What is a Chinese Internet Content Provider License?

By Stirling Austin

Becoming visible online in China – (article penned by Robert Fisch, MD at Incorp China)

If your main offices are outside China, then a first step towards becoming visible to Chinese clients is of course translating your site. However, for firms wishing to put roots down locally, there is a legal requirement to obtain an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license.

First, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of ICP licensing. So what is a Chinese Internet Content Provider License?

An ICP license is an essential prerequisite for attracting customers to the Chinese mainland. As we have written before, it is a registration issued by the state that allows the legal operation of China-based websites to legally operate in the country.

In order to establish and expand your business globally, especially to China, one must consider the necessary steps to file for a separate legal entity, as well as consolidating electronic commerce so that your business will thrive- not only are these steps to getting an ICP License encouraged but it is also required in order to officially set up your site in China. The only possible exception to this is if your site is not accommodated in mainland China.

Acquiring an ICP License is encouraged, especially if you are trying to influence China’s market with your company’s presence. As we have noted before, online commerce was very popular in China even before the novel coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic caused this trend to accelerate, however. It is rather amazing that the majority of all retail shopping in China is now done online.

What some businesses do to try and avoid this is to go one with an outside host, hoping that the mainland China host does not sense its presence and do everything in their power to avoid getting detected for sensitive keywords that are otherwise blocked on mainland China.

Although the chance of your site getting blocked with the acquisition of an ICP License is slim, it does not guarantee that your site will be safe from getting blocked. It simply means that mainland China gives you the approval to host your site, which is why one must be careful when establishing and actively running your site on mainland China. If you break  Chinese laws, there is a high chance that your site will be permanently blocked.

Not everyone is eligible for an ICP License, even when some businesses are considered legible to obtain the license, they could still face challenges. For instance, if both local Chinese citizens and an international company apply for this license with the same eligibility, the local entities are more likely to get it.

Of the list of people who are most likely to gain the ICP license, those most likely include Chinese nationals and those who hold foreign passports. Foreign passport holders are those who have their passports as their main means of identification. These individuals are able to get ICP licenses. Others who are favored included businesses owned by Chinese locals and  Americans who have a company in China. There is also a mix of these two which is favored,  that is, a company in which more than half of the company is owned by a Chinese business.

While these are the companies most favored, it does not exclude those who do not fall into these categories. For others, it is possible, just harder to obtain an ICP license. For example, even if you have a passport to the country, if you are not in the country itself, it makes obtaining an ICP much harder.

Once again, although it is hard, it is definitely not impossible.

Steps to take to acquire an ICP License:

There are multiple steps one can take in order to make obtaining an ICP license more of a  possibility. Some of these steps include getting both a cell and a landline telephone number;  learning to speak, read, and write Mandarin; creating an account with  alipay.com in which there is an international credit card; and finally having someone local who is able to get your mail and complete whatever local matters are required to be met.

These are just a few of the things you can do, as every instant is a case-by-case basis and there are many things one can do in order to increase their likely hood of obtaining an ICP license. It is important to note, though, that individuals without both a Chinese passport and a legal businesses occupation in China are not going to be able to get an ICP license.

After all of this information pertaining to who can get ICP licenses, it is important to note who is the one who gives them out.

Who is responsible

The organization that issues these licenses is the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information  Technology. Once you submit your application, someone in this department looks over the application and makes a verdict. They then make a decision and contact you and relay whatever future steps need to be taken. When communicating with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (aka MIIT), you are not technically communicating with MIIT, but with a  middle man, known as a host company. They are the ones who unlock your ICP account once you are approved. Of all of the big hosting accounts, Aliyun is among the biggest. They relay many of the ICP numbers to eligible companies and individuals.

There are many more steps to consider in obtaining your ICP license. One must remember to register their license in the province in which one’s business license was granted.  One must also register a domain in China itself, through a company such as Aliyun (or a  similar company). After this, one needs a Bei’an number, which is a process that combines a  companies domain and server into one and attaches them to your ICP application filing. The next one should be for the ICP management order provided by Aliyun and then finally log into the management system of whatever host company one chooses (such as Aliyun) and from there one can provide whatever personal and business-related information is needed. With all these rules, it’s no wonder an ICP license is essential for doing business in China.

Sounds complicated? No worries. Get in touch with Incorp China, a Pixel Executive preferred partner. Their job is to simplify the complex. Call 561-729-6508 or click here to drop them a note for a free consultation.

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