Chinese Internet has its own rules and regulations that you have to follow before going online. As we wrote in the article 5 Essential Things For B2B Marketing in China, hosting your website on the mainland is an advantage when targeting local users. But it comes with some paperwork.
What is the ICP Beian (备案) License
Every website hosted on a local Chinese server needs a special license, otherwise, it’s not going to be accessible. Beian in Chinese, means something similar to registration in English. There are some confusion regarding the ICP Beian License (ICP备案) and the Commercial ICP License (ICP经营许可证). A lot of online articles present both types of licenses as being the same. In actuality, they are governed by different sets of criteria and requirements.
This article will focus on the ICP Beian License, which is the one you must obtain when launching a website that is hosted in mainland China. It is also the precursor to the Commercial ICP License, should you decide to get one. An approved ICP Beian license is enough for your website to be white-listed by your hosting provider.
The Internet Content Provider (ICP) license is a permit issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in China. MIIT has branches in every province of China, and the MIIT branch responsible for your ICP Beian license application depending on where you entity is situated in China. For instance, if your wholly-owned foreign enterprise or joint venture (JV) is incorporated in Shanghai, your ICP Beian License application must be submitted to the MIIT Shanghai branch for approval by your hosting provider on your behalf.
The ICP Beian license number is usually found at the bottom of websites and it looks like 京ICP证137715号.
A Comprehensive Set of Guidelines on the ICP Beian License
Each MIIT branch has its own regulations. Thus, it is possible there are subtle differences among all the requirements of ICP Beian. Requirements are also changing a lot in this field. Often, information applicable a month ago might not be available today.
Fortunately, a set of guidelines and rules are usually followed, so this piece will offer you the essential guide for the whole procedure. I am not going to make a step-by-step guide on that matter, but more of a comprehensive overview on the ICP Beian license. With the information in this article, you should be well-equipped to make informed decisions on how to approach the application of your ICP Beian License and plan for later accordingly.
Why Do You MUST Have an ICP Beian License
The ICP Beian License is basically a must-have permit for your Chinese website when hosting it on a mainland Chinese server. Without it your site will be rendered inaccessible by hosting provider.
ICP Beian is mandatory because it is the tool used to identify owners when violations of Chinese law occur to the website. MIIT surveilled the legitimacy of your website content through your hosting provider. If your website goes online without it, they will suffer the severe consequences.
Who Can Apply for an ICP Beian License
The basic requirements are simple, ICP Beian license applications are opened to either
- A local Chinese entity. This entity could be either a wholly-owned foreign enterprise, joint-venture, or a domestic Chinese corporation
- A local Chinese individual.
Then What If You Have No Local Chinese Entity?
Applying for an ICP Beian license can be tricky if your company does not have a local entity in China, since a foreign company cannot submit a request. This leaves you with another possibility, which is to nominate a locally-registered Chinese company to hold the domain for you as a proxy.
Below is a picture for ICP Beian application form.
ICP Beian License vs. Commercial ICP License
There are basically two types of ICP Licenses
- The ICP Beian License (ICP备案)
- The Commercial ICP License (ICP经营许可证).
The ICP Beian License is needed for all types of websites, which means you are legally registered to manage a website in China. But if your website contains “commercial” activities, then you will be required to get a valid Commercial ICP License. The rule of thumb is that if your website accepts transactions by selling, you are required to get a Commercial ICP License.
Commercial ICP License is only opened to local Chinese corporations. In some cases, they are available for joint-ventures, where the foreign equity is less than 50%. The local Chinese corporation must hold a minimum registered capital of 1 million RMB. If you do not have a local Chinese corporation, it would be best advised to partner with a local Chinese corporation that could apply for a Commercial ICP License.
Another difference between these two is that Commercial ICP Licenses are granted to the company, rather than the website itself.
Does an E-Commerce Store Require a Commercial ICP License?
Commercial ICP License is not a must for e-commerce websites hosted overseas since Chinese law perceives the Internet as a distribution channel for your merchandise. Thus, if you are considering to operate an e-commerce website in China, you are not required to apply for the Commercial ICP License.
Requirements and Application Process for an ICP Beian License
Assuming you have a local entity in China, your ICP Beian application will be handled by your hosting provider, on your behalf. Some hosting providers offer the service free of charge, while some charge you with a nominal fee. The time frame for an ICP Beian application to be issued is usually around 20 business days.
These are the required documents you should submit to your hosting provider:
- Legal Representative Information and ID/Passport Scan
- Webmaster Information and ID Scan (Chinese Contact)
- Company Business License Scan
- ICP Beian Application
- Photo of Legal Representative or Webmaster (taken in front of a poster from your hosting provider)
- Domain Certificate or WHOIS information
- ICP Beian Application Form
Certificate for Your Domain
The domain you included in your application needs to be certified, known as a domain certificate (域名证书). Since domain registrars outside China do not offer such kind of domain certificates, my advice is to register your domain name or transfer your existing domain name from an overseas Domain Registrar to a Chinese Domain registrar, such as NET.cn. They usually provide a domain certificate.
If you do not feel compelled to transfer your domain name from your existing domain registrar to a Chinese one, you can try submitting a WHOIS information of your domain name in replacement of your domain certificate to the MIIT. In certain provinces, the WHOIS information for domains is also acceptable apart from the usual domain certificate.
Company Names Must Match on the Application and Domain Ownership
The domain ownership must be the same as the company that is applying for the ICP Beian License. If the records on your Domain WHOIS or Domain Certificate do not match the company name applying for the ICP Beian License, your application will be denied.
If you are partnering with a local Chinese company to serve as the proxy holder, you could temporarily change the domain registrant name to the name of the Chinese company. After your ICP Beian is awarded, you could switch the ownership back to you.
No Website Content Before ICP Beian Approval
During the ICP Beian application process it is vital to make sure that yourdomain.com and all other sub-domains display no content. If your website is accessible and has content on it, the MIIT will deny the application.
If taking your website down during the application period is unrealistic, you would need to consider registering another domain name for your Chinese website.
At Chinese Marketing, we have other tricks up our sleeves, contact us for more information.
No Discussion Forums
For this type of license, your website must not have a discussion forum. If you decide to implement one, you will need another type of license.
Is Bureaucracy Worth the Effort?
As what we have already talked about, both B2B and B2C companies would benefit immensely from choosing a Chinese server for their website. A fast-loading website is more appealing to your customers and partners. Thus, the effort of obtaining all the required licenses is well worth making.