Applying for an ICP license is important for any foreign company that wants to establish a China-based website to build its business or do e-commerce in China.


First of all what is an ICP license?

China ICP license

ICP License is short for Internet Content Provider License. An ICP license number can be found at the bottom of the website hosted in China.

Location of ICP number on a webpage

According to the Telecommunication Regulations of the People’s Republic of China Act No. 291 and No. 292 issued by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, all commercial websites run in China must register for an ICP license.

Under Chinese law, all websites operating in China are required to get an ICP license, or else it will be blocked. For a website that is hosted outside of Mainland China, getting an ICP license won’t be necessary.

I often hear agencies tell potential clients: “hosting your site in China and getting an ICP is a must”. But this is simply not true. There is no requirement to host your website in China to do business.

Of course, there are pros and cons to hosting your website in China and therefore obtaining an ICP License.


Do you need an ICP license?

Actually, what a lot of companies want is for their website to load quickly in China. One of the surest ways to have a website that loads quickly is to host it in Mainland China itself.

Resource-intensive websites will certainly benefit from the faster-loading times of being hosted in China. Conversely, websites that don’t expect a lot of traffic might be better off being hosted in nearby countries.

For some companies it makes sense to host their site in nearby countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Macau. By doing so, they avoid the difficult paperwork involved in getting an ICP license, while still enjoying the benefits of having a web hosting provider close to China.

On the surface it makes sense to host your website in China, but it really depends on your website’s needs, as we have pointed out in a previous article looking at five myths about hosting a website in China.

I’ll summarize the five main points below, and then let you decide if your company needs an ICP license or not.

  • Hosting location is not a factor in getting your website blocked in China. If you aren’t promoting something prohibited it won’t get blocked.
  • Even if your website is hosted outside Mainland China it can still rank well on China’s largest search engines including Baidu.
  • Using a .com domain is more preferable than using a .cn or domain as you’ll be recognised as an international business. This is better for marketing.
  • It’s possible for non-Chinese individuals and businesses to buy a .cn domain name should you want to go down this route.
  • Hosting a website in a different country can be a risk, especially a country with very different industry standards from your own.


Some important notes

Before I explain the documents needed and the process to follow I want to point out some important facts to note.

  • There are two types of ICP license: personal and commercial
  • Individuals can’t apply for a commercial ICP license
  • Foreign passport holders can’t be the named contact for the website
  • Depending on the type of website and the province where the company is registered, the application will take between three to six weeks
  • Foreign companies can’t apply for an ICP (this includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan)
  • The website must be hosted within Mainland China to apply for an ICP license
  • An ICP license is required prior to activation for new .cn domain name websites
  • The best way to apply for an ICP license is through the hosting provider
  • If you do not have a Chinese business entity and want to host a simple website in China, we have a service for you.

What’s the difference between a personal and a commercial ICP license?

A personal ICP license can’t be used for websites related to group buying, law business, medical business, e-commerce and forums. Anything that can be considered commercial in anyway is off limits.

A personal ICP license can be used for websites that are focussing on general information such as recipes, travel diaries and experience sharing in general.


Documents required

  • A copy of the company Chinese business license
  • ID card copy of contact person (must be Chinese national)
  • Photo ID of business owner (can be a foreign national)
  • Signed ICP application forms (the paper form can be filled in and scanned) – information must include
    • Official company name
    • Company registered address
    • Type of company
    • Contact person’s ID card number, mobile number, office line number, email address
    • Website information i.e. domain name, homepage, website name, type of website, type of content
    • Note that certain businesses such as news sites, publishing, education, healthcare, medicines, culture and broadcasting will need to include further documentation

All forms must be completed in Chinese only


Application process

The best way to apply for an ICP license is to go through the hosting company that you are using. All hosting companies in China provide the ICP license application service.

Below is a step-by-step guide to complete the process.

  • Go to the hosting provider’s ICP license application page

ICP license process homepage


  • Register the account

Register the account


  • Fill in personal details and company information

Fill in personal and company details


  • Upload personal and company material onto the ICP application system

Upload documents


  • The application system will then verify the information. This will be completed in 2 to 3 business days

Wait for verification


  • After the information has passed verification you need to take a photo of the website owner at a local verification point

Photo of website owner


The important part to note here is that the image must have a specific background. You’ll have to go to a specified public place to do this and pay a fee to have the photo taken.

It’s also possible to get a copy of the background sent to you and add the image to it.


  • After passing photo verification, send off the paper application and business license. Below is a copy of the form to be filled in.

ICP form

Once complete the form can be scanned and sent off electronically.


  • At this point the application might be inspected by a government department. This can take 15 to 20 working days
  • While awaiting for approval by the government your site can officially go online
  • If your application is denied due to submitting wrong or missing information, you will have to go through the process again

After the ICP license has been approved you will receive an email from the Beian government office.


Final questions

We get a lot of questions asking about getting an ICP license such as:

  • I am hosting a website in Malaysia, even though I do not need it, can I still apply for the ICP License?
  • I have a Chinese business entity and I have a .com domain. I am ready to apply for an ICP license. Do I still need a hosting provider?

Getting an ICP license is a long and complicated process. We’d only suggest that you do it if you really need to. This means making sure you need an ICP license in the first place. And if you do then this means following all the steps above.


Cover image source:


If you have any questions about the ICP license process leave a comment below

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