There are many misconceptions about the ICP concept so this post would attempt to clear them.
By definition, all websites hosted on a Chinese server are required to register for an internet content provider (ICP) license. It is basically a permit issued by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology that is needed to operate a website in mainland China. The license can be obtained through a simple registration at www.miibeian.gov.cn , where relevant information about the website owner, its content, the hosting provider etc. needs to be provided.
Once the application is submitted, the hosting provider will confirm this information which finally is submitted to the relevant bureau for the province the server is physically located in. It can take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the application to be confirmed. If rejected, reasons will be sent to the registered email for further modifications and re-submission.
In most cases, in order to avoid mistakes or repeated submissions due to rejections, your hosting provider will handle the application for you. You still need to provide the relevant information though. SinoHosting, for instance, will send to all new clients who signed up for a China plan, an ICP information form to fill and will take care of the rest.
A Chinese address and a contact person in China (with local phone number) would be required for the application, which can constitute a problem for companies operating overseas without a presence in China. In this situation, we recommend to ask a Chinese partner, agent or even friend to make the application on your behalf. He/She will not have any legal implication in doing so.
If you just have nobody to help you with the registration in China but still want to have better connectivity from the country, the next best alternative is Hong Kong. Indeed, Hong Kong is also considered “overseas” and in that regard websites hosted in Hong Kong are not required to apply for an ICP license, while being less likely to be blocked (which happens sometime though). SinoHosting provides Hong Kong web hosting services as well, feel free to contact us if you need more information on that regard.
Officially, business sites need to provide a business license number to register but in reality the registration can be successful even when done under a personal name (Chinese name + ID card)
[UPDATE: Now ICP licenses applications for business sites with a personal ID or passport are rejected. You need a a China-registered business to apply for an ICP license for such website]
Other useful facts about the ICP license:
-If your website is hosted overseas, you do not need to have an ICP license. In fact, you cannot apply for it (as during the submission you need to specify the provider, which should be in the ministry of information database, and which in most cases is China based).
-ICP licenses are not a guarantee that your site won’t be blocked.
-Without an ICP license, your site can be taken down anytime. If hosted in China, your site can be tracked down to its host who can be instructed to take the site down if its registration doesn’t appear in the ICP database.
-Applications done entirely using overseas addresses and contact persons have, to our knowledge, always been denied.
-It is illegal to operate a website in China without an ICP license. Hosting companies are required to shut down websites which do not obtain an ICP license within a certain period of going live, although this is loosely enforced.
-Domain extension is irrelevant to the need or not of an ICP license: it doesn’t matter if your domain name is a .com, .net, .org, .cn, .com.cn, .hk, .asia etc., or if you bought your domain name in China, the US or elsewhere. What matters is the physical location of your web pages, if they are in China then the ICP license would be a requirement.
-The ICP registration is free, although some hosts would charge you for it. You must understand that this fee is not paid to the government. We used to charge for it as well but now this is included in our China hosting packages.
We will be updating this resource from time to time with more updated information if any, so make sure to bookmark it and check back later.