Mobile Telephones in China

Find out how to get yourself a mobile cellular phone in China...

China Mobile is the dominant mobile operator in the country, while China Telecom and China Unicom also provide mobile services. Each offers a variety of rates and packages, such as China Mobile's Easyown (a pre-paid SIM card), GoTone and M-zone options. Coverage tends to be reasonably good on all networks across the more heavily populated areas of the country, and services such as 3G for mobile Internet service are widely available.

Getting connected

With pay-as-you-go services, it is necessary to own or buy a handset, and then buy a SIM card to get a number with one of the main providers. Both are available from the numerous telephone shops found on most high streets, or the official providers' shops. It is also possible to use an old handset by inserting a new SIM card. Mobile phones must be unlocked and compatible with a GSM/ GPRS 900/ 1800 dual frequency. In some cases where the telephone may be locked by the original provider, entering a specific code allows the new SIM to work. The shop where the SIM is bought should be able to help with this.

When buying a SIM card, the user can choose from a list of available numbers. Some numbers cost more than others, as some are deemed to be lucky. Others are avoided for superstitious reasons (for example, four is avoided, while eight in particular is coveted).

An initial amount of credit usually comes with the card, which can be topped up by buying another telephone card. These cards contain a code which is keyed into the telephone to add the credit to the account. Cards come in various denominations, from CNY30 to CNY100. Prepaid 3G cards are also available.

Foreigners who want to sign up for a monthly subscription account may be required to have a local Chinese person sponsor the account. That person needs to take their Chinese proof of identity to the operator's office, and the foreigner needs to bring their passport and visa.

Lost mobile telephones

Lost or stolen mobile phones should be reported to the provider on the 24-hour customer number. The mobile number will then be blocked, preventing any further calls from being made by an unauthorised person, although the user may be liable for any calls made before the block was in place. If the user has kept the credit card-sized piece of plastic in which the SIM card came, they may be able to keep the original number of the lost telephone. To request this, they should take it into a branch of their provider. They have to pay a small fee (around CNY20) and complete some paperwork. Otherwise, a new number has to be issued with the replacement SIM