Getting connected

Updated: 2011-11-11 07:42

(China Daily)

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Getting connected

Phone numbers with many eights are considered lucky, but can be expensive. [Provided to China Daily]

No matter what brings you to China, you're going to need to pick up a phone. There are a lot of options, but it's not nearly as confusing as it looks! Choose the plan that's right for you.


Everyone seems to be coming to China these days. One thing that they all have in common? They need phones. If you're here - or on your way - you'll need one too. Here's how you can get connected.

First you'll need to buy a local SIM card. The best way is to find a China Mobile (Customer Service Hotline: 10086) or China Unicom (Customer Service Hotline: 10010) office - they're the two main service providers.

China Mobile offers GoTone (全球通 Quánqiútōng, tailored for business people who travel abroad a lot), M-Zone (动感地带 Dònggǎn Dìdài, targeted to younger users, and provides discounted text messaging and Internet use) and Easy own (神州行 Shénzhōuxínɡ, less discounted for text messaging, but usually cheaper for making local calls). For expats who just need a phone number to get by in China for a limited time, we recommend M-Zone or Easy own.

China Mobile

Zhōngguó Yídòng


China Unicom

Zhōngguó Liántōng


Where is the nearest China Mobile office?

Zuìjìn de Zhōngguó Yídòng yíngyètīng zài nǎlǐ ?


I'd like a plan that doesn't charge for incoming calls.

Néng bāng wǒ xuǎn gè miǎnfèi jiētīng de tàocān ma?


But if you're only here for a few days, weeks or months, and need a quick-and-easy solution, you can pick up a SIM card for just a few kuai (yuan) at most magazine or snack kiosks in any city in China. If you're somehow unable to find a kiosk, there's also a world of small shops (you'll find one in any mall) that sell them as well.

Do you have cell phone SIM cards here?

Nǐmen zhèlǐ mài shǒujī hào ma?


Which network would you like to join?

Nǐ yào rù shénme wǎng?


The price for a SIM card will vary greatly, from as little as 20 yuan ($3.2, 2.3 euros) to as much as 300 yuan, or maybe more. Unlike in the West, though, this depends little on the provider or plan that you select - instead, it's determined entirely by luck. Or, rather, the luck of the number.

According to Chinese numerology, some numbers bring good luck, and others bring bad. Eights are lucky because ba sounds like fa, "fortune". For that reason, buying a phone numbers full of eights can be expensive. Meanwhile, phone numbers full of fours will be cheap because si sounds like "death".

Do you want to save some money - and risk an unlucky number - or spend a little more with the assurance that your life will be full of fa?

Mr Chen, our neighborhood phone number vendor, assured us even foreigners should care about how many eights their phone numbers have. "If they want to be lucky, they should care," he said.

Help me pick a lucky number!

Bāng wǒ tiāo gè jílì de hào ba!


I'd like a number with many eights!

Wǒ yào yí gè yǒu hěn duō bā de hào!


I don't care about the numbers.

Shénme hàomǎ wǒ dōu wúsuǒwèi .


How much is this number?

Zhège hào duōshǎo qián?


You'll find phone shops on any main street, or in any mall, in China. They will be able to install your SIM card for you there.

The plans vary a lot in different cities, making it hard for us to summarize here. But generally, with China Mobile, local calls will cost 0.12-0.4 yuan a minute. Domestic long-distance is a little pricier, at 0.7 yuan a minute, but dialing "17951" or "12593" before each number, will reduce the rate to a dirt-cheap 0.2-0.3 yuan a minute.

Can I make discounted calls by dialing 17951?

Wǒ jiābō 17951 néng shěng qián ma?


In Shanghai, to make international calls, you'll need to buy your SIM card with your passport. But make sure to ask about the discount numbers, as calls to Canada or the United States with the dialed prefix will cost only 0.4 yuan a minute - pretty affordable! It's a bit mysterious why dialing this magic number reduces your call's cost. China Mobile says it has something to do managing its "ever-shifting cellular systems and networks" (whatever that means).

What number should I dial when I make a long distance/international call?

Wǒ dǎ chángtú / guójì chángtú gāi jiābō shénme hào ?


Add money



I'd like to buy a 50 yuan voucher.

Wǒ xiǎng mǎi wǔshí kuài qián de chōngzhí kǎ.


Can you charge it for me?

Máfan nǐ bāng wǒ chōng yíxià,kěyǐ ma?


If you don't want to be saddled with a phone, International phone cards are also a cheap alternative for making overseas calls.

I'd like to buy an international phone card.

Wǒ xiǎng mǎi yì zhāng guójì diànhuà kǎ.


How much does it cost to call England with this card?

Yòng zhè zhǒng kǎ wǎng Yīngguó dǎ duōshǎo qián?


One kuai a minute.

Yì fēnzhōng yí kuài qián.


But if you want to get off the map, or at least halfway off the map, don't buy a personal phone in China. Just make your outgoing calls on one of China's make-shift payphone shops.

Is there a pay phone nearby?

Qǐngwèn fùjìn yǒu gōngyòng diànhuà ma?


I need to make a local call.

Wǒ yào dǎ shìnèi diànhuà.


How much per minute?

Yì fēnzhōng duōshǎo qián?


Can I make an international call from here?

Wǒ néng yòng zhè ge dǎ guójì diànhuà ma?


Courtesy of The World of Chinese,