How to Setup a Phone as an expat in China?

Expat in china in front of a large China Mobile banner
  • admin
  • Lifestyle
  • No Comments

How to Setup a Phone as an expat in China?

For every expatriate, the simple can feel impossible; finding a cab driver who speaks English (very difficult), learning Mandarin (oh dear God), or finding a functional toilet brush (soul crushingly hard). Yes, what was easy back home has now become difficult. Thankfully, setting up a phone is one of the least difficult experiences for expat in China. 

Bringing your phone or buying a new one: 

If you’re bringing an unlocked cell phone to China you should be able to simply buy a local SIM card, slot it into your phone, and be connected right away. You can try and get your phone unlocked here in China at local electronics stands, but our users have had mixed experiences. 

Should you need to purchase another phone, consider how long you’ll be staying in China. If it’s only for a vacation, compare the cost of your cell phone provider’s roaming charges (which can be expensive) and the price of a “pay as you go” SIM Card which at the time of writing averages around ten dollars (60 R.M.B.) plus additional costs for minutes. Phones can also be bought here ( “dumb ones” are cheapest, smartphones cost as much or more as they would abroad, Xiaomi phones are a smart budget option). You can rent a phone but unlike electronics stands here those prices are normally not subject to negotiation. 

People sitting in front of a big China Mobile banner

SIM cards/ data plans 

For your SIM card and data plan, you can choose from one of China’s big three carriers; China Unicom, China Mobile, or China Telecom. Each carrier offers a pay as you go plan, or a monthly payment plan. When deciding which plan to choose from duration of stay is normally the most important factor. If you’re here for less than a month, pay as you go can be a viable option. If longer, go month to month. 

Expat in China opening a mobile phone app

Where to shop: 

As an expat in China, you may be tempted to buy a SIM Card at the airport; don’t. While convenient, these vendors prey on the wide eyed and gullible, charging higher fees than vendors further in town. If you want to try and negotiate with these robber barons feel free to do so, but it’s harder to negotiate when someone is already starting with a higher than average price. Maybe times have changed, and you just might find someone with enough of a conscience to sell you a SIM card at the standard rate (around 60 RMB or ten American dollars). If you can’t find any SIM cards around that price, then it’s best to move on. 

When you leave the airport and arrive in town, you’ll find all of the big three carriers have stores throughout Shanghai. Many of them will have managers whose English is less than stellar. If your Chinese isn’t any better, bring along a Chinese speaking friend, or call this number, 962288, for a translator. As an expat in China, you can try purchasing a SIM card from a street vendor, but they are not employees of China’s big three, and may swindle you. 

As an expat in China, the best option for buying/ setting up your phone in China is to go to a major mall within the city (Xujuhuai’s Metro City just to name one). In the major malls, The big three’s stores will usually have a representative who can speak English well enough to help you find a plan that best suits your needs. 

Expat in China making phonecall in front of China mobile board

What to bring: 

Remember to bring your passport so that your vendor can register your number with the Chinese government. Also bring cash to pay your initial fee (for China in general you almost always pay any bill with cash). Depending on which plan you use, I would bring a hundred and sixty dollars (roughly 1,000 RMB) just to be safe. 

Paying your bill: 

If you have a pay as you go plan, you can buy a pre-paid card at a news stand or a convenience store to add minutes. Call the hotline on the back, enter your phone number and the card’s code to confirm your purchase. Once this happens, you’ll get a text confirming that you’ve added minutes to your plan. Going to your carrier’s store and paying a representative is another option. 

If you have a monthly plan, you can go to your carrier’s store and pay the bill in cash or hand your bill to a convenience store clerk who will process it for you. 

Congratulations, you’re plugged in: 

Take a mental victory lap; you’ve taken your first step towards settling in to China. Should you experience any difficulties/personal triumphs along the way to getting a phone, please share your experiences via our forums. Help others make what was easy at home and difficult here simple again. It’s what you can do for another expat in China to make the time spent in China more comfortable!

Author: admin

Leave a Reply