ICP Licenses & .cn Domains


Do I need to host in China?

It’s a question often asked. We have an article about hosting in China (or not!) here to help you to make up your mind.

So if you’ve read that and you decide you do, the next questions are ‘How do I host in China?’ and ‘Do I need a Chinese URL?’


How to host in China

To host legally in China you need what is known as an ICP licence from the Chinese authorities.

To get one, you need some Chinese ‘legal’ entity – usually a company but it could be an individual. There are ways to get around this - ‘ piggybacking’ on someone else’s ICP or buying a domain with ICP ‘off-the-shelf’ from a Chinese provider. You should be aware that neither is legal, so we’ll move on.

The most usual route, and the majority of companies who we work with to register ICPs have some form of Chinese company – a Joint Venture, a ‘WOFE’, a ‘FICE’ or similar. If you don’t have a Chinese company and you are not in the position to invest in the cost of setting one up, you can’t get an ICP for your company and you can’t legally host in China.

Don’t despair. You might not need to host in China – read our article if you’ve not done so. Many companies can achieve all they want from outside China.

If you still need an ICP and have no company, then individuals can register an ICP licence. Needless to say, the ICP will be theirs and not your company’s. So you need to be sure that this person is a long term trusted bet. Individuals don’t need to be Chinese but need to have the usual paperwork of someone living in China, including phone, address, ID, Chinese bank account etc.

If you don’t have a Chinese company, partner or any resident individuals who you trust in China, then you’re not hosting in China. Provided you work with a company who, like us, understand fully the issues around serving to a Chinese audience, it is rarely the end of the world. If you get in touch with our team, we’ll try our best to help your specific situation.


Does my company need a Chinese URL?

Let’s start off by saying it can never harm to buy the URL or URLs for the Chinese .cn version of your domain. It takes it ‘out of circulation’ and means that no-one else can use it. As a protective measure, it’s a good one. Looking on the bright side, when you are successful, you don’t want to find someone else has your ‘.com’ name as a ‘.cn’ and is pretending to be your business. So for the relatively cheap cost, it’s worth it. The real question is:


Do I need a ‘.cn’ to appeal to people in China?

Maybe, maybe not. Is your company intending to compete directly with Chinese competitors and sell services or products as if you were a regular Chinese company? This would mean you have the relevant in-country staff, pre- and post-sales support, contact details, local address etc. So, if your business model means you intend to look like a regular China-based company, yes, absolutely, get a .cn domain.

If on the other hand, your appeal and USP is your company’s Western credentials, then it’s a ‘.com’ you need. So for example, if your company sells high-tech Western-developed specialist engineering components or luxury consumer goods, then .com is the way forward.

And if you are from the UK or Germany, for example, forget ‘co.uk’ or ’.de. It’s .com all the way. It’s seen in China as the de facto international domain.


Is your ‘.cn’ domain yours?

At the time of writing, Western companies can own ‘.cn’ domains. It has not always been so, but right now they can and the situation has been stable for three or four years.

However, unlike in the good ol’ days before 2008 when anyone, anywhere could register their ‘.cn.’, there was a period where no foreign company could register them at all before the current system came into play. This current system requires paperwork to be completed for the domain to be yours. If you don’t bother with the paperwork, it’s not legally yours.

Now, a quick online search will reveal to you a few companies who sell directly online – search for the domain, enter your credit card and you’re done. But you’re not done.

If they mention no procedure in their domain buying process regarding your paperwork, chances are they won’t get involved in this. So your domain will be the legal property of whoever registered it for you in China. They may be a benign company with no malintent, but the situation is that the domain you bought isn’t your legal property. If that worries you, then don’t use Western-based online services to register your URL.


Do the Paperwork

It’s worth noting that signatures don’t carry much legal weight in China. The company ‘chop’ is the legally-binding equivalent. As most Western companies don’t have such a thing, then copies of directors’ / CEOs’ passports, fingerprint scans or company registration certificates may be required by you registrar company in China.

It spooks some companies who are not expecting this. But it is legitimate and it’s the way to ensure the domain comes to you or your company legally. We organise ‘.cn’ URL purchase for our clients and we are not the cheapest, but it’s done right. Make sure who you use is ‘doing it right’.


Chinese character domains and other Chinese domains.

We do offer Chinese character domains for clients. They are used in China, but Western alphabet domains are far more common. If you remember that Chinese use Western keyboards to type in Chinese, then Western character domains are no great inconvenience. If you want to cover Chinese character domains, it works by assigning the Chinese characters to an underlying numerical URL. A few providers offer this, as do we.

Other common Chinese domains are ‘com.cn’, which registered Chinese companies can apply for (not foreign ones) and also province-specific domains. For example, ‘sh.cn’ is the domain for Shanghai. There’s not a huge call for these internationally, but they exist and can be purchased by foreign companies if required.

To support your China strategy, Backbone IT Group has a track record in advising companies on hosting strategies, domain purchase and ICP registration. Get in touch now and we’ll look forward to helping your team.


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