ICP stands for Internet Content Provider (ICP).
As China maintains strict control over websites, games, apps, and e-commerce within its borders, any “internet content provider” must first register for licenses with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to be able to post information and/or do business online.
The requirement was instated in September 2000 by the Telecommunications Regulations of the People’s Republic of China and Articles 3 and 4 of Administrative Measures on Internet-Based Information Systems:
Article 3. Internet-based information services are divided into services of a commercial nature and services of a non-commercial nature.
Commercial internet-based information services refer to compensatory services which provide information to or create web pages for online users through the Internet.
Non-commercial internet-based information services refer to non-compensatory services which supply, through the Internet, to online users information which is open to and shared by the general public.
Article 4. The State shall implement a license system for internet-based information services of a commercial nature, and implement a filing-for-record system for internet-based information services of a non-commercial nature.
No one shall engage in internet-based information services without having obtained a license or having completed the filing-for-record procedures.
There are two types of ICP permits available in China. Depending on your app, game, or platform, your enterprise may require one or both:
ICP License Certificate Example
You can see the ICP Filing or ICP License numbers for any China-hosted website at the bottom of the front page, where they are required to be displayed:
If you want to host a website in China, you must get an ICP Filing.
Of course you can host a website outside of China that targets the Chinese market, which may be accessible to Chinese users. However, websites that do not have an ICP Filing are at risk of being blocked in China. And keep in mind that, if your content is hosted on a shared IP address, you would be blocked if anyone else using that same IP gets blocked for any reason. Once your site is blocked, there is no recourse to have it unblocked.
Of course, having an ICP Filing and hosting inside China means that your content has been approved as submitted. But it does not protect your site from being taken down or blocked in the future if your content later violates Chinese laws and regulations.
Some businesses will host their Chinese website in Hong Kong because the rules for hosting there are different.
And to publish or distribute an app or game in China, by law you will need either and ICP Filing or ICP License (depending on the nature of your app or game). In the past, the Apple App Store China and many Android app stores were lax at enforcing this, but this is changing.
If your business plans to take money online from anyone in China for anything – whether through an app, game, SaaS or other platform – the only way to avoid getting an ICP License is by partnering with a Chinese company that already has one.
So publishing your app or game with AppInChina is an easy way to avoid getting an ICP License. By partnering with us, you would still need an ICP Filing (which we can help you acquire), but you would not need to go through the process of applying for an ICP License – even if your app, game or platform collects payments – because we already have this license.
It is important to understand that foreign companies that don’t have a Chinese entity are not eligible to receive either an ICP Filing or ICP License. It is not enough to have a representative office in China: You must have a registered Chinese business license, as indicated above.
Applying for either ICP permit is a four-step process. You do not need to be physically present in China, as the whole procedure can be done online. But you will need the assistance of a Chinese speaker, because no English forms are available.
The ICP online system follows a “one account, one owner” rule. This means that if you own multiple websites, you can file for each of them using a single account, as long as you are the listed owner for all the domain names you will register. For sites with different owners, you’ll need one account per owner. But keep in mind that you will still need a separate ICP Filing for each top-level domain that you have.
1. Obtain a local hosting provider.
Your website, app or game does not need to go live prior to applying for the license, but you will need to first obtain a local hosting provider.
2. Gather and submit the required documentation.
Submit the required documentation to your hosting provider (these can vary from province to province):
Keep in mind that each province has different rules. If you are a business, you must register in the same province where your business license was issued. If you are an individual filing for an Individual ICP, you can register in any province you choose, but you must check the requirements. For example, Hebei province does not allow non-residents to apply there.
3. Wait for host review and MIIT approval.
Assuming all documentation is in order, it takes an average of 20 business days for a company to finally receive its ICP License or ICP Filing.
If your documents are approved, your host will forward them to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) for further review. You will not directly interact with MIIT during any step of this process. If you are rejected for any reason, you will be contacted by your hosting provider and asked to submit additional information.
4. File with the Public Security Bureau (PSB).
The final step is to apply for a Public Security Bureau (PSB) filing within 30 days of receiving your ICP License. This is a criminal background check to confirm the applicant is not involved in criminal or illegal activities. You can do this online on the Internet Security Administration Service Platform of the National Public Security Bureau of China. A confirmation email and SMS will be sent when the registration is complete. Keep in mind that all information on this platform must be submitted in Chinese.
The PSB Filing number is often displayed in the footer of the website, alongside the ICP Filing number:
You must provide both your server’s IP and domain name during the application process, and your ICP Filing will be linked with both. From January 1, 2018, you cannot apply for an ICP Filing using a domain name registered outside of China. If you change servers in the future, you must update your ICP as well.
From April 22, 2019, you can only apply for one ICP Filing per domain name. Once you receive an ICP Filing for your top-level domain name, no additional ICP Filing is required for your second-level domain names and sub-domain names.
You cannot apply for an ICP Filing if your top-level domain is not approved by MIIT. Visit MIIT’s website, click on the first option on the left side, and check to make sure your domain name is listed on this page:
Your domain name registrar will also need to be approved by MIIT. If it is not, transfer the domain name to an approved registrar before applying. This is why we recommend registering your domain name with a registrar in Mainland China.
Your domain will also need to undergo real-name verification before you can apply for an ICP Filing. Because it takes about three days to synchronize this information to the MIIT database, you should submit your ICP Filing application three days after real-name verification is complete to keep your application from being rejected.
According to Article 5 of the Administrative Measures on Internet-based Information Services, certain types of websites may require “pre-approval” (前置审批) from the relevant governmental authorities before submitting your application. This includes:
To obtain this, you will need to contact the relevant authorities in the province where you are submitting your application to get the details and forms. We recommend starting with MIIT to identify which authorities to contact in the province you are filing.
Foreign entities usually partner with Chinese internet companies and app distributors to use the licenses of the Chinese company. This is essential for publishing foreign games in China anyway, since foreign companies also cannot be issued a game license.
This is where AppInChina can help. We help get you the licenses you need, and you will even be able to avoid some licensing requirements entirely due to our partnership agreement. Our wide range of services and expertise allows you to publish and operate worry-free in China, knowing that you are in full legal compliance with all Chinese laws.
When you sign up for AppInChina’s services, you always retain the right to your own content and complete control of your own operations, while at the same time taking advantage of our company status and many years of expertise in the Chinese market. You retain full control and copyright over your app, game or platform through your contract agreement with us.