How to Get a Chinese Phone Number

The first time that you step off a plane into China, you may not know that your phone most likely will not work.  This can cause some severe anxiety as you are stranded in a strange new world with a strange language and culture.  Not to fear!  Below, I will tell you how to prepare yourself ahead of time, and how to get yourself a Chinese phone number!

Preparation is Key!

Before you go to China, you should make sure that you have a relatively new phone that will be compatible with the GSM network that China uses.  Several networks in the U.S. use CDMA service, such as Sprint and Verizon, so before you go you must go to the Sprint/ Verizon store and ask for them to unlock your phone for use with GSM (if you can).  Otherwise, try and buy a new phone that is compatible with GSM.  I use the Samsung Galaxy S6, and it works perfectly in China.  You can also use any iteration of the Iphone past the Iphone 4.  You can learn more about CDMA and GSM here:,2817,2407896,00.asp

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Alternatives to Cell Service?

Wechat is a smartphone application made by Tencent that is like WhatsApp.  The app will allow you to text, call and video call if you are connected to Wifi.  You will also be able to use Wechat Wallet in China which is a fantastically convenient way to pay for things (more on that and how to setup a bank account here:  I would suggest downloading Wechat before going to China, as you may have issues with the Apple app store, and definitely will have issues with Google Play Store.  Most of your friends will be using Wechat in China anyways.

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Time to Buy Your New Chinese Phone Number!

Now is the time to get your Chinese phone number!  Every city and village will have cell phone stores.  The main three are going to be China Unicom, China Telecom and China Mobile.  I would suggest China Mobile as it provides LTE, and has solid coverage across the country.  Just keep in mind that if you are traveling away from the city that you buy your SIM card in, you will be charged at a higher minute rate much like “Roaming”.

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Go into the store, and tell the vendor you need a SIM card and plan.  If you are in a large city, there should be someone that can speak enough English to help you.  Decide which plan they offer is right for you, pick the number that you want, and pay the upfront costs (they vary, but I believe last time I spent around 200-300 RMB).  Plug your new SIM card into your phone, and there you go!  Chinese phone number acquired!  You can now register your Wechat to your phone number, and access Wechat Wallet!

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How Do I Pay My Phone Bill?

Wechat Wallet for the win!  In Wechat Wallet, after you have linked your phone number, you can top up your mobile plan at any time.  Just hit the mobile top up in the Wallet, and add as much as you need.  I find that 50-100 RMB can get you through the month of texting and calling if you are not too chatty.


I would like to thank Range Govindan for posting the featured image on Pinterest which you can find here:

Tavis Coburn is the painter who painted the featured image who shared via Abduzeedo

China Survival Guides, Life in China

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