China Marketing Blog

What Is An ICP License and Does Your Company Need One?

Misha Maruma — Fri, 08/08/2014 - 13:30

There has been a common question recently that many clients have asked us. This question has been asked in many forms.

Some examples include: 

  • "Should our company get an ICP license?"
  • "Can our company get an ICP license?"
  • "If we don't have an ICP license, aren't we likely to be banned by the Chinese government?"

In this article I will clearly address these issues.

 

First of all what is an ICP license?

ICP License is short for Internet Content Provider License.

According to the Telecommunication Regulations of the People’s Republic of China Act No. 291 and No. 292 issued by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, all commercial websites run in China must register for an ICP license.

Under Chinese law, all websites operating in China are required to get an ICP license, or else it will be blocked. For a website that is hosted outside of Mainland China, getting an ICP license won’t be necessary.

I often hear agencies tell potential clients: “hosting your site in China and getting an ICP is a must”. But this is simply not true. There is no requirement to host your website in China to do business.

Of course, there are pros and cons to hosting your website in China and therefore obtaining an ICP License.

 

A fast website

Actually, what a lot of companies want is for their website to load quickly in China. One of the surest ways to have a website that loads quickly is to host it in Mainland China itself.

Resource-intensive websites will certainly benefit from the faster-loading times of being hosted in China. Conversely, websites that don’t expect a lot of traffic might be better off being hosted in nearby countries.

For some companies it makes sense to host their site in nearby countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Macau. By doing so, they avoid the difficult paperwork involved in getting an ICP license, while still enjoying the benefits of having a web hosting provider close to China.

 

Baidu pay per click advertising

If a company wants to use Baidu PPC do they need an ICP license? This is a good question and the answer is not straightforward.

October 2016 Update: In most cases, Baidu is now requesting an ICP license, even for non-Chinese companies. It still varies though. To know what the requirements are for your company, please contact us to learn more.

 

Final thoughts

On the surface it makes sense to host your website in China, but it really depends on your website’s needs, as we have pointed out in a previous article looking at five myths about hosting a website in China.

I’ll summarize the five main points below, and then let you decide if your company needs an ICP license or not.

  • Hosting location is not a factor in getting your website blocked in China. If you aren’t promoting something prohibited it won’t get blocked.
  • Even if your website is hosted outside Mainland China it can still rank well on China’s largest search engines including Baidu.
  • Using a .com domain is more preferable than using a .cn or .com.cn domain as you’ll be recognised as an international business. This is better for marketing.
  • It’s possible for non-Chinese individuals and businesses to buy a .cn domain name should you want to go down this route.
  • Hosting a website in a different country can be a risk, especially a country with very different industry standards from your own.

 

There is a follow up to this article explaining how to apply for and obtain an ICP license.

 

Cover image source: achang.com 

 

Do you have any questions about ICP licenses and hosting your website in China? If so, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

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Comments

Hi guys!

Thank you for the great articles.
I have a question. I'm selling software worldwide. After some tests, surveys, etc. I found out that my website which servers located in usa - loads good enough in China. But download speed is very poor, something like 30 kb/s.

My question is: can I upload my software on Chinese cloud service and share it with Chinese customers? Can it be illegal?

 Hi Timur,
Glad you found the post useful.  Unfortunately I'm not sure about the answer to your question about uploading software to the cloud here and selling it that way.  It may be possible, but I would expect you'll need to provide a host of different documentation about your business and software to the Chinese cloud service.  Good luck.  Devin

Hi Timur,

A bit late to the party, so you may have found your solution by now.

You might want to look into a CDN (content delivery node) solution for helping to distribute your content globally. It is costed on bandwidth consumption through the server itself, typically you buy into a set amount of bandwidth and a specific server located in your target location.

If you work with US based hosts you should be able to find one that will host your site + files in the US and use a caching server in China to distribute your content there. It will save you the headache of having to deal with a Chinese host as it'll be your hosts job to ensure it's availability and up time, leaving you to work on the server in the US with your team.

I hope some of this helps.

Kind regards,
Derek

 Good insight.  Thanks for sharing, Derek.  Devin

Our website is not shown on Baidw. It is shown on yahoo and bing but when someone in China is clicking on our side, the website content is not loaing.
One of my partners is Chinese. He called his friends and they told him something like along the lines of your response. They told him that is mostly technical that the content of our website is not loading? What is the correct answer? How do we resolve this problem?

Kind regards,

Andreas

Hi Andreas,

There are so many possible reasons that it's tough to know without taking a closer look. The most common reasons I see foreign websites not indexed by Baidu are that 1) There isn't Chinese content, or is very little Chinese content, 2) There are no links or other activity from Chinese sites indexed by Baidu to the target site.

Hello everyone
If I am operating an e-commerce site, which targets Chinese customers.
A lot of the content (pictures and text) are in Chinese as well.

Though the site's customers are chinese, my site is currently hosted in Korea.
Chinese customers are practically direct purchasing from a Korean site. (and having the product shipped from Korea)

In such case, does ICP matter?

In that case you shouldn't need an ICP license.
 

Good information.

I am working on app solely for Chinese audience and also on streaming video off designated website - am I best off using Chinese internet and therefore which means I have to have business presence there. Payment for various premium portals will be through payment app.

Thank you.

I have been looking into the whole ICP issue, and whether licences are required or not.

A scenario I have with a client is:

They have a website, where they will not be selling commercially from, but advertise the company that sells a professional services.
This website will not be hosted in China
There is a potential that they will require a CDN service as they want to be able to cache videos and contents at the edge. To do this, do they need to get an ICP licence to provide CDN services within the Chinese firewall ?

Hi Dave,

Thanks for reading.

Yes, if you want to have CDN services within Chinese firewall you will need to have an ICP license to do so. 

I also checked with some Chinese CDN companies, they gave me the same answers.

Hope it help,

Best,

Samantha

Hello how much it costs to submit an ICP license and should we submit each year or is it a one time? thanks Shlomit

Hi Shlomit,

If you have a Chinese hosting, you should apply it with your hosting company, they usually have a platform to do it. It`s free.

And MIIT renew it every year, simply just check if you still use it and make sure the submission info was up-to-date. And no fees.

Hey Misha,

Thanks for your insights!

I have one more concern here: Does the translated website (with domain of .cn but hosted in Europe) function normally on Baidu without ICP registration? In other words, can Chinese users find us easily as the other Chinese websites?

Our service is more like a portal for people to find courses abroad (we don't sell anything online, but allow customers to direct link/send requests to foreign universities). Is that considered as sensitive industry as you mentioned above?

Thanks in advance.

Kindest
Shin

It should be visible in China and indexable by Baidu. At least, there's probably nothng from your description alone would cause Baidu to not index it.

It depends on the course content though. If users are free to post course content for any topic, some of them may post something sensitive.

 

Hi Tait,

Thank you so much for your kind reply! It's very helpful.

Best
Shin

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