No book or website can fully prepare you for this process. Sure you can google a nice flowchart, but the business culture in the east is rooted in a social system more delicate than any western country.
An ICP (Internet Content Provider) License is a permit, applicable to legally registered companies, issued by the MIIT (Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) that permits websites to operate in China. It is a key piece in your site going live, one between purchasing a hosting and creating your domain.
If your goal is to launch a website using a server hosted in China or on a Chinese content delivery network, an ICP License is mandatory.
However, say you are a US company hosting your website in America. The Chinese consumer is merely a fraction of your target market. Is it possible for your website to function, for Chinese consumers to view your content without an ICP License?
The answer is yes, but anticipate firewall blockage and don’t expect a fast-loading website.
Note: In Hong Kong, thanks to a more western style set of laws, entering the online playing field can be a smoother process.
There are two types:
1. Commercial License
A commercial license is for companies offering goods or services to customers chiefly online. Its parameters are strict and swift:
Commercial ICPs are almost never issued to companies with any foreign investment.
Therefore, you must be a completely Chinese-owned business.
2. Bei An (Filing) License
The ICP Bei An license is the standard license, available to foreign-owned entities: Representative Offices (RO), Joint Ventures (JV), or Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprises (WOFE). All mainland China hosted sites must obtain one before they begin any business online.
Given that our company assists non-Chinese businesses in entering the market, this is the license we will focus on.
Within the category of Bei An licenses, there are two ways to go:
A. Proxy Process
This is the only option for companies that do not have a physical entity present in the country. It allows you to nominate a locally-registered Chinese company to hold the domain for you as a proxy.
With this plan, you take on additional risk. Because you are linked with entities other than your own, if the proxy becomes blocked for any reason, it’s game over for everyone with no way back in.
B. Direct Process
This plan ensures the highest possible control over your site. The process is slightly longer, but ultimately worth it for companies serious about their Chinese presence.
When a client needs this license, here’s what happens in flow chat form followed by a more clear explanation:
• We translate and submit the required documents to your web provider
– In review, additional documents may be required
– When approved, your provider sends the documents to MIIT
• MIIT reviews your ICP license application documents
– When approved, we will be notified via our Chinese phone number
– Within twenty days, you will have received a registration number
• We apply for a PSB (Public Security Bureau) ICP Filing
– We have thirty days to apply after receiving the number
– Once again, the documents must be submitted in Chinese
• We submit the documents to start accessing China-based web services
– With the license, you can now purchase hosting and CDN services
– Finally, you are able to register for a .cn domain
Note: Failure to keep the information you submitted to MIIT up-to-date can result in fines or complete cancellation of your ICP license.
At this point, local competition knows you are serious about your sales and ready to compete. Your fast-loading website will keep customers around and partners engaged, and all the paperwork will be worth it.