China SIM Cards: Tourist Guide

Feb 27, 2024


  • Benefits of Having a Tourist SIM Card and Mobile Internet Access in China
  • Comparing Different Options for Tourist SIM Card in China
  • Purchasing a SIM Card for Use in China
    • eSIM
    • Prepaid SIM Card Online
    • Purchase in China
  • SIM Card Credit Top Up Process
  • Public Wi-Fi Availability and Safety
  • VPNs and the Great Firewall of China
  • Mobile Access in Rural Areas vs. City Areas in China
  • Key Communication Apps in China
    • Local Communication Apps
    • International Communication Apps in China
  • Conclusion
  • Show More


As China finally begins to open its doors post-Covid, the allure of its rich history, diverse culture, and modern marvels beckon travellers from around the world. However, it's essential to note that China is a society deeply intertwined with digital advancements. From making payments through Alipay and WeChat Pay to hailing rides and ordering takeout via popular apps, the convenience of digital transactions is at the heart of daily life.

Ensuring reliable mobile access is not just a matter of convenience but a necessity for a safe, seamless, and enjoyable travel experience in this vast nation. Whether you're exploring ancient temples or navigating the bustling streets of mega-cities, staying connected will enhance every aspect of your journey.

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Opting for international roaming while travelling in China provides the undeniable comfort of retaining your home number. However, this convenience often comes at a steep price. Before jetting off, it's prudent to consult with your service provider about the roaming charges you might incur in China. Additionally, inquire if they have any affiliations or partnerships with Chinese telecom networks, which could potentially offer more favourable rates.

On the other hand, securing a local SIM card presents several compelling advantages:

Cost Efficiency: Local SIM cards typically present a more economical choice, boasting competitive rates for calls, texts, and data, especially when juxtaposed against the often exorbitant fees associated with international roaming.

Stable High-Speed Connectivity: With a local SIM, you can relish in consistent high-speed internet access. This becomes indispensable for tasks like navigating with maps, using translation apps, or simply staying connected with loved ones.

The Advantage of a Local Number: Possessing a local contact number can be invaluable, especially when you need to make taxi booking, order food takeout, hotel reservations, book event tickets, or handle unforeseen emergencies. It simplifies communication and often instils a sense of trust when communicating with the local people.

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In China, three major telecommunications giants cater to the needs of tourists with specialised SIM card packages:

China Mobile: As the largest provider, China Mobile boasts extensive coverage, making it a reliable choice for those venturing into both urban and remote areas of the country.

China Unicom: With a strong presence in cities and popular tourist destinations, China Unicom is known for its 4G/5G services and compatibility with a wide range of international phones.

China Telecom: While historically rooted in CDMA technology, China Telecom has expanded its offerings to include 4G/5G services on universally accepted frequencies, catering to a broader audience of international travellers.

Each of these providers offers unique plans and benefits, ensuring tourists can stay connected seamlessly during their journey through China.

If you're pondering over how to secure a SIM card for your upcoming trip to China, here are the most popular and convenient methods:

An eSIM, or embedded SIM, is a digital SIM that allows you to activate a cellular plan without having to use a physical SIM card. It's especially handy for travellers as it can be activated before you even land in China. offers eSIM packages tailored for travellers in China.

Simply choose a plan, make the payment, and you'll receive instruction to set up your eSIM.. Setup with your eSIM-compatible device, and you're connected! There is no need for physical collection, activation before arrival, and easy switching between home and travel plans.


However, it's essential to note that eSIM plans typically focus on data usage and often do not include voice services. This means that while you'll have internet access, you might not have the convenience of making or receiving calls through the eSIM plan. If voice services are crucial for your trip, you might want to consider alternative options or supplementary solutions.

For travellers who prefer a traditional physical SIM card, pre-buying a Chinese SIM card online is a popular choice. Many trusted vendors offer these SIM cards. Just browse their selections, choose a suitable plan, and place your order in advance before your trip to account for shipping times.

This approach ensures you have your SIM card ready before you even set foot in China, giving you peace of mind and a range of plan options to choose from.


Upon arrival in China, you'll immediately notice SIM card kiosks at the airport. While these offer quick convenience, it's worth noting that airport prices can sometimes be higher. If you're looking for more options, the cities have official stores for major telco providers like China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.

These providers provide a variety of plans, and the staff can assist with both selection and activation. Choosing this route ensures professional guidance, prompt activation, and a comprehensive range of choices.

China mandates all SIM card users to register with valid identification. For foreigners, this means your passport. Ensure the seller registers your SIM upon purchase to avoid connectivity issues.


The most straightforward method to top up your credit is via mini apps within Alipay or WeChat, platforms that are integral to daily life in China. If you're considering alternative methods, you can also recharge your credit at official telecom stores.

Many neighbourhood convenience stores also offer services to top up your balance. In certain situations, friendly locals might assist by transferring some of their phone credit to you, which you can then pay back in cash.

However, it's crucial to be aware that some tourist SIM cards come with a fixed validity and do not permit credit top-ups. It's advisable to check the terms and conditions of your SIM card package to avoid any unexpected connectivity issues during your travels.

Public Wi-Fi is widely available in cafes, hotels, airports, and some public areas. However, always be cautious. Avoid accessing sensitive information and consider using a VPN for added security.

In China, certain international websites and platforms have limited accessibility due to regulatory measures. If you're keen on using platforms such as Google, Facebook, or YouTube, it's advisable to have a VPN set up on your devices prior to your visit.

Additionally, it's worth noting that those using international roaming often experience uninterrupted access to their usual apps and websites. Always stay informed and respect local regulations during your stay.

While cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou offer impeccable 4G and even 5G services, rural areas might have spotty coverage. If you plan to visit remote areas, consider getting a SIM from China Mobile, known for its extensive rural coverage.

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For tourists venturing into China, understanding the local digital communication landscape can be a game-changer. As you journey through the country, familiarising yourself with China's key communication apps can enhance your experience, making interactions smoother and more enjoyable.

Let's dive into these essential tools that can become your digital companions during your stay.

WeChat (微信): Beyond messaging, WeChat is a multifaceted platform offering services from payments to social media. It's an indispensable tool for anyone in China.

QQ: A popular messaging app, especially among younger users, offering messaging, video chats, and a social media platform.

Sina Weibo (新浪微博): China's microblogging platform, akin to Twitter, where users post, share, and follow content.

WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Google Services: These platforms face accessibility challenges due to the Great Firewall.

Skype: The international version of Skype is generally accessible. However, there's a localized "Skype for China" with certain limitations.

Zoom: Zoom is accessible in China and is widely used for virtual meetings and webinars.

Staying connected in China is not merely a matter of convenience; it significantly elevates your travel experience. Whether you're finding your way through new landscapes or capturing and sharing unforgettable moments, a dependable mobile connection is essential. Armed with the right knowledge and preparations, you can navigate China with both confidence and comfort.

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