Best phone plans for travelling in China


WhistleOut
01 June 2017

Want to see the Great Wall of China without racking up a great wall-sized roaming bill? It's easier than you think! 

Vodafone


If you're a Vodafone postpaid customer - regardless of whether you're on a contract or month-to-month - you can take advantage of $5 roaming while in China. For $5 per day, you can talk, text, and surf using your plan's local inclusions. 

You are however only able to make use of Vodafone's roaming for 90 days per calendar year, after which you're billed at pay-as-you-go rates

If you signed up to a plan after April 23 2014, it will already be switched on; the only thing left to do is book your holiday. 

If you signed up to an eligible plan before that date, you'll need to turn it on through Vodafone's online portal. If you can't find this option, you'll need to contact Vodafone and potentially upgrade plan.

Optus


Customers on Optus’ high-end $130 and $160 postpaid plans respectively receive 1GB and 1.5GB of roaming data to use each month in all "Zone 1" countries. Happily, China is in Zone 1. 

If you're on a different Optus postpaid plan, you can purchase a Travel Pack. $10 will get you a day of unlimited talk and text, and 100MB of data. Essentially, you're looking at $10 per day you're overseas. 

You're also able to stack data by purchasing multiple packs at once, so if you buy seven passes for $70, you’ll get seven days of unlimited talk and text, plus 700MB to use over a week of roaming. 

Virgin Mobile


Virgin Mobile customers are out of luck when travelling in China, with no travel packs available and. Pay-as-you-go is your only option and you're looking at $1 per minute for talk, 50 cents a text, and 50 cents per megabyte of data. 

Telstra


If you happen to be on Telstra's $195 Premium Plus plan, you're able to roam in China at no extra cost. You'll get 1.5GB of data per month, and unlimited talk and text. 

If you're on any other Telstra postpaid plan, you'll probably want a Travel Pass. China counts as a Zone 2 country, which means you'll pay $10 per day for unlimited talk and text, and 75MB of data. There is one slight catch: you have to buy a 3, 7, 14, or 30 day bundle. These are you options: 

  • $30 for 3 days of unlimited talk and text, and 225MB of data
  • $70 for 7 days of unlimited talk and text, and 525MB of data
  • $140 for 14 days of unlimited talk and text, and 1.03GB of data
  • $300 for 30 days of unlimited talk and text, and 2.20GB of data

If you'd prefer to pay-as-you-go for some reason, you'll be billed $3.50 per minute of talk, 75 cents per text, and $3.00 per megabyte of data. 

Pay-As-You-Go & Prepaid


Pay-as-you-go roaming should be your last resort for roaming in China, but if it's your only option, Virgin offers the cheapest PAYG postpaid rates. You're looking at $1 per minute for talk, 50 cents a text, and 50 cents per megabyte of data. That works out to be $50 for every 100MB of data you use while overseas.

On prepaid, Optus, Amaysim, Aldi, Coles Mobile, OVO, and TPG all offer identical PAYG roaming rates. $1 per minute of talk, 50 cents a text, and 50 cents per megabyte of data. That's $50 for every 100MB of data you use while overseas.

Telcos in China


There's three major telcos in China: China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.

You'll want to ignore China Telecom, as it uses the CDMA standard for calls and text, which is incompatible with most phones sold in Australia. China Unicom and and China Mobile both use the GSM standard for their networks, much like telcos in Australia.  

China Unicom will let you prepurchase a travel SIM ahead of your trip, which you can then have delivered to your hotel. You'll need to order at least three business days before you're due to arrive, and provide your passport number and a booking confirmation number. 

China Unicom's travel SIMs are billed in US dollars. Rather than offering preset SIM options, you're essentially able to build your own SIM. 

  • USD$25: 1GB
  • USD$35: 2GB
  • USD$45: 3GB
  • USD$80: 6GB
  • USD$2.50: 50 minutes of talk or 100 texts
  • USD$6.50: 150 minutes of talk or 300 texts
  • USD$11.50: 250 minutes of talk or 150 texts

You'll need to order at least 1GB of data, but you're free to ignore talk and text options. If you want to call back to Australia, an extra USD$10 will get you 20 minutes of international calls home. 

If you pick up a local SIM, you'll be subject to China's "great firewall", and won't be able to access websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Dropbox, Instagram or Twitter without the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). 

Interestingly enough, China Unicom will sell you VPN access on top of your prepaid SIM. This starts at USD$8 for seven days. 

If you're roaming on an Australia SIM, you should still have access to all your favourite online content. 


Great Wall image from Tourism China.


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