How to get a SIM Card
August 22

How to get a SIM Card

If you are coming to China for travel, work, study or living – chances are you’ll need a local SIM card to access the internet and make phone calls. Popular messaging apps like WeChat rely on internet data to function. Unless it’s an emergency we would advise you to not buy a SIM card at the Airport.

There are two leading mobile carriers in China:

China Mobile, 中国移动


  • -       The largest carrier in China, coverage is excellent
  • -       China Mobile stores are everywhere in China, therefore easy for topping up in-store.


  • -       3G service may not be compatible on certain western phones.
  • -       First generation 4G phones may not be compatible on certain western phones.

China Unicom, 中国联通


  • -       3G/4G services virtually work on any compatible western phone
  • -       Better deals for those who intend to stay in China for 6+ months
  • -       Offer an unlimited data plan


  • -       National coverage not as good as China Mobile

Applying for a SIM CARD:

StayInShanghai customers benefit from our special aftercare service. If you are a StayInShanghai customer, we can personally assist you with applying for a SIM card and picking the best deals suited to your needs to ensure a smooth and easy process.

 When applying for a SIM card in an official carrier store it is important you bring the following documents:

  • -       Your passport
  • -       Temporary residence permit

Note: Temporary residence permit is not required but recommended as your exact Chinese address is needed when registering a SIM card. Usually it’s the easiest solution to bring the permit along.

Usually most staff will speak basic English, however if communication is an issue there is a brochure located on every desk that contains all the information for the package best suited to your needs.

Our choice:

Due to our ever increasing reliance on the internet - we recommend the China Unicom Ice-cream package. 99 RMB per month gets you unlimited local data, 3GB national data and 700 minutes national calls!

Adding credit:

When you are about to run out of data, an automated SMS message will be sent to your number reminding you to top up your phone. The best option for topping up your SIM card is to use WeChat / Alipay. Under the “wallet” section, there is an option to top up your mobile phone. For this you will need a bank card linked to your WeChat or some funds in your WeChat account.

You could also ask a Chinese friend to help you out with this, since any Wechat / Alipay account can be used to top up any phone number.

The other alternative is to go into a China Mobile / Unicom store and top up locally.