How to Choose the Best Prepaid SIM Card for China

Prepaid SIM cards China with Internet Data

This article is specially written for people traveling to China for a short period of time, whether for tourism or business. If you want to spend a relatively long period of time in the country, this article may also be useful to you, although we recommend that you read our guide on the Internet in China.

What do you need to know about the Internet in China?

Below, we give a very brief summary of certain important aspects that you should know about accessing the Internet in China:

  • In China, the Internet is restricted: As you should already know, many websites and apps are blocked in China, such as Google, WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube, among others. However, you can still easily access them by using a system called a VPN (or virtual private network).
  • Chinese Internet can be slow: The Great Firewall of China, which is responsible for restricting Internet use in China, has a collateral effect: it makes connections from outside China a lot slower. While Chinese websites work relatively quickly, if you want to use websites (or apps) located outside of the country, you are going to have to be patient.

  • It’s easy to find free Wi-Fi access points in China: Many places in China offer free Wi-Fi connections for their customers. In general, hotels, airports, cafés and bars offer free Wi-Fi.
  • The 2G, 3G and 4G networks are somewhat different in China: China use its own version of the CDMA network called TD-SCDMA as well as of the LTE network (4G) called TDD-LTE. Practically speaking, this means that non-Chinese telephones often operate on a slower network than normal (for example, 3G instead of 4G). Sometimes, your telephone might not even work in China. You can go to to check whether your phone will work in China or not.

If you want to avoid any problems with your cellphone in China (network compatibility, hacking, etcetera) you can rent a phone with a Chinese SIM card to use during your stay. Click here to know more about this option.

To find out how to access the Internet in China without restrictions, click here to find out which VPNs work the best in China!

Click here to view the list of websites blocked in China!

Types of SIM cards with data for China

In general, you can access data connections in China in three ways: local prepaid SIM cards, international travel cards and roaming with your usual company.

  • Local prepaid SIM cards: This is definitely the cheapest way to get a data plan in China, and these are relatively easy to obtain. You can get them in China or online on portals such as Amazon or SIM Easy. If you buy one online, you have to remember to activate it before traveling (you absolutely have to associate them with a valid passport).If you’re going to be in China for more than a week, I recommend this option. Read more…
  • International travel SIM cards: These are SIM cards that let you have Internet access and make calls at reasonable prices regardless of the country that you’re in. They normally have limited validity and have different plans depending on the area of the world that you’re going to travel to. Prices tend to be more expensive than local SIM cards, but much cheaper than roaming. These are especially useful if you are going to visit multiple countries during your trip. Read more…
  • Roaming: This is not a very good idea, as the majority of international operators charge exorbitant rates or simply don’t let you access the Internet from China. Some companies offer roaming plans at a decent price, but make sure that they at least guarantee that you will have access to the 3G network (having 2G in China is like you don’t even have Internet). If you travel to Hong Kong first, getting a Hong Kong SIM card with roaming in mainland China can be a good option. Read more…

Important: Remember that if you want to use a Chinese SIM card or a travel card, your telephone must be unlocked. If you don’t know whether your telephone is unlocked or not, you can check it with your IMEI code at

Local SIM cards

There is no doubt that the cheapest way to browse with your telephone and make calls in China is with a local SIM card. We recommend this option to travelers who are going to be in China for a relatively long time.

Telephone companies in China

China basically has three main mobile telephone operators: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. Below is a table comparing the three companies.

Note: The table below is for information purposes and is based on prices in the province of Beijing. Prices do not include all deals and plans offered by companies.

China MobileChina UnicomChina Telecom
SIM price50¥49¥
Basic Monthly Plan88¥69¥99¥
Free Data20GB10GB20GB
Free Calls50 min500 min300 min
Extra Data15¥ / 3GB10¥ / 1GBSlow browsing (1 MBps)
Extra Calls0.19¥ / min0.15¥ / min0.15¥ / min

As you can see from the table, there aren’t big differences between the three operators. In our experience, when choosing, you should take the following into consideration:

  • China Mobile: This is the operator with the most stores and top-up points in the national territory. It usually offers the plans that are the easiest to understand. However, it usually has the worst deals and has compatibility problems with foreign telephones.
  • China Unicom: This company is particularly popular in northern China, has good compatibility with foreign telephones, usually offers the best deals for data and lets you have multiple cards associated with the same plan. However, you need to pay attention to the fine print in the plans.
  • China Telecom: This company is mainly used in southern China and usually has good deals for calls and data.

In our opinion, for the majority of travelers, China Mobile is likely the best option.

Last of all, remember to check if your telephone is unlocked and compatible with the Chinese network.

Buying SIM cards online

If you have time before traveling to China and want to avoid headaches, buying a SIM card online and having it sent to your home is likely the best option. However, you need to keep in mind:

  • Buying a SIM card online is more expensive than doing it directly in a store once in China
  • SIM cards have to be activated, carefully read how to activate the card before traveling to China
  • To activate the card, you need to register a valid passport
  • Cards tend to have a limited validity period

Cards can be easily obtained on Amazon or SIM Easy:


  • Company: China Unicom
  • Price: 25 USD
  • Data: 1 GB
  • Local Calls: 50 minutes
  • SMS: 100 text messages
  • Validity: 90 days

Click here to buy this SIM card on Amazon!

SIM Easy

  • Company: China Unicom
  • Price: 30 USD
  • Data: 2 GB
  • Local calls: 0 minutes
  • Validity: 90 days

Click here to buy this SIM card on SIM Easy!

SIM Easy

  • Company: China Unicom
  • Price: 42.50 USD
  • Data: 3 GB
  • Local calls: 50 minutes
  • Validity: 90 days

Click here to buy this SIM card on SIM Easy!


  • Company: China Unicom
  • Price: 80 USD
  • Data: 6 GB
  • Local calls: 50 minutes
  • SMS: 100 text messages
  • Validity: 90 days

Click here to buy this SIM card on Amazon!

SIM Easy

  • Company: China Unicom
  • Price: 79.50 USD
  • Data: 6 GB
  • Local calls: 100 minutes
  • Validity: 90 days
  • VPN China Unicom: 15 days

Click here to buy this SIM card on SIM Easy!

Buying SIM cards directly in China

If you have time or are going to spend a long time in China, the cheapest option is definitely purchasing the SIM card directly in a store of one of the main three operators.

Important: To purchase and activate a Chinese SIM card, you are going to have to show your passport.

Last of all, you should know that operators have different deals depending on the province where you are purchasing the card and that making calls with a SIM card from another province may involve additional charges. However, these additional charges are slowly disappearing.

Useful information for Chinese SIM cards

Checking your balance

  • China Mobile: To check the balance of your card, you can call 10086 or send a text message to the telephone number 10086 with the code 111. To find out how much data you have left on your plan, use the code 1091.
  • China Unicom: To check the balance of your card, send a text message to the telephone number 10010 with the code 101. To find out how much data you have left on your plan, use the code 2082.
  • China Telecom: To check the balance of your card, send a text message to the telephone number 10001 with the code 101.

Topping up your SIM card

There are multiple ways to top up your card in China:

  • Online: You can top up your card on the websites of the three telephone operators, but to do so, you are going to need to have Chinese online banking and to be able to navigate their chaotic webpages in Chinese. The only exception is China Unicom, which has a website in English, and where you can pay with foreign cards or even PayPal (click here to go to its website).
  • WeChat and Alipay: If you have a WeChat or Alipay account, you can easily top up your prepaid Chinese SIM card.
  • Buying a top-up card: If you can’t top up your card with the previous methods, you can always go to one of the thousands of stores that you will find in China with the logo of your operator and by a top-up card. These are called 充值卡 (Chōngzhí kǎ) in Chinese. The top-up card contains the instructions on how to use it in both Chinese and English.

Validity of the card and cancellation

Prepaid Chinese SIM cards are automatically canceled when they haven’t been used for a time (how long depends on the provider) regardless of whether you have credit or not.

If you purchased the SIM card directly in China, it’s a good idea to cancel it before leaving the country. While nothing usually happens, it’s possible that you can accumulate a bit of debt before canceling the card, and if you go back to China one day, they will make you pay the debt before giving you a new SIM card.

If you purchased the card on Amazon or SIM Easy, you don’t have to worry, as the card already has an established validity period following activation.

International travel SIM cards

If you are going to travel to multiple countries in addition to China and/or are going to spend a relatively short period in China, a good option is to have an international travel card.

This is a bit more expensive than using a local card, but they are easy to obtain and let you use them in other countries on your route. Keep in mind that for short periods and limited data use, their price isn’t very different from that of a local card.

Below is a table comparing four of the best companies offering travel cards compatible with the Chinese network.

Keep in mind that this table is a simplification of their offering; thoroughly check the details and deals to determine which company is the best fit for you.

Card NameUniversal SIM ChinaUniversalAsia SIM CardLite Starter Pack
SIM Card’s Price$10$19.95$0$14.99World SIM
Data Plan$29 / 3GB$20 / 1GB$30 / 4GB$0 / 1GBFlexi Roam
Data Plan Is Valid For30 days30 days8 days14 daysTravel SIM
Extra Data’s Price$0.25$ / MB$0.20 / MB$0.21 / MBTop-upTravel SIM
Local Calls$0.49$ / min$0.29 / min$0.47 / minVoIPOne SIM Card
International Calls$0.49$ / min$0.29 / minFrom $0.47$ / minVoIPOne SIM Card
Incoming Calls$0 / min$0 / min$0 / minVoIP
ShippingThe entire world except Argentina, Andorra, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and EstoniaAll the worldAll the worldAll the world
Main AdvantageChina-specific cardCheapest callsExtra phone numbersData plans
Learn MoreLearn MoreLearn MoreLearn More


Description of the table

While this table is designed to help you make a decision more easily, it might still not be clear what card to use. Below is a description of in which case you should choose each of the companies (in our opinion):

Travel SIM

Travel SIM is perfect for people who are going to be in China for only a few days and want an easy way to communicate with WhatsApp, Messenger, and Facebook and to check Google and Gmail. The main advantage of Travel SIM is that its plan for China lets you not buy a VPN.

If you’re going to be in China for a longer time or need extensive use of the Internet (watching videos or making video calls), purchasing a VPN and using a Wi-Fi network will be a lot less expensive.

Go to Travel SIM’s website

One SIM Card

If you need to make calls and browse in China and other countries, One SIM Card is the best option without a doubt. It offers Internet at reasonable prices and the best price for making calls both inside and outside of China. One SIM Card offers very competitive products, although data can be a bit more expensive in China compared to the competition.

Go to One SIM Card’s website

World SIM

If you frequently travel to certain countries, World SIM is a very good option. It has a highly-customizable product range gives you the possibility of acquiring different local numbers (all integrated into the same card). While it might not have the best products for China, if you travel to multiple countries, the flexibility of its plans can be very useful.

Go to World SIM’s website

Flexi Roam

If the only thing that you care about is having Internet access from your telephone regardless of the country you’re in, Flexi Roam should be your choice. It offers excellent data plans that you can use across the globe. Because calls with its cards go over the Internet, it’s not a good idea to use Flexi Roam for calls.

Go to Flexi Roam’s website


Unless you have a Hong Kong SIM card, using roaming in China should absolutely be avoided for multiple reasons:

  • Roaming is usually the most expensive option: Despite the fact that certain operators offer special plans for international roaming, using your normal SIM card is usually the most expensive option. For example, T-Mobile offers you 2G in China (which is incompatible with browsing the Internet or using a VPN) with the T-Mobile One plan and 0.25 USD/min for calls (but only has coverage in certain parts of the country).
  • Not all companies allow it: While normally you can use roaming to make or receive calls, not all companies allow you to access data in China. Carefully read your operator’s roaming conditions for China.
  • Some companies only offer 2G: Browsing the Internet with 2G in China is almost like not having Internet on your telephone. If your operator is offering you a roaming data plan that’s relatively cheap, it’s important to check what speed it offers, because anything under 3G doesn’t make sense.

Hong Kong SIM cards with roaming in mainland China

As you should already know, Hong Kong and Macau, despite belonging to China, have a special legal and political status. In addition to having their own visa legislation, their telephone and Internet network is independent.

On the practical level, Hong Kong does not have Internet restrictions, because of which it’s not necessary to use a VPN to access websites blocked in mainland China. When using a Hong Kong SIM card in mainland China, roaming will be activated but you will have the advantage that you can connect to the Internet without restrictions.

Below are the details of some SIM cards that you can buy in Hong Kong that are also valid in mainland China:

China Unicom

  • Company: China Unicom
  • Where it can be used : China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Japan
  • Price: 99 HKD
  • Monthly rate: 6 HKD
  • Credit: 99 HKD
  • Monthly data in China: 68, 88 and 148 HKD for 500MB, 1GB, 2GB respectively
  • Price of calls: 0.45HKD / min

You can also purchase Hong Kong data SIM cards that you can use in mainland China. Below is information on one of the most popular ones:


  • Company: China Unicom
  • Where it can be used : China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan
  • Price: 20.95 USD
  • Data: 3 GB
  • Local calls: Data only
  • Validity: 30 days

Click here to buy the card on Amazon!


This article contains a lot of information and might be a bit difficult to digest. This section gives some of the key points covered:

  • To activate a SIM card for China, you need to register your passport
  • Internet restrictions exist in China, because of which it’s a good idea to purchase a VPN before traveling (read more here)
  • Your cell phone must be unlocked (verify here:
  • The easiest way to access mobile data (without going broke) is to purchase a SIM card online before leaving.
  • To choose the best SIM card for you, you need to consider how long you’re going to be in China, if you’re traveling to other countries and how you’re going to use your telephone.

Below is a very detailed summary of the different options with their approximate cost in USD:

SIM cardVPN*DataCallsValidityPrice
China Mobile (purchased in China)Yes20GB50 min30 days26 USD
China Unicom (purchased online)Yes2GB0 min90 days37.95 USD
China Unicom Hong Kong (purchased in Hong Kong)No2GB100 min30 days25 USD
China Unicom Hong Kong (purchased online)No3GBdata only30 days20.95 USD
Travel SIMNo3 Gb0 min30 days39 USD
One SIM CardYes1GB0 min30 days52.9 USD
World SIMYes4GB0 min8 days42.95 USD
Flexi RoamYes1GBVoIP15 days27.95 USD

*Price of a VPN for one month 12.95 USD included – must be purchased separately

I hope that this article has been useful to you! Help us improve this article by using the comments section below!

Photo Credits: Photo by Sapore di Cina adapted from Chickenonline on Pixabay

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