China is a major economy with Beijing the commercial hub in the Asia Pacific region. If you are planning to visit this country soon, you will need a local SIM, not just to help you in calling but to surf the internet too.
Your local mobile carrier might be able to provide services in China too. However, the charges are mostly through the roof and using a local SIM is a much smarter option.
But the problem with these local SIMs is that your data access will be restricted according to the government rules. This can largely reduce your online experience when in China. So, along with talking about getting a trusted local SIM in China, we will also tell you how to get unrestricted web access.
Step 1. Unlock Your Phone
Before you buy a SIM card, you should get your phone unlocked. Also, data usage in China can be a hassle if the carrier does not support the network. So, the first move should be to ask your mobile carrier if their network works with China’s. After you have a clear view of that, you can choose the right SIM.
Step 2. Get a Local SIM in China
You can get a local SIM as soon as you land in China. If you are planning to arrive at a major international airport, you can find them there upon arrival.
However, it is best not to buy at the airport. Wait until you reach your hotel where you can visit a regular China Unicom or China Mobile store. You will get more options there and the prices will be more reasonable.
There are several street vendors for SIM cards as well. However, buying from genuine stores is advisable as they will activate the SIM for you.
The Top Choices for SIM Cards in China
China has three major mobile carriers – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. A majority of the SIMs you will see in China will be from these three companies. However, you can get other options for SIM cards too, provided you enter China via Hong Kong.
China Mobile only sells its SIM cards through official stores and outlets. They cannot be purchased online. They have a plan (188 yuan) that offers 12 GB of data and 500 minutes. There is another plan (288 yuan) that offers 20GB of data and 1,500 minutes.
And after this limit is over, you will be charged 0.19 yuan for each extra minute. Once you consume the data, your speeds will be reduced to 1MBps
China Unicom offers its SIM cards for sale online. You can go to their website and create a custom plan according to your requirements. Once you have made the plan and provided all relevant details, the SIM card will be dropped off at your place of residence in China without cost. The company can also deliver the card to your residence or office outside of China.
Unicom has plans offering 1GB, 2GB, 3GB and 6GB of data. All the packages work at 4G speeds and have a validity of 90 days.
China Telecom is the smallest of the three major telecom providers in the country, so it often comes up with new plans to attract customers.
Be sure to provide your passport information at the store where you buy the China Telecom SIM. Also, only buy from their official stores. They can only be activated by authorized outlets. A street vendor cannot do that for you. The most common types of plans available with China Telecom are 2GB, 4GB, 6GB, and 12GB of data.
SmarTone Travel Data SIM Cards for China Unicom – Hong Kong ONLY
This SIM card can only be purchased in Hong Kong. Online purchases are possible but you will need to provide a valid Hong Kong address. Buying these cards online is usually cheaper.
You can get these SIM cards from the airport but as mentioned earlier, they will generally be cheaper at the local store.
The standard plan for these SIM cards is 1GB of data for 7 days. They also activate and deactivate automatically.
SIM Cards for Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau
Entering China via Hong Kong allows you to purchase Big Bay Area roaming cards by China Mobile. These cards can be purchased online but must be picked up by non-residents of Hong Kong from an outlet.
Alternatively, you can buy them at China Mobile shops in Hong Kong and also at airport kiosks.
Another Option is to Buy a SIM in Hong Kong
It is not easy to buy a prepaid SIM in China. This is why many tourists buy it in Hong Kong. But since the telecom systems of China and Hong Kong are not the same, you will need to buy a SIM that works in both countries.
One option is to buy from China Unicom. You can also buy a prepaid card for Hong Kong and another one for China. It’s best to avoid 3HK as they are known for overcharging.
Problems You Could Face When Using a Local China SIM
Being lost in a foreign country, especially one like China with many internet restrictions is a nightmare. Most of the apps you will use normally to communicate with others or navigate will not work in China. But there is no need to panic as there are some ways to bypass their blocks. These techniques will also give you online anonymity which is a blessing considering China’s overbearing internet surveillance.
Step 3. Use a VPN
The smartest way to unblock all the restricted services on Chinese networks is to use paid VPN services.
You can get VPN services only on postpaid non-Chinese SIM cards. Prepaid cards that you get from China or Hong Kong will obey the local laws and not allow the VPN to connect.
The idea is to get a VPN which has been shown to work in China. A lot of paid VPNs don’t actually work in China as they might be advertised.
So, before you set foot on that flight to Beijing or Hong Kong, be sure to get a VPN that works in China. This will solve a lot of your connectivity problems and make your stay in the country a lot easier.