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The Definitive Guide to China’s ICP System

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With the highest ecommerce penetration rate in the world (47%), China is home to world’s largest ecommerce market, with a revenue of 1.1 trillion USD in 2023. To do business in today’s China, companies must have a digital presence. And the first step in establishing your company’s digital presence will be familiarizing yourself with China’s Internet Content Provider (ICP) system.

Due to translation errors and copy-pasted misinformation, many websites and blogs have been providing erroneous information about China’s ICP system. This blog post aims to set the record straight to save your business time and money.


What is China’s ICP System?

Launched in 2000, China’s ICP system is a licensing regime instated by the Telecommunications Regulations of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国电信条例). ICP permits are issued by China’s Ministry of Industry Information and Technology (MIIT).


Who Needs an ICP Permit?

All websites available in Chinese cyberspace fall under the purview of China’s ICP system, regardless of whether if they are hosted on Chinese servers or provided into China by a content delivery network (CDN).

Access to .cn and domains, which increase your website’s SEO score in China, all require an ICP permit.

In addition, registering for a WeChat enterprise account also requires a company to have relevant ICP permits for their associated website domain.


Do Websites Hosted Overseas Need an ICP Permit?

Websites hosted on overseas servers (including those in Hong Kong) do not need an ICP permit for access within China. 

However, access to websites hosted overseas is unreliable in China and can be blocked by China’s firewall.

Therefore, companies usually employ CDNs for reliable access to their websites hosted overseas. The separate Chinese domain set up for the CDN will require an ICP permit.

Therefore, for companies doing business in China, having a stable digital presence within the Chinese market will invariably require an ICP permit. 


When Does the ICP Permit Need to Be Obtained?

All relevant ICP permits must be obtained before a website goes live in China.


Consequences for Noncompliance

If your website is hosted on Chinese servers or is provided into China via CDN, not having an ICP permit will result in it being blocked almost immediately.


Types of ICP Permits in China

Under China’s ICP licensing regime, there are generally two types of ICP permits, one for websites hosting independent content and one for websites that host third parties. Below, we discuss the different types of permits and how they relate to each other:


ICP Filing (ICP 备案 Bei’an)

Under China’s ICP licensing regime, an ICP Filing is required by all websites. For most company websites, an ICP Filing is sufficient.

An ICP Filing is required for each top-level domain and is administered provincially.

Contrary to information online about informational versus commercial websites, the distinction between the two main types of ICP permits lies in whether a website is independent or hosts third-party content and/or products.

An ICP filing is sufficient for websites hosting independent content and products. The types of websites that only require an ICP Filing include:

A website charging membership fees for access to their own premium content.

A software company selling their own software on their own website.

A brand selling their own products on their own website.

A website that is solely operated by the website owner selling other people’s products, designs, and software.


Value-Added Telecommunications License (增值电信业务许可证)

A value-added telecommunications license is required for websites that hosts third party content or products. Businesses can apply for a value-added telecommunications license only after obtaining an ICP Filing.

The value-added telecommunications license is subdivided into two types, depending on whether they host third party content or products:

ICP License (ICP许可证/B25 Commercial License)

An ICP License is necessary for websites that host third party user generated content. Examples of this include:

Social media sites like Douyin, RED, and Weibo

Forums such as Zhihu and Douban

Dating apps

Recruitment platforms

Due to mistranslations, the ICP License is often used as a catch-all term for all ICP permits. However, it is important to note that the ICP License is only required for very specific websites, unlike the ICP Filing which is required for every website.


EDI License (EDI 许可证/B21 Commercial Licese)

An EDI License is necessary for websites that host third party merchants. This license mainly applies to any sort of marketplace ecommerce platform like, Taobao, Xianyu, Elema, and Meituan.


Who Can Apply for an ICP Filing?

Individuals can apply for an ICP Filing for their personal website. A business website requires ICP Filing by a business.


Can Foreigners Apply for an ICP Filing?

Foreign passport holding individuals can apply for an ICP Filing for their personal website but must have been physically present in China for long enough that they fulfil basic requirements such as having a Chinese landline and cell number with SMS, an Alipay account linked to a bank account, a mailing address, and the ability to read and speak Chinese.

Businesses can apply for an ICP Filing for their business website provided they have a Chinese business license in mainland China. This includes joint ventures and Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises (WFOE).


Who Can Apply for an ICP License?

Unlike an ICP Filing, the requirements for an ICP License are much stricter:

Only businesses can apply for an ICP License. Businesses applying for an ICP License must be either 100% Chinese companies or joint ventures where foreign ownership does not exceed 50%.

The business must have a minimum of 1 million RMB in registered capital.

The business must have proof of social security benefits being paid to at least three IT professionals within the last month. The specific personnel requirement varies by province.

The business must have the necessary venues, facilities, and technical solutions to support the operation of the website.


Registration Process for an ICP Filing

The registration process for an ICP Filing requires website operators to provide the real name verification, business registration, and relevant information on the website. The process also requires SMS verification. The process of ICP Filing is done through your hosting service provider in China.


How Long Does ICP Filing Take?

After all the information has been submitted, it will take around 20 days for website operators to obtain their ICP Filing number.


What to Do After Getting an ICP Filing?

After successfully obtaining an ICP Filing, the next steps for the website operator depends on the nature of the website. For those hosting third party content/products, the next step is to obtain an ICP License or EDI License.

After obtaining all the necessary ICP permits, website operators must display the ICP permit numbers on their website, add a website copyright, apply for a public security filing.


Rules for Displaying ICP Filing and/or ICP License Numbers

All websites must display their ICP permits on their website within three days of obtaining the permits. The ICP permit numbers must be placed on the bottom of the website.

Fines for noncompliance range from 5000RMB to 10,000RMB.


Website Copyright

Some administrations require websites to display a copyright at the bottom of the page as well. The name of the company displayed on the copyright should be consistent with the registered name of the business.


How to Apply for Public Security Filing

All website operators must apply for a Public Security Filing on China’s National Internet Security Management Service Platform within 30 days of successfully obtaining their ICP Filing. After obtaining the Public Security Filing, website operators must log into the National Internet Security Management Service Platform within 30 days to download the Public Security Filing number and icon to place onto their website. 


How About App Filing in China?

As of September 2023, all apps and mini programs available on Chinese app stores, whether Android or iOS, must obtain an App Filing. While an App Filing does not fall under the purview of the ICP licensing regime, it falls under the purview of the ICP system’s overseeing body, the MIIT.

For companies with both a website and app or mini program, the App Filing process can be done in parallel with the ICP Filing, as the required information is the same.


Requirements for App Filing

An App Filing requires generally the same information as an ICP Filing. It requires having a mainland China legal entity, eligible domain name, a website corresponding to the app, basic information about the app, app identification details, and a hosting provider in mainland China.

The application process is done through the hosting provider, just like with an ICP Filing.


Can Foreigners Obtain an App Filing?

Just like with ICP Filings, App Filings are available for both individuals and companies. Refer to the section “Can Foreigners Apply for an ICP Filing?”.


What Happens After Obtaining an App Filing?

As with the ICP Filing process, it takes around 20 days to obtain your App Filing. After obtaining the App Filing number, you must find a suitable location to display the App Filing number in your App.


How Can JET IT Services Help with Obtaining an ICP Permit?

All applications for ICP permits are in Chinese. As a leading provider of IT services across Asia, JET IT’s local team in China has extensive experience in navigating China’s ICP system.

We can support your business set up your website on AliYun servers or your preferred hosting vendor. We can help complete the ICP Filing application process and the stricter ICP License application process for you so you can focus on running your business.