The Internet has been growing rapidly in China. It is home to some of the largest e-commerce platforms and businesses like Alibaba, WeChat, etc. However, there are still stringent rules for regulating the internet and websites in the country compared to many other countries. To host and operate a website in China, the companies need to obtain the Internet Content Provider (ICP) license.
Simply put, the ICP is a license issued by the state authorities which allows the license holders to host a website on a server in mainland China. All websites must obtain an ICP license before they can be hosted in China and go live for the public. If the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) detects a website which is unlicensed and trying to host a domain, it will block the website as it does not comply with the law.
What is the China ICP License
This is the official website of the government. website: http://beian.miit.gov.cn/
There are two types of ICP licenses in China:
- ICP filing
- ICP Commercial license
The salient features of both the ICP licenses are as follows:
ICP Filing in China
ICP filing is known as “ICP Bei An” in Chinese is the first level of ICP certification. All websites must apply for ICP filing irrespective of whether their website is commercial or non-commercial in nature. ICP filing allows the license holder to host and operate a non-commercial website in China. They can create awareness and the purpose of passive information sharing through the website with only an ICP filing certification. The companies with this certification cannot use their websites for commercial activities in China. They cannot integrate the website with any e-commerce or payment gateway. ICP Filing is the first step towards hosting a website in China but it limits the companies which want to operate commercially through their websites. For such commercial activities, they need to obtain an ICP commercial license.
China ICP Commercial License
ICP commercial license known as ICP Zheng in Chinese allows the license holders to do commercial activities in China from their websites. Any company which wants to sell products through e-commerce in China needs to obtain an ICP commercial license. They should first obtain an ICP filing for them to be eligible for ICP commercial license. Once they obtain the ICP commercial license, the unique ICP number is displayed at the bottom of the website.
Why Take ICP license in China
China has more than 730 million active internet users. This is much more than the estimated 250 million internet users in the US. China is the largest online market in the world. No e-commerce business would want to ignore this immense market. The Chinese market still has extraordinary potential for further growth. Compared to the web-mature countries like the US where more than three-quarters of the population has internet access, only about half of the Chinese population has access to internet connectivity. Thus, the Chinese online marketplace will continue to grow at an even greater pace in the years to come.
Foreign companies who want to establish their e-commerce business in China will be at a disadvantage to the Chinese companies. Chinese regulations limit and block foreign websites. The farther the server is from mainland China, the more problems and complications the users will experience in accessing the website. The longer the website takes to load, the more it will be ignored by the users and they may never return back also.
Slow website loading times, negatively affects the SEO rankings as the search engines will penalize slow loading websites. The local websites will score over the foreign websites on this parameter. These factors mean that the companies looking to establish long-term and sustainable commercial operations in China need to host their website in mainland China. This is possible only when they obtain the ICP licenses.
Eligibility for Applying for ICP Filing
There are restrictions for who can apply for ICP filing in China. Companies have to meet certain eligibility criteria for being eligible to apply for ICP filing in China. The following entities are eligible for the same in the country:
- Partially or completely owned businesses in China
- Chinese nationals with state-issued Chinese passports can apply for individual ICP filing in China
- Foreigners having valid foreign passports that are physically present in China at the time of application can apply for individual ICP filing.
- It is important to note that foreign businesses which have no legal presence in China cannot apply for ICP filing
To get an ICP filing certification, the content of the website is also important. The content has to be in conformity with the existing laws of China. It should not deal with matters or subjects pertaining to terrorism, explosives, blasphemy, jurisprudence, gambling, and other illegal matters. Websites which rely heavily on User Generated Content (UGC) generally have difficulty in meeting these requirements and they find it tough to get an ICP filing certification. To overcome these potential problems, it is strongly recommended that the companies planning for ICP filing certification should hire a credible and experienced consultant in this field. This will help them be on track for getting the ICP filing certification and also avoid any potential problems which may arise later.
Most of the companies find it difficult to meet the criteria of having a legal entity in China and having an origin server that is located outside China. It is also important to remember that during the ICP filing application process, the website of the companies will be temporarily unavailable or be shut down for the visitors in China.
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Process for ICP Filing Application
ICP filing is the basic ICP certification that is needed by the companies which allow them to host non-commercial websites in China and connect to China’s content delivery network. ICP filing only helps the companies to host their websites in China for the purpose of creating awareness or sharing content. The ICP filing does not allow them to do any commercial activities from their websites in China. Without an ICP filing, the website of the companies is subject to the risk of being taken down or blacklisted by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) for not complying with the Chinese law. Thus, ICP filing limits the companies to do any business from their website in China. The process for application under ICP filing is discussed below:
ICP Filing Application Forms
The first step towards ICP filing is to fill up the application forms. The application forms contain information like Company Business License, company information, and details like address, contact details, etc. The information pertaining to the company contact person, their address, contact number, email address, ID card number, etc. also needs to be provided. The website which the company plans to host, its domain name, homepage, type, and content of the website also has to be provided in the ICP filing application form.
Legal Representative and Webmaster Details
The company applying for ICP filing certification needs to provide the complete details of their legal representatives and the webmaster in China. The photograph of the legal representative or the webmaster is required in front of the office of the hosting provider. The logo of the hosting provider should also be visible in the background of the photograph.
Domain Certificate or WHOIS Information
The domain name included in the ICP filing certificate needs to be backed up by a domain certificate. In some cases, the domain registrars may not provide the domain certificate outside China. The company should negotiate with their domain registrar and ensure that they provide a domain certificate required for ICP filing application. The WHOIS information of the domain name also needs to be submitted to MIIT. In some provinces, the screenshot of the WHOIS can also be accepted by the MIIT. The company may also register their domain or transfer the existing domain to a Chinese domain registrar which will then provide a domain certificate. If the domain is registered with a Chinese registrar, then the domain of the Chinese website also needs to be registered with a Chinese entity.
Time Needed for ICP Filing
After filling all the necessary documents, it takes about 4-8 weeks to obtain the ICP filing. The time can be reduced a little if the companies approach reputed and experienced consultants or agencies in this domain.
Eligibility for China ICP Commercial License
To apply for the ICP commercial license, the company has to be registered in China. This is considered to be the biggest hampering factor in obtaining an ICP commercial license. A foreign business, in which 51% of the shareholding is owned by a Chinese entity is also eligible for obtaining the ICP commercial license. A business also needs to have a registered capital of 1 million RMB (approximately $150,000) to apply for the license. A commercial license is required only when the company wants to sell products through their websites.
Information Needed for China ICP Application
Along with a copy of the ICP application form, the foreign applicants need to provide the details of the website domain name certificate. The copy of the passport and residence permit of the owner of the website is needed to be provided also. The photo ID of the webmaster with an official backdrop is needed for the application. The webmaster should be a Chinese national. The contact details of the webmaster (Chinese mobile number) should be provided with the application form. The completed and signed Authenticity Verification form issued by the MIIT and the certification of Chinese registered company should also be submitted for obtaining an ICP commercial license.
The applicants should remember that the requirements for ICP commercial license vary according to provinces and they should apply in the province where the business is registered.
The applicants who wish to host gaming websites for commercial activities in China require special certification of ‘Business License of Intent Culture‘. Businesses in the field of news, publishing, education, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices need approval from the relevant authorities in their domain. Any website which is in the education domain needs to obtain approval from the relevant educational authorities in China. The ICP application form cannot be filled without approval from these industry bodies. Companies operating in the above-mentioned domains find it difficult to obtain ICP licenses and experience higher rejection rates.
Application Procedure for ICP Commercial License
The procedure for application for obtaining ICP commercial license is discussed below:
Submit the Required Documents
The documents are reviewed by the web provider who may decide to submit additional documents for this purpose if needed. After reviewing and validating the documents, the web hosting provider will submit the documents to the MIIT for further processing and action from their end.
Review of Application
The MIIT reviews the application thoroughly after it is submitted by the applicant. The applicant is notified of the outcome of such verification by SMS on the Chinese registered mobile and email. If the review is unsuccessful, MIIT will inform the same to the web provider of the applicant. The web provider will communicate it to the applicant and may ask for additional documents for resubmission.
Apply for PSB ICP Filing
The usual time for receiving the ICP commercial license is 20 days after the submission of all the required documents to a hosting provider. The last step is to apply for a Public Security Bureau (PSB) filing within 30 days of receiving the ICP commercial license. The need for PSB filing is to verify and confirm that the applicant is not involved in any criminal or illegal activities. The PSB application portal is hosted on the official government website, hence the information for the same needs to be furnished in Chinese.
Submission of Documents for Start Services
Once the companies clear all the steps and receive the ICP commercial license, they are eligible to purchase hosting or CDN services in China. At the time of purchase, the web provider of the applicant can automatically verify if the domain name is linked to a valid ICP registration. The information provided and registered with the MIIT for ICP commercial license should be updated regularly otherwise it may lead to cancellation of the license.
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