Get your SIM card in Tianjin (Updated 18/09/2018)

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One of the first things one needs to do when relocating to a new country is buy a SIM card. China has 3 major telecommunication operators: China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.




Article written and verified the 18 September 2018.

One of the first things one needs to do when relocating to a new country is buy a SIM card. China has 3 major telecommunication operators: China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom.

China Mobile is known for having the best signal outside of the big cities.

You can have only one SIM card per account.

China Unicom is known for their internet coverage and speed.

You can have only one SIM card per account.

China Telecom does not appear to have much service city-wide, but some districts are covered mainly by China Telecom.
You can have only one SIM card per account.

Before buying

For broadband internet it is better to check in advance if your area is served by a specific company. Check in your apartment building (try the elevators) and call the indicated number (you can ask your building service management for help). If you choose China Unicom for internet you will have to purchase a SIM card from them, so make sure you check out you options before getting a spare SIM card.

There is no significant difference in the prices between operators. They all have specified ratesfor calls, messages, internet usage and international call packages. It is best to check on their official websites for the plan that best suits your needs.

(note: websites may only be available in Chinese).

At the time of publishing a typical plan costs 99 Yuan per month for unlimited internet and 1000 minutes calling all over China.

In order to buy a SIM card, you must go to one of the local branches of your service provider, where you are likely to find an English-speaking employee (although there may be none). Sometimes helpful employees will use translation apps to understand what plan is best for you.

Application Process

In order to buy a SIM card, you must go to one of the local branches of your service provider, where you are likely to find an English-speaking employee (although there may be none). Sometimes helpful employees will use translation apps to understand what plan is best for you.

For China Unicom you can find the complete list here:

Choose 天津 in the first box, then 天津 for the second box and write your district in the third box: Nankai南开, Hexi 河西, Heping 和平, Hedong 河东, etc.

here are some tips in case you have difficulty purchasing a SIM card: You can go to the office on Weidi Road No100-722, where all three companies are located, and ask where you can go to get a SIM card. The office of China Unicom on Jianshan Residential District No. 1 on Huangshan Road can issue SIM cards for foreigners.

Note 1: Be sure to have an unlocked phone, new iPhone models are not unlockable on site. Ask your home provider for SIM unlock

Note 2: Be sure your phone is comparable with the Chinese data network, especially if it is an iPhone.

You can find a compatibility list here:


When you arrive at the store you will be asked what kind of service you need and receive a waiting number: 我想办电话卡

You will need to provide your passport, choose a phone number from the suggested list, and choose your plan. With China Unicom you will need to make at least 2 months payment for the plan you are choosing, so be prepared.

The staff will take a picture of you and your passport (China Mobile) or take a picture of you with the computer (China Unicom).

They will handle the card and put it into your phone. A Chinese message may appear asking you to update you carrier setting, accept it.

Note: If you want to buy a SIM card for your child as well, you might need to hunt for an office that will do that. China Unicom and Telecom have a policy of issuing phone numbers to Chinese ID holders who are 16 years or older, and there is no firm policy in place for foreigners. We advise you to go to the main office in Nanjing Lu to check.

Service password


Local customers may activate and get their service password by calling China Mobile (10086) or Unicom (10010) using their Chinese ID. Foreigners will have to request a service password in the service hall. Service passwords verify your identity, alter your mobile plans, activate international calls, and pause your service. We suggest that you apply for a service password the day you make your card so you won’t have to come back.

Pay your bill


The best way to easily pay your phone bills is by using WeChat. However, you can always go to one of the service halls of the company to make your payment. All providers are working with a prepayement system. You do not use and pay at the end of the month, but precharge your account

Lost SIM card


When you lose your SIM card or your phone, you should immediately go to your mobile provider and tell them to suspend your account and get a new SIM card (passport mandatory).

New passport


In case you get a new passport, you should go to the service hall with your old passport, new passport and the letter from Embassy. If you have to do some transactions (replacing sim card, canceling you package) they will ask you to do the passport change prior. So do it when you still have both your passports and the leter

International calls


If you want to make an international call or use your phone in other countries you will need to activate international call services or buy a package for international calls.

You can do this by calling China Mobile at 10086, then choose English service and ask for international call activation.

For China Unicom dial 10010, then choose English service and ask for international call activation.

Both will ask you to have a minimum credit on your account to activate it, and will ask you to enter your service password (please check the previous part regarding the service password).

Different services:

国际接通 : open international call making and receiving in China.

国际漫游 : open international roaming, when leaving China.

They offer a 4G roaming unlimited package, which can be useful instead of buying a new SIM card in each country you travel to. The price is neither cheap nor expensive, and it saves you from the headache of worrying about mobile communication while on your trip.

Your account online

The websites of the service providers are in Chinese and the English version directs to a different website, which is designed for international business partners. It’s useless trying to find any helpful information on the English site. You will have to use an online translation of the website or ask a Chinese-speaking friend for help.

You may want to give a try at the "all in chinese" mobile applications:

Look for 中国移动 (Mobile) or 中国联通 (Unicom) in your app store

Leaving for holidays

If you leave for holidays and don’t want to pay for your plan while away, you will have to ask for 暂停服务 (pause of service), which costs from 5 to 10元 per month. You may lose your phone number after 2 months with no credit if you don’t take care of it in advance. If you didn’t deposit enough money to cover your leaving period your phone number may be sold to someone else, which will cause safety issues for your bank account and WeChat account (as they are linked). So take care of this matter when leaving the country.

Leaving China

You will pay your internet, data, call plans on the go for all the time of your stay in China. Do not think it is a good idea to leave it like that when leaving the country. Visit a service hall to cancel your SIM cards (挂设) and internet (柴宽带).

You will be fined when you come back with the same phone number because contracts continue to run for a few months. Also, your passport information and picture is already in their system, so don’t get yourself into trouble by missing this important step.

Do not forget to take your passport with you when making any deals with telecommunication companies.

The author

Relocation from one country to another is a lot of trouble and TianjinExpat and FoxRelocation are here to help, We are launching a new series of articles to introduce the very simple, yet important steps everyone has to go through when moving to Tianjin.

I hope the article was useful and in case you need a professional assistance, a tailored relocation solution is available to suit your specific needs. Contact me for more information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

—— 《Jessie》


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