Visiting Beijing is always an adventure, especially when it comes to getting your iPhone or iPad fixed up with a local cellular network. On previous visits I’ve gone to one of the principal China Unicom offices (there is one at Dongdan which is easy to find)[¹] and signed up for a month’s limited data and meagre calls for an attractive 70 yuan (about £7.40). But there is a lot of paperwork to do.
This time, guided by a local friend, I wandered into a large branch of Wu Mart and found a busy mobile-phone stall thriving next to the vegetables. Here were iPhones for sale, no shortage apparently, and many good deals for pay-as-you-go SIM cards. I was fixed up with a card valid for one year (so good if I come back in that time) but with an amazing amount of credit for the reasonable one-off 150 yuan cost (£15.75). In addition to a stack of calls and texts, I get a more-than-adequate 500MB of data every month. All this is a much better bet than using your home-grown SIM and makes sense even if your stay in the Chinese capital is for only a few days. For instance, Vodafone tell me that for £5 a day I get 25MB of data but I have to pay £1.35 per minute for calls and 35p per text. Wu Mart’s competitive deal knocks the socks off this.
This SIM, like my previous versions, works on China Unicom.
Just one thing to bear in mind if you are coming from a country such as the UK where SIM cards operate nationally: This card allows calls only in the Beijing area so, if you are planning to travel to other areas you will need further SIMs or, perhaps, negotiate a universal deal with China Unicom or China Telecom. Note also that following a new law you will need to produce your passport when buying one of these PAYG cards.
[¹] It is best to avoid the mobile phone retail branches such as China Unicom in Wangfujing where, earlier this year, they denied the existence of the 70-yuan deal and tried to sell me a “lucky number” for a small fortune. Caveat Emptor.