Telephone in China


The Companies and Which to Choose


There are three network providers in China: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. China Unicom and China Mobile have been around for a while, while China Telecom is new. Nevertheless, all three offer good service.

Although China Mobile has the widest coverage and is the most prevalent of the three companies, it uses a standard specific to China and is therefore not compatible with foreign phones unless they are specifically made to work with its network. China Unicom and China Telecom use international standards, so if you want to use a foreign phone, it is recommended to go with one of these two companies.


Getting Set Up


China Telecom front storeIf you are looking to buy a phone directly from China Unicom, China Telecom, or China Mobile, you will need your passport.  If you have a foreign phone you would like to use in China, it must be unlocked. Otherwise, it will not be compatible with a foreign SIM card. In addition, not all foreign phones are compatible even when unlocked. Please check with your service provider before attempting to use a foreign phone.

In order to make calls in China without paying obscene roaming charges, your phone must have a Chinese SIM card. These are very easy to obtain, since there are numerous kiosks and vendors who sell them. Another option is to buy the card directly from the company. This avoids your having to pay a premium, although it is not as convenient as a kiosk.

The simplest option for paying for service is pay-as-you go. In this case, you put a certain amount of money on your phone to cover costs such as calling, texting, and data. When this money runs out, simply go to one of the kiosks and get them to put money on your phone. Alternatively, you can buy a recharge voucher card. These are available at most convenience stores, kiosks, and the like, as well as the stores of your provider.

If you will be in China for an extended period of time, say more than 1 – 2 years, then it may be better for you to go with a contract. In order to get a contract, you will need your passport. You can check the website of the provider for details or go directly to one of their stores.


3G or 4G?


All three providers now offer 4G in addition to 3G. However, though they advertise the speed as 100 Mbps, the service in practice is not nearly as fast. Unless you use your phone largely for entertainment and multimedia, such as video streaming, you are likely to notice only a small difference between 3G and 4G, which may not be worth the difference in price.


Enabling International Calls


If all you have done is bought a SIM card, then there is a good chance that international calls have not been enabled. To enable international calling, call the number listed by your provider. If your phone’s international calling cannot be enabled, you can purchase an IP card from a kiosk.


Other Pay Options


You can also pay on or on your provider’s website.




Typically, your internet provider will also provide your landlines. Note that if you want to make international calls, there are pre-paid cards that you can purchase from the kiosks where you get a SIM card.