain sites and must be completed before they can submit an ICP application to the hosting company.
Sites that are subject to his additional step include:
- News sites
- Media distribution sites, including video and audio
- Sites that distribute medical information, equipment or pharmaceuticals
- Online games
- Cultural websites
Additionally, this process applies to those who are seeking a commercial ICP license. You must contact the government agency directly in these situations by contacting the provincial MIIT where you wish to register. You must ask for a consultation on a case-by-case basis.
Cost of Obtaining an ICP License
The price that you will pay to acquire an ICP license will vary based on the agency. Additionally, you are charged per domain, so the more domains you have, the greater the cost will be.
Where Should You Place Your ICP License Number?
Chinese law requires that you display your ICP license number on your website in a clear and visible fashion. Many businesses place their license number on the footer of their website.
Their number must contain a Chinese character to denote the province where the license was issued. This symbol is usually followed by the term “ICP License” and then the license number.
Contact New Horizons Global Partners for Assistance with Your ICP License Application
Many businesses hoping to expand to the thriving Chinese market may discover that they will need an ICP license.
Our local experts are familiar with this process and can help you obtain your ICP license so that you can launch a reliable website in China. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.