Having a mobile phone in Beijing makes life easier. More often than not, you’ll find yourself in a taxi with a driver who isn’t familiar with the destination; in which case, you’ll need to call up the venue or a Chinese-speaking friend.
Purchasing a Mobile Phone
We suggest going to an established chain to buy your first phone. Places like Dazhong, Gome, Wal-Mart, and Suning offer legitimate guarantees 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.
Silk Street and Yashow Market carry cheap mobile phones, but there are no guarantees if you purchase anything from these markets. Zhongguancun is the largest electronics market in Beijing, offering genuine products. But be warned: Zhongguancun is a maze, requiring a lot of patience and a good sense of direction. Use your judgment when purchasing, but usually they are honest when something is real or fake.
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.
If your main concern is practicality, then a trusty Nokia or Motorola handset will do. For something more advanced, HTC, Blackberry, Apple, 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. If you are bringing a mobile phone from overseas, make sure it’s “unlocked” so you can easily interchange SIM cards.
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.
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. Prepaid SIM cards usually charge RMB 0.60 per minute for incoming and outgoing calls and RMB 0.10 per SMS.
Top-up cards (RMB 30, 50 and 100) can be bought at local tobacco and snack shops. Remember to ask for a card that matches 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.
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 0.30 to RMB 4 per minute, depending on your location in China.
Another option for making calls abroad is Skype (www.skype.com). The software is free and downloads to your computer. On their website, they provide details on a variety of calling plans, including unlimited calling between two countries for a reasonable monthly fee.
You may also call abroad is 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 0.30 to RMB 4 per minute, depending on your location within China.
The Complete Package
3G and iPhone packages are very easy to acquire. For iPhones, only China Unicom can provide compatible 3G services. 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 46 per month and go up to RMB 1,000 per month, depending on which services you want. As a rough guide, RMB 96 per month with China Unicom will get you 300MB of data and 240 minutes.
SIM cards for iPhones cost RMB 45 and can be purchased at any China Unicom service office. To obtain a SIM card compatible for an iPhone, you will need to bring your passport (ID card) to any service office, a fee will occur according to different offices. If you have a compatible SIM card, but need it to be cut, select Unicom service
centers will cut a regular size SIM card into a micro-SIM card for free.
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 as a bird (attached to a very reasonable price plan).
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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 朝阳区三里屯路19号院三里屯Village南区6号楼
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) 朝阳区建国门外大街国宜广场B1国贸地铁D口
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
Zhongguancun E-Mall 中关村E世界1数码广场
Daily 9am-7pm. 11 Zhongguancun Dajie, Haidian District (6268 1888) 海淀区中关村大街11号