8 Things You Need to Know About Chinese SIM Cards
China is the country with the most mobile users in the world. If you live in China, I am sure you bought a Chinese SIM card in order to stay mobile. Cellphone plans are pretty cheap and the purchasing process is easy. However, there are certain things you should be aware of before purchasing a Chinese SIM card! I seem to have a love/hate relationship with my card but we try to make it work…
There Are Three Basically Identical Providers
There are three companies in China that offer telecommunication services: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. Each of the three providers use a different protocol for their 3G technology but this doesn’t make a difference for the user. Even the prices are basically identical. China Mobile is the most widespread and enjoys a good reputation to have a stable network coverage but this isn’t always the case. I decided to get a SIM card from China Unicom because my Chinese friends recommended it to me.
There Are Roaming Charges For Domestic Travel In Other Provinces
China’s size can easily be compared to Europe. That’s why it’s no surprise that local phone providers organized the network to provinces and charge roaming fees if you leave the province where you bought your card. However, these charges are not considerably high. Only if you make long calls, you might be surprised when you see the bill. The exact price depends on the type of card you are using, which you can read in the instructions.
Not All Prepaid Cards Are The Same
Not every prepaid card from China Mobile has the same charges. There are cards which are ideal for people who send a lot of text messages. Others include a flat-rate for mobile surfing. There are even specials for international calling. Not every card let’s you make international calls let alone make calls abroad. The good news: No need to worry about different options at first! Just choose the cheapest plan and then add different options later. I chose a special option for less calling, less texting but a big 3G data volume. In the beginning, my plan included too many minutes that I didn’t use so I adapted my plan accordingly.
You Can’t Receive Calls Without Credit
If you didn’t get a call or a text message in a while, you should probably check if you still have credit or not. After your credit is used up, you are not able to receive any calls or messages any more. You usually get various text messages from your provider that tell you when your credit is low.
You Often Get Advertising Calls And Messages
Sooner or later you will receive a Chinese text message. For example, if you travel in a foreign province and the local China Mobile provider welcomes you. A little more annoying, however, are advertising calls or text messages that pop up on your display every now and then. It’s very annoying if you receive a call from an unknown number at 1 am and only rings once. The idee behind this is that you should call them back and pay. Therefore, NEVER call back unknown numbers!
Your Cellphone Is The Perfect Navigation For Cab Drivers
It’s very convenient if you can type Chinese characters on your phone. In that case, you can easily find addresses and navigate them with your Baidu Maps or show them to taxi drivers. Taxi drivers usually can’t understand addresses in Pinyin (Chinese in Latin letters) and they also don’t speak English. I even encountered taxi drivers who weren’t
able to read Chinese characters. In that case, a Chinese phone app that can speak the characters might be helpful if you can’t speak Chinese!
Either way, I highly recommend downloading Baidu Maps, the Chinese Google equivalent, since it even shows you bus stops and routes. Another useful taxi app is Didi Dache which lets you easily connect with taxi drivers who will come and pick you up – at least in theory. In my experience, Didi Dache is great but not for rush hour times! It’s highly popular these days and books over 5 million rides a day!
Lots Of Free Wifi Networks Require A Chinese Phone Number
Don’t think you can avoid buying a Chinese SIM card because you have a laptop or tablet. If you visit Starbucks, McDonalds or airports and you want to use the free Wifi service, you first need to get a verification code via text message. Many airports offer cheap SIM cards right at the terminal!
Text Messages Are Censored
It’s no secret that big brother is watching you in China. Therefore, if you send text messages through Chinese providers, they are automatically filtered for certain key words. These don’t have to be political. Even vulgar messages might not reach the receiver. If you text in English, however, the censoring is usually not affected.
Bonus: Just Download WeChat!
If you stay in China for a longer time and you make lots of Chinese or expat friends, I recommend using WeChat (Chinese: 微信; pinyin: Wēixìn; literally: “micro message”). It’s a free messaging app very similar to What’s App but it can do so much more! It allows you to send voice messages, find friends nearby, get vouchers for restaurants/stores and even pay!