What is an ICP license?ICP license explained and everything else you need to know
ICP stands for Internet Content Provider. The ICP license is a Chinese license issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to individuals or organizations who wish to run a website based in China.
You can think of this license as kind of car number plate for websites (even though the details are different). They are issued on a province basis, so from looking at the license you can see where the license was issued. Usually, ICP licenses can be found on the bottom of Chinese websites, here for example for www.sina.com.cn:
Who needs an ICP license?
Anybody who wants to run a website on a server in Mainland China needs an ICP license. Websites hosted and run outside of Mainland China don’t need an ICP license but rather have to comply with the local laws and regulations of the country the website is hosted in.
For most foreign websites owners, it’s very difficult or even impossible to get an ICP license, and in most cases it’s also not necessary. Hosting e.g. in Hong Kong or Japan is a lot easier and speed inside Mainland China is mostly ok. Not the same as if the website is hosted directly in China, but with the right measures, a good CDN and proper optimization, for let’s say 90% of the website owners reading this, it doesn’t make sense to even think about applying for an ICP license, the hassle would simply not be worth it.
My advice would be to closely follow my posts here on the Chinese Website Audit or directly purchase an Audit and this way get your website Mainland China ready. If you’re still eager on trying to get an ICP license, read on.
What are the ICP license requirements?
To get an ICP license, you either have to be a Chinese citizen, have a company in China or have a cooperation set up with a Chinese company. If you are a foreigner, there might be ways to apply for an ICP license using your passport ID number, but you have to fulfil a couple of extra requirements.
There’s a wonderful article by Kendra Schaefer on ICP licenses where she goes into every single detail. Please refer to that article for more information.
ICP license application procedure
Again, I refer you to Kendra Schaefer’s great article that includes a step by step guide on how to go through the application process using Aliyun, which is basically Alibaba’s answer to Amazon’s AWS. More on Aliyun will follow over the next weeks.
More information on the ICP license
Apart from Kendra Schaefer’s great article you can find a white paper on ChinaCache’s website. The white paper is full of advertisement for their CDN, but still contains quite a bit of useful information.
If you intend to use AWS in China, here’s a quick note regarding ICP in their FAQs. Finally, a great article on China Law Blog with, as always, very practical advice for businesses or developers new to China.
To sum things up, I think it’s fair to say that if you don’t have to host your site in Mainland China, don’t do it. There are ways to achieve good speed in the Mainland without actually having your server/website physically present there. Of course, there are advantages in terms of speed and visibility/rank in search engines, but I would argue that in most cases it’s better to settle for a nearby location like Hong Kong or Japan.
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