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Access China’s Online Market with ICP License Alternatives

You’ve probably read that breaking into the thriving Chinese marketplace can be a complicated process. Foreign website owners must obtain an Internet Content Provider (ICP) license. You’ve likely also read that trying to get one of these coveted licenses is no easy task. Worse, many people put in the time and work only to be denied in the end.

The good news is that you likely don’t need an ICP to reach this lucrative market. There are several viable alternatives to ICP licensing that can get your website in front of people accessing it in China. 

It’s worth the effort to evaluate whether an alternative ICP solution is right for you.

What is an ICP license, and how difficult is it to get one?

ICP licenses are issued by the Chinese government to China-based websites and allow licensees to host websites on servers in mainland China. Without an ICP license, sites hosted on a Chinese server will not load on browsers located anywhere in the country. There are two categories of ICP licenses: commercial licenses and filing licenses.

Commercial ICP licenses allow companies to operate China-targeted e-commerce sites. China requires a commercial ICP license for websites that generate income from online sales or advertising, in addition to websites that permit payment transactions.

ICP Filing (Bei’an) is granted for non-commercial, informational websites. These sites are accessible to the public in China, but companies cannot use them for e-commerce of any kind.

The Chinese government restricts ICP license applications to narrowly identified entities and individuals:

  • Chinese nationals
  • Foreign passport holders who will stay in the country long enough to fulfill registration requirements
  • Chinese-owned businesses with a Chinese business license
  • Wholly foreign-owned companies that hold a Chinese business license
  • Joint venture businesses where a Chinese company owns a majority of the company
icp is really hard to get

While it is possible to acquire an ICP license without meeting one of these requirements through a special application process, the likelihood of approval is very low. 

Many companies hoping to expand into China apply for an ICP through the foreign passport holder rules, which are quite involved. Foreign passport holders must:

  • Obtain a Chinese landline and cell phone number
  • Set up an Alipay.com account connected to an international credit card or other approved source of funds
  • Appoint a government-approved representative who will accept mail and mail in necessary paperwork and application responses
  • Learn to speak and read Mandarin Chinese with acceptable fluency

Once an entity or individual is approved to apply for the ICP license, they will confront a long, tedious list of additional requirements. The process can take months. 

In the end, there’s a good chance the Chinese government will deny an application, especially those originating from foreign passport holders.

Why you probably don’t need an ICP license

While obtaining an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license is essential for some businesses, many can bypass this requirement and still effectively serve content to users in China. Here are scenarios where an ICP may not be necessary:

1. China is Not Your Primary Market:

If your business operations are not predominantly focused on China, or if you do not anticipate the majority of your web traffic coming from China, the effort and cost to acquire an ICP license may not be justifiable. This is especially true if your intention is merely to test the Chinese market.

2. High Costs of Business Registration in China:

The expense of obtaining an ICP license, which can be around $140,000, is a significant investment. This cost is hard to justify for companies that do not intend to focus heavily on the Chinese market.

3. Utilizing China RIM CDN (Content Delivery Networks):

China RIM CDNs are networks with Points of Presence (PoPs) located close to, but outside, China’s borders. These networks can deliver content to Chinese users without needing an ICP license, as they are not situated within China. Countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam are ideal for hosting these CDNs. While China RIM CDN may offer limited performance compared to a China-based host or CDN, it can be sufficient for achieving visibility in China, particularly for websites hosting static content or basic interactive features.

4. Non-Compliance with China’s Internet Regulations:

China has strict regulations on internet content, blocking many popular services like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Tools like Google Analytics also face functionality issues due to China’s Great Firewall. Websites that rely on these resources may encounter difficulties in loading or functioning correctly within China. If your website is not compliant with these Chinese regulations, using a China RIM CDN might be a more feasible option.

One way companies work around this issue is by adding China-friendly resources to their websites that render based on the user’s location: Google Analytics in the US and Baidu Tongji Analytics in China, for example. 

Until your website can adequately function in China, there’s no point in rushing through the ICP licensing process. 

Start Expanding into the Chinese market without an ICP License

Take some time to evaluate whether your organization truly needs an ICP license. If, like many companies, you find that your needs can be met with basic CDN service, you can start expanding your reach into China with China RIM CDN technology.

You’ll discover several options for partnering with a China RIM CDN provider —be sure to examine the quality of their services before selecting one. Often, performance is inconsistent and insufficient for even basic website hosting. 

Mlytics has taken care to vet CDNs that offer China RIM capabilities, selecting some of the best and integrating them into our platform. Some of our favorite China RIM CDN providers are:

  • CDNetworks
  • ChinaCache
  • Tencent Cloud
  • Wangsu

Mlytics takes the pain out of sifting through countless CDN solutions to find reliable Chinese hosting solutions. The Mlytics platform incorporates multiple, top-tier China RIM CDNs so you can leverage their power through a single, intuitive service.