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cell phone or phone card?


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I am traveling to China this fall and would like to be able to call home while I’m there. Is it better to buy a cell phone when I get to China or to use a basic calling card if I can get access to a phone at school? How difficult is it to set up a cell phone in China? I'm only familiar with the US monthly plan concept. I read a lot of other threads about SIM cards, but didn't really understand how it all worked.

Someone please have pity on my lack of knowledge about Chinese phones.

If I do buy a phone in China is it possible to use the phone when I get back to the US?

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i myself am not too sure how the american system works but i get the impression you have no sim cards and you buy a phone that is programmed for your network..

well china use phones that take sim cards so as long as your network back home does as well then you can buy a phone here and simply change simcards when you get home. if you already have a phone that takes simcards then of course you can just buy a simcard here (if you cant speak any chinese then i youll have to get someone to help you there) and put it in your phone. but if america does what i think it does and doesnt use sim cards then i guess you're out luck with mobiles.

you said something about calling from school? i take it you'll be studying here? how long will you be here for? if its a while then its worth buying a phone. you can get prepaid simcards where you pay for the simcard and then buy a 'top up' card whenever your call credit runs out. i can give you more info on that if thats what you want.

But if your reason is to simply call home and you're in china for only a short while then its not worth going through all that hassle i think.

I think your options are:

you could go to an internet cafe and download skype. my girlfriend calls me from china that way and the quality is usually fine. nearly all the computers in net bars there have a microphone and headset. this would be your cheapest option.

there are places around called hua bars which is like a phone bar. they are quite common but not that cheap... im guessing about 60 US cents a minute to america.

and lastly you can buy calling cards that you could dial into using your hotel phone or mobile... i think their prices would be similiar to the phone bars.

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Thanks for the info.

US networks don't use SIMs unfortunately. I think getting a cell phone is the best way to go since I'll be in China for more than a month.

What's the usual SIM rate for calling overseas from China? I can rent a SIM & phone to take with me that has a rate of about $0.25 a minute. That would be nice so I don't have to worry about purchasing a phone when I get there, but I wonder if it is more expensive. Is that about average price?

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  • 1 month later...

Personally, I think using a phone card is cheaper than a cell phone. But I must admit, I've never used a cell phone to call to America but I gather it's quite expensive. It's easy to buy a phone card in most stores and just call home. :)

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some US carriers use GSM but unfortunately, the phones you get from them are locked and will only work on that particular network. That's how they keep you from switching providers and keeping the phone.

However, with a little bit of research, you can find multiple ways of unlocking said cellphones. The companies themselves will provide this service for a certain fee. The best thing to do is make sure that the GSM phone you have there is tri-band or quad-band ( most motorolas and sony-Ericsson), bring it over to china and have it unlocked here.

That said, you get pretty decent cellphone in the 1000RMB range that have cameras, color screens and dual english-chinese menus.

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Using American cell phones in China:


Chinese cell phones are on a pay-as-you-go system; you add value to your phone and when you use up the value, you add more. None of the fuss of monthly plans and contracts. You purchase your phone and the SIM card (which is essentially your phone number) independent of purchasing air time.

Skype is by far your best option to call back to the US. Sound quality is great and cost is cheap (if not free if you're calling pc-to-pc instead of pc-to-phone). You can pick up a headset for cheap in China.

You will be able to use Chinese phones on US network provided

1) The phone you buy in China is a GSM tri-band phone

2) The carrier you will use in the US is also on a GSM network (T-mobile is on GSM)

If you fulfill the above conditions, it will just be a matter of popping in the SIM card of the US carrier when you return home.

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The apartment I'm staying in won't have a phone, so using phone cards is not an option. :cry: I actually switched phone carriers recently so I have a triband that uses SIMs.

I'd like to buy a chinese sim card while I'm still in the States. Does anyone know a good place to buy a SIM online? I'm trying to find the best rates for both internal China cellphone calls and calling a cellphone in the States from China.

Thanks for the skype suggestion. I'll check it out.

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I would avoid getting the Chinese SIM card in the states. Firstly, it's going to be *far* more expensive (a SIM card bought in China will cost you under $10), and secondly SIM cards are usually tied to a given location/city/area. So if you're going to Beijing, but the SIM card you bought online is a Shanghai card then for every call you make you're going to be paying extra per call because you're roaming outside your "normal" area.

China Mobile shops are everywhere in China and you should have no trouble picking up a SIM card once you get there.

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I'm also going to China to study and want to have a phone so I can receive calls from abroad. I have a cell phone from Spain that uses SIM cards, but the phone's in bad shape and I'd need an adapter for the charger. So I'm thinking of just buying a new phone there, but I really don't want to spend 1,000 RMB and don't need a fancy phone with video and all that anyways... So how much would it be to get a phone that just makes and receives calls, nothing fancy, but new and working?


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