How to Register an ICP Licence in China

ICP License in China

Consult an Expert

Learn about our solutions and receive a proposal and guidance about your business inquiry.

Share this article

An ICP license stands for Internet Content Provider license, a requirement for any website that wants to operate legitimately within China’s borders. It is a regulatory measure set by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) that is crucial in maintaining the integrity and lawfulness of the country’s internet space.

Without this license, websites are not legally permitted to be hosted on servers in mainland China, making it essential for businesses seeking to tap into the vast Chinese market.

Understanding ICP Licenses

Understanding the nuances of ICP licenses is essential for businesses seeking an online presence in China’s digital landscape. These licenses are pivotal for legal operation and hosting within mainland China.

What Is an ICP License?

An ICP License is a mandatory registration for Internet Content Providers intending to operate a website or online service within China.

As issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, ensuring that the internet space aligns with national regulations is a legal requirement.

Different Types of ICP Licenses

  • ICP Filing: Also known as ‘ICP Bei An, this type of ICP license is necessary for websites that provide information. It’s the basic ICP certification for content-based platforms that do not engage in direct sales.

  • ICP Commercial License: Referred to as ‘ICP Zheng,’ this ICP (Internet Content Provider) certification is required for websites that conduct e-commerce or other business-related activities directly through their platform.

Importance of ICP License in China

An ICP License is crucial for website compliance and uninterrupted operation in China.

With this registration, hosting a site on a mainland server is possible, and it affords the government a layer of assurance regarding the control and management of Internet services and information dissemination.

ICP License Registration Process

The application process for an ICP license in China is structured and requires attention to requirements and documentation. It ensures that only qualified entities can maintain an online presence in China.

1Register a domain in China and purchase hosting through a Chinese provider, such as Aliyun.
2Submit the required documents for the ICP Commercial License application, which may include a copy of your business license, domain name certificate, and other relevant materials.
3Wait for the Chinese authorities to review your application.
4Once you have obtained the ICP license number, apply for PSB (Public Security Bureau) ICP Filing within 30 days of your website going live.
5Submit your PSB application and wait for approval.
6Ensure that the ICP license number is displayed on the bottom of your website’s homepage.

Note: The process may vary slightly depending on whether you apply as a business or an individual. Companies must apply for an ICP Commercial License, while individuals can apply for an ICP Filing.

Eligibility Criteria

Entities need to determine eligibility for an ICP license.

Commercial websites seeking to engage in online sales or services must have a valid business license and a certificate that explicitly allows internet operations.

On the other hand, non-commercial websites, often informative or personal, have a different set of criteria focusing on content rather than commerce.

Foreign individuals or entities must navigate additional regulations and may need to partner with a local entity.

Required Documentation

Documentation for ICP filing is extensive and must be meticulously prepared.

The ICP application form is central to the process, and it is accompanied by identification verification, such as a personal ID for Chinese nationals or a passport for foreign individuals.

A certificate demonstrating control over the website’s domain name is also necessary.

The documentation varies depending on the license type—whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes—but it must be complete and accurate to proceed.

Regulatory Bodies and Compliance

Compliance with regulations is mandatory in online content and telecommunication services in China. These regulations are governed by several entities, with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) being the primary regulatory body businesses must engage with to operate legally.

Role of the MIIT

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is China’s primary regulator of the information industry, including the internet.

It orchestrates the implementation of the People’s Republic of China’s telecommunications regulations, a comprehensive framework that stipulates the requirements for entities seeking to provide telecommunications services.

One such requirement is the ICP License, which is essential for any online service accessible within China.

The MIIT oversees the application process for ICP Licenses, ensuring that all content providers adhere to national laws.

Compliance with Chinese Telecommunications Regulations

Compliance involves strict adherence to the Telecommunications Regulations of the People’s Republic of China.

Entities must obtain an ICP License, which implies meeting specific criteria, maintaining records, and being prepared for regular inspections by regulatory authorities.

Notably, the regulations are dynamic, with the MIIT mandating updates in the face of evolving online landscapes. Timely response to these changes is paramount to sustaining business operations within Chinese jurisdiction.

Technical Requirements

When setting up a website in China, attention must be given to specific technical requirements to comply with the country’s regulations. These focus on the infrastructure aspects like server choice and domain name, aiming to ensure information security and regulatory compliance.

Server and Hosting Considerations

If a business wants to host its website on a mainland Chinese server, the server provider must be ICP-licensedThis means providers such as Aliyun (also known as Alibaba Cloud) must be used, which the Chinese government approves. Websites hosted on a server within mainland China assure better local access speeds and reliability.

  • Server Requirements:

    • Security Measures: Compliance with strict data and network security protocols.
    • Hosting Providers: Choosing a provider like Alibaba Cloud simplifies compliance, as it offers integrated ICP management systems to assist in the complex application process.

Domain Name Selection

The domain name for a site aiming to operate in China must align with the ICP license requirements. 

Here’s a table listing some popular domain name extensions accepted for ICP licenses in Mainland China:

Domain ExtensionDescription
.cnCountry-code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) for China
.comGeneric Top-Level Domain (gTLD) for international use
.netGeneric Top-Level Domain (gTLD) for international use
.com.cnSecond-level domain for commercial entities in China
.net.cnSecond-level domain for network-related entities in China
.org.cnSecond-level domain for organizations in China
.gov.cnSecond-level domain for government entities in China
.中国Internationalized Country-code Top-Level Domain (IDN ccTLD) for China
.公司Chinese domain extension for companies
.网络Chinese domain extension for network-related entities

It must be registered through a service provider accredited by Chinese internet authorities, ensuring the domain name meets its legal and operational standards.

  • Domain Name Requirements:
    • Accreditation: The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information) must recognize the Registrar.
    • Consistency: Domain must correspond with the business entity and ICP registration records.

Utilizing the Aliyun ICP Management System facilitates the registration of an appropriate domain name and streamlines the entire process of aligning a business’s online infrastructure with China’s regulatory framework.

Operational Implications

The acquisition of an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license holds significant operational implications for businesses, including the differentiation between commercial and non-commercial services, adherence to the Great Firewall regulations, and the seamless integration of e-commerce platforms with online payment systems.

Commercial vs. Non-Commercial Websites

Websites in China are subject to different regulations based on whether they engage in commercial internet information services or merely serve as informational platforms.

Commercial websites, often requiring an ICP commercial license, can engage in online sales and advertising.

In contrast, non-commercial sites, or those with an ICP Filing, are typically limited to providing information without direct commercial transactions.

The Great Firewall’s Effect

The Great Firewall of China significantly impacts how websites operate within the country.

All sites, whether commercial or informational, must comply with strict censorship laws and content regulations.

An ICP license does not guarantee immunity from these rules; instead, it marks the website as legally recognized, still bound by the overarching internet censorship framework.

E-commerce and Online Payment Integration

For e-commerce websites to function effectively, they must possess the correct ICP license and ensure integration with local online payment systems, such as Alipay.

Moreover, a legitimate ICP license helps establish trust with consumers and partners, facilitating smoother transactions in a market wary of fraudulent activities.

Additional Services and Support

Beyond acquiring an ICP license, businesses must consider the broader digital infrastructure and online presence needed for success in the Chinese market. This entails leveraging content delivery networks (CDNs), professional web development services, and market localization strategies.

CDN Usage in China

Content Delivery Networks are essential for ensuring fast and reliable access to websites within China.

Due to the Great Firewall and the vast geographical area, utilizing a China CDN can drastically improve load times for users in the country.

Websites like Chinafy enhance website performance by optimizing content delivery for Chinese internet characteristics.

Web Building and Design Providers

To cater to the Chinese audience, businesses may benefit from collaborating with web design providers familiar with local preferences and technical requirements.

Web-building services that offer tailored designs can help adapt a site’s look and feel to meet the expectations of Chinese users.

Additionally, compatibility with advertising platforms like Baidu PPC can attract more traffic and increase online visibility.

Localizing for the Chinese Market

Localization encompasses more than simple translation; it involves adapting content and digital strategies to resonate with local customs, culture, and consumer behavior.

For businesses entering the Chinese market, it’s vital to understand the nuances of local practices and consumer expectations.

This might include integrating local payment systems, adapting to mobile-first browsing habits, and creating culturally relevant content.

Considerations for Foreign Entities

For foreign companies aiming to establish an online presence in China, it’s imperative to navigate the intricacies of obtaining an ICP License.

These regulations are non-negotiable and vary depending on whether the entity is forming a joint venture or operating as a wholly foreign-owned enterprise (WFOE).

Joint Ventures and WFOE Requirements

Foreign entities planning to launch websites in China typically must engage in a joint venture with local Chinese companies or establish a WFOE.

A joint venture allows for shared responsibilities and resources, but both entities must ensure compliance with local Internet regulations.

For WFOEs, the entity must register for an ICP License before providing internet content, which requires the business to have a physical presence within mainland China.

The license types vary, with Bei’an serving informational or personal websites and Commercial ICP licenses required for e-commerce activities.

Steps for WFOE and Joint Ventures include:

  • Secure a Chinese domain name from an MIIT-authorized registrar.
  • Prepare thorough documentation, which may encompass business licenses, identification for legal representatives, and details on the scope of the website’s content.

Provincial Level Regulations and Beijing

At the provincial level, entities must pay careful attention to nuances in the application process.

Each province has its regulatory body and may impose additional filings or requirements on top of the standard national ones.

For instance, a Bei’an or ICP Filing is necessary for businesses seeking to provide purely informational or personal content, which generally does not permit direct online sales.

Nevertheless, this filing is often the initial step in marking a digital footprint within China’s internet landscape.

Important aspects at the provincial level include:

  • Understanding local regulations: Businesses need to know the specific rules in the province where they intend to operate.
  • A meticulous application process includes multiple steps, such as verification and documentation submission.
  • Approval times can range from 2-4 weeks, depending on the province.

Entities must also consider the implications of the Value-Added Tax (VAT) system in China, as it could affect the financial planning of joint ventures and WFOEs operating websites within the country.

Costs and Financial Planning

Entities should understand the multifaceted financial obligations involved in considering the acquisition and maintenance of an ICP license.

From initial cost outlays to ongoing financial planning for website operations, the expenses can be substantial and must be approached with a strategic budgeting mindset.

Overview of ICP License Costs

The process of obtaining an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license in China involves several layers of cost.

The initial application may incur a fee, and companies must also account for registered capital requirements, which are mandatory for the business registration associated with the ICP license.

The cost implications extend beyond these initial expenses, including legal consultation fees and compliance costs to ensure ongoing adherence to Chinese Internet regulations.

  • Application Fee: Variable, based on services
  • Registered Capital: Minimum amounts typically set by local regulations
  • Legal and Compliance Costs: Incurred during application and for ongoing compliance

Entity owners should consider and incorporate these costs into their financial planning strategies.

Budgeting for Website Operations in China

As part of their operations in China, businesses must budget for acquiring the ICP license and the ongoing expenses associated with maintaining an online presence compliant with Chinese regulations.

These costs include server hosting, domain registration, and content moderation to comply with local laws.

They also encompass revenue management and reinvestment into infrastructure to ensure service quality.

  • Server Hosting: Monthly or annual fees
  • Domain Registration: Periodic renewal costs
  • Content Moderation: Staffing or service costs for regulatory adherence

Effective financial planning must allocate resources for the predictable costs of daily operations and potential unforeseen expenses. This conservative approach safeguards a company’s ability to sustain its revenue streams in the fluctuating online sales market.

Monitoring and Maintenance

Through diligent management and periodic updates, license holders can maintain compliance and operate within the established guidelines.

ICP Management System

The ICP Management System is a comprehensive platform designed to keep track of ICP licenses.

It centrally manages ICP records and ensures that all data about the license, such as ownership details, authorized activities, and historical modifications, are accurately maintained.

This digital record-keeping simplifies the verification and audit process, thus providing a reliable source of information for both the license holder and regulatory bodies.

Renewal and Updates

The renewal process for an ICP license is a critical aspect that requires attention before the expiration of the current term.

License holders should mark their calendars well before the renewal date to avoid inadvertent lapses.

Updates to the license, which may include changes in scope or alterations in ICP management protocols, must be promptly recorded in the ICP record system.

Regular updates and renewals ensure ongoing compliance and reflect the latest standards and practices in ICP management.