Ultimate Guide to ICP Certification in China

What is ICP certification?

Internet Content Provider (ICP) certification is a permit issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), which is required to operate a website in mainland China. There are two main ICP certifications required by businesses operating in China:

ICP Filing (ICP Bei An, ICP備案)

This is also known as ICP recordal. It is required for general content providers that only use a website for informational purposes, i.e., no direct selling.

Commercial ICP License (ICP Zheng, ICP經營許可證)

This is required for e-commerce websites with online payment integration. An ICP Filing is also required to apply for a Commercial ICP License.

Websites hosted outside mainland China cannot obtain an ICP Filing or Commercial ICP License. This includes websites that are hosted in Hong Kong. However, websites delivered in or from Hong Kong do not require these certifications.

Who needs an ICP Filing in China?

ICP certification is a type of registration required for anyone that wants to host content within China, either on their own server(s) or on third-party servers, e.g., a Content Delivery Network. Without an ICP Filing, your domain runs the risk of being shut down and blacklisted by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) for not abiding the Chinese content laws.

Who can apply for an ICP Filing in China?

Partially or wholly-owned Chinese businesses can apply for a Business ICP Filing;
Chinese individuals with a state-issued Chinese passport can apply for an Individual ICP Filing;
Foreign individuals with a foreign passport that are physically present in China for the application process can apply for an Individual ICP Filing.

Foreign businesses with no legal presence in China cannot apply for an ICP Filing.

Who can apply for a Commercial ICP License in China?

A Chinese-owned business with a Chinese business license;
A foreign business, where a Chinese business holds at least 51% ownership.

A Commercial ICP License is rarely issued to foreign businesses where a Chinese business does not hold at least 51% ownership. A business also needs to have at least 1 million RMB (approx. US$150,000) in registered capital to apply. However, a Commercial ICP License is only required where a business is selling directly through their website.

How do you obtain an ICP Filing for your website?

An ICP Filing can be difficult to obtain, especially if you have user-generated content (UGC) on your domain. It is recommended to work with an experienced, trustworthy consultant during this process to avoid mistakes and/or a prolonged approval process.

The core requirement for obtaining either type of ICP certification is that your domain abides by the content laws in China; your domain should not contain materials related to terrorism, explosives, drugs, jurisprudence, gambling, and other illegal acts.

The two requirements that many of our customers have difficulty with are:

  • having a legal entity in China;
  • having an origin server located in China.

Most of the other requirements are documents, such as proof of domain ownership, proof of business registration, and legal representative identification. The ICP Filing application process also requires that you temporarily shut down the website during the process, or at least make it unavailable to Chinese visitors.

What do I need to provide for an ICP Filing application?

Once your business is registered in China, you will need to provide:

ICP Filing Application FormsThese forms must include the following information:
Company Business License (in China)
Company information (in China): address and office landline number
Contact person (in China): ID card number, mobile number, office line number, email address
Website information: domain name, homepage, website name, type of website, and type of content

Legal Representative & Webmaster DetailsThe information and ID/Passport of the legal representative of your company as well as your China-based webmaster must be provided. It is also required to take a photo of the legal representative or webmaster at the office location of your hosting provider in front of a poster with the hosting provider logo. Here』s an example of what that might look like:

Domain Certificate or WHOIS informationThe domain included in your application requires a special domain certificate (域名證書). Domain registrars outside China don』t offer these certificates, so there are a few options for getting one.

  1. Ask your domain registrar if they can provide a Domain Registration Certificate. An example certificate can be viewed here.
  2. Submit WHOIS information of your domain name to the MIIT. In certain provinces, the MIIT accepts a domain WHOIS screenshot.
  3. Register your domain name or transfer your existing domain name to a Chinese Domain registrar, e.g., NET.cn, which can provide a domain certificate. An example certificate can be seen in the image below. If you choose to register your domain with a Chinese domain registrar, the domain for the Chinese website also needs to be registered to the Chinese entity. This only needs to be done temporarily for the application process.

Example Domain Certificate for ICP ApplicationExample Domain Certificate for ICP Application

How long does it take to obtain ICP certification in China?

It can take 4-8 weeks to obtain an ICP Filing, once all required documentation has been submitted. The average time in which we have helped our customers obtain an ICP Filing is 3 weeks.

A Commercial ICP License can take 60-90 days to be processed and a business must apply directly to the MIIT to receive one.

What happens when I receive my ICP License?

When you receive an ICP Filing and/or Commercial ICP License from the MIIT, the website license number must be displayed on the website homepage, usually in the footer, as shown below.

Example of an ICP License number on a website

When you have received your ICP Filing or Commercial ICP License, you are also required to maintain updated information registered with the MIIT. If your domain gets scanned/reviewed and some inconsistency is detected, your ICP certification might be invalidated and you run the risk of fines and/or your domain being shut down.

Additionally, final approval from the PSB Filing (Public Security Bureau) is a mandatory requirement for all ICP license applications. You will need to submit a PSB application after an ICP Filing or Commercial ICP License application, within 30 days of your website going live in China.

If you have any questions about ICP certification, or how to deliver your website in China, you can tweet our team @Tenten or contact us by email.