For international companies wishing to battle in China, obtaining an ICP license is a must. ICP stands for Internet Content Provider, the license is issued by the Chinese government and allows you to host your website on the domestic server. This is basically a permit for you to communicate with your Chinese consumers online: your email, SMS, public account on Wechat etc. are all depending on it. Meanwhile, due to the rather heavy Internet censorship, websites hosted outside China either open very slowly, or worst case scenario, are not accessible at all.
Sounds complicated? No problem! We will sort out the basics about ICP license for you, so as to decide if you need such a license and how to get it.
What type of ICP license should I get?
There are two types of ICP license—ICP registration and commercial ICP license. Depending on the nature of your website (informational or transactional), you’ll need different ones.
ICP registration/ICP BeiAn (for informational websites)
The ICP registration, or BeiAn in Chinese term, is required for websites that are not intended for commercial transactions. Such registration is available for websites owned by either a company or an individual. Meanwhile, the procedure for registration is easier and faster. Your request will normally be processed within 1—1.5 months.
Commercial ICP License (for transactional websites)
A commercial ICP license is for companies looking to sell products in China, especially ecommerce platforms. Starting from 2015, Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise (WFOE) holding a valid Chinese business license can also apply for a commercial ICP. While this new policy has somehow paved the way for foreign retailers, remember that it is a new regulation and do expect a lengthy and tedious process.
Why an ICP license is a must for your online business in China?
Basically, an ICP license gives you the possibility of communicating with your Chinese customers online. Sending out emails and SMS, opening a Wechat account under your company’s name, or having your company information listed online. Despite of the essential function, there are more benefits.
SEO ranking: Chinese search engines such as Baidu and Sogou offer better ranking to websites hosted locally.
SEM strategy: Only by obtaining an ICP license, can you promote your website through Baidu adword.
Better online marketing: One of the best personal communication channel in China is email. And to send emails in China, you need to have an ICP license. Otherwise if you are sending from a foreign server, the email delivery rate will be very low.
Better user experience: Typically when your website is hosted in China, it opens and responds faster. Moreover, you can also have a .cn domain by having an ICP license, which shows Chinese consumers more ‘authenticity’ and ‘reliability’ of your site.
How can I get an ICP license?
You can obtain an ICP license through the official website of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in China. It’s important to notice that the website, as well as the entire application is ONLY in Chinese, so you might need help from your Chinese colleagues or agencies.
You also need to prepare quite some documents for the application. Feel free to refer to below as a quick checklist of the documents you may need:
- Copy of your business license in China (valid and with company seal)
- Certificate for your domain name
- Information of your contact person (Chinese national only) in China
- Information of the company owner (can be non-Chinese national)
- Picture of your Webmaster or the legal person (taken at a certain verification point)
- Signed copy of the ICP license application form
It may sound a bit ‘intimidating’ to undergo all the verification and documentation process. But having an ICP license can indeed help you unlock tremendous potential for your online business in China. Bear in mind some final tips and hope they can make your application easier!
- Prior to your application, you need to set up an entity in China. You can either register yourself as a Wholly Foreign Owned Entity, or have an office established in China.
- The timeline for application could vary in different provinces/cities.
- One of the most convenient way is to file an application through your hosting provider.
- While an ICP license gives you more opportunities with your online business, it doesn’t give you’re a guarantee. There are more regulations regarding content, privacy, transaction etc. Make sure that you are playing by the rules.