Cell Phones and Mobile Internet in China

It goes without saying that one thing that you will definitely want to have during your travels is a mobile phone, and more than likely a smartphone . Not only for calls, it’s probably also your music player, ebook reader, map, internet connection, translator and so much more. So here’s a guide for getting going:

There are basically three networks:

China Mobile – http://www.10086.cn – is the largest carrier and offers GSM and 3G network (TD-CDMA) and wifi hotspots.  900MHz and 1800MHz GSM/1900MHz and 2000MHz TD-CDMA. And now 4G.

chinamobile

China Telecom – http://en.chinatelecom.com.cn – they operate the largest wi-fi hot spot network and offer  CDMA, 3G (CDMA2000 MHz) networks

brand3

China Unicom – http://www.10010.com – is the second largest mobile network and offers GSM, 3G (WCDMA) and and wifi hotspots. UTMS / HSDPA / HSUPA 2100MHz frequency and GSM 900 / 1800MHz.

unic

 

At this point in time China Unicom seems to be the preferred choice particularly if data is a concern. It’s usually compatible with overseas model phones whereas the 4G on China Mobile you may need to check and China Telecom you will need to buy a phone locally or directly from them. For me, I have a dual sim phone, China Mobile in one slot and Unicom in the other using the 4G service for data. I use the data quite a bit for such things as Google Maps via VPN), Translate, internet, wechat and so on, roughly I spend around 100RMB per month.

update 11/2015: Using the China Unicom 4G card (local city card) I spend the grand sum of 35RMB per month for 1.75GB data and some free SMS/local calls.

Update: China Unicom offers English service via their call center number 10010. China Mobile does not at the time of writing.

 As for rates, they change so much that it’s worthless to write rates here, but I can say that it isn’t something that’s going to break the bank. Although, do make sure you are on the right ‘plan’ even though we are talking about pre-paid sims, so as to get the right rates for your intended usage. For example, if you are going to use a lot of internet, simply pay an increased monthly fee and you’ll get more included MB and lower rates. This is really important with China Mobile, if you don’t choose a data plan, it’s really expensive in comparison.

I have been unsuccessful in getting a VPN service to work on China Mobile, whereas Unicom works no problems for me using either Golden Frog or ExpressVPN, more about that here.

Update 2016: If you live in Guangdong Province, and spend most of your time there, you can get a card which offers 500MB a month for low price of 20 RMB per month, I think initially it costs 80RMB to purchase, other provinces may also have local cards.

Roaming

it’s a little odd, but depending on the deal some sim cards are ‘tied’ to the city of purchase, ie. if you buy a card in Shanghai and travel outside of that area you’ll be roaming and likely be paying higher rates and or when you answer calls whilst roaming you’ll also incur a fee. Both China Mobile and China Unicom can roam in Hong Kong/Macau but you’ll need to call the network and activate it, again there is a small daily fee, there’s no internet roaming in HK/Macau.

Dialing within China

For all local calls, and cell phone to cell phone calls, you simply dial the number directly.

To make a long distance call from a Landline Telephone / Cell Phone to a Landline

 + Area Code of the City You Are Going to Call  +Telephone Number

To make a long distance call from a Landline Telephone to a Cell Phone

 0 + Cell Phone Number

Calling from China to another country from mobile/cellphone

Some sim cards will allow calling overseas some will not, if necessary just ask the network operator to turn the feature on, you may need to pay a deposit.

Process for calling:  (international dialing code) 00, then your country code, area code (city code) and phone number. For example, to call Melbourne Australia it would be 00 61 03 xxxx xxxx.

There are also codes that offer discounted international call rates:

China Unicom: use 10193 in front of the number for discounted rates (almost half price), so the number format would be: 10193 + 00 + country code + area code + phone number

China Mobile: use 12593 in front of the number for discounted rates. The number format is: 12593 + 00 + country code + area code + phone number

China Telecom: use 17909. The number format is: 17909 + 00 + country code + area code + phone number

Sending an International SMS/MMS
Same as calling, 00 + country code + destination number.

List of popular International Dialing Codes

Destination IDD Code Destination IDD Code Destination IDD Code
Australia 61 Indonesia 62 Portugal 351
Austria 43 Ireland 353 Romania 40
Belgium 32 Israel 972 Russia 7
Canada 1 Italy 39 Singapore 65
Denmark 45 Japan 81 Spain 34
Egypy 20 Macau 853 Sweden 46
Finland 358 Malaysia 60 Switzerland 41
France 33 Netherlands 31 Taiwan 886
Germany 49 New Zealand 64 Thailand 66
Greece 30 Norway 47 United Kingdom 44
Hong Kong 852 Pakistan 92 United States 1
India 91 Philippines 63

 

China Unicom SMS Service Codes
send a text to 10010:
CXHF – Current Months Balance
CXYL – Current Months Usage inc. data usage
JFJL – payment records (ie. code#yearmonth JFJL#201511)

Operator Assistance
China Unicom offers a multi-language voice information service. Just call 010-116114 to get local help and support when you are in China in English, Japanese, Korean or French. The sevice includes number inquiry, local service navigation, transportation information, and so on.

Hong Kong Sim cards and WiFi

When traveling in HK, myself, I simply buy a Three sim card, which gives depending on the deal, 3 months access and a chunk of data and some free calls for between 60-90HKD. There are other options too, many in fact, a fuss-free option may be the product from Hong Kong Tourism Board http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/…

There’s also free wifi in metro stations, plus gov buildings http://www.gov.hk/en/theme/wifi/location/. Travelers can also get free wifi via PCCW-HKT Wi-Fi app, which you can download on google play.

Macau Sim Cards and wifi

Again Three have an option, that works in Macau and HK. There is free wifi provided at hot spots by the gov see here http://www.wifi.gov.mo/en/