Planning to expand your e-commerce business and build a strong online presence in China? Then, you’ll have to secure an ICP license in China. However, you might have several questions about ICP China, what it’s for, who can get it, and how to apply for one.
Below, we’ll address all these questions to help you see whether an ICP license is right for you and how you can obtain one — so keep scrolling.
What Is an ICP License for China?
For websites to operate legally in mainland China, and Internet Content Provider (ICP) license from the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is necessary. Businesses with e-commerce and other sites in the country thus need an ICP license before they could go live.
Failing to secure this ICP license means that the site hosted on a Chinese server won’t load on any browser used in the country. Also, the MIIT might shut down and blacklist your domain if it does not comply with the country’s content laws or you weren’t able to comply even after a formal request.
ICP China is divided into two:
- Commercial ICP license: The commercial ICP license is the one that enables you to operate an e-commerce website in China. Thus, if you generate revenue from advertising or online sales and perform business that requires payments using your platform, you will need this type of ICP license.
- Bei’an license: informational and non-commercial websites would need an ICP filing or Bei’an license. The public can access these sites, but you’re not allowed to market and sell your products and services with this license.
Why Do You Need an ICP License?
- Your website is not purely informative but sells something
- Do you sell a software/ have a Saas platform
- If you want to publish an app on a Chinese app store, your app as a payment option.
- Any type of live services (live stream/ Video Call/ Social Media)
- and so on
The benefits of having an ICP License:
- With an ICP license for China, you can host your website in mainland China and get a .cn domain name which is favored by Baidu.
- The ICP license protects you from being blocked in the country for no apparent reason (read more about protecting your brand/company in China).
- You can publish your app on Chinese app stores.
You will also gain access to a Chinese content delivery network and take advantage of the country’s hosting services. Thus, you can expect a website that loads in the fastest time possible. With such a highly functional website, you’ll have more opportunities to attract consumers and improve your conversion rates.
NB: you may not need an ICP license in China if it’s not your main target market, or if you think there won’t be much traffic from the country. It is expensive to get an ICP license, think $140,000, which is relatively high if establishing a China-based business is not included in your priority list.
Alternative Options to a Chinese ICP License
You have other alternatives too, like near-China Content Delivery Networks (CDN). Given that these CDNs do not cross the Chinese border, there’s no need to provide an ICP license to be able to offer content to China users. Examples of places with near-China CDN include Vietnam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. Compared to a major China-based CDN, near-China CDN performs less.
If you only want visibility in China, and your site offers static content, then near-China CDN will be suitable for you. Others also refrain from using keywords that are politically sensitive, so their site won’t be blocked. Note, however, that getting an ICP license for China doesn’t automatically mean that your site won’t get blocked. It only gives you the approval to host your site on a Chinese server.
Who Can Get an ICP License?
Not all organizations or people are eligible to get an ICP license. Below are the ones allowed to apply for an ICP certification:
- Chinese citizens with an ID issued by the state are qualified to apply for an individual ICP license.
- Chinese-owned businesses complete with Chinese business licenses are eligible to get a business ICP license.
- Foreign passport holders can also apply for an individual ICP. They should have stayed in China for a while to complete the requirements for basic registration.
- Companies with Chinese ownership of more than 50% are eligible to obtain a business ICP license in China.
- Businesses owned by foreigners but have Chinese business licenses are also allowed to get a business ICP license.
How Difficult Is It To Get an ICP License in China?
ICP license approval can be faster and easier for Chinese citizens and those who own a Chinese company compared to international applicants. While others may be qualified, the process will be harder, and the chance of getting a license is low. This is the case for companies with over 50% ownership of a non-Chinese business. The Chinese government rarely issues commercial ICPs for these companies.
What Is the Process for Applying for an ICP License?
Given that you’re eligible to apply for an ICP license in China, you’ll have to perform several steps.
- First, registering a domain in China and purchasing hosting is necessary. You’ll need the help of some Chinese providers for this (we happen to be offering this service). On the registration form for ICP license, you should provide the details about your domain and server.
- Then, you have to obtain your ICP service number. This identification number is linked to your domain, server, and your IC application filing. Create an account in the ICP application system, log in, and then supply the different details needed in the application. These include the domain name, Bei’an service number, the category of ICP you’re applying for, and the specific district and province where your registration comes from.
- Once you’ve supplied all these details, submit your documents and then wait for approval from the hosting service you’ve picked. They will forward your application and wait for the MIIT’s official approval. Note that you need to shut down your site temporarily while you’re waiting to obtain your ICP China.
NB: For some sites, completing the pre-approval process is necessary before the ICP application. These include cultural websites, forums, news websites, pharmaceutical or medical sites, and online games. You’ll also have to complete this if you’re applying for a commercial ICP license in China.
RDV to the government website dedicated to ICP License for more info (all in Chinese)
What Should You Provide for an ICP Filing Application?
If your business has already been registered in China, you’ll have to complete forms for the ICP filing application. These should contain your company business license in China, contact person in China, email address, ID card number, website name, domain name, the language you’re using, and the content type you’re providing.
Moreover, you need to provide the ID, passport, and other pieces of information about your business’ legal representative and your webmaster that should be based in China. They must have a photo at your hosting provider’s office along with its logo.
Then, you have to provide a special domain certificate or WHOIS details. While these domain registrars outside the country don’t usually give these certificates, you can request a Domain Registration Certificate.
Alternatively, you can use your domain name’s WHOIS information and send it to the MIIT. There are even provinces that accept screenshots of the domain WHOIS. Transferring your current domain name to a domain registrar in China is another option for you. Once you select this route, registration of the website domain must also be made on the Chinese entity. However, this is only for application purposes and, thus, temporary.
How Long Does Gaining ICP Certification in China Take?
Generally, you’ll have to wait for four to eight weeks before you can secure an ICP license in China. For commercial ICP licenses, however, it usually takes 60 to 90 days for the entire process to be completed. Moreover, the business should apply straight to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
What To Do Next After Obtaining Your ICP License
If you’ve successfully acquired your ICP China, make sure to display the ICP license number on your site’s homepage. Registration records must also be kept updated with the MIIT. This means that if you have a new webmaster, you should submit relevant information about the replacement. If the MIIT spots inconsistencies or violations, they may shut down your domain.
Should you get an ICP License: our final thoughts
ICP China is indeed necessary if you want to run your website legally in the country and if it’s part of your market. You can choose to apply for a non-commercial and commercial ICP license depending on the nature of your business and site. If you’re ready to apply for ICP certification, use our guide above. To learn more relevant steps and strategies, check out our page!
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Contact us to discuss your project with us. Whether you are just looking to get your China ICP license, or for complete solutions to design, host, and promote your website in the PRC.
Silas S. Brown
Is the Bei’an license cheaper? I have a free, no-ads app I wrote in spare time, to add Pinyin to websites for Chinese learners. It has about 4000 active users and I’ve had a request to put a version of it on the Huawei AppGallery for a user in China. Huawei originally accepted the app, but recently when I updated its dictionary I found Huawei’s requirements have changed: they accepted the app for all other countries but rejected it for China asking for an “ICP filing screenshot”. I’m happy to share my free-time project with other Chinese learners, but I don’t have $140,000 to spend on it. Should I ask a Chinese friend to get it a Bei’an license, and how much is that likely to cost an individual in a case like this? Thanks.
We would like to discuss about opening a web-site platform in china as foreigners and we would like details about the requirements of obtaining an ICP license.
Hello Batu, thank you for your message. We will contact you to see how we can help.