Getting a data SIM card in Shenzhen

By ian


Mobile data is key in China. Access to Google Maps, translation, and other info makes life so much easier. Mobile phone SIM cards with data plans are cheap and easy to get. Until recently you could buy them anywhere, but now you need to head to a phone shop and show a passport.

Major providers are China Unicom, China Telecom, and China Mobile. I prefer China Unicom for no particular reason, but shops for all are next door to the Hacker Camp Shenzhen meeting locations. Check the Google Maps layer here.

Click image for a larger view.

In China Unicom look for a sheet with a list of plans like the table above. There’s are two or three packages – A, B, and C. Since most people are interested in data, plan ‘A’ is probably best.

  1. First column shows the price of the plan in RMB, divide by 6 for US dollars.
  2. Second column shows the package (A, B, C, etc)
  3. Third column is outgoing talk minutes included (incoming calls are free)
  4. Fourth column is the data included
  5. Other columns show various costs for things not in the plan like extra data

I’ve been using package A 96RMB ($16) plan with 300MB data for the past few months, before that I used the 156RMB plan with 500MB of data. If you’re here for a week 300MB is probably enough. More than a week with lots of exploring and searching – get the 500MB plan to be safe.

Find a Unicom shop, the orange and white signs stand out all over the place. There’s one near the workshop shown on the Google Map layer, as well as a dozen scattered throughout the market in Huaqiangbei.

Grab a sheet of plans and find someone at a counter. Show them your phone, point to the plan you want, and hand over your passport – someone at the shop may speak a tiny bit of English but don’t count on it. They’ll setup the plan, make a copy of your passport, and hand you a SIM. Data should work immediately.

Handing over a passport has never been a problem, it’s quite common in China. If you’re cagey about it, you can try to buy an ‘underground’ SIM in Hong Kong but they’ve not worked properly for the past year or so.

Please get a SIM upon arrival in China. It will make life much easier. I’ll send my contact number to hacker camp participants a week before the workshop.

Via Hacker Camp Shenzhen mini-site: Getting a data SIM card in Shenzhen

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    1. I tried my rear off to use osm for our Mao layers and suggest them for navigation. Totally unhappy with Alps, no personal layers option though google has removed this from mobile app too, and osm is missing main streets, which I reported…. tried hard but couldn’t use it this time. Reported bugs so hopefully next time. We are using osm exports for our printed maps, although we have to add in some streets and change names….. open is never perfect I guess but at least its free!

      1. Sorry some mobile typos there… osm is less buggy than google, eg workshop hotels are nit actually in middle of river as shown on google, but osm was just not ready for us yet.

  1. Mobile phone SIM cards with data plans are cheap and easy to get. Until recently you could buy them anywhere, but now you need to head to a phone shop and show a passport.

    So the key is “Passport”. What’s up with a Passport? Even if Kiosk/Street Sellers aren’t allowed to carry cards any more, I don’t need a command of a foreign language to PDQ pay someone to buy a cart for me.

    Whoo boy… I live in a different Asian country (is this post from you Ian?) that has some pretty weird stuff going on when it comes to prepaid and post paid access – especially when it comes to “foreigners”. These practices are rampant in Asia, and provide some unwanted but still enjoyable diversions as you think and deal with them. After all, in the end they’re just diversions – so far.

    Gotta run… Dave

  2. Nice tips, as usual. Just got back from Shenzhen, my mapping was good with OsmAnd, but being able to google up particular less-known brand to find best octacore phone deal would come handy. Btw, Charbax of told that he got 10Gb plan for 300RMB or something, active for 6mon. Do you know each other btw? If not, I guess it would be fun for you guys to hook up some time – he videoblogs about ARM Linux/Android devices, you about hardware/maker stuff, both of which are 2 parts of hackerdom – and both of you are fans of SZ!

  3. Anyone have experience with Tmobile’s new free international roaming in SZ? I realize they cap the data speed, but it’d nice to be able to walk off the plane and turn on my phone without having to get another sim…

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