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Advice on selection of Unlocked phone pre-paid for China - GSM ?

Hi -

In mid-June I will depart with a youth symphony orchestra as a chaperone for a 2 week trip to China. Until recently, it never occurred to me to bring my own cell phone. I have a tablet and figured I could Skype if absolutely needed. Apparently, it's expected that all chaperones will be reachable by cell phone. My phone is a dumb, 6 year old phone. It cannot be "unlocked".

So I'm looking an affordable solution which will offer decent service. Hoping to select and buy an unlocked phone, a well as an appropriate SIM for China. Smart internet features not required. Can anyone please send advice? I would prefer to purchase phone and SIM (prepaid time?) here in the US, so as not to make the group wait while I deal with this upon arrival in China.

Thanks everyone. Hope to read you soon.

Posted by
31471 posts


I'm not overly familiar with the cell networks in China but can provide a few options for you to consider. I had a brief look at the network configurations there and it looks like most are using GSM 900/1800, similar to Europe and other places in the world, but not sure if any are using the newer HSPA similar to some networks here.

There are a couple of options you could look at......

  • Buy a quad-band GSM phone with SIM from one of the travel phone firms such as Roam Simple, Cellular Abroad, Telestial, Mobal, One SIM, Max Roam or others. Some have basic phones priced at $29 so it wouldn't be a huge expense, and this would provide you with a working phone as soon as you step off the plane. The phone charger would likely be supplied with a North American plug, so Plug Adaptors will be required as well. THIS website shows the plug configurations you might encounter. Many of the "travel SIM's" use numbers based in the U.K. so anyone calling from home would have to dial an international long distance call. Many have post-paid billing (calls charged to a credit card), so no need to top-up. I checked one of the firms listed above and the rates for China are slightly more expensive than for Europe, but not unreasonable for short calls. Text messages are quite inexpensive so that would be a good method to use for routine messages.
  • Buy a PAYG phone when you arrive in China, although I'm not sure how "restrictive" that could be for non-residents. As you'll be with a group and have to be readily available, it may be a bit inconvenient to stop and arrange for a phone when you arrive. You'd need help getting it set up due to the language differences.

One other point to mention is that everyone in your group will have to verify that any appliances or other gadgets they'll be travelling with are designed for use on 220 volt / 50 Hz. electrical systems. This is not usually an issue with newer electronics such as iPads or whatever, but hair appliances could be a problem.

Happy travels!