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best sim card china

The Best China SIM Cards in 2022

Author: Anthony Lee

Phone & Tablet Expert

best china sim card

When you travel through China, you may want to call someone or access the internet now and then. It works best with a Chinese SIM card. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know before you buy.

It is hard to imagine today’s modern travel world without the smartphone: be it to book a hotel on the go, to search for an address with the help of GPS, to look up unknown characters or just to keep boredom away on endless train journeys.

It is best to get a local SIM card beforehand. In principle, this is also possible in China. Unfortunately, however, foreigners in China are increasingly having a hard time to purchase a SIM Card.

In this post, we want to tell you what you need to know before buying a SIM card for China, what to look for when choosing a provider and what alternatives there are to the Chinese SIM card. In the end we point out some special features of Chinese SIM cards.

There are three state network providers in China: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. It is worth considering in advance which provider best suits your needs.

China Mobile has the best network coverage and is attractively priced. Unfortunately, China Mobile uses protocols / frequencies for data transmission, which are often not compatible with European cell phones. Specifically, this means that you may have to be happy with a slow 2G connection. Before you choose this provider, you should take a closer look at the specifications of your phone. China Mobile is the best choice for expats in combination with a Chinese cell phone.

China Unicom is the second largest telecom provider in China and works smoothly with practically all foreign cell phones. For the carefree package, however, you also pay a slightly higher price and have to accept losses in network coverage. Ideal for tourists who are not interested in technical issues.

China Telecom has the smallest market share and the worst coverage, but scores points with significantly lower tariffs and sometimes uses international protocols (bands 1,3, 20, 40 and 41). Nevertheless, this provider is less attractive for tourists because you have to pay a non-refundable deposit fee for many tariffs.

China Unicom - Data SIM Card for China

China Unicom is the leading mobile internet provider from China offering its service across borders. With the vast variety of SIM Card offers for different countries, China Unicom has established itself as a reliable mobile internet provider. The Japan SIM Card provided by Cuniq does not need to be registered, no contract is required and you pay only a fixed price.

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OneSimCard - International SIM Card for China

When it comes to international SIM Cards, we definitely cannot overlook OneSimCard. This international mobile service providers offered Prepaid SIM Cards for more than 200 countries worldwide. They allow free incoming calls from 162 countries. So if you need to enjoy mobile data service in China and would like to be able to receive calls, then OneSimCard is the right choice for you!

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KeepGo - Free Roaming SIM Card for China

You may have not heard about KeepGo before but this company is an official partner of Vodafone, Telefonica and AT&T.  The SIM Card provided by KeepGo is valid forever – without any contract! If you need to use internet, you simply upload some credit and off you go. It is the most convenient option available if you are traveling to China several times per year.

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FAQ - SIM Card China

Why do I need a SIM card for China?

If you have a lot of Chinese acquaintances that you want to call from time to time, or if you are staying longer in the country, the answer is self-evident. But also for a normal holiday trip, we recommend you to buy a Chinese SIM card. How so?

The Chinese surveillance authorities want to be able to more or less completely document who has distributed which content on the Internet. For this reason, providers of hotspots must be able to understand by law who logged in when and what they did online.

In some places such as hotels or the increasingly rare internet cafes, identification is done with the passport. In many restaurants such as Starbucks, McDonalds or at the airport, however, mostly via SMS verification. Not infrequently, only Chinese numbers are accepted.

Sure, China would not be China if the rules were always followed exactly everywhere. You will always find places where you can log in anonymously. But if you want a solution that works well and, above all, reliably, a Chinese SIM card is not a bad idea.

Where can I get a SIM card for China?

SIM cards are available at practically every kiosk in China. The problem is: to unlock the card, you have to identify yourself. The kiosks have a device that can read Chinese IDs. Unfortunately, they still don’t get along with foreign passports.

Specifically, this means for you: A purchase at the kiosk is only possible if you have a Chinese ID card or at least know someone who will let you register the card in their name. Exceptions prove the rule.

In all other cases, you have to buy and register the SIM card at an official point of sale. It is most practical if you do this when you arrive at the airport.

How do I get to the mobile internet in China?

As soon as you have a Chinese SIM card, you can dial into the mobile internet. The amount of data used is deducted directly from your credit. This way of browsing the mobile internet is relatively expensive and should therefore only be used in emergencies.

You can save more if you buy a data package. The trick is to correctly estimate in advance what volume of data you will need during your trip and to book the packages right away. You can easily purchase additional data packets later via SMS.

Getting an overview of the various offers is relatively time-consuming since the data packets still contain minutes of conversation and / or free SMS depending on the deal. Expect between 50 (US$7) and 150 yuan (US$21) for a 1GB.

In the end, what tariff you take does not play a major role in a short trip. It is only important that you buy a data package, because the pay-as-you-go solution is at best two to three times as expensive.

Can I use the SIM card in all provinces?

You may have read somewhere that until recently roaming charges were also incurred between different provinces within China. This has not been the case since October 2017. The abolition of roaming affects incoming and outgoing calls as well as data connections.

Until recently, you had to expect difficulties if you wanted to top up your SIM card in another province. With the end of roaming, this should also no longer be a problem. If necessary, you can load SIM cards via Taobao. Just ask a local for help.

Can I use my SIM card again on my next trip?

Generally, there is no reason why you should not take the card home and use it again on your next trip to China.

However, you should remember to deactivate all packages. The problem is that they are deducted from your credit even when you are back home and do not use the card at all.

This is a problem because you can overdraw some cards. If you show up in China with a card like this again after a year, it is not only empty, but you also have to pay your debts first.

Reports are circulating on the Internet of users who have been blacklisted because of overdrawn credit and who were subsequently unable to buy a new card.

If you don’t know when to go to China next time, you’re on the safe side if you return the SIM card to the point of sale before you leave. You may also be made aware of this when purchasing.

Would it not be easier to roam in China?

Easier yes, but tends to be expensive to extremely expensive. For example, the Swiss Lebara prepaid card, would have cost more than US$4000 (!) for 100 MB of data roaming. If you still want to try this method, better check with your provider to see if you can buy a cheap roaming package.

It is better to get a local SIM Card for travelers online or if you are entering Hong Kong, you can already buy a China Mobile SIM card for Hong Kong there and roam on the mainland.

When comparing prices, make sure that the data packages are not always included. Therefore, the cheapest deals are often the most expensive in the end. The advantage of roaming is that the internet is usually not censored (but be sure to check this before buying).

Other special features of Chinese SIM cards

Censored Internet: If you log into the Chinese Internet with a local SIM card, you are behind the “Great Fire Wall”. This means that you can no longer access Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and all Google services. Since the network in China is censored to the point of factual uselessness, I strongly recommend that you download a VPN before traveling. This little app will help you bypass internet locks.

Censored text messages: SMS that you send via the Chinese providers are also censored. The messages are automatically searched for certain keywords and may not be delivered. The message does not have to be political, and erotic text may not be received. However, the censorship is hardly noticeable in English. Text messages on Wechat are censored in the same way.

You can learn more about WeChat in our guide “How To Use WeChat in China“.

Without money, no message: If you have used up your credit, your SIM card will no longer work. You can no longer be called and can no longer receive SMS. It is particularly annoying that you are not informed before the shutdown. So if you haven’t received a call or text message for a long time, you might want to test whether you still have credit.

Lots of advertising calls: be prepared to receive a lot of advertising messages. Often in the form of text messages, but sometimes as calls with a message from the tape.

The recall trick: It is widespread in China that an unknown number calls you in the middle of the night and hangs up the person before you can answer the call. The hope is that this can motivate you to call back on a paid number. It’s best not to call back to unknown numbers.

Device requirements for a SIM Card in China

If you want to use your cell phone in China with a Chinese SIM card, you have to make sure that it doesn’t have a SIM lock. This is often the case if you currently own a smartphone contract. Call your internet service provider to verify if your smartphone is unlocked.

Tourists should also keep in mind that the three major and only network providers in China broadcast on different frequencies.

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Last product update on 2022-09-29 | Source: Amazon Affiliate