Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Cellphones China Communications Handhelds

Ask Slashdot: Advice For Using a Cell Phone In China? 149

Posted by timothy
from the speak-loud-so-everyone-understands dept.
First time accepted submitter Oyjord writes "I am going to China in March, and I was curious what kind of cell phone hardware and plans American travelers use while there. I honestly don't like cell phones (and I currently use the Drug Dealer Throwaway Special Du Jour) but I thought I'd look into one with a good data plan, so I could perhaps take pics and upload them on the spot, and perhaps use the phone's internal GPS as opposed to taking my Garmin along, etc." (Note: it would be great if you include in your answers some idea about their currency — if you're in China right now, say, or if you were there more than a year ago.)
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: Advice For Using a Cell Phone In China?

Comments Filter:
  • by dtmos (447842) * on Tuesday October 04, 2011 @09:45AM (#37599024)

    How long are you staying? Where in China will you be? Differences matter.

    • by optimism (2183618)

      Also: How much do you care about the quality of your photos? And how do you want to use your GPS?

      I agree with the posts below that suggest a cheap pre-pay phone for calls. Last phone I bought in Asia was an indestructible little Nokia, cost about $20 plus another $20 for more minutes than I could use in a month. It was also a good flashlight...double-click the asterisk button to turn on a high-power LED at the top of the phone.

      If you are traveling in both urban and rural areas, wi-fi hotspots will be faster

    • by mikeraz (12065)
      I have the same question as the OP, but I'm going to Beijing for a week in late October
  • Asia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tech4 (2467692) on Tuesday October 04, 2011 @09:46AM (#37599036)
    It's the same like everywhere in Asia. You walk to mall, nearest street store or market and buy a sim card. Usually they also offer cheap unlimited plans for internet. If you need more time, you just buy refill card. If you need a phone, those can be bought from malls and markets really cheaply too.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Its ironic that there is far more competition in China for cellular service than here in the USA. The FCC has been reduced to a bully of the oligopolies.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What he said. Seriously. SIMs and phones are so cheap in Asia that they're practically disposable. China Mobile with unlimited data and more minutes than you can shake a stick at will run you about $8/month and the SIM's thrown in for free.

      • by tapspace (2368622)

        What he said. Seriously. SIMs and phones are so cheap in Asia that they're practically disposable. China Mobile with unlimited data and more minutes than you can shake a stick at will run you about $8/month and the SIM's thrown in for free.

        Really? My China Mobile data only covers the first 100MB (mind you it costs $2.50 for the month with 100 free SMS messages thrown in) and I couldn't figure out how to get a more unlimited plan than that (however, my Chinese is extremely rudimentary).

    • It's the same like everywhere in Asia. You walk to mall, nearest street store or market and buy a sim card. Usually they also offer cheap unlimited plans for internet. If you need more time, you just buy refill card. If you need a phone, those can be bought from malls and markets really cheaply too.

      I wouldn't advise to do that, just get your own phone with you and it will probably work ok (90%). cheap phones bought there on the markets are usually rip-offs from original phones, avoid their dual sim card versions. it will make your phone battery dry in a moment. Also watch for roaming fees when travelling from one province to another.

      • by tech4 (2467692)
        Own phone if it works, of course. That's why I said if he needs one. They're so cheap at the markets that I usually buy one to take with me if I plan to get really drunk. That way I don't lose my actual phone :-)
        • if I plan to get really drunk. That way I don't lose my actual phone :-)

          Yeah, but that's not what your marketing department expects you to do... they actually want you to lose your actual phone. Or how else would the papers be able to write about it?

      • by galaad2 (847861)

        I wouldn't advise to do that, just get your own phone with you and it will probably work ok (90%).

        huh?

        why wouldn't you advise buying a simple sim card? roaming access is usually expensive as hell, and bank-breaking if used for long lengths of time.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I wouldn't advise to do that, just get your own phone with you and it will probably work ok (90%).

          huh?

          why wouldn't you advise buying a simple sim card? roaming access is usually expensive as hell, and bank-breaking if used for long lengths of time.

          It is extremely difficult to talk to the cell towers using a simple sim card without inserting it into a communications device.

          Very few people are able to speak in modulated radio frequencies.

    • Many of those stores also offer a cheap unlocking service for your own phone. As long as you have a SIM-based world phone, you will have no problem.
      • by mellon (7048)

        Of course, once your phone has been unlocked in this way, you probably don't want to type any passwords into it. Better to arrive with a phone that wasn't locked to begin with. Or buy an iPhone at the Apple Store (they sell them unlocked).

    • by SloWave (52801)

      Agreed. Just buy a SIM card from one of the small shops located almost anywhere. Don't buy it from the malls directly across from the border crossings however. You will get ripped off if you do so. Phones are pretty cheap also if bought from the shops selling SIM cards.

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      It's the same like everywhere in Asia. You walk to mall, nearest street store or market and buy a sim card.

      Not so easy in India. Legally, you can only buy a SIM card if you can prove residence. Some carriers have even de-activated SIM cards of people who have moved and not updated the records. Not all stores are so picky about the law, but it may take some legwork to find such a store.

      • bit thats India. OP is asking about China.
      • Foreign nationals just have to show their passport and hotel address to get a sim card.
        Infact, you can get one right at the airport.
        As long as you are legally in the country, no issues, however, the OP is going to China

    • This person is right. I have family members that spend a quarter of the year in china, and that is what they do. Buy a sim card, put in in their preferred phone, and carry on with life. If you are worried about people in the states being able to call you, I can't say much for international phone cards and whatnot, they are pretty unreliable as far as I've seen. We've taken to using skype to call into china, which works far better, and is not particularly expensive.
    • by tgd (2822)

      Can you provide the companies in China that do so?

      I'm there all the time, and neither me nor any of my coworkers in China have ever found any providers in the country that do prepaid SIM cards with any data plans, much less unlimited.

      (Unlimited plans, as far as I can tell, don't exist in China -- so if you could name the company that is doing that, that'd be great, too!)

    • I rented one in Japan for a 2 week trip, but in China obviously simpler and cheaper to buy. Here's an idea - buy a knockoff iphone, use it, then bring it back and post pics.
    • by Cyberblah (140887)

      Also, you pick your phone number out of a list, to make sure you don't get an unlucky one.

    • by Jaster82 (222181)

      I was just in Beijing for a month in July and my China Mobile SIM cost about 30 RMB (about $5 USD). I loaded it with 100 RMB initially (about $16 USD) which essentially lasted my entire month. Minutes are ridiculously cheap. Contrary to what people are saying here, data plans are actually fairly expensive with 1GB costing around $10 USD... I opted out of a data plan while I was there because it really was exorbitantly priced.

  • I thought I heard somewhere that the Chinese have been using exploits in foreign cell phones that install espionage applications (wire tapping) on cell phones when those phones are connected to Chinese towers. Does anyone know anything about this?
    • by Zedrick (764028)
      I've heard that the Dutch wear clogs, the French eat snails, the Iris are drunk all the time, Swedish girls sleep with everyone, the Japanese likes schoolgirls and the Americans are very fat. Does anyone know anything about this?

      (sorry, your question is kind of interesting, I just couldn't resist. "The Chinese" are not the same as some individuals or some organisation based in China who might or might not have done something at some point.)
      • by 1s44c (552956)

        I've heard that the Dutch wear clogs

        Some of them still do. Mostly farmers these days though.

        the French eat snails

        With garlic butter, yep.

        the Iris are drunk all the time

        Isn't that a part of your eye?

        Swedish girls sleep with everyone

        No idea.

        the Japanese likes schoolgirls

        No idea.

        Americans are very fat.

        What most of the world considers 'fat' americans consider normal. I've seen a lot of crazy fat Americans.

        • The Japanese sure do like schoolgirls! I don't know if Swedish girls sleep with anyone, but I would advise against having sex with Swedish women, could land you in a lot of legal trouble...

      • by wiggles (30088)
        I should probably amend my post to 'Chinese government' or PLA.
      • by Saphati (698453)
        The Dutch do wear clogs!!!
      • I've heard that the Dutch wear clogs, the French eat snails, the Iris are drunk all the time, Swedish girls sleep with everyone, the Japanese likes schoolgirls and the Americans are very fat. Does anyone know anything about this?

        (sorry, your question is kind of interesting, I just couldn't resist. "The Chinese" are not the same as some individuals or some organisation based in China who might or might not have done something at some point.)

        Presumably, if you see a post saying something like "the Americans

        • by Zedrick (764028)
          > Presumably, if you see a post saying something like
          > "the Americans have the death penalty", you'll produce
          > a similar response?

          Yes? That would be just as silly, since the USA consists of several very diffent states. Some civilized, some controlled by the Taliban. Most people know this, those who don't should be mocked.

          > Yes, the context of the OP was very clearly the
          > Chinese government

          No it wasn't. That's the point. But I know what you're saying, [perhaps] from your persp
    • by gaelfx (1111115)

      I know that it's a total conspiracy theory and totally not worth believing. If they were going to install rootkits, they would do it at the factories where they make all the phones that everyone everywhere uses already, that way they can spy on all the people who don't come to China because they don't want the rootkits from the Chinese cell towers too.

    • by sousoux (945907)
      They don't need any exploits. The calls are not encrypted inside their networks.
  • Don't text dirty jokes in China or send any "Weinergate" type of photos. They tend to frown on that. RANG RANG on the WANG WANG! Hey, the question asked for advice on "using" a cell phone in China, not buying one.
  • In case you don't end up with a decent data plan, free open wifi is available in branches of the Chinese fast food chain Dico's (http://www.dicos.com.cn/) - there are over 1000 of them across China. Also, think about what service you're planning to upload photos to and check it's not listed here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_websites_blocked_in_the_People's_Republic_of_China [wikipedia.org]
  • by manekineko2 (1052430) on Tuesday October 04, 2011 @10:06AM (#37599282)

    So it sounds like you're looking to buy a smartphone.

    In that case, arguably one of the best smartphones on the market, and also one of the cheapest without a contract, is the Xiaomi phone, released by a Chinese startup. It's only sold in China, but it is pretty much the geekiest Android phone around. Given that it's hard to get outside of China, I wouldn't be surprised if you could re-sell it and recoup most or all of its cost when you get back to America.
    http://www.engadget.com/2011/09/27/xiaomi-phone-review/ [engadget.com]

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      If you are using a smartphone get a blackberry with a bis account so you don't get rootkitted, android and ios are insecure against a determined attacker and webos is unproven and I don't know if you can get a webos phone with the right radios
  • Buy a 4-band GSM phone. That kind of phone has the most flexibility and can be used in 219 countries. References:

    GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) [wikipedia.org]
    GSM World [gsm.org]

    The GSM system uses different 4 bands. A phone that can use any of them is the most flexible.

    When you get where you're going, go to a marketplace and buy a SIM card. That gives you a local number. If you meet someone you want to communicate with later, you will have a local number to give him or her. If you plan to communicate with
    • Or, if you're a Sprint customer due for an upgrade, buy a Motorola Photon. It does both GSM and CDMA. Just make sure you get the SIM unlock code from Sprint before you leave, and be aware that the SIM is used ONLY for GSM identity (in theory, Sprint could have used it with a USIM card capable of operating as a CDMA R-UIM... but they didn't), so you won't be able to casually use it on any CDMA network in China (except as an expensively-roaming Sprint phone).

  • Getting a cell phone (Score:5, Informative)

    by x6060 (672364) on Tuesday October 04, 2011 @10:10AM (#37599340)
    DO NOT TAKE YOUR OWN AMERICAN CELL PHONE. I've had 3 colleagues have theirs either confiscated or taken to be "searched" (If it was being "searched" they got it back on their way out of the country, if it was confiscated it was gone for good.) Cellphones are dirt cheap there and so are sims with unlimited data plans and a crap ton of minutes. For 30 bucks you can usually have a decent flip phone and a month of service. Service for me was 7$ a month after that. Be careful what you browse on the internet and what you say on the phone.
    • by BenJury (977929)
      Funny, exactly the same thing can be said when entering the USA.
    • by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Tuesday October 04, 2011 @10:34AM (#37599702) Homepage

      DO NOT TAKE YOUR OWN AMERICAN CELL PHONE. I've had 3 colleagues have theirs either confiscated or taken to be "searched" (If it was being "searched" they got it back on their way out of the country, if it was confiscated it was gone for good.)

      Cellphones are dirt cheap there and so are sims with unlimited data plans and a crap ton of minutes. For 30 bucks you can usually have a decent flip phone and a month of service. Service for me was 7$ a month after that.

      Be careful what you browse on the internet and what you say on the phone.

      I've had no problems bringing multiple cell phones in and out of China on multiple occasions (and I echo the advice of bringing an unlocked GSM phone and buying a SIM card locally). What the hell are your colleagues doing to get their phones confiscated? Just like us, _everyone_ traveling in China is carrying a phone.

      One thing you will not be able to do is hit Facebook or the Apple app store. I used a PPTP connection to work around this issue.

      • Unless you've got something to claim when going through customs, I don't know how they're getting searched. Usually my phone is turned off laying at the bottom of my carry-on bag when going through Pudong airport. I only take it for when I'm leaving the US and returning home. You never know when you need to call a cab or resolve connecting flight issues.

      • by number17 (952777)

        DO NOT TAKE YOUR OWN AMERICAN CELL PHONE. I've had 3 colleagues have theirs either confiscated or taken to be "searched"

        What the hell are your colleagues doing to get their phones confiscated?

        He didn't say who or when it was confiscated. It may have been on the way back into the US by the friendly TSA employees??

    • by jarkun (414143)

      DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS PERSON. I am living in Shanghai, I am from america. My company has sent over 200 people from the US & the UK to Shanghai. Nobody has ever had a phone confiscated. Heck, nobody has even come close to having anything confiscated.I suspect there are some details missing from this story as to who they were, where they were going or what they were doing.

  • To be really honest with you, it's kind of a crapshoot no matter what you choose. There are three "choices" as far as carriers here: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. China Mobile will be a bit more expensive for things like 3G, and supposedly isn't as fast as China Unicom. China Telecom is as cheap as they come, but doesn't seem to have much in the way of extras as far as services are concerned. My suggestion is to go with China Unicom, however, if you want to be uploading pics on the spot, yo

  • There are two major operators that support using your own phone on their network: China Unicom and China Mobile. China Mobile operates a GSM network that covers the entire country, but their 3G network is TD-SCDMA, so no American phones will operate on 3G on China Mobile. However, China Unicom operates a 3G UMTS network, and all T-Mobile USA phones will work on it, and many AT&T phones will too.

    You'll want to bring with you an unlocked T-Mobile USA phone for use in China. While there are many on AT&

  • Unless you are there for months just get a cheap disposible prepaid one there. Multinationals have been known to bin company cell phones that have been taken to China out of paranoia that they have been altered in some way.

  • I took my own smartphone - an XDA IIs - and was just very careful with my usage; I was predominantly reliant on Wi-Fi, which, I was pleasantly surprised to find, was easily available where I was visiting.

    My only quandry was whether I was required to declare the phone coming into the custom, on the form which asks about radios and cryptography. I decided not to declare it, on the grounds that, if they had wanted to include cell phones, they would have said so, since the average traveller is not going to d

  • Note: it would be great if you include in your answers some idea about their currency â" if you're in China right now, say, or if you were there more than a year ago.

    I can do this.

    I was in China more than a year ago, seven years ago to be exact. Their currency was the Chinese Yuan.

    You're welcome.

    • Note: it would be great if you include in your answers some idea about their currency â" if you're in China right now, say, or if you were there more than a year ago.

      I can do this.

      I was in China more than a year ago, seven years ago to be exact. Their currency was the Chinese Yuan.

      You're welcome.

      Except in Hong Kong, where it is the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), and Macau, where it is the Macau Pataca (MOP). The Yuan, used everywhere on the mainland, is referred to as RMB on the exchanges.

    • by Fjandr (66656)

      I know you were being snarky, but the real answer is actually somewhat similar, since the Yuan is pegged to the dollar. The exchange rate will be the same when you go as it is now.

  • China uses the same tech as Verizon, CDMA. That being said, taking a VZ phone will put a MAJOR dent in your wallet for data. Last I checked, Verizon was charging $20.00 per MEGABYTE for overseas data and $65/mo global voice package. Yes, you read that right. Pretty much all the electronics are dirt cheap over there. I'd recommend buying a throwaway phone when you get there. Since you don't have a "permanent" number now, getting an in country phone number doesn't seem like it'd be an issue.
    • by dalias (1978986)
      This is blatantly wrong. Maybe one crappy carrier uses CDMA, but the decent carriers, especially China Mobile, use GSM.
      • by grnrckt94 (932158)
        Like I said before, given that I was there last week, and last year, and the year before that, and I used my CDMA VZ phone, I think I would know. How can you tell me I'm wrong? JFGIA
        • by grnrckt94 (932158)
          Hey check this out from WIKI: China China announced in May 2008, that the telecoms sector was re-organized and three 3G networks would be allocated so that the largest mobile operator, China Mobile, would retain its GSM customer base. China Unicom would retain its GSM customer base but relinquish its CDMA2000 customer base, and launch 3G on the globally leading W-CDMA (UMTS) standard. The CDMA2000 customers of China Unicom would go to China Telecom, which would then launch 3G on the CDMA2000 1x EV-DO stan
  • Really, just take any quad band GSM phone and buy a SIM card, and you should be set. If you need 3G speeds you'll probably need to check the specs of the phone and get one on the right 3G bands (US ones won't work but there are plenty of online sources for cheap Chinese phones). If you can get by in Chinese well enough to go shopping, and don't need the phone immediately on arrival, just buy one yourself once you get there. Same goes for the SIM card. I would recommend China Mobile as a carrier. They seem t

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've lived in China for 10 years now...

    As everyone already told you, get a cheap mobile, plugin sim card. If you would like to make international calls you'll have to apply for the right to do so, a service provider can help you with that, but it's easier to check into a hotel and use their phones or you could scout for a telephone kiosk, they can usually make international calls.

  • Speak only in Navaho. It worked great in WWII.
    • by tekiegreg (674773)
      From what I understand, China is one step ahead of that, there were reports of Chinese linguists visiting Navajo reservations not too long ago as a hedge against that sort of thing. My thinking: Find another language China hasn't catalogued yet, Ebonics, Jive, Klingon, etc... :-p
  • It's really annoying, but Google maps doesn't work properly in China. It's offset, and the satellite maps have a different offset amount and direction to the street maps. Photos taken with my iPhone opened in Geosetter make it very clear. Google for this, and you will find that this a problem that goes beyond Google maps and even affects other GPS products. Only those from China work. Consider this when taking such a product with you, or whether you can read Chinese and buy a local one or use a local w

  • I just got back from a business trip to China. I carry my personal android CDMA phone in airplane mode while there and connect it to wifi hotspots in the hotel and such to check mail and what have you. I then carry an unlocked blackberry perl I bummed off of a friend in the US. The nice thing is that the phone is all in english. As soon as I checked into my hotel, I handed the concierge 100RMB and asked him to get me a sim card for the town I would be in. My traveling guide then helped me activate the s
  • If you have an unlocked GSM, quad band phone, you can take that with you and get someone in China buy a 50 Yuan ($10) SIM card for you from China Mobile you are good to go. If you are with carriers such as T-mobile or AT&T here in the US (others are not GSM) you can get your carrier to unlock your phone so that you can use other SIM cards in it. T-mobile helps you unlock your phone when you simply call them and tell them your purpose, even when you are within the contract period. I don't know about AT
  • I was there about 10 months ago for adoption and never used my phone once. For calling back to the U.S. we just used Skype (via VPN). We stayed in 3 cities (all major cities) and each hotel we stayed in had 'net access in the rooms, either included as part of our package or for a fairly cheap rate. All photos were taken with our digital camera and just uploaded to our laptop at the end of each day. I didn't have any need for GPS data with the photos since I knew the towns we were in and places we were v

  • Get yourself a Blackberry and an unlimited international data plan. When I travel there the BB (albeit connected to a BES) can access any website, Facebook works, Twitter works since all traffic is routed through the BES. You need to check with your phone provider if that is true for BIS too. Beats fiddling with VPN and stuff by length. If access to all this doesn't matter: a cheap China Mobile prepaid SIM and a Xiaomi Android --- or a Huawei Ideos (a bit slow, so that's if calls is your main app).
  • It's somewhat easy enough to grab a sim at a China Mobile store (there are heaps in the major and minor cities). The 'Yuan' (Chinese currency on the mainland) is also referred to as 'RMB', 'Renminbi' and 'quai' (depending on where you go). The lesser (sub?) denomination is called a 'jiao' or 'mao' (the latter is slang). 1 yuan = 10 jiao. There's also a third tier 'fen' where 1 jiao = 10 fen, but you usually won't get given fen (due to rounding) only banks typically give out the lowest denomination for s
  • You have some options here:
    1. Get an unlocked Quad Band GSM phone. If you are on AT&T, well you're phone is probably locked. But if you had an unlocked phone, then iPhones and Blackberries definitely work everywhere in China. The vast majority of China is covered with GSM and UMTS so any phone that works on T-mobile will work in China. I have no idea why AT&T decided to use a frequency that no one else uses... The good thing about this is that the Phone is in English, and is easy to use if you are
  • China cell phone basics:

    I recently accepted a long-term (2-year) assignment in Shanghai. As an american the basic approach to cell phone marketing is very different and could use some clarification. First of all all phones & cell plans are separate. You buy a an "unlocked" phone, then you buy a sim card. Put the card in the phone & it works. 90% of sim cards are pre-paid. Typically you put down $15 dollars (100 rmb) and you are good for a week to a month, depending on usage. The other 10% are monthl

  • I am living in China, I have 2 phones, 1 for voice and 1 for data. The voice one is a cheap LG throw-away I got for less than 200 kuai. The data is an N900 with a 3G SIM - the SIM is completely anonymous and cost me around 60 kuai a month for a prepaid 11-month plan - I think you can buy 3 months for less than 80 kuai a month. Those plans include 1Gb a month of data, which is all I need since I have broadband at home. Skype over 3G is possible, even video Skype with the N900. I wouldn't recommend an N900 no
    • by PiSkyHi (1049584)
      I forgot to mention, the 3G data is WCDMA with a brand called "Wo" which translates to "me" from China Unicom.
  • For certain, people (Americans even, if that's relevant to you) have done hard time in Russian jails for being in the wrong place, carrying espionage equipment, i.e. a GPS.

    (Note that there is no implication that they were using the GPS, or even performing espionage of any sort. The particular case I heard of in my fiancee's home area, the guy jailed was simply using it for navigation on a self-organised walking holiday. But in that region, possession is a crime with mandatory 5 years hard labour, and that'

  • You'll be right at home in China. That's pretty much the easiest way to go and it's even cheaper than at home.

  • I went there two years ago in September. I took 2 phones there, a little Motorola that works in all the USA and Europe (but as it turns out, not China) an unlocked Iphone 2g. (I left my then-new Iphone 3g at home - not unlocked, higher theft value). I kept it on my person at all times, and Customs didn't ask about it when I entered the country; it was in my pocket.

    It worked fine; I bought a 300 MB data-enabled SIM which lasted me 10 days (remember, Edge speeds). As a phone it worked fine, and when I g

I am here by the will of the people and I won't leave until I get my raincoat back. - a slogan of the anarchists in Richard Kadrey's "Metrophage"

Working...