What is an ICP license? Types & Requirements

Posted by , Last modified by Marc Füßlein on 17 February 2023 12:25

An Internet Content Provider license (or ICP license) is a Chinese license, which must be applied for at the local Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), so that a website can be hosted on a server in China. Websites that do not have a valid ICP license or do not display the corresponding ICP number visibly on the website will be completely blocked after a short period of time.

A valid ICP license is often also required to use the services of providers in China, such as the search engine advertising counterpart to Google Ads, which is called Baidu Tuiguang.

The ICP certification is divided into two license types: The ICP Filing (also referred to as small ICP license, ICP registration, ICP Bei'An, ICP备案 or non-commercial ICP license) and the Telecommunication License (also referred to as big ICP license, Commercial ICP license, ICP Zheng, ICP经营许可证 or E-Commerce ICP). Unfortunately, the term "ICP license" is often used as a synonym for both of these ICP types, although it is actually more of a generic term.

ICP Filing (small ICP license, ICP registration, ICP Bei'An, ICP备案)

ICP Filing is the small variant of the ICP certification. The typical use case for which an ICP filing must be requested is the operation of your company's website in China. The ICP filing is often incorrectly described by various online sources in such a way that it only allows you to present your company on your website, but it does not allow for you to sell your services and products on your website. However, this is an incorrect or incomplete representation of the ICP filing.

As soon as you are in possession of a valid ICP filing, you may operate your website in China. On your website, you are free to present your company in a purely informative way, as well as selling your services and products in your online shop. The ICP certification distinguishes between online shops where your own products are sold and marketplaces, which give users the opportunity to promote and sell their services and products on the marketplace. Examples of marketplaces in Europe are eBay and Amazon Marketplaces.

For this reason, there are many online shops in China, such as apple.com.cn, which only have an ICP filing (京ICP备10214630号) and no commercial license. Marketplaces such as taobao.com, on the other hand, require a corresponding Telecommunication License (浙B2-20080224), since the operator does not sell directly via such platforms, instead allowing users to do so on the operators plattform, and therefore higher standards apply, strict control mechanisms must be implemented, and regular checks must be carried out by the Chinese authorities.

If you have not yet been able to operate your online shop in China, please feel free to contact us. With our hosting and server solutions from weber.cloud China and, if required, the support of our English speaking partner lawyers in China, we support you in legally operating your online shop with an ICP filing in China.

The legal basis for ICP Filing are the "Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services" (互联网信息服务管理办法) and the "Administrative Measures for the recording of non-operating Internet Information Services" (非经营性互联网信息服务备案管理办法), which came into force on March 20, 2005.

Requirements & Required Information

In order to apply for ICP Filing, you first need a company headquarters in China. This can be your own company subsidiary or a trustworthy sales partner to whom the Chinese website is then registered. You will then need the following information:

  • Exact company name, address and telephone number of your Chinese company
  • Chinese verification document from your Chinese company. This can either be a Chinese business license (营业执照(个人或企业)) or a registration certificate of resident representative office of foreign (region) enterprise in China (外国(地区)企业常驻代表机构登记证). The organization code certificate (组织机构代码证), which was accepted until 2017, can no longer be submitted for this purpose.
  • name, mobile phone number, e-mail address and valid proof of identity of the legal representative of the Chinese company (does not necessarily have to be a Chinese citizen)
  • name, telephone number, mobile phone number, e-mail address and valid proof of the identity of the person responsible for the website (must be a Chinese citizen)
  • mobile phone number of the website emergency contact (must be a Chinese mobile phone number and has to be registered in the province of the companies headquarter)
  • photo of the person responsible for the website against a special background with specific lettering of the hosting provider (this will generally be provided by the hosting provider), IP address, ISP, server location (usually provided by your hosting provider)
  • IP address, internet service provider, location of the server (usually obtained from your hosting provider)
  • list of domains under which the website will be accessible
  • all domains must be registered through a Chinese domain registrar

Applying for ICP Filing

While the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is responsible for processing ICP applications, it has stopped operating a platform for direct submission of documents many years ago. Instead, the ICP application is made directly through the hosting provider that hosts your website in China. Your provider has a corresponding interface to the MIIT, which you can use to apply for an ICP filing online. Depending on the hosting provider and the province where your Chinese company is located, there may be special regulations or forms that need to be taken into consideration. All information must be submitted in Chinese. If you decide to use the hosting and server solutions of weber.cloud China, we will happily assist you in applying for your ICP Filing.

The competent provincial authority of the MIIT will generally need between 5 and 20 working days to process the submitted documents. If there are any queries about the documents or if corrections need to be made, you will usually be notified within the first few days following the submission. You will then need to correct and resubmit the documents.

After an initial check of the documents by your hosting provider, the data will be transferred to the MIIT. Before the responsible clerk processes the application, the mobile number provided must also be verified by SMS. For this process, we have put together a detailed list of the procedure in our article on the SMS verification so that you can complete it smoothly.

Issuing of the ICP Filing

After approval of your ICP application, the specified persons will receive information about it via SMS and e-mail. This includes, among other things, the ICP number and the password for the ICP Filing, which is needed to make any changes to the stored information in future.

The ICP number has the format 沪ICP备12345678号. The first character indicates the province in which the ICP Filing was requested (in this case 沪 for Shanghai). The character 备 indicates that this is an ICP Filing. This is followed by a unique 8-digit number followed by the character 号, which simply means "number".

Beispielhafter Eintrag einer ICP Lizenz beim MIIT

Integration of the ICP number

According to Article 13 of the "Administrative Measures for the recording of non-operating Internet Information Services", upon receipt of the ICP Filing, the associated ICP number must be visibly placed in the footer of the website and linked to the MIIT's website. The domain of the MIIT website changed on April 25, 2019, and the website has since been accessible at beian.miit.gov.cn.

Telecommunication License (big ICP license, Commercial ICP license, ICP Zheng, ICP经营许可证)

For most European companies that want to get started in the Chinese market, an ICP filing is sufficient, as it allows you to operate both your company's website and company's online shop in China. In fact, it is not even possible for foreign companies to obtain certain Telecommunication Licenses since most or even all of the company would have to be Chinese-owned. However, in May 2022, the regulations for Telecommunication Licenses have been eased once again.

Under the Telecommunication Licenses, a large number of services and associated license types are summarized. There are currently 47 subcategories in total, each of which requires its own Telecommunication License. Depending on the services the company offers, the application for several categories may be necessary.

Telecommunication Licenses fall into two main categories. Category A includes general telecommunications services. This includes, for example, various forms of telephone networks (analogue, VoIP, LTE, 4G, 5G, ...). Category B summarizes so-called "value-added" telecommunications services, including the operation of data centers, CDNs and marketplaces.

Requirements & Required Information

Compared to the ICP Filing, the application for Telecommunication Licenses is done directly through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The ministry provides a corresponding service platform.

The requirements and necessary documents vary depending on the telecommunication service that your company wants to offer. The most important criteria is how many shares of the company may be owned by foreigners. Although there was some relaxation in May 2022, most telecom services can still only be operated by companies that are either wholly or in some cases at least 51 % Chinese-owned. However, it is worth mentioning that it has become possible to operate a marketplace in China, even if the company is 100 % foreign-owned.

In addition to company shares, capital also plays a role. The range here is between 1,000,000 RMB and 200,000,000 RMB depending on the telecommunication service.

Your company must also demonstrate to the Chinese authorities that it has the necessary expertise to operate the telecommunication service. Since the latest easing of the requirements, for most telecommunication services, it is enough to show the expertise of the Chinese company. Before that, investors could not just provide capital, but also had to bring relevant skills to the table.

As with ICP Filing, once you have received a Telecommunication License, you need to present the corresponding number on your website as well as at other relevant places. The number will be in the form of 浙B2-12345678 or 浙A1+B1-12345678. It includes the categories for which the license is valid, such as B2, or A1 and B1. For more detailed information on the subcategories that have been specifically licensed, the number or company name can be searched at https://ythzxfw.miit.gov.cn/resultQuery.

It is also important to note that Telecommunication Licenses are time-limited. The exact duration of your license depends on the corresponding services. It can range from one to ten years, after which the license must be renewed.

After receiving the ICP license: Registration with the Public Security Bureau (PSB Filing)

The ICP application is not yet complete with the receipt of the ICP Filing or the Commercial ICP license. Since 2016, you must register with the Public Security Bureau (PCB) within 30 days of receiving your ICP license ...
» More about the PSB Filing

Do you have further questions?

Then visit our FAQ section or send us a message using the comment function at the bottom of this page - we will be happy to assist you and answer any questions you may have.

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