Cellphone & SIM Card

When travel to China, many travelers want to know if their cellphone can use in China. What’s the cheapest way to make phone call and surf the internet in the travel? First, you need to make sure your cellphone is compatible with the main frequencies provided by China telecommunication carrier, then you can decide if you want to have international roaming service or buy a Chinese SIM card.

Do You Have a Compatible Phone

Many travelers find that their cellphones, like iPhone, can’t work in China while there are many Chinese use it on the street, so what’s wrong? That’s because their cellphones are locked to a specific carrier, like T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, etc. Locked to a carrier means your cellphone can only use the SIM card of your carrier. In this case, you can call your carrier and ask them to unlock your handset.

Another thing you need to notice is that your cellphone is able to connect to the local networks in China, which means your cellphone covers the frequencies provided by China telecommunication carriers. China’s biggest telecommunication carriers works on two main frequencies: 900 Mhz and 1800 Mhz, so check if your cellphone satisfy this before leaving for China. You can check this information in the user guide of the phone or just go online and search for the phone specs.

If you have solved the above problem, then it’s time to decide whether you want an international roaming service or purchase a local SIM card.

For reference: there are three telecommunication carriers in China: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, and the communication standards they use are:

China Mobile: GSM, TD-SCDMA, TD-LTE


China Telecom: CDMA2000, EVDO, TD-LTE, FDD-LTE

International Roaming or Local SIM Card

Carriers may charge very high rates for the international roaming service. It’s recommended to check the detailed rates for the international roaming service with your carrier before your trip. Normally, you will be surprised by the price. So, unless you must keep in contact with this number during the travel, we suggest it’s better to replace a local SIM card in the travel.

The most popular and cheapest way is using a local SIM card in China. You will get incredible rates when calling in China or calling back to US, Canada or elsewhere by using a Chinese SIM card. The communication charges can be as low as $0.05 per minute, and charges for international call are also cheap.

How to purchase a Chinese SIM card

If you want to purchase the SIM card by yourself, you can purchase a Chinese SIM card at the airport after landing in China. In this case, you can use the card immediately after you get to China. However, the price of the card sold in the airport is more expensive than those sold in the stores of China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. It’s very easy to find the stores of the three telecommunication carriers all over China, so you can purchase the SIM card at those stores. There are many kinds of SIM cards, and not all will allow international calls. So when you purchase the SIM card, please tell the staffs in the stores and make sure your SIM card can make international calls. If you want to top up your cellphone, you can go to the retail stores of the carriers or just purchase a top-up card at convenience stores and street side stalls.

Another way to purchase a Chinese SIM card is through internet, for example, you can purchase it on Amazon or stores which specialize in international SIM cards selling. Travelers can get the SIM card at home and use it immediately on arrival. The disadvantage of this way may be the higher price than the SIM card sold by Chinese carriers.

China Mobile

Alternative Options: Renting or Buying a Cellphone

If your cellphone can’t work in China, then you may be thinking to rent or buy a cellphone. Comparing with the expensive roaming charges, it’s cheaper to purchase a handset in China and then use a local SIM card. There are many cheap cellphones in China and you can purchase an Android smartphone for less than $100, and for those who only need to talk and text, the “dumb” phone is more suitable and cheaper, less than $40.

Renting a cellphone is also a good choice for those who will only stay a short period in China, for example, less than one month. You can rent an unlocked phone back home or just rent from the big cities, like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. If you rent in China, just ask your guide or the hotel where you can find a store to rent a cellphone, and they will show you the right direction.

Cheap Cellphone

Data Services: MiFi

For those who use a laptop or who need to upload pictures to the social network, make video telephone or just surf internet in the travel, a portable MiFi is just what they need. A MiFi device is a wireless hotspot which is compact and portable at only 3 inches wide. It allows five devices connecting to it at once and enabling each cellphone, tablet or laptop to connect to the Internet through one international data plan. No matter where you are, you can just simply turn on the MiFi hotspot and connect to the Internet in an instant.

Normally, if you purchase a local SIM card, you only need to have the right data plan which will satisfy your data use requirements in China. However, if you are in the roaming service, then it’s better for you to have a MiFi with you, even though many public places in the big cities, like shopping mall, KFC, coffee shops or hotels will supply free Wi-Fi for their customers, it’s hard to find free Wi-Fi service in the rural areas in China. Renting a MiFi with you is a great solution for this problem.

Learn more about Internet & Wi-Fi in China.


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