Checking a Chinese company registration number is a common preliminary task when doing business with Chinese companies. The registration number of a company appears on its business license, and there’s a procedure you can go through to confirm the registration details. Note that registration numbers are also known as Chinese business license numbers.
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We’ve previously covered the process for looking up Chinese company registration details online, so here we’d like to offer a little more insight on exactly what you’re looking up when you check a Chinese company registration number / business license number and what it means.
What is a Chinese Company Registration Number?
All companies in China are required to be officially registration and get a business license. If they don’t do this then they can’t legally operate. If a company successfully completes the official registration process, they get a business license, which includes a unique Chinese company registration number.
This number appears on their business license and is also logged in the records of the government office that handles business registrations in their province. This office is called the AIC (Administration for Industry and Commerce – 工商行政管理局), and there’s one AIC for each administrative region in China (provinces and major cities).
Each AIC makes these logs publicly viewable online via its website. This means that is is possible to look up a business by the Chinese company registration number shown on its business license, and see if it matches the information shown online.
Unfortunately, each AIC’s record searching system is quite idiosyncratic, and they don’t guarantee that the public record contains the most up-to-date information. This means that in general some knowledge of the Chinese language and the registration system is required to navigate and interpret the public records made available by China’s various AICs.
What Does Looking it up Online Actually Prove?
Before doing business with a company in China or making any transactions with them, you should request a copy of their business license. This can be a very quick way to identify untrustworthy parties – if they offer any resistance to showing their business license, it’s a big red flag. Remember to watch our for "photoshopped" business licenses though.
If they do show a valid business license, they’ve overcome the most basic hurdle, but you should still put many more hurdles in place before trusting them. The next hurdle is to look up the Chinese company registration number shown on the business license you’ve been given. We’ve previously covered how to do this, so we won’t repeat it here.
If you can’t find any records for the company on the relevant AIC website, then you may conclude that they’ve failed to clear this hurdle. If there is a record with the given registration number, the next hurdle in the sequence is to check that the information shown on the business license matches that shown on the AIC record. A lazy scammer might have simply photoshopped a business license, ‘borrowing’ various details from two or more companies. Such a mismatch would be revealed with the AIC check and they would fail this hurdle.
If the business license number does have a matching AIC record and the information corroborates, then it seems you have been given the business license of a real Chinese company. However, that’s all you know: you have in your possession a copy of a genuine Chinese business license, but you still don’t know if you’re actually dealing with that company. For example, a scammer may have somehow acquired a copy of this business license (which would not be difficult to do), and is now using it for their own purposes. Checking the Chinese company registration number would not reveal this situation.
As you can see, then, checking a Chinese company registration number or the details of its business license isn’t enough to confirm that you should trust the person responding to your emails. You should always ask yourself the question “how would I fake this?” If you can think of plausible ways that what you’ve been shown so far would be possible to fake, be extremely cautious and try to find further ways to reduce the possibility of a scam (i.e., keep putting more hurdles in place).
A next step might be to request further proof of association between the public registration details and the person you’re corresponding with. Another option is to try to establish fresh contact with what appears to be the genuine company, independently of any existing communication channels you have.
Beyond that, it is of course possible that a genuine company with legitimate registration details could still cause disappointment for you. For example, a factory could fail to produce goods to the quality you requested. To avoid these kinds of issues, much more intensive checks such as factory visits are required.
Such visits are going to be expensive, so it makes sense to eliminate as many options using cheaper methods first, and then only visit the most promising candidates.
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