Mobile Phones in Shanghai

May 6 2013

(Photo Via: CNET)

I unlocked my iPhone today at China Mobile.

It gave me a bit of a headache because I had to use my limited Chinese vocabulary to speak with China Mobile's people for three hours, but body language and drawing skills come in pretty handy for such situations. Eventually I got everything sorted out, and I felt pretty good about myself for basically doing what seemed like an impossible task at the start.

So for all of you who are new to Shanghai and looking for the best options for a cell phone in China, I wanted to share some advice about activating your phone when you arrive.

Situation 1: I came to China with an iPhone that needs to be unlocked or jailbroken.

Some people think you have to go to some sketchy illegitimate phone shop to unlock or jailbreak your iPhone, but this isn't the case. You can simply go to a nearby China Mobile store (there is one very close to the off-campus apartment in Shanghai), and ask them to unlock your phone.

The China Mobile people can unlock your iPhone in about 20 minutes, believe it or not. However, it is pretty important that you bring someone who can speak Chinese because you can definitely get ripped off. It doesn't hurt if your Chinese-speaking-friend tries bargaining with them either. For example, it cost me 360 yuan (about USD 56) to unlock my iPhone, but for other people I know, it only cost them 200 yuan (about USD 31).

After unlocking your iPhone, you can simply buy a SIM card to get a Chinese number and add minutes.

Situation 2 I have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

My friend came to China Mobile with me and brought her Samsung Galaxy smartphone. For some reason, the people in China Mobile said that they could not give her a China Mobile SIM Card and told her to go to China Unicom instead. So I think different smartphones are accepted by different service carriers just like how T-Mobile does not carry iPhones in the States.

Situation 3 I need to buy a new phone in China.

You have two options here.

Option 1: Cheapo Flip Phone
Some people simply go with cheap flip phones because they are staying in Shanghai for only four months. I bought a flip phone in Beijing last summer because I only stayed there for six weeks.

Honestly, having a cheap phone is pretty uncomfortable at first because we are all so used to using smartphones to check our emails, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and everything else every five minutes.

Here's the thing …You eventually get used to it, and I think there are a lot of advantages with using a simple flip phone. You interact with other people more because you are spending less time with your phone. You also become more independent and learn street names and directions since you can't depend on Google Maps anymore.

Option 2: Cheapo Smartphone
Some people who are planning to stay in Shanghai for a whole year buy cheap smartphones for about 300 yuan (about USD 47). Although smartphones will be definitely more expensive than flip phones, it is a lot cheaper to buy a smartphone in China than in the United States.

Important: Smart Phone Data Costs
If you use data without purchasing a plan, it costs about 6 yuan per minute (about USD 0.95 a minute). The money is deducted from your “phone card,” which is money you add to your phone for calling and texting.

So if you know you’ll be using data on your iPhone or Blackberry frequently during your stay in Shanghai, it would be best to purchase a data plan because it is much cheaper.

On China Mobile, it costs about 20 yuan (about USD 3.15) for 150 MB per month and 100 yuan (about USD 16.00) for 1 GB per month. Again, the money is automatically deducted from your “phone card." When your phone no longer lets you call or text someone, that’s when you know your “phone card” is out of money. Recharging your phone card can be done at any China Mobile store.

Hi. My name is Stacy and I spent a semester in NYU in Shanghai. love travelling. I am in love with Yoga. I love eating Sushi. When I am stressed, I put a spoonful of Wasabi on a White Tuna Sushi. I love my family and friends. And I love writing about bits and pieces about my sometimes exciting and sometimes tedious life. Hope you all enjoy Shanghai and I know y'all have tons of exciting days ahead.