If you come to China to travel, work or live – and you are one of the members of our modern world – then you will need a Chinese SIM card to keep in touch with the Internet and make phone calls (or SMS, but I don’t know the people who still use SMS in the days of Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, LINE, We Chat and Kakao Talk). You may also want to get a VPN in China to connect to Facebook, Google and YouTube.
As with most Asian countries I have been to, getting a prepaid card is usually a breeze. They are cheap, easy to recharge, and you can connect in almost a few minutes. Just make sure your phone is unlocked and you can easily use your new SIM card.
China Mobile’s network works in much the same way, but there are some issues you should be aware of – so there is a guide to help you understand which SIM card to get when you come to China.
China’s Three Major Mobile Operators
There are three major mobile Internet operators in China: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.
China Mobile, 中国移动
The largest mobile operator has about 70% market share. The stores of China Mobile are very common all over China. So even if you find yourself in the countryside for some unknown reason – nowhere in China, you may not be able to find a real toilet, but at least you can still get a SIM card there.
Coverage: Very good. Almost everywhere in China.
The 2G GSM service is compatible with any quad-band unlocked phone.
The 3G service is based on a strange Chinese-made TD-SCDMA standard, which unfortunately is not compatible with many mobile phones outside China. If you bring your own mobile phone from outside China, you may not be able to use 3G on China Mobile’s network.
4G LTE has been launched in most major regions and cities in China. Similarly, the LTE band is a little different from the US and other countries. Your foreign iPhone6 may not be able to use China Mobile’s 4G, but most iPhone6s should work.
China Unicom, 中国联通
China’s second-largest mobile operator and the only operator with a 3G network can work with mobile phones outside China.
Coverage: China Unicom’s coverage is not as good as China Mobile, but still very good. It covers nearly 90% of the population, so it can be covered no matter where you are.
2G GSM Service compatible with any quad-band unlocked phone.
3G UMTS compatible with any unlocked phone that supports 2100mhz 3G, which covers most modern smartphones. HSPA+ 21.1 service recently launched in most major cities, which again, just requires any 2100mhz smartphone.
4G LTE has rolled out in most major areas in China. It works well with almost any unlocked GSM phone. (I have used international versions of an Iphone 6 and Samsung S3 on this network without trouble)
China Telecom, 中国电信
China Telecom uses a CDMA network which is incompatible with virtually all phones purchased outside China. If you are thinking of purchasing a phone that only works in China (why you would do that, I have no idea), then I guess you could look at China Telecom. Otherwise, pass on it.
Best Mobile Operator : China Unicom
Go to China Unicom. Its 4G/HSPA+ can be used with international mobile phones, covering almost the same level as the leading China Mobile. China Mobile has a strange 3G CDMA standard, which is mainly suitable for mobile phones purchased in China. In addition, China Mobile has a bad domestic roaming plan (ie, if you sign up for a number in Beijing, but make a call in Shanghai), if you call in other provinces, you will be charged extra. China Unicom is clearly our winner because the 4G and 3G bands are most compatible with foreign handsets.
Update: Unless you are using an old phone (before 2015), China Mobile and China Unicom are basically the same. But if you have to choose, we recommend China Unicom – just in case
China Unicom prepaid SIM card plan
The following is China Unicom’s basic prepaid card plan
China Unicom: Basic 4G Voice/Data SIM,
99RMB, monthly prepaid.
Billed the same regardless of where you are or where you are calling in China.
50 minutes of outgoing calls
240 outgoing SMS
300MB of 4G data
Incoming calls and SMS are free
Additional outgoing calls are 0.2 RMB/minute anywhere in China.
Additional data is billed at .3 RMB/MB, or 30RMB per 100MBs. This is deducted from whatever balance you have loaded onto the SIM card.
To buy the SIM card, go to any China Unicom storefront, or a mobile phone vendor. Ask for “4G Plan A, 99RMB”. If you go to an official China Unicom store, usually someone will speak English, or just point to the brochure where it lists “4G Plan A, 99RMB”. You will probably need to bring your passport!
How to load more credit?
To get more credit , simply go to any convenience store to purchase a prepaid card. Most Unicom stores also have direct electronic systems. Just give them some cash and your phone number and they will deposit the credit card into your account.
If you are more technically savvy, you can use Taobao (or ask a Chinese friend) to add a credit card to your SIM card. It should appear immediately after you pay.
Add credit/packages using WeChat or Alipay
The easiest way to recharge your SIM card is to use WeChat or Alipay. In the “wallet” section, you can choose to top up your phone (generally add money or just purchase data). To do so, you will need a bank card or some of the funds in your WeChat account associated with your WeChat (lucky money!).
You can also ask a Chinese friend to help you with this problem, because any WeChat/Alipay account can be used to recharge any phone number (just enter and pay). For 1 GB of data, data refilling usually costs 21 yuan. incredible!
Buy SIM card before leaving?
Some companies can sell you prepaid SIM cards and deliver them to you before you arrive in China. This means that when you get off the plane, you will connect immediately -especially when you are trying to use uber at the airport. Comnet Mobile provides prepaid SIM cards with pre-loaded credit cards, which you can purchase from its website . They provide dual Hong Kong/China Unicom SIM cards. Because they provide data roaming in Hong Kong, they do not need VPN to circumvent Internet censorship in China. The only disadvantage is that the data rate in this way is much higher (compared with SIM purchased only in China), but at least you don’t need to buy VPN for mobile phones (computer users still need VPN!).
Another company can deliver Chinese SIM cards to your home before you leave, or to your hotel when you arrive, LoyoMobile. This is a huge advantage, because if you are not a Chinese citizen or a residential permit holder, some mobile stores in China will find it difficult to sell you ordinary SIM cards.
Get SIM Card from Mr orange transfer driver
You can buy a sim card from Mr orange driver, with 50 yuan prepaid fee. With this SIM card, you can use your own mobile phone (unlocked and not CDMA format) in China to make both domestic and international calls. Read more about SIM Card Information.
Pre-paid SIM cards are also available, allowing a phone that’s locked to the pre-paid carrier’s network or an unlocked phone to be used without a long-term contract. This type of card is useful for people who don’t want to be tied to one carrier, or who want to try out a service provider before committing. It’s especially useful for international travelers, who can purchase a local SIM card to use their phone abroad. This allows the user to keep the same phone — with the apps and other settings that are stored in it — without paying international roaming charges from the carrier back home. It also gives the traveler a local phone number, making it less expensive for people to call the traveler from within the same country.
SIM Cards Sizes
SIM cards are made in three different sizes to accommodate different devices. Most phones use mini-SIM or micro-SIM cards, which are quite small — the mini is 25 mm by 15 mm (0.98 in by 0.59), and the micro is 15 mm by 12 mm (0.59 in by 0.47 in). Full-sized cards are much larger, 85.6 mm by 53.98 mm (3.37 in by 2.13 in), and are too big for most phones. All cards are only 0.76 mm (0.03 in) thick, however, and the microchip contacts are in the same arrangement. This means that, with the proper adapter, the smaller cards can be used in devices designed for larger ones.
How to dial international calls with this card?
Rent a portable WiFi router for China?
If you travel with a partner and have many mobile devices, it may be a good idea to rent a Pocket WiFi router. This way, everyone in your group can stay in touch. You can rent a pocket router from a kiosk at Beijing and Shanghai (Pudong) airports for a refundable deposit of approximately $20/GB+100 USD. 3Gsolutions also provides router services for your hotel.
Long-term monthly mobile service subscription
If you want to stay in China for a long time (more than 6 months), then you can consider signing a long-term cheaper contract. I like to be flexible, so I tend to stay away from the contract. This is personal preference. Usually, a monthly service subscription (or “package” (Chinese literal translation) means that your account balance will be deducted a fixed fee per month based on the package you subscribe to. Note: This is the prepayment for your service at the beginning of the month. In China, Postal payments are generally unpopular.
Get a VPN before you go to China
VPN will be necessary when you travel or live in China, because most of everything (Gmail, Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram) is blocked on the mainland (Hong Kong is unblocked). The China VPN service will provide an application for your computer and smartphone, allowing you to bypass the Internet under review during China.
However, many virtual private networks do not work well in China and can be very slow. Because I do all the work on the internet, I need to have a quick connection. Therefore, I tested a large number of different VPN services and proposed my first three items: