I came to China with a DROID (insert robot noise here) that had a cracked screen and an “international service plan” which basically meant I could use my phone…but it was gonna cost the big bucks. I currently have a friend paying $147/month for his T-Mobile international plan. I honestly think I paid $200/month for my old plan. Yikes.
My phone was not unlocked, in 2011 Verizon didn’t do that. Not only did my boyfriend forget to tell me I needed a VPN, wifi in Hohhot wasn’t that good at the time. Even if I wanted to use my phone for anything other than a pixelated camera that couldn’t be focused because of its cracked screen, I couldn’t. So, I did what any wise soul would do; I got myself a Nokia that allowed me to do super cool things like play Snakes and use a flashlight when it was dark outside.
The best part about my trusty Nokia? Well, I dropped it countless times without breakage, it never ran out of data (being that I had zero people to contact) and that no one else wanted it. Seriously, I once forget it at a restaurant for three days before I noticed. When I retraced my steps to find it, the staff gleefully gave it back. The battery was still 2/3rds full!
In this article, I won’t be taking you through all the plans available to you in China. You can likely do that in this incredibly detailed guide. I will tell you which provider I use, when to buy a new phone, and what my data plan includes. Let’s start!
Should I wait to get a phone in China?
This depends on what kind of phone you’d prefer. If you’re thinking iPhone or Samsung, definitely get it in your home country. China has an import tax that makes foreign electronics very expensive. I have purchased a “second hand” iPhone in China before. It was much cheaper, but who know where it really came from. Almost every city has an electronic mall (or if you’re in Chengdu, a massive electronics street) where you can buy any kind of electronic you want, new and used.
If you’re not concerned at all about the cellular device you use in China, grab yourself a bad ass Nokia like I had.
Does the Firewall Exist on 4G?
Eff yeah it does! You should definitely get a VPN before you arrive in China on your computer AND phone. You can attempt to set one up once you land in the country, but it will be difficult.
Phone Plans in China
I have an unlocked iPhone6 that was purchased in America, so all I had to do when I got back to Beijing from the US was put in my China Unicom SIM card and I was good. If you have a smartphone that is not unlocked, you can get it unlocked in either your home country or in China. Once it’s done, all you have to do is set up a phone plan in China and then insert the SIM card into your phone. Boom.
For my current plan, the details are a little fuzzy being that this was the first time I didn’t bring a Chinese friend to help me set up my phone. I didn’t choose Unicom for any particular reason, other than that I had previously used it in Inner Mongolia. I just did a lot of head nodding and came out with something like this:
Carrier: China Unicom
Monthly Bill: 168-200RMB ($26.38-$31.41)monthly
Contract duration: One Year
My data and bill fluctuate because I sometimes go over. I’m human. But, this doesn’t happen often, as everywhere in China has wifi. Even city buses and apparently some taxis. This is another reason I didn’t look so much into the carrier itself. I’m always on wifi.
$30 is cheap. But it’s certainly not the cheapest. Just consider your monthly phone plan — which was my 3rd most expensive bill when I was living back home — to drop up to $100 monthly?
This ain’t no AT&T commercial. Imagine an extra $1200 yearly. That puts you one step closer to paying off your student loans, credit card debt, or just getting yourself something nice…like a plane ticket to another awesome country.
What have your experiences been with phone plans in China? Which do you recommend. Tell me, seriously I wanna know!