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Communications for Expats in China

Submitted: August 2013

When moving to a new country, it is important to research the telephone companies’ plans which are being offered so as to be able to select the one which best suits you. In China, mobile communication is readily accessible to all and cell phones can easily obtained. For convenience, you should try to determine beforehand what you will need your cell phone for and which services you will need.

China’s most popular mobile phone providers are China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, with each offering different services, rates and phones.

1) China Mobile holds the largest share of the market with the most reliable and widespread coverage, making it seemingly your best option. They offer great prepaid packages and their services are often described as easy-to-use; some disadvantages include limited (but expanding) data speeds and their lack of special iPhone packages.

2) China Unicom is regarded as the second major cell phone provider in China with coverage comparable to that of China Mobile in major cities. Some advantages of China Unicom includes faster data speeds, data billing and iPhone packages; however acquiring a mobile requires a contract and a deposit, and it can be very expensive if you go over the limit of your contract.

3) China Telecom is relatively new to the market; however they offer affordable international rates, and provide more up-to-date services. When considering this provider, you should bear in mind that there is difficulty is finding refill (top up) cards, pricier prepaid rates and your cell phone must be CDMA compatible. Given that this company is relatively new to the market, you should enquire about its coverage.

It is standard to punch in 2 (on your phone keypad) after calling customer numbers of each supplier to access English lines.

Like many other countries in the world, most China phone companies use the GSM or CDMA system to provide mobile phone users with cellular compatibility. This means that most likely, you can travel to China and continue to be able to use your current cell phone. All you will need to do is purchase a Chinese SIM card (prepaid or post-paid) with any of the mobile providers above. SIM cards usually contain an initial amount of credit upon purchase, with prices varying based on the number due to superstitious reasoning (for example, 4 is avoided while 8 is coveted). Purchasing a local phone serves to avoiding high roaming rates which you may incur from using your home number while you are in China. Notably, your mobile phone might be locked to your network back home, but this may be rectified for a basic fee which is often less than that of a new cell phone.

If you want the option of landline telephone services, this option is available to you via China Telecom and China Unicom which both focus on providing landline, internet and mobile, as opposed to China Mobile which is focused on being a mobile provider. Most apartments and houses have a landline installed with either provider, which will either be activated in your name upon arrival or included in the rental package. If line installation is required, this can be done through any branch of China Telecom or China Unicom. You should call beforehand to enquire what document will be required, however proof of identification, proof of address and an initial deposit are frequently required.

As mentioned, Internet services are widely provided by China Telecom and China Unicom, but each city may have other local providers. They offer bundle packages if you opt for mobile, landline and internet services. Like landline, many new apartments and homes have connection already in place. If you are required to register for your own connection, a local Chinese person may be required to open the account on your behalf depending on your provider. Prices vary based on provider, data plan and location in some instances, you can expect to pay monthly 136 ¥ for 6Mbps of unlimited data connection. In addition, there are internet cafes available and places which offer free WiFi especially in larger cities such as airports and railway stations, fast-food locations, shopping malls, etc. Some hotels also allow free WiFi and broadband services, while at others it may come at a cost.

You should note that internet in China is heavily firewalled, and while accessing some pages you may receive error messages which serve as an indication that the site is not accessible or does not exist. Many social networking website such as Facebook, Google+, and Twitter are blocked in China.



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