Global roaming options for China

By Chris Chamberlin, May 30 2014

Whether flying into Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou or Chengdu, business travellers are faced with the same dilemma – what’s the best global roaming option for China?

Nothing beats the value of a local prepaid SIM card, especially for a longer stay. But getting that SIM organised adds an extra wrinkle to your trip and means foregoing the convenience of being contactable on your regular Aussie mobile number.

Here's a rundown of what you’ll pay to roam in China with four Australian mobile companies.

Roaming in China with Telstra

If you’re on a contract or a post-paid plan, Telstra is the most expensive of our four options for voice calls, SMS and off-the-shelf data usage.

Making or taking calls costs $3.50 per minute, so a five-minute yarn would set you back $17.50.

Text messages are charged at 75c per 160 characters, while data is a whopping $3 per MB.

If you’re a heavy data user, we’d suggest opting for a ‘casual traveller data pack’, available in 100, 300 and 600MB sizes, along with a 1.5GB pack.

Ranging from $29 through to $350, the most expensive pack lowers the cost per GB to $233, although there’s better value to be had elsewhere.

Roaming in China with Optus

For only $10/day, Optus customers can buy a ‘travel pack’ for unlimited talk and text in China (and a number of other countries), along with 50MB of data.

Data credits accumulate, so on a five-day China trip, you can use your total 250MB allowance at any time.

Without a travel pack, casual users pay $1 per minute to make and receive calls, and 50c per SMS.

Roaming data is billed at $0.50/MB. That’s quite reasonable, but once you’ve sent or received a few email attachments, it’s cheaper to buy a travel pack.

Roaming in China with Vodafone

Vodafone’s Red plans charge just $5/day to ‘roam like home’ in China and 46 other countries.

Customers on Vodafone’s other current plans can also opt for Red Roaming through the My Vodafone portal, so you may be able to keep your existing plan and pay less for roaming.

As the description suggests, the daily charge allows you to use your plan’s calling minutes, flexible credit and data entitlements when roaming.

If you’d normally enjoy unlimited calls or SMS, that’s available too – although plans featuring unlimited calls only between Vodafone numbers don’t receive the same treatment.

Instead, calls made to Vodafone numbers while overseas are drawn from your flexible credit as if a 'standard call' were being made in Australia, so you can still keep in touch without incurring additional fees.

All other Vodafone users pay $1 per minute for all calls made and received, 75c per SMS and $1 per MB of data.

Roaming in China with Truphone

Truphone's unique plans treat most of the world as a single roaming zone with your Australian number.

For business users, the Truphone World ‘300 plan’ comes with 300 voice minutes, 300 SMS and 300MB for $55/month, while 500, 1,000 and 2,000 plans are also available.

Priced at $71.50, $104.50 and $159.50 respectively and like the ‘300 plan’, these higher-cost options include the same number of minutes, texts and megabytes as their namesake.

If you exceed your plan’s allowance, making and receiving calls in China costs $0.90 per minute, text messages are $0.45 and data is $2.25/MB.

Although Truphone's plans are reasonably priced for globetrotters who regularly visit many countries – especially because you can also get a local number on your Aussie SIM card for Hong Kong, the US ands the UK, for example – they’re not best value for the occasional trip to China.

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Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1380

It is possible to get a prepaid SIM in China but not easy (and certainly not as easy as most other Asian countries). You need to go into an actual Telco outlet, no 7-11 or equivalents here.

Last time in Shanghai I went to the Unicom store in Pudong (above the McDonalds near the circular walkway). Must bring passport.

20min later and a bunch of paperwork (none of it in English) I had signed up to a 66 RMB (about A$11) plan that included 300MB data and 50min calls. They also have an override code for cheap calls to Ayus.

22 Mar 2013

Total posts 26

Well, there are heaps of grocery stores in almost every corner selling all kinds of pre-paid sims that don't need any forms of ID at all, you can even bargain for a discount. But the catch is you gotta to speak Mandarin, and you know exactly what you are looking for. 

If you are only looking for data with minimum need of calls/sms, you can opt to buy data sim card which is even cheaper. I bought one on my last trip with 6G data for 6 months which cost about A$35.  

30 May 2014

Total posts 1

I'm on Vodafone Red Roaming and it's great - in HK. As soon as I'm over the border into China I get Edge roaming only on China Telecom (they don't offer 3G roaming). If I select China Unicom I can get 3G but it is very intermittent. I left there (Guangzhou) yesterday and it lasted 24 hours before refusing to give me 3G or indeed any data at all. So for phone calls and texting it's fine, for data it's not so great. Obviously I don't know if this experience is the same on Telstra or Optus roaming.

And yes, the experience of getting a local sim in China is painful. And if you go back later and want to top up the value but you are in a different location but the same network's shop then you're out of luck! The sim account is only accessable in the same region/locale you bought it...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Mar 2015

Total posts 13

 there are other alternatives - my wife has a sim  - CNY0.15 per minute to call long distance phone calls inside china, much cheaper than normal SIM card, about CNY0.50 per minute.  QQ on the iphone to talk with anybody free of charge. chinese rarely need to use much telephone fees after QQ and webchat software. pays also to know someone in the govt 

however as mentioned generally sim cards appear to be locality specific


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