With more than 720 million internet users, China is becoming one of the best places for entrepreneurs to start an online business. To tap into this huge potential market, one first needs to pass the ‘Great Firewall’, which slows all sites hosted outside China and blocks those deemed inappropriate.
This is best achieved by hosting your site on a server in China, which can only be done after obtaining a Chinese Internet Content Provider (ICP) licence. ICPs are issued only to China-registered businesses or individuals, so foreign companies and individuals will need help from a local partner or supplier.
This post explains why it’s a good idea to host in China, and how to get an ICP licence.
Pros and Cons of hosting a website in China
- Reduced risk of your website being blocked – We’re assuming that the content on your site doesn’t contain anything which the Chinese government will deem inappropriate, but there is still a risk that your overseas-hosted website may not load smoothly inside China. Your website might get blocked if you share a server or IP address with another site which has a bad history with the government, even if that site no longer exists. There’s also a possibility that innocent combinations of keywords in your content might look suspicious, or your site might be blocked during sensitive periods just to be on the safe side.
- Enhanced Loading Speed – For visitors in China, China-hosted websites have greater loading speed compared to sites hosted overseas. When foreign-hosted webpages pass through the Great Firewall’s strict filters, their loading speed slows down. This causes frustration for online visitors.
- Geo-Targeting – Baidu, China’s main search engine, relies on an algorithm which favours local domains (.cn or .com.cn) and local IP addresses. This translates to a higher rank on a search result for China-hosted sites compared to foreign-hosted sites.
- Second-rate customer service of local ISPs – If you are accustomed to the high-level tech support on American or European hosting services, you may want to lower your expectations, since support is often limited.
- ‘Click-Through’ success for .cn domains – Even though .cn or .com.cn may have a higher search ranking, Chinese users may still favour .com or .net domains. This could be attributed to the fact that .com sites can be perceived to be more authoritative than local sites.
- Troublesome acquisition of ICP license – Websites which are hosted on a server in China are legally required to obtain an ICP license, a state-issued registration number which must be displayed in the footer of every Chinese website. The application period may take up to three weeks, and internet service providers in China will block a site if the owner fails to obtain the licence within a certain amount of time.
What is an ICP Licence
The ICP, or Internet Content Provider, is a permit given by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) of China to websites which will operate in the country (‘ICP licence’).
The following may apply for an ICP Licence/Permit:
- Chinese nationals who have state-issued ID may apply for an Individual ICP.
- Foreign individuals must use their passport as ID to apply for an Individual ICP. They must also be physically present in China for the entire duration of the registration process.
- China registered businesses (Chinese or Foreign-owned) which have a Chinese business licence may apply for a Business ICP.
If you do not have a legally registered company in China, it is possible to find a partner or supplier who is registered and ask them to apply for an ICP licence for your site. It’s important to note that the person or entity who applies for the ICP licence is responsible for the content and activity of the site in the eyes of the Chinese authorities.
Obtaining an ICP licence: Steps to follow
Step 1: Register domain in China then buy hosting
Before anything else, you must fill in the appropriate server data and your domain on your ICP licence registration form. It paves the way to hosting purchase and registering a domain name. Please note that ICP licences are not allowed to be attached to foreign-based hosts or overseas-registered domain names, hence, the need to go through a Chinese provider.
Then, you must register for an Aliyun Passport account, before purchasing .cn domain names from net.cn.
If you live outside of China, you may have to call net.cn in order to purchase. The net.cn online cart will require the following: a Chinese landline, a Chinese state ID number, and a variety of Chinese payment methods to choose from:
Step 2: Acquire your Bei An service number
Now, return to your Aliyun.com account and click the apply (申请) button in order to get a ‘Bei An service number’. The ‘Bei An service number’ is a free-floating ID that you have to attach to a domain and server. It also keeps your domain name, server IP, and ICP application filing together. This can be done via the Bei An management panel.
Step 3: Aliyun ICP Management System Registration and filling up of the registration form
First, set up an account in the ICP application system. Then, log in to your account. You’ll be directed to the first page of the application form for ICP. Here, you’ll have to enter details about your website, a Chinese mobile phone number and landline, the Bei An service number you acquired, and a picture of your passport or ID card.
The first thing you’ll input on this page is your domain name. Aliyun will remind you not to enter a foreign-registered domain. You will also be asked what district and province you want to register from, the kind of ICP you prefer (personal, military, business, social, or government), the type of ID that you will be providing. There are spaces to enter your ID number and the CAPTCHA text.
Then, you will be requested to choose a service type (Aliyun). Afterwards, you have to input your service number:
You then need to provide basic information about your site – such as type and language:
You will also be required to upload a copy of your business licence and passport or ID card:
Step 4: Submit for Aliyun’s approval
Once you’re done filling out the required details, submit your application for Aliyun’s pre-approval. You can expect to receive a confirmation from Aliyun within one business day, so you will be quickly notified if there’s a problem with the application you have submitted.
Step 5: Have a photo taken
Most major cities in China have official picture-taking locations. Applicants can visit one of these designated locations in order to have a photo taken.
Aliyun has recently introduced a new facility where applicants can now request free delivery of the official “mu bu” or “curtain” to their home or business address. This “mu bu” is Aliyun’s official photo backdrop. Once you have taken a head-shot with the “mu bu” serving as background, you can simply upload the photo onto the Aliyun website for submission.
This official backdrop can only be shipped to addresses within China. If you need it shipped to you overseas you will need to ask a contact in China to receive it and then ship it to you.
Step 6: MIIT Approval
Once Aliyun has approved your application and official photo, they will then pass your application to the MIIT.
Since you have to buy hosting first before you can even begin with the ICP application, Aliyun will offer reimbursement for the time you spent waiting for your application and documentation to go through. This reimbursement will cover up to 30 days until you finally acquire your ICP.
Step 7: Add your ICP to the footer of your website
Having an ICP is not enough, it must be displayed in the prescribed way in the footer of every page of your website, with a link to the MIIT website.
Reap the benefits
Acquisition of an ICP and website hosting in China may sound painstaking and time-consuming. Setting up a website in China is certainly not as simple as it can be in other countries, but 720 million internet users (and counting) there’s plenty of scope for a return on the time you’ve invested once your website is up and running.
For more information, explore our blog for related articles. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have further questions.