What is an Internet Content Provider License?

What is an Internet Content Provider License?

First, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of Internet Content Provider (ICP) licensing. What is it? 

An ICP license is an essential prerequisite for attracting customers in the Chinese mainland. As we have written before, it is a registration issued by the state that allows 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 entities, 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 requirement 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 business do to try and avoid this is to go one with an outside host, hoping  that the mainland China host do 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 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. 

Steps to take to acquire an ICP License: 

Not everyone is legible 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 applies 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. 

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 Chinas are not going to be able to get an ICP license.  

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

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. 

This graph shows the bureaucratic processes through which one obtains an ICP license

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 which combines a  companies domain and server into one, and attaches them to your ICP application filing. Next  one should 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 not wonder an ICP license is essential for doing business in China.


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