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No Local Mobile Number = Can't Do Much in China?

No Local Mobile Number = Can't Do Much in China?

Old Sep 7, 19, 5:23 am
  #1  
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Question No Local Mobile Number = Can't Do Much in China?

Came to China for vacation. I had decided to use international roaming on my mobile so I can get to forbidden websites (e.g. Google). However, without a local Mobile, it does not seem I can do much on things ranging from the multi-day subway/bus passes in Beijing to reservations for tours.

Then my understanding is that the days of "getting local SIMs anywhere easily" is also over. So, one has to register with ID? Does that even work for foreigners? How do foreign visitors deal with this?

If doable, are there any "occasional visitor" plans available where one can keep a number for relatively low cost?

Thanks.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 5:40 am
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I guess even with a local mobile phone, payments would be a problem too. I found a good thread on that: For how much longer will foreigners be second class technological citizens in China?
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Old Sep 7, 19, 5:56 am
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Originally Posted by username View Post
Came to China for vacation. I had decided to use international roaming on my mobile so I can get to forbidden websites (e.g. Google). However, without a local Mobile, it does not seem I can do much on things ranging from the multi-day subway/bus passes in Beijing to reservations for tours.

Then my understanding is that the days of "getting local SIMs anywhere easily" is also over. So, one has to register with ID? Does that even work for foreigners? How do foreign visitors deal with this?

If doable, are there any "occasional visitor" plans available where one can keep a number for relatively low cost?

Thanks.
Download WeChat. You won't be about to put money on it but that should allow you to communicate with most places. It's essentially WhatsApp, Vemmo, Facebook and a few other things lumped into one. You may need to get verified just see if someone at your hotel will do it.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 6:17 am
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Beijing multi-day pass? Not aware there was anything available to nonresidents anymore. What you want is the refillable 一卡通 Yikatong transit card, good on both metro and buses, no phone number required to buy it (though sales outlets can be hidden away). Don't add much more value than you need, since refunds are possible but not practical.

As to getting a local SIM, go with your passport to a telco customer service centre, not a small shop. Shouldn't be hard, but much easier if you speak Chinese.

(Folks here warn about what China does to your phone, then suggest downloading WeChat! Once installed it'll take up 1GB on your phone. You figure out why it needs all that space.)
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Old Sep 7, 19, 7:37 am
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Thanks both. Yes, I have reservations about having WeChat on my phone. Maybe the best thing is to have a phone dedicated to use in China without putting my naked pictures or steamy IMs/e-mails on it?

Seriously, apparently, there is an App you can get which enables you to get the new multi-day passes for Beijing Public Transit: ??????????? - Rubypay or 易通行. ???????????????????????????_?? talks about the passes.

I tell you, coming to a big city like Beijing is actually less an adventure in the real world (e.g. subways are subways everywhere) but a huge adventure in the online world as everything is so different and how easily daily lives cross between the 2 worlds is very hard for us to understand and actually do.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:14 am
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Originally Posted by username View Post
Seriously, apparently, there is an App you can get which enables you to get the new multi-day passes for Beijing Public Transit: ??????????? - Rubypay or 易通行. ???????????????????????????_?? talks about the passes.
I uninstalled the transit apps for Beijing and Shanghai because they sucked up space on my phone, and I find the cards to be more convenient (i.e. no need to pull up the app when walking through the gates). I also buy single journey tickets on occasions in which I'm awash with coins.

With respect to the thread title, I was a hold out against real name registration until about 2 years ago, when I reluctantly admitted defeat. Along similar lines, I am no longer especially bothered by SIM vendors in airports that price gouge within reason because they tend to be pretty efficient with respect to registration, whereas this is not the case at many Unicom/Mobile stores.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:44 am
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I'm not seeing the big need for a local number. I've survived in China for nearly 4 years without a local number until I got one just recently for my bank account. I'm in SZ, not BJ or SH but I don't think it's much different. Like @moondog, I find the Metro cards to be easier to deal with than using an app. Getting a local number took about an hour but I had some local help to do it, I couldn't imagine getting it done without a human translator. If you're having trouble arranging tours, can you get some local help with that, possibly hotel staff?
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:53 am
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Originally Posted by synthkeys View Post
I'm not seeing the big need for a local number
Wechat, including many miniprograms, which are becoming popular
Alipay
Didi (foreign numbers work, but many drivers dislike calling them)
Meituan
SF Express
bank accounts
many wifi networks
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Old Sep 7, 19, 2:27 pm
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I'm not going to install those apps for the Beijing Metro just to see how they work, but it looks like one requires an NFC phone while the other uses QR codes, and real-name verification is required. I'd bet very very heavily that they only work with Chinese payment methods, making them useless for the average foreign tourist. This is so likely that I don't think you should waste any more time on this approach. Just get a pay-per-ride Yikatong card.

Shanghai has cards for multi-day Metro passes, but I assume Beijing went with the app approach because it makes transfer of the passes difficult.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:00 pm
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Well, I went to the China Mobile store to see how things would work. Their cheapest monthly plan is RMB 8 and it comes with 30 minutes of voice only. Data is additional at 20 or 30 RMB per 1GB - 2 employees gave me different numbers. The ladies said that is expensive and gets chewed up by WeChat in no time. For those who are used to North American data, this is a bargain

The lady at the counter said that you can receive SMS outside Mainland China with no additional charge but you have to enable roaming, which she said is free. She said one can put a bunch of money in the account so they just deduct RMB 8 every month.

She also said that there is really no traditional prepaid SIM anymore. If people want one upon arrival, basically they have to sign up for the 8 RMB plan then add data for the duration.

It is kind of interesting there is no literature on these plans they can give you to confirm what they have told you. I guess I will Google, I mean Baidu, later.

Now off to more sightseeing....If I pass a Unicom Store, I will go in and ask too.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:03 pm
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Originally Posted by moondog View Post
...
many wifi networks
On some of the Beijing buses, they have Wifi antenna and said that you can use some App to connect to it. Is this what you are talking about? Somehow one actually use an App to connect to the Wifi rather than whatever the phone does?

Thanks.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:07 pm
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You’re error was evident in the first sentence; ‘Vacation in China’.

Now you’re ‘enjoying’ the perks.

Maybe Iran next holiday?
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:33 pm
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Originally Posted by username View Post
On some of the Beijing buses, they have Wifi antenna and said that you can use some App to connect to it. Is this what you are talking about? Somehow one actually use an App to connect to the Wifi rather than whatever the phone does?

Thanks.
I was thinking more along the lines of places where you might bring a laptop like Starbucks. When I'm just using my phone, I usually don't bother with wifi. In addition to being cheap, data is easy to buy via WeChat, and you don't need a Chinese bank account for mobile top up payments.
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Old Sep 7, 19, 11:37 pm
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Originally Posted by deadinabsentia View Post
You’re error was evident in the first sentence; ‘Vacation in China’.

Now you’re ‘enjoying’ the perks.

Maybe Iran next holiday?
China is second only to the USA in terms of tourism numbers, which is pretty impressive in light of the fact that most people require visas to visit China.
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Old Sep 8, 19, 12:11 am
  #15  
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Different shops of the same telco will tell you about different plans, but 8RMB/month basic fee is fair. Cheapest way to add data is buy a card on TMall, if you can manage payment and read Chinese.

And yes, enable international roaming and receive texts free. Useful for banking and such.
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