Getting Internet access in China is easier than it may seem, but there is important information that you should know. The purpose of this article is to help you choose the best company for your home or phone. In the end, you will find a section on travelers.
Basic information on the internet in China
- In China many websites and apps are blocked: Access to Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube is restricted in China. Click here to find out how to solve this problem.
- Internet in China can be extremely slow: Because of the filters and the blocking system, when you go to non-chinese websites, browsing becomes tedious due to the slow speed. If you only want to visit Chinese websites most internet connections work pretty fine though.
- Accessing the internet in China is relatively cheap: Although a few years ago the internet in China was relatively expensive, nowadays prices have fallen, and for a basic connection of 50Mb you won’t pay more than 100 Yuan per month.
- Most public Chinese connections are not safe: Be sure to have a good antivirus before connecting your laptop to a public Chinese network if you don’t want to end up with your computer full of rubbish or hacked.
Internet at home
Which company should I chose?
Even if in china exist numerous broadband providers, the reality is that three state-own companies, China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom, have the monopoly of internet providing service.
I’ll even say that basically the two main companies, China Unicom and China Telecom, control the market. While China Unicom provides the internet to the northern provinces, China Telecom is much more common in the southern provinces.
In any event, in large cities it is already possible to find China Mobile (through the acquisition of China Tietong) and the other two companies.
Other private providers with very competitive prices also exist. My suggestion is to don’t even consider minor companies regardless of the price.
The small companies use the infrastructure built by the state-owned companies (mainly China Telecom) and, for some reason, non-Chinese websites are even slower.
Small cafés usually use these types of companies, and that’s why it can be difficult to do things on the internet when connecting to their Wi-Fi.
However, there are certain exceptions, such as 歌华 (Gehua, also known as FlyTV), a company that provides cable television and Internet (you can get only the internet if you want). It usually offers relatively fast connections.
How to contract an internet connection in China?
It’s really easy, just go to the closest shop (you can ask your landlord where it is) with your passport and money and ask for it.
You can also request this on the webpages of the main companies (their websites are only available in Chinese). Below are the links: China Unicom, China Telecom, China Mobile.
How much it costs?
The price will depend on the speed, the city where you live, the provider of your choice, how many months you pay for and whether it includes associated mobile phone line cards. The prices of these companies are relatively similar (if we keep into account the speed). Here you find some examples (in Beijing, May 2019):
China Mobile 50Mbps 1 year: 1,080 Yuan.
China Mobile 200Mbps 1 year: 1,680 Yuan.
China Unicom 200Mbps 1 year: 1,480 Yuan.
China Unicom 500Mbps 1 year: 1,980 Yuan.
China Telecom 50 Mbps 1 year: 880 Yuan
China Telecom 100Mbps: 980 Yuan.
GeHua 110Mbps 1 year: 980 Yuan.
Important: Normally, your actual speed will be much less than the speed that you purchase. If you pay for 100 Mbps, expect 10-20 Mbps in reality.
China Unicom – and probably also the other companies – offer a pre-paid USB-SIM modem service so you can get internet wherever you are. Even if the price per MB is quite reasonable, it’s quite slow.
If you live on campus, the university will provide its own network, which will be much cheaper than the “free” market offers. Normally works find except during the night when it becomes terribly slow. The reason is that during the night most of the students come back to the dorms and collapse the line by watching TV shows or playing video games.
Do they provide a router with WiFi?
Not always, it will depend on the provider and in the city where you live. Sometimes they only will provide you a modem and a dial-up connection (they have to give you also a user name and password), so if you want wi-fi you have to buy a router (100-200 Yuan) and then configure it with your user name and password.
- When you open an internet line in China they will not close it until you say so. It doesn’t matter if you get a contract for one year, or you don’t pay. They are going to count the months you owe them and next time you want internet you must pay it (of course with the appropriate fine for the delay).
- Normally, they will offer you prepaid mobile phone SIM cards associated with the plan. Do not accept it if you aren’t going to use them. If you don’t use them for a few months or you run out of credit, they will close your internet home connection until you recharge the SIM card. Getting the internet back can take days and a thousand calls.
- Even if we are talking about huge companies present all over the country, their offices work nearly independently. For some procedures like closing a line or changing the name on the contract, you have to go to the office in charge of your area. Thus make sure to know where your office is.
- Sometimes (depending on the city and on the provider), you can’t open a line in an apartment where the previous tenant has opened one and left without closing it. So remember to ask about it when you rent an apartment or room. Also, if you aren’t the person who signed the contract, changing the name on the contract may take some months and a painful bureaucratic process.
Internet in your cellphone
If broadband Internet is slow in China (when you look at non-Chinese webpages), I think you can guess how slow 3G and 4G are.
Remember that you will only be able to send messages with WhatsApp, Facebook, or Line or check Google if you have a VPN active on your cellphone.
Which company should I choose?
Below you’ll find a table to give you an idea of the different providers. The table shows the Beijing rates of the three main operators.
|Basic Monthly Plan||88¥||69¥||99¥|
|Free Calls||50 min||500 min||300 min|
|Extra Data||15¥ / 3GB||10¥ / 1GB||Slow browsing (1 MBps)|
|Extra Calls||0.19¥ / min||0.15¥ / min||0.15¥ / min|
As you can see from the table, there aren’t big differences between the three operators. In our experience, you should take the following into account when choosing:
- China Mobile: This company has the most stores and places to buy top-ups across the country. It usually offers easy-to-understand plans. However, get used to having the worst prices, and sometimes it has compatibility issues with foreign telephones.
- China Unicom: This company has a good network of stores in northern China, good compatibility with foreign telephones, usually has the best deals for data, and lets you have multiple SIM cards associated with the same plan. However, you have to be careful with the fine print of the plans.
- China Telecom: This company is particularly popular in southern China, and usually has good deals for calls and data. Be careful with compatibility with foreign telephones.
How to activate/change a data plan
To change your data and call plan, the easiest thing to do is to go to one of the official stores of one of the three companies with your passport.
To activate or change a data plan, you can either go to the offices of the telephone company and request them to activate it for you, or you can do so by calling the information number (all companies have customer service in English):
China Mobile: 10086
China Unicom: 10010
China Telecom: 10001
Important information on mobile data in China
If you are going to use a phone purchased abroad, you should know that:
- Your phone must be unlocked: If you purchased a telephone through a company, you have to check that it’s unlocked, otherwise you won’t be able to put a Chinese SIM card in it.
- The 2G, 3G and 4G networks are somewhat different in China: Non-Chinese telephones often don’t work or operate on a slower network than usual (for example 3G instead of 4G). You can check the website here willmyphonework.netto find out whether your phone works in China or not.
There are multiple ways to top up your telephone card:
- Online:You can top up your SIM card on mobile operators’ webpages. You will need Chinese online banking, and more importantly, will need to be able to browse their chaotic webpages, which are only in Chinese. China Unicom is the only one that offers a simple webpage in English for buying top-ups.
- WeChat and Alipay: If you have a Alipay or WeChat account, you can easily buy top-ups.
- Top-up cards: Last of all, you can always go to one of the stores with the logo of your operator and by a top-up card (充值卡, Chōngzhí kǎ). They contain instructions on how to use them in both Chinese and English on the backside of the card.
Internet in China for travelers
Getting internet access in China is quite easy. You will find free wi-fi in almost every coffee shop, airport, hotel, and hostel.
The problem is not to get access while the speed of the connection. Most places offer an extremely slow connection, sometimes even unable to load a foreign webpage. If you have a VPN that works in China, in addition to allowing you to access websites and apps blocked in China, it can help you to speed the connection for foreign webpages. However, sometimes it isn’t enough.
If you want to use the internet on your cellphone you can just buy a SIM card at the China Mobile China Unicom or China Telecom office (you will need your passport). There, they will make you choose a data plan and how much you want to top-up. 100 – 200 Yuan should be enough to buy the number, a data and calls plan, and some money for calls.
If you don’t want to waste time looking for a store and trying to make yourself understood by the vendor, you can always easily by SIM cards online. Below are some of the best options (some work in multiple countries):
|China Unicom||Yes||2GB||0 min||90 days||37.95 USD|
|China Unicom Hong Kong||No||3GB||data only||30 days||20.95 USD|
|Travel SIM||No||3GB||0 min||30 days||39 USD|
|One SIM Card||Yes||1GB||0 min||30 days||52.9 USD|
|World SIM||Yes||4GB||0 min||8 days||42.95 USD|
|Flexi Roam||Yes||1GB||VoIP||15 days||27.95 USD|
*Price of a VPN for one month included (12.95 USD) – Must be purchased separately
That’s all for today! Feel free to share with us your experience with the Chinese internet in the comments below.
Frequently asked questions
But always be on guard for scams!
Photo Credits: Cover Photo by Martinelle on Pixabay
China Cellphone Photo by geralt on Pixabay
if you are running a serious business, get china telecom, a cloud clash server, you get to surf @ 100 to 1Gbps anywhere. your bill will be around 2k rmb + 1-2k USD
Sapore di Cina says
Thank you Bob for the suggestion
Joryerlín Martínez says
Hi, my internet at home just finished (at least that’s what I think) it’s been a year now and I remember that was our internet contract for.. How do I renew it? Can I do it online? I really don’t want to go outside plus with the coronavirus situation I’m sure that’s not even an option.
Sapore di Cina says
You can renew it online (but the webpages are in Chinese)
Lao Su says
I’m in China since 2003, the feedback is not true, I use China Telecom Post Paid since 2009, The speed in excellent, I use 3 – 55 Inch Smart TV at same time, 2 Computers, well all phones connected as well.. Router is free, as well IPTV Box, extra IPTV Box cost 10 RMB for Post Paid and 15 RMB for Pre-paid customers, Yes speed issues exist during Winter not always, Snow and Foggy weather WIFI is weak, but Cable works great. I have no need to use any western sites, so I dont need VPN, All the prices quoted are wrong… too high… Once in China go to any operator show your passport, buy a package… start using, BTW in China we hardly use Mobile call… we all use Wechat…
If you already have a internet connection, you don’t use Western websites nor VPN this guide isn’t for you.
The prices are for plain internet connection in Beijing without offers that may include, cellphone card or TV.
I’m in China since 2007 and I second everything said in this article (I don’t know about pricing though). If anything, speed has decreased lately since the government is cracking down on VPNs. For Chinese websites and services the speed is good.
Sapore di Cina says
Pricing can be a bit outdated
Chris Bishop says
I am an American living in Zhengzhou, and have been beating my head against the great firewall for a year now. I pay for 200 mbps, yet rarely even see speeds in mbps, and when I do it is only 1 or 2. It averages about 400 kbps, and in the evenings and on weekends it is more like 500 bps! I have lived in two different communities, and used China Telecom and China Unicom. Zhengzhou has 15 million people, so it’s not some little farming community. I have also travelled to Beijing, Chengdu, and Dengfeng, and encountered the same issues. The problem is just that they do not provide enough bandwidth for modern society. The IOT is booming here in China, the Mi store sells Amazon Echo like speakers and connected air purifiers. Most of the local Chinese seem walk, ride, and drive with their cellphones glued to their face. So with an average of 4 cellphones, 1 computer, 1 television, 1 tablet, and 1 IOT device, we are looking at 8 connected devices per 500 square foot apartment. I have 6 apartments on each of 32 floors, so we are looking at 1500 devices per building. In my community of 12 buildings, we are looking at 18000 devices in 1 squaer city block! It seems to me it’s nothing more than an an infrastructure problem. Since the telecoms are government run monopolies, there is no competition, and therefore no need to invest in the infrastructure. This is why the net neutrality and monopoly battles being fought in the US are so extremely important. Be prepared for this. I can give you 2 important pieces of advice. 1- switch all of your websites and apps away from Google, especially Gmail, which won’t work when your VPN is down, sometimes for a week or two. 2- invest in an Iphone, since Google maps also won’t work here, even with a VPN. I have yet to find a map app in english that works in China, other than apple maps. Take it from me, this is hard won wisdom.
Thank you for the comment. Just to add my experience, internet performance is usually better in small cities.
“This is why the net neutrality and monopoly battles being fought in the US are so extremely important.”
Absolutely not. These things are reasons that poor people cannot have access to the things everyone else can. Even having a full-time job in America, my phone bill is 1/14th of my total income! What is the point of having high speed internet with no other reason to use it than watching stupid videos? I can barely invest in a business or anything else to increase my profits, because I don’t have the money to do that! The issue is not the lack of competition in China. China government does a great thing offering this to people. Maybe if they increase their spending a bit on this, it would be more helpful. Monopolies are not the solution; this just makes for class inequity here in America. I wish America was more like China in this way.
Nice write up, using the internet in China as a foreigner will always be a struggle because of the limitations in sites and even when using vpn some doesn’t work with Netflix while sometimes they seem to slowdown ur internet speed. I have been fortunate to be introduced to a usb vpn device called butterfly or btfly and This has absolutely changed the game… this vpn device is a great option
Hey, great article, very informing.I will be flying to Shenyang soon and will be there for the next 4 years, so I just wanna know exactly how much do the lines go far and their data plans cost. Thanks
Furio Fu says
we can’t provide specific info about each Chinese city. I suggest you check on the internet.
Mani brad says
Do you need a vpn to play on ps4 or xbox one in beijing?
Furio Fu says
I never heard that Ps4 or xBox are blocked in China. However, I don’t have any personal experience with it
I’ve been struggling to get connection in China for ages, so when I found out that Nord had special ‘obfuscated’ servers for it I just had to try it. And surprisingly enough it worked! The speed isn’t great but it’s the same with or without a VPN, other than that, I’m happy I can now connect to my emails while I’m there.
Furio Fu says
thank you for sharing your feedback!
If you are traveling in China I recommend China Unicom or China Mobile roaming SIM cards from Hong Kong. You can skip the censorship problems with local SIM cards,since your data passes through Hong Kong,where censorship rules do not apply. The only downside is they only come with a Hong Kong number which may be inconvienient for some people. But for most needs I recommend it. Simply insert it in your device and use it right away. Recharge is also easy too.
I am in Zhuhai (Guangdong province), I am looking at atleast getting a connection that will let me play some games, with a connection of around 1 MB a second(In download speed possibility) I’m not sure if this is possible. Also:
China Mobile 100Mb for 1 Year: 1280 Yuan;
China Mobile 30Mb for 1 Year: 700 Yuan;
China Unicom 100Mb for 1 Year: 1780 Yuan;
China Unicom 30Mb for 1 Year: 1280 Yuan;
GeHua 110Mb for 1 Year: 1280 Yuan.
Is this referring to Mb/s? Presumably yes…
For games in question if any, HotS, LoL. For example. I want to play on NA or LAS. Yes it is a foreign server… Therefor it requires atleast 1Mb/s for good speed… Consistently… Any advice?
Furio Fu says
Yes, we refer to Mb/s. We will update it to be more clear.
The best advice I can give you is to try an offer first, without committing for a year, and see if it works for you!
What would you recommend for someone who needs workable internet for only 4 months in Beijing?
Furio Fu says
Usually Unicom works slightly better in Northern China
I’ll be living in Shanghai in a few months sharing an apartment with a few other people what would be the best isp for shanghai and what kind of speeds can I expect when browsing youtube or Netflix with a vpn. I don’t really have a budget for the choosing an ISP. Has the internet improved since this article was written?
Furio Fu says
it would mostly depend on your house speed connection, as it may vary a lot. I heard of many people that can watch streaming tv from China, while other complain they cant
Does anybody have actual experiences that China Unicoms internet sucks in South China?
That fewer people use it could be actually an advantage right?
Furio Fu says
I don’t have direct experience. Generally speaking China Unicom is stronger in the North, so I’m not sure how well it may work in the South…
Hello, is it possible for foreign student to export goods out of China?
Furio Fu says
I guess it depends on the goods
Hi there, I know this article was originally written a few years ago. Has there been any significant improvements overall in speeds for both broadband and mobile services? What sort of download speeds do you see nowadays? I keep hearing China Unicom is the service to go with for the fastest speeds available.
Sborto Zhou says
We updated the article last year. At the present moment broadband speed range from 20 to 200 Mbps depending on the plan (but don’t expect to have this speed if you surf websites outside China Mainland). 4G network is widespread, but the Chinese system it is a bit different to other countries and it’ss possible that if you use a foreign cellphone you can only access to 3G that can be a bit slow.
I still had a problem
In jiujiang (i goT admission in jiujiang university) which network will be best according to data connections and calls tax
and how much data (mb) we can get for 1 month
and what will be its speed (in mbps)
and its cost
Sborto Zhou says
Your question is a bit difficult to understand are you talking about a getting Internet in your cellphone or at home?
However all the questions have a simple answer all depends in the type of contract. You can check the China Mobile’s page in Jiangxi
Ive just opened an office in China.
I need the internet speed to be fast for my UK staff coming to China and want them to have access to UK sites like google, insta etc etc
how do i set up the internet in the office. Its based in Guangzhou.
Are VPNs banned?
Furio Fu says
Hi, please refer to this article for how to set the internet connection.
As for VPNs, here all we know: http://www.saporedicina.com/english/vpn-how-to-access-facebook-in-china/
Ghost, I see your post was a full year ago – I hope you found a reliable vpn, I am in Dongguan and have been using expressVPN for 10 years with very few issues.
I do find the internet here extremely frustrating – I just tested my speed with Speedtest by Ookla and my DL speed was 20mbps DL, this being on a 150mbps line – hence the reason I came on here!
I have tried various things from upgrading my router to a RoG router (pricey and made no difference, although it is nice to have three connections)
I am an avid football fan so always try to get the games from back home – generally tend to find the player struggles to play anything above 360p without stuttering.
I saw someone mention Netflix and youtube – Youtube and facebook are not an issue with a VPN however Netflix and Hulu cannot be accessed as they have regional detection software whether you have your vpn on or not.
David Robert says
Hi Just had Unicom come to my house to test the internet speed, I am paying for a 100MB service. The service delivered from my building basement to the apartment is Ethernet over copper. The speed test the Unicom technician runs is between your apartment and the equipment in your buildings basement comms room. Result 85MB. The technician explained as follows, when they state 100MB speed, they purely mean the access links capable speed to the basement, it has nothing to do with actual download speed. Current real download speed average in my area is approximately 4MB.
Furio Fu says
yes, the “100 MB” are theoretical
I’m going to Xi’an to study one year and will be staying at the university’s dorm. I heard most universities in China require students to pay for their internet (mostly like a m monthly plan for a certain amount of MB) and I’m thinking of also buying a one year mobile data plan, but I fear that it will be not enough internet speed or capacity for me, I’m kind of an mobile online gamer and I download a lot of stuff from torrents. Do you have any suggestion? Should I buy a infinite data plan with Unicom to use for my gaming and also downloading stuff whenever I’m inside the university’s facilities instead of using/paying for the university’s internet?
Sborto Zhou says
Many universities provide free internet for students and if you have to pay will be cheap. It has no sense to pay for an unlimited data plan for your cellphone, it will be much cheaper and faster to use university access than your cellphone (especially if you have a non Chinese cellphone)
Nice article Furio. I see the article is quite outdated. I am moving to China in a few months and I’d like to know how much cost a 100Mb/s internet? Also, could you recommend me any good provider? Thanks.