If you plan on visiting China, having a sim card is essential. Access to the internet while traveling makes exploring new cities much easier. With internet access, you can easily find the best restaurants, get directions to your accommodation, book a taxi, and share photos with your family on the go.
While roaming is an option, international fees can quickly add up. Therefore, we recommend either getting an eSIM or a local sim card to access affordable local phone rates. The good news is that obtaining either option in China is incredibly simple.
To help you make the best choice, this comprehensive guide provides up-to-date pricing information and recommends the most suitable sim card for your needs.
Getting a local sim card in China can be quite difficult and time consuming, especially if you don’t speak Chinese, don’t have a Chinese ID and didn’t buy your phone in China. On top of this, they are generally very expensive for foreigners.
For these reasons I recommend Airalo’s China eSim as the best sim card in China. You can buy the eSim before you visit China and activate it on wifi at the airport without having to talk to anyone at all. Trust me, this is by far the best option.
For most travellers, the 5GB plan for $16.50 USD is perfect. Wifi can be found all over the place so even if you’re visiting for a longer trip you can usually connect to wifi. The Airalo eSim even uses the reliable China Unicom network.
If your phone isn’t compatible with eSims (by the way, most phones do support eSims, including all iPhones since 2018) then you will have no choice but to purchase a local sim card in China. In this case, I would recommend finding a China Unicom store. They have a very extensive network and offer the best options that work with phones purchased outside of China.
A Tourist Sim Card in China costs $16.50 USD in February 2024, however, the exact price will often depend on the store you visit and the plan you choose.
Alternatively, an eSim in China will cost between $5 USD and $28 USD. This, again, depends on how much data you require and which eSim provider you choose.
I generally recommend this Airalo plan for most tourists visiting China which includes 5GB of data which is valid for 30 days and costs $16.50 USD.
China Unicom, China Mobile, and China Telecom are the main sim card providers in China. China Unicom, with its nationwide coverage, offers various mobile plans and packages suitable for individuals and businesses. It boasts high-speed 4G and 5G connectivity, making it a popular choice for customers needing reliable and fast internet access.
China Mobile, as the largest mobile network operator, offers extensive coverage and a wide range of services, including voice, mobile data, and value-added services. It has a vast customer base and offers competitive rates for its voice and data plans. China Mobile’s focus on innovation and technology ensures a seamless user experience.
China Telecom, with its strong network infrastructure, offers fast and stable internet connections. It caters to diverse customer needs with its extensive range of services, including voice, mobile data, and broadband internet. China Telecom’s commitment to customer satisfaction and its reliable network make it a sought-after choice among consumers.
Overall, these three providers dominate the telecommunications market in China, offering excellent services and cutting-edge technology to millions of customers across the country.
China Unicom is a leading telecommunications provider in China, offering reliable mobile services to both locals and tourists. Their tourist sim cards provide seamless connectivity for travelers exploring China. With affordable data packages and extensive coverage, tourists can stay connected, access social media, use navigation apps, and make calls effortlessly. China Unicom’s tourist sim cards are easily obtainable at major airports and cities, making it a convenient and essential companion for all tourists visiting China.
The price of a China Unicom tourist sim card in China is $80 USD.
The plan offered by China Unicom stores includes 10GB valid for 1 year.
China Mobile is one of the largest mobile network operators in China. They offer tourist sim cards specifically designed for travelers visiting China. These sim cards provide seamless connectivity and enable tourists to access high-speed internet, make calls, and send text messages. China Mobile’s extensive network coverage ensures that tourists can stay connected even in remote areas. With affordable plans and various data packages, these sim cards are a convenient option for tourists exploring China.
The price of a China Mobile tourist sim card in China is $51 USD.
The plan offered by China Mobile stores offers 3GB 4G/3G Data valid for 1 month.
China Telecom is a leading telecommunications company in China. They offer convenient and reliable tourist SIM cards for travelers visiting China. These SIM cards provide fast internet connectivity, local and international calls, and text messaging services. With extensive coverage across the country, tourists can stay connected and navigate hassle-free. China Telecom ensures quality service and excellent customer support, making it a preferred choice for travelers seeking connectivity while exploring the diverse attractions of China.
The price of a China Telecom tourist sim card in China is 129 CNY.
The plan offered by China Telecom stores includes 30GB valid for 30 days.
Identify mobile providers: China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom are your best options in China.
Find your nearest store: Locate a store or retailer by searching on Google Maps for your nearest store or asking at your hotel reception. I’ve never had issues finding a store as they can usually be found in major cities, shopping centers, or tourist areas. If possible, I always recommend to to avoid airports and head in to an official store in the city.
Bring the necessary documents: It is always a good idea to carry your passport or identification documents for sim card registration purposes. We’ve found most providers will need to confirm your identity to provide a sim card and it can be a major hassle to head to a store only to have to come back again later with your passport.
Choose your plan: Either request the plan you are after or consult with the staff in the store to select the right plan for you. My recommendations at the beginning of this guide are a good starting point, but the staff will usually be able to suggest the best option.
Pay and activate your card: Pay for the SIM card and plan, and the staff will activate it for you.
Test: It’s always a good idea to check that you can access the internet before you leave the store. I always search for something on Google then refresh my Instagram feed to check it’s working fine.
Buying a prepaid sim card for China at the airport is usually considered the most convenient option for travellers arriving by plane.
However, airport stores selling sim cards are almost guaranteed to charge inflated prices, so if you are a cost-conscious traveller then you should definitely buy your sim card from a store in the city center.
In addition to this, we would argue that buying physical sim cards at all aren’t particularly convenient now that most people use esim compatible phones. If you are looking for the most convenient option, then buying an esim before you arrive or with the airport wifi is much easier and will save you having to queue up or communicate with staff.
If you must purchase a sim card at the airport in China then you will be in luck. All major international airports in China have stores selling sim cards. Despite the prices being higher than normal, the staff are knowledgable and will be able to get you set up with the correct sim card relatively quickly.
If you want to avoid the inflated sim card prices you’ll find at the airport and your phone isn’t esim compatible, then you’re going to need to head in to a store to buy your sim card.
I recommend visiting one of the official retail stores of the mobile internet operators such as China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom. Your best option is to enter their names into Google Maps and find the branch closest to your hotel or accommodation. Typically the staff in the official stores in China are knowledgable and helpful which means you can ensure you’ll walk away with a functioning sim card.
Despite this, it’s always a good idea to check your internet is working before you leave the store by loading a Google search results page and your preferred social media app. You should also ensure you always bring your passport with you when purchasing a sim card in case they need to register it.
If you like to be prepared and would prefer to arrive in China with your sim card all sorted and your phone ready to connect to the internet immediately then you should look into purchasing a sim card online.
The first option is to buy your sim card in advance via SimOptions, which is a company that will prepare and ship a sim card directly to your door. It’s a reliable and effective service, but with the invention of eSims it’s becoming obsolete.
The better option is to purchase an eSim online. We’ve written more on that below!
An eSim is a digital version of a traditional sim card and is most likely the future of connectivity for mobile devices. The convenience of no longer visiting a store, handing over your passport and purchasing a physical sim card is quickly making physical sim cards obsolete in favour of eSims.
We recommend Airalo’s eSim when travelling to China. The Airalo China eSim offers fast internet speeds, wide coverage and extremely competitive prices making it a far more compelling option than purchasing a physical sim card from any of the local sim card providers.
In order to get set up with an Airalo eSim, all you need to do is visit Airalo here and purchase the eSim online (the $16.50 USD plan is suitable for most travellers). Once you’ve purchased the sim card Airalo will email you instructions and a QR code. Following these instructions should take just a couple of minutes, then you’ll have a sim card in China without having to venture outside.
Our preferred eSim provider in China is Airalo. We used them, alongside a local sim card on another device, for our most recent trip to China and found the service to be equal to the local sim card but without the hassle of acquiring a sim card in a store.
Airalo’s China eSim uses the China Unicom network to provide data and connect users to the internet. You can expect very good coverage and reliability with the China Unicom networknetwork as they are amongst the best mobile internet operators in China.
Here are the plans and prices for Airalo’s China eSim:
1GB data valid for 7 days – Price: $5 USD
2GB data valid for 15 days – Price: $8.50 USD
3GB data valid for 30 days – Price: $11.50 USD
5GB data valid for 30 days – Price: $16.50 USD
10GB data valid for 30 days – Price: $28 USD
For most travellers we recommend the 5GB data plan for $16.50 USD which is valid for 30 days. Some travellers may prefer a larger plan, whilst travellers visiting for just a couple of days may be fine with a smaller plan.
An alternative eSim provider we can recommend is Holafly.
Holafly’s eSim is a suitable option for travellers who require large amounts of data, such as digital nomads and people who work online while they travel. All of Holafly’s China eSims offer unlimited data.
Holafly’s China eSim uses the CMCCnetwork to provide data and connect users to the internet. This network will provide reliable speeds and coverage while in China
Here are the plans and prices for Holafly’s China eSim:
Unlimited data valid for 5 days – Price: $19 USD
Unlimited data valid for 7 days – Price: $27 USD
Unlimited data valid for 10 days – Price: $34 USD
Unlimited data valid for 15 days – Price: $47 USD
Unlimited data valid for 20 days – Price: $54 USD
Unlimited data valid for 30 days – Price: $64 USD
Unlimited data valid for 60 days – Price: $84 USD
Unlimited data valid for 90 days – Price: $99 USD
An eSIM, also known as an embedded SIM, is a digital SIM card that is permanently integrated into a device like a smartphone, tablet, or smartwatch. Unlike traditional SIM cards, it doesn’t require physical insertion or removal.
Instead of a physical card, the eSIM is a part of the device’s hardware and can be remotely activated and programmed by a mobile network operator. This enables users to switch between different mobile networks or plans without needing to physically change SIM cards.
The use of eSIM technology offers convenience, flexibility, and simplicity, particularly for frequent travelers or people who frequently switch between mobile networks or travel internationally. It eliminates the necessity to purchase and insert physical SIM cards, making it more efficient for managing multiple mobile connections on one device.
To activate an eSIM, users can either scan a QR code provided by their mobile network operator or manually enter the activation information. Once activated, the device can connect to the chosen mobile network and access voice, data, and messaging services just like with a traditional SIM card.
There are several reasons why using an eSIM can be beneficial:
– Convenience: No need to physically insert or remove a SIM card when switching networks or plans. Convenient for frequent travelers.
– Dual SIM functionality: Have two active mobile numbers on the same device. Useful for separating personal and work numbers or managing multiple phone lines.
– Space-saving: No need for a physical SIM card slot, freeing up space within the device.
– Remote provisioning: Activate and manage mobile plans remotely over the air. No need for physical SIM card or store visit.
– Future-proofing: More mobile networks and service providers are offering support for eSIMs. Take advantage of new services and offerings.
Overall, eSIM technology offers flexibility, convenience, and future-proofing for mobile connectivity, making it a compelling choice for many users.
eSIM technology is becoming increasingly popular and is supported by a growing number of smartphones and other devices. Here are some examples of eSIM-compatible phones:
Apple iPhone series (iPhone 11, iPhone 12, iPhone 13, etc.): Apple was one of the early adopters of eSIM technology and offers support for eSIM on various iPhone models.
Google Pixel series (Pixel 3, Pixel 4, Pixel 5, etc.): Google’s Pixel smartphones also support eSIM functionality, allowing users to activate and use eSIMs.
Samsung Galaxy series (Galaxy S22, Galaxy Note 20, etc.): Many of Samsung’s flagship devices now come with eSIM support, enabling users to utilize eSIM technology.
OnePlus devices (OnePlus 7, OnePlus 8, etc.): OnePlus has included eSIM support in some of its smartphone models, offering users the flexibility of using eSIMs.
Motorola Razr (2020): The latest iteration of the iconic Motorola Razr features eSIM compatibility, enabling users to use eSIMs for cellular connectivity.
These are just a few examples, and the list of eSIM-compatible phones continues to expand as more manufacturers embrace this technology. There’s a very strong chance your phone supports eSims so if you’re unsure we recommend looking it up on our list of eSim supported phones.
Using an eSim is new for many travellers, however, the good news is it’s surprisingly easy to get set up – even for the technologically challenged!
Here’s a general guide on how to use an eSIM:
Check eSIM Compatibility: Ensure that your device supports eSIM functionality. Many newer smartphones, smartwatches, tablets, and other devices are eSIM compatible including all iPhones produced since 2018.
Obtain an eSIM: There are multiple ways to acquire an eSIM. You can purchase an eSIM online from a provider like Airalo (which we recommend) or directly from a mobile network operator. Some devices also allow you to scan a QR code provided by your carrier to download the eSIM profile.
Activate the eSIM: Your eSim provider will send you instructions to activate the sim. This will usually involve scanning a QR code, entering an activation code, or downloading the eSIM profile directly onto your device.
Set up the eSIM: Once activated, your device will guide you through the eSIM setup process. This typically involves selecting the eSIM as your preferred mobile plan, configuring settings like data roaming, and entering any necessary authentication details.
Enjoy the Connection: Once the eSIM is set up, you can use it as you would with a physical SIM card. Make calls, send messages, browse the internet, and use data services as needed. You can also switch between eSIM profiles if you have multiple eSIMs installed on your device.
Hi, I’m Mitchell. I’m a full-time traveller, explorer and travel blogger. Travel Sim Expert is a blog dedicated to helping you find the best sim card for you, no matter where you are or what your budget is.