It’s good to buy a cell phone in Beijing for one reason – or to be more precise, 50,000 reasons – if your phone can read Chinese characters, life is made easier. If you already have a cell phone, make sure it’s "unlocked" so you can easily interchange SIM cards.
buy and cell
We suggest going to an established chain to buy your first phone. Places like Dazhong, Gome, Wal-Mart and Suning offer a legitimate guarantee and prices are reasonable (see Directory for listings). A very basic Nokia should cost no more than RMB 300. Standalone stores like Nokia and Apple have more advanced options.
For cheaper prices, try haggling at markets like Silk Street and Yashow – but be wary of poor quality. Zhongguancun is the largest electronics market in Beijing, offering more genuine products than its Yashow and Silk Street counterparts. One word of warning: Zhongguancun is a maze, requiring a lot of patience and a good sense of direction.
If you want to go straight to the source (China Mobile, China Unicom or China Telecom) to buy a phone, remember to bring your passport for verification.
To charge with China Unicom, call this number: 10011. Press "2" for English
the tech specs
If your main concern is practicality, then a trusty Nokia or Motorola handset will do. For something more advanced, HTC, Blackberry, iPhone and other big-name brands are available in China. For the fancier phones, expect to pay in the region of RMB 1,500 to RMB 6,000 for the handset alone. You can also buy the phone as part of a price plan.
settling on a SIM
Within China, you can choose from three major providers: China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom. (After calling each provider’s English-language customer hotline and testing their tolerance for the phrase "My Chinese is very bad," we found that China Telecom’s customer service was the worst out of the bunch.)
To recharge with China Mobile, call this number: 13800 138000. Press "2" for English
Prepaid SIM cards are available from newspaper stalls on the street, tobacco stores and snack stores, as well as branches of China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. SIM cards generally cost RMB 100 or less and come with credit. Note that these prepaid cards cannot make international calls.
Prepaid SIM cards usually charge RMB 0.6/min for incoming and outgoing calls and RMB 0.1/SMS.
top it up
Top-up vouchers (RMB 30, 50 and 100) can be bought at tobacco and snack shops. Remember to ask for a voucher that is the same as your network provider.
If you are paying monthly for a price plan, most networks provide an online service where you can buy call credit with your bank or credit card. Most local Chinese cards are accepted, but check to see if you can use a foreign card.
activating international calling
To be able to call overseas, go into any of the large China Mobile, China Unicom or China Telecom centers with your phone and passport. Once you have registered with them, they will activate your SIM so it can make calls abroad. Note that you will need to pay a deposit of around RMB 500. International calls range from RMB 0.3/min to RMB 4/min, depending on your location in China.
Another way of calling abroad is by using IP cards. These can be bought at newspaper stalls, tobacco shops and snack shops. IP cards usually cost RMB 30-40, or you can purchase three for RMB 100. Call the number on the card. Press "2" for English and follow the instructions. Prices range from RMB 0.3/min to RMB 4/min, depending on your location in China.
the complete package
3G and iPhone packages are very easy to acquire. Go to your service provider (again, with your passport) and upgrade then and there. You can normally find an English-speaking assistant to help you.
3G Prices at China Unicom start at RMB 66 per month and go up to RMB 1,000 per month, depending on which service you want. As a rough guide, RMB 96 per month with China Unicom will get you 300 MB of data and 240 minutes.
iPhone packages vary among the networks but most start at RMB 96 without the handset. If you want to buy the handset with the contract, be aware that Chinese providers don’t offer Wi-Fi with their iPhones.
good to know
For 3G and payment plans, you will have to pay a deposit and register with your passport. Just get past all the form-signing and before you know it, you’ll be free – free as a bird attached to a very reasonable price plan.
want to buy one…
Wǒ yāo mǎi yī gè…
How much does it cost?
Duō shǎo qián?
Wǔ shí yuán
Yī bǎi yuán
Do you have…
Yǒu méi yǒu
Top up card
Chōng zhí kǎ
Apple Store 苹果专卖店
Daily 10am-10pm. Bldg 6, Sanlitun Village South, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District (6419 8900) www.apple.com.cn
China Mobile 中国移动
Daily 9am-7pm. Near Guomao Subway Station Exit D, B1/F, Guoyi Guangchang, Jianguomenwei Dajie, Chaoyang District (6566 0399, 10086, 24 hour service)
China Telecom 中国电信
Daily 9am-7pm. 21 Chaoyangmen Beidajie, Chaoyang District (5950 3000, 10000, 24 hour service) 朝阳区朝阳门北大街21号
China Unicom 中国联通
Daily 9am-5pm. B1/F, Tower 1, Guomao Dasha, 1 Jianguomenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District (10010, 24 hour service) 朝阳区建国门外大街1号国贸大厦1座B1层
Daily 9am-5pm. Zhongguancun Dajie (near Zhongguancun subway station), Haidian District 海淀区中关村大街中关村地铁站旁