5 Best China SIM Cards for 2024: How & Where to Buy Them
A local China SIM card can keep you connected while avoiding expensive international roaming charges, but all the different China SIM card options are confusing. Since you can’t test them out before you travel, I did the research for you and found the best SIM cards for China.
Out of the ones I found, I shortlisted 5 that seem to be the most reliable and convenient. They all have their pros and cons, so read on to find out more about each option and pick the one that suits you best.
Quick Guide: How to Buy a China SIM Card in 3 Easy Steps
- Pick a SIM card. My recommended China SIM card is China Mobile since it offers the most convenient coverage and plans. On the site, click Buy Now under Prepaid SIM. Then choose a card under the Local Users/Travelers option. You’ll need to use a payment card that works with Hong Kong dollars.
- Activate your SIM card. Register your SIM card with a valid passport within the designated registration period to establish a connection with the local network.
- Start using your China SIM card. Enjoy calling, messaging, or browsing throughout your stay in China.
Pro Tip: Use a VPN to Keep Your China SIM Card Data Secure
A VPN masks your location and IP address, ensuring your online safety. It routes your SIM card traffic through its private VPN servers and encrypts your data. That’s crucial since there are many public WiFi hotspots in China, and these are vulnerable to hackers and cybercriminals.
As a frequent traveler, I understand the significance of a VPN as an essential tool for anyone wanting to use a mobile phone in China. That's why our team diligently tested the VPNs listed below to ensure their compatibility with China SIM cards.
Best China SIM Cards in 2024
There are two options for mobile connectivity if you're traveling to China: prepaid SIM cards and eSIMs. A prepaid SIM card in China has wide compatibility with various devices, including older smartphones. Prepaid SIM cards are readily available for purchases from airports, convenience stores, or kiosks, making it a convenient option for travelers.
On the other hand, eSIMs offer certain advantages. With an eSIM in China, you can activate your plan from your chosen carrier online or through an app, but you’ll need a WiFi or mobile data connection.
It's important to check that your mobile devices support eSIM functionality before you buy one. I selected the best China SIM cards for prepaid SIMs and eSIMs to cover both options.
|Reliable network that includes China, Hong Kong, and beyond
|Prepaid physical SIM, so it’s compatible with most devices
|Official stores, retail outlets, telecom product stores, and in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore international airports
|24/7 through dialing: 12580. Available in English, Cantonese, and Putonghua
The China Mobile SIM card paired with an unlocked international GSM smartphone keeps you connected all throughout China. This SIM card has a 4G network covering the mainland along with Hong Kong and Macau. It has affordable airtime rates, with various options depending on how much data and other features you need.
I like the card’s purchasing flexibility, although online pre-purchase isn’t available. In any case, you have to activate it in-store. Be sure to bring your passport with you to complete this process. There are also lots of options, including SIM cards that work in other parts of Asia if you’re an outbound traveler from China.
Be sure to avoid exceeding your data limit, as you’ll be charged for additional usage. However, I liked that the network uses text commands to check data and account balances, removing the need for translations or speaking to customer service.
Plans & pricing
- 2 GB data. Valid for 180 days for around HK$50 (around USD $6).
- 3 GB data. Valid for 90 days for around HK$80 (around USD $10).
- 30 GB data. Valid only in the Hong Kong area for 1 year for around HK$150 (under USD $20).
- Unlimited data. Valid for 7 days for around HK$80 (around USD $10).
- Incoming calls and SMS text messages are free.
- Additional outgoing calls are ¥0.19/minute.
- Additional data slows down to 384 Kbps until you top up.
- Additional fees may apply depending on your chosen SIM card.
|Covers major cities in China, even on non-Chinese phone brands
|Prepaid physical SIM, so ideal if you have an older smartphone
|China, Hong Kong, and Singapore international airports, licensed Unicom stores, and newsagents across China
|24/7 through dialing: 10010. Available in English
China Unicom has a large network that’s compatible with many of the latest foreign models of Android and iOS smartphones. This broad compatibility with phones from around the world makes it a great choice for keeping you connected in China. Plus, China Unicom can even deliver the SIM card to most hotels in China at no additional cost.
China Unicom SIM cards don’t expire as long as you use them once every 90 days. However, this is a double-edged sword, as you’ll be charged monthly for the service as long as the SIM card is active.
The range of China Unicom SIM cards includes options with 4G. To get more data, you can easily extend your limit for a small fee, typically around USD $9 per GB. Plus, it provides access to high-speed WiFi hotspots.
Please note that you have to register to use these. During the checkout process, you'll be required to upload a copy or picture of your passport, Chinese visa, and entry stamp page.
Plans & pricing
- 10GB data for around USD $80/month
- 20GB data for about USD $100/month
- 30GB data for under USD $120/month
Direct International Calling add-on (optional): Price: $10
- Zone A (Hong Kong, USA, Singapore, Canada). Free calls up to 100 minutes, and all additional calls are under ¥0.40/min.
- Zone B (Taiwan, India, Macao, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand). Free calls up to 60 minutes, and all additional calls are under ¥0.70/min.
- Zone C (Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Colombia). Free calls up to 40 minutes, and all additional calls are under ¥1/min.
- Zone D (Australia, France, Spain, Greece, Egypt, Russia, Kazakhstan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Ukraine, Mongolia). Free calls up to 20 minutes, and all additional calls are under 2¥/min.
|Doesn’t compromise on coverage with its flexible plan options
|Prepaid physical SIM with wide compatibility
|Buy online, at designated stores, and at China, Hong Kong, and Singapore international airports
|24/7 through dialing: 10000. Available in English and other languages
As the smallest telecom operator in the country, China Telecom offers cost-effective deals for new subscribers. You’ll need your passport to buy a China Telecom SIM to verify your identity. Its SIM cards can only be purchased from official China Telecom stores and must be activated on-site.
With its extensive coverage, you can enjoy seamless web access nationwide. China Telecom offers top-up options at automated kiosks in their stores, ensuring you can easily recharge your SIM card. I recommend requesting a single-month SIM card if it suits your travel duration since it’s a good deal among the available options.
Another thing I like about this provider is that China Telecom provides access to unlimited WiFi hotspots. This is really helpful to stay connected even when you're on the go, so you don’t have to track down connections.
Plans & pricing
- 30GB. 300 minutes and valid for 30 days for around ¥130 (under USD $20).
- 40GB. 500 minutes and valid for 30 days for around ¥160 (under USD $25).
- 100GB. 1000 minutes and valid for 30 days for around ¥330 (just over USD $32).
Outbound text messages are charged at ¥0.1/sent message, but inbound messages are free.
|Has some of the lowest-priced data plan options in China
|eSIM offers greater flexibility
|Download and install through the dedicated app
|24/7, but only available through firstname.lastname@example.org
This option is flexible and affordable, allowing you to use your mobile in China for a specified duration. The prepaid Airalo eSIM is specifically designed for tourists visiting China and offers generous 3G and 4G mobile data at lower rates than most other carriers.
With Airalo eSIM, you can conveniently purchase and activate your eSIM from anywhere in the world — no need to worry about finding a local store or worrying about losing a physical SIM card. Plus, there are various top-up options available if you require additional data.
Remember to check that your Android or iOS smartphone is compatible before you buy an Airalo eSim for China. Additionally, please note that the Airalo eSIM is exclusively for data usage and doesn’t connect you to cellular networks.
Plans & pricing
- 1GB data. Valid for 7 days for about USD $5.
- 2GB data. Valid for 15 days for under USD $9.
- 3GB data. Valid for 30 days for under USD $12.
- 5GB data. Valid for 30 days for under USD $17.
- 10GB data. Valid for 30 days for under USD $30.
|Provides unlimited data whether you use 3G or 4G options
|eSIM that’s compatible with most modern devices
|Buy online (email delivery)
|24/7 chat support, available in English
With the Holafly China eSim, you can enjoy unlimited mobile data during your trip to China. Designed with the needs of tourists, backpackers, and business travelers in mind, it features a built-in VPN. This offers protection while using public WiFi hotspots.
Once you purchase online, Holafly promptly emails you a QR code to download and install the eSIM profile. Activation is automatic as soon as you connect to the provider’s network, establishing a reliable and hassle-free internet connection in China.
Like most eSIM options, Holafly’s plans only include data, they don’t let you use cellular calling or texting networks.
Plans & pricing
- 5 Days. Unlimited data for less than USD $25.
- 7 Days. Unlimited data for less than USD $30.
- 10 Days. Unlimited data for less than USD $40.
- 15 Days. Unlimited data for less than USD $55.
- 20 Days. Unlimited data for less than USD $65.
- 30 Days. Unlimited data for less than USD $80.
- 60 days. Unlimited data for less than USD $110.
- 90 days. Unlimited data for less than USD $150.
Tips on Choosing the Best SIM Card for China
When traveling to China, having a reliable means of staying connected is crucial. But you need a SIM card with certain features to make sure it’s the right fit. Here are the criteria I looked at during my research:
- Network coverage. Research the network coverage of different providers in the areas you plan to visit to ensure reliable service.
- Available services. Consider the range of services you need, like voice calls, text messages, internet, data plans, international calling, and voicemail. It’s worth remembering that eSIMs typically only offer mobile data, while prepaid physical SIMs cover a wider range of services.
- Price. Compare prices among different providers and consider bundled service options. Budget according to your usage requirements and destination(s), as some SIMs may not work outside of Mainland China.
- Data caps. Check how much data is included with the SIM card, and look for affordable top-ups. Also, review your current cellphone bill to see how much data you usually use. Then, allow yourself a little extra for using tools like GPS and sharing photos and videos.
- Compatibility. Ensure that the China SIM card is compatible with your devices. You might have to check with your phone manufacturer and current network provider to be sure. Not all phones, tablets, or smartwatches have eSIM compatibility.
- Activation procedure. Understand the activation process for the SIM card, which may involve online forms, identification requirements, or visiting a local retailer.
- Duration of usage. Take note of any expiration dates, renewal dates, or recharge requirements associated with the SIM card. Choose a card that matches the duration of your trip.
- Provider reputation. Research the reputation of the SIM card provider in terms of customer service and reliability. Read reviews from other travelers to find a reputable one, or pick one that I shortlisted.
When traveling to China, a VPN allows you to browse the internet safely. Some SIM cards have VPNs included, but they won’t be as reliable as a top provider for China, like ExpressVPN.
How to Stay Safe While Using a SIM Card for China
It may be an exciting time if it’s your first trip to China, but it could also be a little daunting. Here are some basic security measures you can take to stay safe when picking and using your China SIM card.
- Buy your SIM before you travel to China. Getting a SIM card prior to your arrival simplifies connectivity and ensures immediate internet access upon landing. This approach allows you to avoid the hassle of language barriers or documentation issues at local shops, so you can be sure you’re getting the best value for your money.
- Download any content you need before traveling. In China, many popular Western apps are inaccessible due to internet censorship, commonly known as the Great Firewall. By downloading any useful info beforehand, you ensure you’ll have access to it in China.
- Be wary of free WiFi. Public WiFi networks, while convenient, are often unsecured and pose significant risks. Unprotected networks can expose your device to hacking and data theft. Always use secure and trusted password-protected networks.
- Rent a MiFi device. A MiFi (mobile WiFi) device offers a private and secure WiFi hotspot, giving you control over your internet connection. This is particularly useful in areas with limited access to secure networks. Renting a MiFi device ensures consistent internet access and reduces reliance on public networks, enhancing security and convenience.
- Be cautious about posting on Chinese websites. Content shared on Chinese platforms is subject to local laws and regulations. It's important to be mindful of what you post, as sensitive topics can lead to legal consequences. Exercise discretion and respect local cultural and legal norms to avoid scrutiny.
- Use a reliable VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is crucial for maintaining online privacy in China. It encrypts your internet connection to safeguard your data on restrictive networks. When selecting a VPN, prioritize one with a strong record for reliability and security in the country. Most VPNs don’t even work in China. Also, be aware that China restricts and heavily controls VPN use. Note that hypothetically accessing sites that are blocked in China with the help of a VPN goes against the country’s laws. We don’t condone using a VPN for anything illegal.
Best VPNs for China SIM Cards in 2024
- ExpressVPN — 3,000 servers that work in China, with built-in obfuscation to help make your VPN traffic undetectable. Compatible with Android and iOS smartphones.
- Astrill VPN — Supercharged servers and proprietary Stealth protocol to keep your mobile data private.
- PrivateVPN — Encryption keys update continuously to protect you from cyber thieves on public WiFi.
FAQs on Using a China SIM Card
How much does a China SIM card cost?
The cost of a China SIM card varies depending on the plan, provider, and how long you’ll use it. Prices can go as low as USD $5 and higher than USD $100. Each of the SIM card plans on this list falls within that range.
Some SIM cards give you a certain amount of credit or data, while others may require separate top-ups. You can find ones that only work for a week and others for longer-term usage of a month or more.
Is it legal to use a VPN with my China SIM card?
VPNs are heavily regulated in China. Only government-approved VPNs are permitted on mobile phones. However, these approved VPNs are heavily monitored by the government, which isn’t the case with the VPNs I shortlisted. Therefore, I recommend you download and install a trustworthy VPN before you enter China.
It's important to note that, so far, there are no reports of travelers being punished for VPN use in China. The local government recognizes the importance of VPNs for international business, both for foreign and domestic companies. However, I don’t recommend violating any rules, so make sure to familiarize yourself with the laws regarding VPN use in China, as they can change over time.
How do I top up my Chinese SIM card?
To top up your China SIM card when you run out of credit, you have several options:
- Dedicated kiosk & local stores. One method is to visit your mobile operator’s high street store, provide them with your phone number and cash, and they will add credit to your China SIM card.
- Alipay or WeChat. You can use mobile payment platforms like Alipay or WeChat Pay, but you'll need a local Chinese bank account. It might also be possible with help from a Chinese friend who can top up your China SIM card using their account.
- Online or app. Another convenient option is to top up online through your SIM card provider's website or an app like Airalo. Most providers accept payment via PayPal or major credit cards.
- Top-up card. One other way is to purchase a top-up card from stores with the logo of your operator. These are known as "充值卡" (Chōngzhí kǎ) in Chinese, which come with instructions in both Chinese and English on how to use them.
Where can I buy a SIM card for China?
To buy a SIM card for China, you have these options:
- Official stores. The best place to buy a SIM card in China is at the official shops of the major SIM card operators. Flagship stores are recommended, as they’re more likely to have English-speaking staff and can help with passport registration.
- Local phone stores and kiosks. These are usually the cheapest. However, deals and English availability aren’t predictable, and I recommend you have all the necessary documents ready. These usually include your passport and visa.
- eSIM. Activated on your smartphone through an email link, QR code, or in an app, this allows you to access your plan immediately. However, not all devices are compatible with eSIM, and this option typically only lets you access mobile data, not a cellular network.
- Airport. Convenient if you want a fast solution without searching for a local phone shop. English-speaking staff can assist you, but options may be limited, and plans could be more expensive due to the airport location.
- Online. China SIM card providers’ online stores often have websites in multiple languages. Buying a SIM card before you travel allows for immediate connectivity upon arrival and avoids language barriers.
Can I get a China SIM card if I’m traveling to China as a tourist?
Yes, as a tourist, you can get a China SIM card. It is recommended you buy a reputable China SIM card from the official shops of mobile operators, ideally at their flagship stores or at the airport. These locations have a higher chance of providing English support and assisting with the passport registration required for SIM card activation.
Which China SIM card offers unlimited data?
Holafly gives you unlimited data. I researched all its plan options, and Holafly charges you according to the number of days you need, with no cap on bandwidth during the allotted period. This makes it ideal for data-intensive uses like streaming, sharing videos on social media, and using GPS on your phone in China.
Finding the best China SIM card is essential for staying connected and accessing the internet while traveling in China. There are a lot of factors to consider, such as data allowances, pricing, and convenience. Network coverage is another huge concern in a country as large as China.
The SIM cards for China listed above offer the best value and reliability for travelers in the country. Most also offer a good range of packages to suit the length of your stay and the amount of data you require.
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