One of the first things expats do when they arrive in China is get a SIM card. Whether you buy a phone or have brought your own unlocked, you will need to get a SIM card. Getting a China SIM card sounds easy but can be quite challenging due to the different types of plans offered. Follow this tutorial to learn how.
You will most likely be using one of these 3 companies in China: China Unicom, China Mobile are China Telecom. For data, I choose China Unicom because they provide 3G no matter what plan you choose. For call quality, China Mobile might have a slight edge, but some plans only will have access to 2G. Choosing a provider is subjective and based on your needs.
China Unicom – (中国联通 – zhōng guó yí dòng)
China Mobile – (中国移动 – zhōng guó lián tōng)
China Telecom – (中国电信 – zhōng guó diàn xìn)
These 3 providers have both authorized resellers and locations directly operated by them. You can get your SIM from a re-seller but I prefer to go direct to the source. This ensures that you are not getting cheated.
To see if there is a location near your, check out our, How To Find The Nearest Bus Stop. Enter the providers name in the search bar to see the closest store.
When you arrive to a directly operated store, it is quite common to have to wait in line. You will need to grab a ticket. Most of the time there is an employee up front next to a machine. They will give you a different ticket based on what you need. To get a ticket for getting a SIM, you can refer to the following Chinese below.
Buy SIM card – (买SIM卡 – mái kǎ)
I want to buy a SIM card – (我要办电话卡 – wǒ yào bàn diàn huà kǎ)
All you need is a valid passport.
When purchasing a SIM card you will be issued a phone number. It will cost around 20-30RMB for the SIM card. In addition, you will need to activate the SIM card by purchasing your calling plan.
Each of the companies goes through a similar process for selecting plans. They will show you a sheet that has each option for phone call minutes, text messages, and data.
You don’t need the most expensive. If you run out of money, you can purchase reload cards anytime that give your phone additional credit.
You will need to know some Chinese to read the menu. Data will be obvious with the initials for megabyte (MB) and gigabyte (GB). The phrases below will help you select a plan.
The plans get confusing as there are a lot of combinations. The specific plan will depend on your goal. I suggest to not pay more than 100rmb per month for your plan, and go for more data rather than more minutes.
Text messages – (短信 -duǎn xìn)
Minutes – (分钟 – fēn zhōng)
Data/Traffic – (流量 – liú liàng)
Price – (价格 – jìa gé)
Monthly price – (月费 – yuè fèi)
Within the country – (国内 – gúo nèi)
Bundle/Set – (套餐 – tào cān)
Now that you have your SIM card, you can call for a taxi, read articles on the subway, or chat with friends on Wechat.
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