Website Hosting in China: Getting an ICP License in China

getting an ICP license in China

Having an ICP License in China is mandatory if you want to host a Chinese website in mainland China.

The experts at China Gravy reveal who needs an ICP Filing vs. an ICP License, who is eligible, and how to apply for one. Plus, we present an alternative for those who cannot get an ICP License through fast cloud hosting outside of mainland China.

What is an ICP License in China?

Before you launch and host any China-based website, you must first apply for an ICP license in China. ICP stands for Internet Content Provider.

The ICP registration and ICP application process are administered by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, a sector of the Chinese government that also handles Chinese-owned businesses’ online ventures. After receipt of the ICP license, you have to display the ICP China registration, or ICP License number, in the footer of your website.

Chinese websites hosted in China without a valid ICP License or without displaying their ICP number on the website will be blocked by the Chinese government.

ICP Filing vs. ICP License

To begin with, ICP Filing (ICP备案) is the first level of ICP certification and is mandatory for all Chinese websites that are hosted in China. However, the ICP Filing only allows non-commercial activities.

Yet, for some sectors like real estate and immigration services, an ICP Filing might be sufficient to run a Chinese website. A China expert like China Gravy can help you to check whether this applies to your sector as well.

In the example of Prime Property, a real estate developer from Cyprus, you can see the ICP Filing (备案) on a business level (企业) on the official ICP information website by the Chinese government. The company name 塞浦路斯普莱姆地产有限公司北京代表处 translates to Cyprus Prime Real Estate Co., Ltd. Beijing and 代表处 stands for Rep Office. The ICP Filing “京ICP备15019135号” means 京 for Beijing and 备 for Filing. Next, 15019135 is the ICP Filing number and 号 simply means number.

icp filing on business level

As a second step, if you want to offer commercial services on your website with sales in China, an ICP License (ICP经营许可证) is mandatory for all commercial websites hosted in mainland China.

In the example of Baidu, you can see the ICP License “京ICP证030173号” at the bottom of the page. Let’s look at this in more detail: 京 stands for Beijing and 证 for certificate. The number 030173 is the ICP License number. Again, 号 stands for number.

ICP certificate example Baidu

Next, let’s look at the difference between a personal and commercial ICP License.

Personal vs. Commercial ICP License

Principally, there are personal and business ICP Licenses in China.

Note that an ICP Filing can be obtained on a personal or business level. An ICP License can only be obtained on a business level.

  • Personal ICP License or Filing: Chinese individuals and foreign individuals that are physically present in China can apply for an individual ICP License or ICP Filing. This includes representatives from WFOEs and Rep Offices. However, a personal ICP License can only be used for non-commercial websites and apps, like blogs. Sometimes companies may also use personal ICP Filings in case they don’t have a Rep Office or WFOE in China, however, this is a grey area.
  • Business ICP License: In addition to the above application, commercial ICP Licenses in China can be used for all commercial websites, which have sell products directly in China. Find out who is eligible for a Chinese business ICP License and how to apply in the next section.

Business ICP License Requirements in China

A commercial ICP License is required for all commercial websites. In case you just want to have a Chinese server, e.g. for speed tests or to run apps, you can do so without an ICP License. In this case, the server is only available via the IP address. As soon as you want to connect a domain with the server (DNS), you need an ICP License, which is always the case with websites.

Getting a business ICP License for China (ICP经营许可证) is possible for companies with a legal presence in China:

  • Chinese-owned businesses
  • Foreign businesses: Joint Ventures with at least 51% Chinese ownership

WFOEs and Rep Offices can get an ICP Filing on a business level if they run websites that don’t do direct sales in China (e.g. services with sales outside of China). Besides, there are agencies from whom you can “rent” an ICP Filing as a foreign business if you don’t want to open a WFOE or Rep Office. The downside: this ICP Filing will not be in the name of your business, but you can still use it. This works as every company can have up to 5 ICP Filings. If they only need one or two, they can rent out the rest.

Applying for a China ICP License

The process of getting an ICP License for China is not very straightforward. A China marketing agency can help you with this. Required documents for application include proof of business registration and domain ownership, as well as the ID of the legal representative.

Obtaining an ICP number typically takes 4-8 weeks after you submitted the documents to your hosting provider.

Once you have received your ICP License you can check the registration on Beian. This is also helpful to check the company behind an ICP License.

PSB Filing for Chinese Websites

For a website that is publicly accessible in China, having an ICP Filing or a commercial ICP License is the first step.

Secondly, since 2016, you also have to report to the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in China within 30 days of receiving your ICP license.

While the PSB thoroughly checks your website for compliance, you must make the PSB Filing available (but not yet the ICP Filing).

The PSB Registration, PSB Beian, or psb备案 can be carried out completely online via the PSB website. However, as this is an official Chinese government website, it is only available in Chinese language, including your data submission

To start the PSB Filing, register on the PSB website with your company information, website, the person responsible for it, hosting, and domain registry. Besides the documents/information you collected for the ICP Filing process, you will also need the following for the PSB Filing:

  • In addition to the scan of the Chinese ID card of the person responsible for the website, a photo of that person holding the ID card is also required.
  • The information of the person responsible for the website must indicate the period of validity of the identity card (which can be found on the back of a Chinese ID card).
  • It must be specified since when the website has been accessible on the internet.

Since the PSB looks at the transmitted data and the content on your website after submission, your website must already be publicly accessible in China and your ICP number must be placed in the footer of your website.

Once you have completed all of the pages of the online form and made sure that your website is publicly available, you can submit the PSB Filing for review.

Normally, you will receive a text message in Chinese language within 3 to 5 working days to the Chinese mobile number provided when you created the account. If the verification of your data has not been successful, the PSB offers that further information and necessary changes to the data or the website will be discussed in an on-site appointment with the PSB in China.

After the PSB Filing is completed successfully, you need to log in again with your credentials on the official PSB website to access your PSB registration number.

The registration number is in the format “沪公网安备 12345678901234号”. The first character indicates the province where the filing was issued (e.g. 沪 for Shanghai). The following characters “公网安备” indicate that it is the PSB Filing. This is followed by a sequence of numbers that uniquely identifies the PSB Filing. In the end, there is the character “号”, which simply means “number”.

The PSB number must be placed on all pages of your Chinese website, together with the logo of the PSB, in a visible place on your website. Since the ICP number needs to be placed in the footer of the website, it is customary to include the PSB number next to it. Both the PSB logo and an HTML file with sample code for integration on your website can be downloaded directly from your account on the PSB website.

Best Hosting for China – Do I need an ICP License after all?

Generally speaking, there are two options to host your Chinese website

  1. in mainland China with an ICP License
  2. outside of mainland China without an ICP License

1. Hosting Your Website in China with an ICP License

If you are hosting in mainland China and can get an ICP License, Alibaba Cloud is the largest and most popular hosting provider in the Middle Kingdom.

2. Hosting Your Website outside of China without an ICP License

In case you can’t fulfill the China ICP requirements, hosting outside of mainland China is an excellent alternative. It is crucial that your website is fast enough to move through the Great Firewall of China quickly. Both Alibaba Cloud and Cloudways fulfill this requirement.

Among Chinese companies, again, Alibaba Cloud (Aliyun) is the provider of choice as it has the largest market share in China, great value for money, and excellent service. However, Alibaba Cloud is not a managed service, meaning, you are responsible for managing the servers on your own.

Likewise, Cloudways is an excellent hosting provider for Chinese websites. Compared to Alibaba Cloud, Cloudways as a managed service is more straightforward and less complex, easier to set up, manage, and maintain, based on our experience at China Gravy. The best hosting locations for a Chinese website through Cloudways are Seoul (Vultr) and Hong Kong (AWS). Moreover, Taiwan and Singapore are also excellent jurisdictions to host a website.

Speaking of hosting, would traditional web hosting be an option to host your Chinese websites?

Excurse: What is Traditional Web Hosting?

There are two main types of traditional web hosting – shared hosting and dedicated hosting.

  • Shared hosting: a website owner pays for a fixed amount of storage space on a single server. The resources there are typically shared by a number of other websites as well. This is the most affordable and widely used type of web hosting. It is also particularly popular amongst beginners on the World Wide Web.
  • Dedicated hosting: the website owner pays for the total control of one or more servers so that they have access to the complete resources of the server(s). Thus the name is dedicated as the server’s resources are fully allocated to one client. Dedicated hosting is not as affordable as shared hosting. And it requires some technical knowledge to set up and properly maintain it.
ICP license China

To set up online business operations in China, you will need an ICP license. However, this is not necessary if you host outside of the mainland.

Therefore, traditional web hosting is less suitable for China as it is typically too slow – in particular when using shared hosting. Besides, with shared hosting, all websites/domains have the same IP address, which can cause issues when there are blocked/spammy sites under the same IP address. Dedicated hosting would be a suitable alternative but is generally too extensive and costly if you only want to host a website.

Traditional Web Hosting vs. Cloud Computing

So, what are the differences between cloud computing and traditional web hosting? Below we describe the main differences between cloud computing and traditional web hosting (dedicated and shared hosting).

The main differences between traditional web hosting and cloud computing are in Management, Resources, Scalability, and Performance.

In traditional web hosting, the servers owned by the hosting company are equipped with a finite amount of storage space. The processing power can either be fully allocated to a client (dedicated hosting) or shared between multiple clients (shared hosting). A lot of first-time website owners choose shared hosting because the hosting company usually handles the management and maintenance of the servers. This includes security services and operating system updates. Whereas shared hosting is typically not the method of choice for Western websites and is surely not a suitable option for Chinese websites. The biggest issue, besides the shared resources, is that all websites/domains using shared hosting have the same IP address. So, if there are spammy or blocked websites from China on the same shared hosting this will also affect the other websites with the same IP address. On the other hand, Cloud hosting entails several virtualized servers, which all have their individual IP address.

Unlike traditional web hosting, cloud computing users enjoy administrative access to their hosting environment. While shared hosting may be more convenient for beginners, if you have a fast-growing site, cloud hosting is the ideal hosting solution for you. Cloud hosting also protects your website from malfunctioning servers.

In traditional web hosting, processing power and storage space are limited. Thus, scalability is limited. Meanwhile, cloud computing has the hassle-free scalability to be one of its biggest advantages.

When it comes to performance, cloud hosting once again outshines shared and dedicated hosting. Generally speaking, cloud computing is faster, which is important for websites without an ICP license in China to get through the Great Firewall of China quickly.

The Advantages of Cloudways and Skipping an ICP License for China

Aligning your website with an exceptional cloud computing service provider can help you to build a strong online presence to boost your business and skip getting an ICP License in China. In general, cloud hosting geographically close to China together with technical optimization (e.g. image compression) ensures a faster loading time on your Chinese website.

There are dozens of cloud hosting service providers. Among them, Cloudways is our preferred provider. We at China Gravy have been using it for us and our clients for several years.

Cloudways is a superb platform where website owners and companies can build, develop, deploy, and manage web applications.

Even though Cloudways does not host servers on its own, it works with amazing third-party providers like Digital Ocean, Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, Vultr, and Linode. Cloudways manages the servers of these providers and offers a full server management package.

Cloudways provides a dashboard that is very intuitive and easy to administer. This makes launching a server with these third parties easy as pie. Cloudways then manages these in terms of updates, security, and so on.

Here are our top 5 reasons why you should host your Chinese website with Cloudways as a service provider.

1. Speed

With Cloudways services, customers can enjoy incredibly fast page loads. On average, a website hosted on a Cloudways partner takes 616 milliseconds on average to load.

In less than 1 second, the browser can retrieve the required information from the web host and display it for the user to see. This is lightning speed – about twice as fast as most cloud computing services in the hosting world.

2. Resources and Features

The Cloudways package is full of features, and easy to scale and manage. The company offers a bundle of resources for its users including unlimited website hosting (in terms of number). It also includes SSD-based hosting, built-in caches, PHP 8 servers, a free WordPress cache plugin, pre-configured PHP-FPM, HTTP/2 supported servers, and free Magento full page cache.

The cloud host provider also offers a smart assistant called CloudwaysBot. This keeps users updated on the health insights relevant to the cloud server and their web applications.

Users also get a 3-day free trial period to help them evaluate the cloud hosting service before they decide to join. Click here for your free Cloudways trial!

3. Automatic Backups

With Cloudways, you don’t have to worry about a website crash. When choosing managed cloud hosting, automatic site backups restore your website to its original configuration. This can save you in the unlikely event of a crash. Users can also set the automatic backup to their preferred frequency (between 1 hour to every 7 days).

Keep in mind that on the application level (e.g. WordPress) you have to manage the backups and security by yourself. WordPress has a large variety of plugins, for example, UpdraftPlus for backups and Ninja Firewall for security.

4. Security

Cloudways is rich in features and very secure. It ensures that every website, which is hosted on the cloud servers, is well safe against security breaches.

Some of its security measures include OS-level firewalls, two-factor authentication, and IP whitelisting. Clients also enjoy regular upgrades on the firmware and OS patches to avoid vulnerabilities that outdated configurations can cause.

5. Support

Cloudways offers what is probably the best cloud hosting support you will find on the internet. The company has a community of experts along with an effective customer support team that is available 24/7.

They help users resolve any issues they may be experiencing with their cloud servers. And best of all, this service is included in your hosting package. And your individual server problem will always be addressed with a great solution.

Which businesses benefit from Cloudways’ services?

In fact, Cloudways is the perfect fit for everyone from solo entrepreneurs to mid-to-large businesses. On one hand, the platform is so simple that a user with minimum technical know-how can launch a cloud server with the application of their choice.

Plus, the platform is robust enough to handle enterprise-level hosting requirements.

Where are the servers located?

The servers are located in the data centers of IaaS partners. Those are Digital Ocean, Linode, Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, and Vultr. The benefit is that a user can opt from 60+ datacenters from any of these pros including Seoul, Singapore, and Hong Kong, which are the most important for China.

ICP License in China: The Takeaway

An ICP License is mandatory to host a website in mainland China. Alternatively, you can host your Chinese website outside of mainland China, but geographically close, with high speed and cloud hosting to get through the Great Firewall of China with ease.

Alibaba Cloud (Aliyun) and Cloudways are excellent options for this. Compared to Alibaba Cloud, Cloudways as a managed service is less complex, easier to set up, manage, and maintain. The best hosting locations for Cloudways are Seoul (Vultr) and Hong Kong (AWS). Click here to try Cloudways cloud hosting!

Get in touch with China Gravy to discuss your personal China market entry strategy for your business or get help understanding ICP Licenses for your website. Our experts will help you to get more attention online!

Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. In order for us to support our blogging activities, we may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for our endorsement, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this blog post. Please know that we only recommend or endorse products and services that we personally approve of and appreciate, and feel would be helpful for our readers.

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