Whenever I travel internationally, I try to buy a local prepaid SIM Card and it’s almost always less than $10 USD for the iPhone nano SIM card. I recently spent 38 hours in Beijing and wrote 10 Things I Learned From My Recent Trip to Beijing, China. My quest was to buy a working SIM Card in Beijing and this is a story on How I Got Scammed in Beijing from Buying a Prepaid SIM Card.
My first failed attempt to buy a SIM Card was right at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) in Terminal 3 Arrivals and Departures Hall. I tried to buy a prepaid SIM Card from one of the many automated phone card kiosks, but I was unsuccessful with an error message asking me to call a number. I can’t read Chinese, but none of the options asked me to input cash.
Later, I found out there was a physical China Mobile store which closes at midnight at PEK Airport Terminal 2 but it was too late and I’d have to take a bus from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2 at Beijing International Airport.
I went to a few small local Brick and Mortar (B&M) stores in the city like China Unicom and China Mobile, and they were unable to sell me a SIM Card. They just said they don’t sell them which was weird for a shop that has their huge company logo plastered over the storefront. I suspect the small stores were only recharge stores or just to sell accessories and repair. Maybe they just didn’t want to deal with me since I didn’t speak Chinese and they didn’t speak a lick of English.
While walking around in Beijing, I found a newspaper kiosk vendor that had a SIM Card sign and I inquired about the price. She said it was 60RMB ~ $9.68 USD and it was from China Mobile. I inspected the package and it looked legit with the SIM Card still attached. I thought it was a deal, so I went ahead and bought it to see if it worked out of the box. The SIM Card was still in its standard size, so I went ahead and cut it with my own SIM cutter into the nano size (yes, I carry a SIM cutter everywhere, just in case).
I put it on my iPhone and it instantly displayed the China Mobile service with a local Chinese phone number, but when I went to test a call, it said this SIM card is not registered. I thought to myself I would have to pop into a corporate China Mobile store to inquire about it.
I went inside the Apple store to get Wi-Fi and entered in the local China Mobile number to send a passcode to my phone, but no cigar. Since the SIM was unregistered and not activated, I was unable to receive any kind of SMS message.
While walking around Wangfujing street, I found a China Unicom corporate store where I inquired about a SIM Card with 500MB of data and the lady quoted me 200RMB ~ $32.27 USD which I thought was too high. I said no thanks and walked away and she countered with an offer of 150RMB ~ $24.20 USD which was much better, but I thought to myself – what’s the point, I’m leaving tomorrow anyway. When I was walking away, she lowered her price again which was 120RMB ~ $19.36 USD which was more like the price I was looking for. At this point, I already wasted 60RMB on a China Mobile SIM card which I had hope to find a corporate store, so I declined her last offer.
I finally found a China Mobile corporate store on Wangfujing Street and inquired about my non-working SIM Card. I sat down with the representative and showed her my problem with the SIM Card and she asked where I bought it. I said that I bought it from a street vendor at a newspaper stand half an hour ago and she laughed with her co-workers around. She said, that number is unregistered and all China Mobile SIM cards for foreigners have to be bought with a passport. The representative showed me a book with a list of phone numbers with different prices. I saw that some numbers were as much as 400RMB ~ $64.54 USD! Apparently those were ‘lucky’ numbers and she said the basic numbers were 200RMB ~ $32.27 USD which I thought was absurd. Those prices were just for the SIM Card alone, so I didn’t inquire further about the data add on prices.
In my mind, I was already out $10 USD for the non-working China Mobile SIM Card, so there was no point going back to the China Unicom store and purchasing a prepaid nano SIM Card with data for $20.
After getting back to my hotel in the evening, I ran a Google search on ‘SIM Card scams in China’ and found an article on Want China Times, titled ‘Beijing pushes for SIM card registration in crime crackdown‘. I found out that it is illegal to be in possession of a SIM Card without registering it with a passport or Chinese national ID because of crime. Apparently, illegal China Mobile SIM Cards are being sold on the streets and the Chinese government has already banned all those numbers. I was definitely scammed and good thing it was only $10, but it was a lesson learned – Don’t ever buy a SIM Card off the streets in China.
That stinks. Sure seems like everything is about scams and knock offs in China. Personally, Asia is on the the very bottom of a long list of places to travel to for me.
If you don’t speak the local language in China, expect to be looked upon as a walking dollar sign. There are definitely too many scams going on in China!
Wow – that’s a whole continent you’re writing off just because you’re worried about getting scammed for 10usd. Maybe you should take the author’s story as advice which, honestly, is applicable to any place that you may travel.
Next time try to find me n I’ll try to help you, I am local Beijinger and can speak standard English, in some cases it can be done even if you need a SIM card without showing your passport.
add my wechat (HSKTutor) to get anonymous SIM card in Beijing, valid until now and will be valid for some more time.
It is true that China is enforcing real-name registration for SIM card. Actually many visitors don’t know they can purchase China SIM prior their trip. We are distributor for China Unicom in North America. Here you go for whomever is interested: http://www.mobilecomnet.com