Buying a SIM Card in China: the Chinese You Need

Chinese General SIM Card

Arriving in Beijing a year ago to begin my Mandarin Chinese course was a pretty intimidating experience. Unlike a week long vacation, this move to China seemed to feel permanent. I was settling in China to master Chinese and perhaps begin a long and exciting career in this mysterious country. Such things as a hotel reservation (Learn How to Make Hotel Reservations in China) and transportation were surprisingly simple and convenient.

However, while on my way from the airport to the hotel I realized I had no mobile Internet to check maps and no phone number from which to call from. I felt stranded, but I didn’t know how to get a SIM card for my phone. It turns out that many of my fellow classmates had the same dilemma upon arriving in China.

As it turns out, getting a SIM card with Internet data and calling minutes is more simple that it seems at first. I will share with you some essential Chinese to know before you go out to purchase one of your own.

Three Major Cell Phone Carriers in China

First, you need to choose a mobile phone service companies. It’s fairly simple, as there are essentially three:

中国移动 (zhōngguó yídòng) China Mobile.

中国联通 (zhōngguó liántōng) China Unicom.

中国电信 (zhōngguó diànxìn) China Telecom.

China Mobile is the most convenient of the three (and also the largest telecommunications company in the world!). I decided to put my bags down and head to the nearest China Mobile shop near my hotel.

4 Most Useful Sentences That Will Help You Get A Perfect SIM Card:

1. At the recommendation of the hotel reception, I was sure to bring my “护照 (hùzhào) passport”(10 Frequently Asked Questions When Applying for a China Visa), as this is required by law. You can certainly expect to hear:

Qǐng wèn nǐ dài hùzhào le ma?
请      问   你 带   护照   了 吗?
Have you brought your passport here?

2. I also needed to ask about the different “套餐 (tàocān) plans/packages” available to be sure that the cost matched my needs. You must be prepared to hear:

Qǐng wèn nǐ xiǎng yào bànlǐ nǎ yī zhǒng tàocān ne?
请      问   你  想    要  办理  哪 一  种     套餐    呢?
Which package do you want?

3. If you’re like me and you don’t have a constant need to be on the phone 24/7 you can, like many other students and travelers, go with the most basic “套餐 (tàocān) plan/package”:

Wǒ xiǎng yào xuǎn zuì piányi de.
我     想    要    选    最  便宜  的。
I want the cheapest one.

4. Once you have your SIM and have made the initial payment, that’s not the end of it. Eventually, you will need to “top up” and add money to your plan. I can simply pop back into any China Mobile shop and say:

Wǒ xiǎng yào gěi wǒ de shǒujī chōngzhí.
我    想     要   给  我 的  手机    充值!
I would like to add money to my phone.

When you want to ask about the plans and packages offered by the mobile phone company, you can request to see all of the various:
A. 套餐 (tàocān)

B. 护照 (hùzhào)

C. 中国移动 (Zhōngguó yídòng)

See Answer
―Written by Elena Trevino―
Elena Trevino is a Mandarin Chinese student in Beijing studying the language to get a head start in international trade. She is most interested in seeing how Mandarin is affecting the fashion industry throughout the world as Chinese shoppers are now such a large factor. She is frequently attending fashion industry events in Beijing and throughout China.
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