8   64
12   65
2   24
14   51
5   72
12   49
2   72
21   135
4   72
62   196

India vs China! The Utter JOY of Buying a China Unicom Mobile SIM Card in Beijing

India vs China! The Utter JOY of Buying a China Unicom Mobile SIM Card in Beijing

I suppose it was bound to happen that I would compare my new life in China to my old life in India so let the games begin!  And what fun games they will be too, because there are some massive Night & Day differences presenting themselves already and I love it!

Today was ‘buy a SIM card for my iPhone’ day following yesterday’s ‘you can’t open an account with online banking until you have a mobile number’ major bank FAIL day!  I didn’t mean to wait until Day 3 in Beijing to activate my phone and in all fairness I did try to find a China Unicom shop yesterday on my own but luckily I wasn’t successful.  I say luckily because I don’t think I could have navigated the process of choosing the plan on my own since none of the marketing materials are in English, none of the staff spoke English and I am currently only at the please, how are you and thanks stage of my Simplified Chinese lessons!  Today, my lovely new work mate accompanied me, and although she doesn’t know the word for mustard…she rocked the 3G and international calling plan vocabulary!

At the moment, China Unicom is the only provider with 3G from what I was told.  They have plans that really work well for big data users and that’s why I happily went with them over the other two providers.

To give some context to my joy in writing about my China Unicom experience, you have to understand what it’s like to TRY and secure a new SIM card for your phone in India.  It goes like this:

  • Step One – complete a huge – massive – larger than a legal pad big – application form.  If you are a woman, demonstrate that you have a husband or father who can speak for you in case you default in some way and list them on the application (men need only list themselves).
  • Step Two – bring 1) two passport sized photos, 2) a copy of your rental agreement to give proof of residence, 3) photocopy of passport.
  • Step Three – wait for a very long time while the employee calls their home office and begins to move the process to the telephone customer support who officially assigns the SIM card to me (this cannot be done by the staff in the shop, only by a representative reachable by phone).  If the Internet or phones are down due to monsoon and any of this cannot be completed, return the next day (I had to do that twice!)!
  • Step Four – within 48 hours a field worker will come to your address to verify that you are living where you said you were.  If you are not available, they will return daily until you are.  The SIM card cannot be activated without this step!
  • Step Five – wait for the field agent to return to home base with the paper you signed.  This gives the green light to activate the SIM card.

Now, here’s how this same process goes down with China Unicom in Beijing:

  • Step one – select your plan.
  • Step two – hand your original passport to the nice friendly guy helping you so he can type in your name and passport # into the computer system.
  • Step three – sign the contract while the nice guy inserts your new SIM card into your phone and ensures that everything is working perfectly before you leave.

The whole process took around 7 minutes in China!  Man that was bliss!  In India it takes days…plus frustration and planning and visits to make photocopies and take photos and then stand in line and spend a good hour or more in the shop, more time calling to see why the SIM still isn’t activated because they rarely are without follow up, etc.  Phewwwwwwwwwwwwww!  China rocks!  From the little that I experienced at the bank while I was there, I think I should be able to predict another smooth process there compared to the three days it takes to open a bank account in India!

Ciao ciao, Angela

© 2014, Angela Carson and Angela-Carson.com. All rights reserved. Do not copy and reproduce text or images without permission.

Angela Carson
Angela Carson

I am Angela, a location independent single mom from California (AngelaCarson on YouTube). At 21, I dropped out of uni to travel Mexico solo. I’ve explored 37 countries, living in Spain and India with my daughter, then China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and currently Indonesia as an empty nester. For more, check out the About Me page.

Find me on: Web



  1. 12/02/2014 / 00:11

    Yep you are going to find everything easier there 🙂 and you have awesome food. I love the place, a bit chilly now but you are going to love China xxxx

    • 12/02/2014 / 20:21

      Tess! I miss you, sweetie! Yes, I think I am going to love this place and the fabulous job! Will start gobbling my way thru the city soon 🙂 Big hug xoxo

  2. 12/02/2014 / 00:28

    You are going to love love it there 🙂 best food and amazing people xxxx

  3. Jean-Pierre D
    05/08/2014 / 00:21

    Aha, if you buy the Unicom SIM card online, the seller even doesn’t need your passport or any other ID documents and no contract needed at all. You can buy it from the Chinese biggest online market http://www.taobao.com, or if you wanna English service and make payment by visa/master credit card or paypal , you can go to some third part online merchant like this: http://www.handychn.com/catalogue/mobile_235/

  4. 03/10/2014 / 03:20

    Hey, welcome to China! China Mobile and China Telecom also have 3G but their plans aren’t as cheap.

    Unicom has an awesome plan that we use. 1000minutes/month with a boatload of 3G for 180RMB/month. Not too bad compared to the $80/month we paid back home.