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Ways to Stay Connected in China

About the author, Vera Zhao
Vera Zhao is the product manager at Odyssey Tours. She has been in the line of Asia travel for 10+ years and stacks up helpful tips for tours to China, Southeast Asia and South Asia.
Write to odyssey@tangdynastytours.com for any questions or read more tips by Vera Zhao >>

When traveling to China, you may feel overwhelmed by a series of questions on telecommunication: how much does international roaming cost? Where to buy a SIM card? How to choose appropriate operators? How much does it cost? How to bypass the Great Firewall? How to charge my devices? Don't worry, read the following article and you will find all the answers you need. 

staying connected in china

International roaming and data roaming

If you decide to use your own SIM card, you should activate international roaming and data roaming in advance to make and receive phone calls and messages to or from home country and use data in foreign countries. The cost depends on which carrier you choose. Calls will be charged on a per-minute basis. SMS text messaging is typically the cheapest way to communicate with people in the country where you're traveling and also with your family and friends. You can choose prepaid or postpaid roaming package, then ask carriers for the detailed charges. Here's where you can dive deeper into each of the carrier's charging terms:

·AT&T international roaming information
·T-Mobile international roaming information
·Sprint international roaming information
·Verizon international roaming information
·Project Fi international roaming information
·Rogers international roaming information
·Telstra international roaming information

Consider signing up for a special international plan that could save your money. Most mobile carriers offer plans for two weeks or a month with lower charges per minute, text message and data. But international rates are extremely high. So when you activate international roaming, you must figure out the rates you will be charged per phone call and data. Even if you are not making any calls or sending any texts, roaming charges may rack up because your phone is roaming in a foreign cellular network. For example, if your phone receives a call and it goes straight to voicemail, you will also be charged. 

Tailor-made China Journey

Purchase a local SIM card

You can also buy a local SIM card to access the Internet. One thing you should know before buying a local SIM card is that the vast majority of US and Canadian carriers "lock" their handsets which means the phone will only accept their SIM cards. In such case, simply call them and ask them to provide you with the unlock code for your handset. They will generally provide you with this information within 24 hours. The only exception currently is for the iPhone which they will not unlock.

There are three operators to choose from in China: 

China Mobile: GSM (2G) / TD-SCDMA (3G) / TD-LTE (4G);
China Unicom: GSM (2G) / WCDMA (3G) / TD-LTE (4G) / FDD-LTE (4G);
China Telecom: CDMA1X (2G) / EVDO (3G) / TD-LTE (4G) / FDD-LTE (4G). 

They all have prepaid and pay-as-you-go plans which are convenient for travelers. Their prices vary from carrier to carrier and each has their own advantages and disadvantages depending on what services you wish to use. If you are only here for a short time then both of them are quite cheap. If you are coming for an extended stay and you need to do the math, and then ask our personal guide to help you explain the various offers to you.

If you register a SIM card at Beijing Capital International Airport, it will automatically cancel after 90 days of the arrearage. But it won't  if you buy it at related business halls. If you arrive in Shanghai, we will provide you with an almost expired SIM card for the sake of convenience when canceling or our guide will use their ID card to register a SIM card for you when you have the requirement, but you need to pay extra expense for the packages.

Please note: Using your passport to register and buy a SIM card is available in some major cities like Beijing, but unavailable in some small cities like Guilin. If possible, our local travel guides can help register a SIM card for you using their ID card upon your request and at your cost. The policy may change from time to time, so please contact us for the latest and detailed  information.

Make sure you get the right size SIM card for your phone or tablet. iPhone 4 uses the Micro-Sim, iPhones 5 through 7 the smaller Nano-Sim Card. iPads 2 through 4 use the Micro-Sim, the iPad 5, mini, Air, and Pro use the Nano-Sim. The latest Samsung Smart phones use the Micro-Sim while the oldest models still use the traditional SIM card.

Use free Wi-Fi

Most hotels now provide free broadband or Wi-Fi service. Some may have a fee to be paid at Business Center for computer and internet service. Ask before you go. Progressively more public places have free Wi-Fi, especially in big cities like Hangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai; in other cities, airports, railway stations, some bars, fast food, high-end restaurants, shopping malls are also covered with free Wi-Fi. 

hotel wifiMost hotels in China offer free Wi-Fi access

The Great Firewall

China has the largest number of Internet users in the world. However, there are many strict restrictions in this country, known as the Great Firewall. 

Since the Internet arrived in China in January 1996, the Chinese government has enacted several pieces of regulations and projects in efforts to censor usage in China. Over 60 Internet regulations have been adopted to block people in China from using social networks like Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to name a few. The wide range of restriction called the Golden Shield Project and it has been operated for two decades.

blocked sites in chinaPopular sites that are blocked in mainland China

VPN

In China, the most common method to get over the Great Firewall is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service. Some are free and some offer short-term pricing plans. Install a software that the VPN company will provide and then you can connect to the VPN and bypass the Great Firewall. Once you're connected to server you can then browse the Internet normally as if you were located in that country instead of where you actually are.

Charge your devices in China

In China, the standard voltage is between 220-240V (the same as in the UK, Europe, Australia, and most Asian and African countries) and the frequency is 50 Hz. So if the frequency differs from the one in your country, you'd better buy a voltage converter instead of using your appliance . 

China charging pinsTwo kinds of charging pins

There're two kinds of power sockets widely used in most hotels in China: type A,with two holes of the same size and shape; type I, with three power conducting pins in a V-shape. You can buy an adapter to charge all of your devices in China including cameras, phones, tablets, laptops, etc.

Emergency numbers

The following emergency telephone numbers work in all areas of mainland China.

Patrol Police: 110
Fire Department: 119
(Government-owned) Ambulance/EMS: 120
(Some areas private-owned) Ambulance: 999
Traffic Police: 122
Directory Inquiries: 114
Consumer Protection: 12315

It's self-evident that it's important to stay connected during traveling, and you need it to contact with your family and friends to share your happiness or to keep in touch with the outside world when you're in an emergency. We've listed all the solutions to help you remove obstacles and enjoy your journey. And we make a packaging list for you to easily pack your luggage. You can check it without carrying tons of suitcases along the way: How to Pack Right for a Trip to China .

Any questions regarding staying connected in China, please write to odyssey@tangdynastytours.com or you can let us tailor an itinerary and start your wonderful journey with us!

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