Buying a SIM card for your phone in China

If you are traveling or moving to China and are considering purchasing a SIM card for your phone once you get here, here are a few steps to make the process easier.

At Shanghai Properties we know the concerns of expatriates because we are expatriates! We specialize in relocation within Shanghai and help expatriates find their dream home in this amazing, modern metropolis. Besides real estate, we also offer many other free services for expats. Visit our website at for more information or you can contact our real estate specialist, Adrienne Farrelly, at

1) Check to see if your phone can work with other countries SIM cards
Before leaving home, you want to make sure your phone is unlocked. If not, your phone will not work with any other SIM cards other than the mobile network the phone is already locked to. An easy way to test this is to try to make a call using a friend’s SIM card that uses a different carrier. If you can make calls, your phone is already unlocked. If you’re buying a phone just before traveling abroad, you can also easily ask your seller if the phone is already unlocked.

2) Buying a China SIM card
Once you’ve arrived in China, you can now purchase your SIM card. If you own an iPhone you will have to purchase a microSIM, which is basically a SIM card that is cut down to size to fit your iPhone’s SIM card slot. It should be the same price as a normal SIM card. If you are unsure if you want to buy a SIM card, be aware that international roaming charges can be very high, so if you are planning on staying in China for a long duration, it is strongly advised to use a local SIM card.

There are three major mobile service carriers in China from whom you can buy your SIM card: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. All have different plans but all offer 3G service. Depending on your usage and preferences, certain mobile carrier plans may be better than others, but China Unicom is generally the recommended choice for foreigners living in large cities. You should confirm with your provider if your SIM card supports international calls before making international calls, which may be quite expensive.

If you happen to exceed your monthly data allowance, you will need to recharge or “top up” your account. In order to do this, you just need to return to your carrier’s retail outlet or a nearby convenience store and purchase a recharge card. If you choose to visit a nearby convenience store just tell them “Jia Qian DianHua” or show them this: 加钱电话. They will know what you mean, then just follow the given instructions.

3) Buying a phone in China
Buying a phone in China has its advantages and disadvantages. If you would rather buy a Chinese phone with or without a binding contract and more data allowance, you are welcome to do so. If you are buying a contract-free phone, you usually have to purchase a SIM card separately and install it yourself. Make sure to thoroughly research the product you are looking to buy, especially if you are purchasing your phone online. Pay special attention to the product reviews because online Chinese stores are not known for their attention to detail or accuracy when describing a product. It is not uncommon to come across products with impossible specifications, which means they are fake! When you have found the phone you want from a trusted company, make sure you pay through Paypal. Paying directly to a bank account means you have no safety net if something goes wrong. With Paypal, you can always make a complaint to the intermediary and hopefully get a refund.

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 Adrienne Farrelly is one of Shanghai’s most experienced expatriate Property Agents helping expats find new homes since 1994. You can reach her at  +86 13122 810 421 or Connect with her on Skype at shanghaiproperties8. Shanghai Properties


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