China Ecommerce: ICP License (Beian) Alternatives in 2017

To be able to legally host a website in China, ICP License is necessary.
In order to obtain one, a Chinese legal entity is required, which is an obstacle that many companies are facing.
If you are in search of the answer, relax! You are not alone. You’d be surprised by the amount of business, big or small, facing the same situation.
In this post, I will discuss the alternatives when ICP License is not an option.
Let’s dig into the pros and cons of each option, hopefully this post can help some of you to find a solution.

Is ICP license absolutely necessary for hosting in China?


The answer is a big fat YES. Anyone who promises otherwise are lying.

What’s more, websites that is not hosting in China is extremely slow to access inside the wall.

It also barring the risk of being fully banned by the great fire wall anytime.

Moreover, website without ICP cannot be access through Wechat. This is extremely important for marketing professions.

Say that you are planning on doing Wechat marketing with mini programs, influencers and all, the lack of ICP to the website would undermine the entire campaign simply because it is impossible, or extremely slow to access a non ICP licensed site through Wechat.

If Chinese business license is not a problem for you, Aliyun provides a decent ICP application service  

How does big companies like Airbnb and Uber deal with ICP license?

I saw this question on Quora, and thought it is quite interesting.

Well Airbnb has a legal entity in China now, as well as a Chinese name.

Uber Chins is sold to it’s competitors.

Both companies have ICP license, so I guess that says something about the importance of ICP license for online business.

Click here to check whether a site has ICP or not.


Different types of ICP license

There are two types of ICP license:

  1. Non-commercial ICP filling: Website that are not engaged in direct sales
    E.G: a company website to introduce the products and services it offers.
  2. Commercial ICP license: Website engages in direct sells
    E.G: Ecommerce website, online payment method enabled


What alternatives are there?

It is impossible to obtain ICP without a legal entity in China, which is not only pricy but also time consuming, it is not ideal for the majorities to start with such heavy investment without testing the water first.

But, how can you test the water without a functioning website?

So over the years, people come up with different solutions, the following 2 options are what i considered doable.

Note that, there are many ‘creative’ ideas out there, but personally I prefer a longer time solution, instead of taking the risk only find the site disappear in a couple of months, there are things which not respecting nor considering means facing some potential issue, and risking that one day someone just changes a flag and your chinese online presence gets compromised with no chance to revert it.

  1. ICP filling with Proxy agency
  2. Near China hosting


Alternative 1. ICP Filling with proxy agency 

If you google ICP, there are many ads promising to get you the ICP licnese and a seamless site performance from day one.

It is indeed possible to revert an ICP filling through a proxy agency. But please note that these agencies are talking about ICP FILLING.

If you just want an informational website, you can go ahead and find one agency to help, but if you are consider selling through your website, like most FMCG companies, this is not a solution for you!

Is proxy agency legal?

There are bright things you can do in China, as well as “grey” things, and the fact they’re grey doesn’t mean they’re not supported by Chinese ISPs.

According to the government regulation, it states clearly that in order to apply for ICP, one needs to be the domain owner. When a proxy agency apply for an ICP license for others, the chances are they are not the domain owner, since most brands would rather own their brand domains.

BUT  many companies are doing it through an agency for years, personally, I have never heard any case where the ICP license has been revoke by the government.

So, to answer the question, if you are running a informational website, getting ICP filling from a proxy agency is a good option.


Is it ‘grey’, yes it is!

Is it a common practice? Yes!

Alternative 2. Near China hosting

Near China hosting means hosting on normal places like Amazon cloud, then collaborate with CDN providers who ensure robust paths for sending contents from outside China (mostly HongKong) to Mainland China, ensuring the routes are fiber-optical, high speed, high peering ones.

Near China hosting is more like a solution to a no solvable problem. In one case, just a couple of hours after the first CDN/DNS switch, the website improvs:
  1. The availability increase 100%
  2. Page load times reduce for about 30-50%
  3. Median throughput is 2-3 times faster


To summarise…

None of the alternatives are ideal, an agency can only help with non commercial site and near China hosting can only improve site performance, while some hits would be killed by the great firewall.

But these solutions are easier to implement compare with start a legal entity, by the end of the day, it is all about opportunity cost, isn’t it?!

I would also recommend to think out of the box, what is the main purpose of the website?

If it to make the brand know, can you host the information on a social media channel instead?

If it is to sell stuff, can you sell on Taobao, or Wechat instead?

Or if you want to test the water, have you consider finding a third party Ecom site to do it for you?

Feel free to ping me via Twitter , or go to consulting page to drop me a message.


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