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I'm traveling to Beijing for a short trip (4 days), and don't want to be without my phone or pay ATT roaming. I have an unlocked, international compatible phone.

What kind of options are available in Beijing? I like data. Especially in 3G.

Should I just buy something from CM at the Beijing airport? Or do I need to plan ahead of time?

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In theory a China Mobile SIM card should be able to provide 3G services. In practice I have not been able to get my (3G only) HTC phone to access the internet via such a card. China Unicomm seems to be a better offering in the 3G field. While China Mobile supposedly provides both 2G and 3G services, in practice it is a 2G service.

Buying a SIM may be best done at a big telecomms store, rather than the airport - you are more likely to get a solution that actually works. A purchased SIM does seem to be the way to go. Be aware that if you do buy any SIM in China you will be subject to the constraints of the Chinese Firewall, so although you can access data, you will not be able to access Facebook, Blogger, or (sometimes) GMail, and other services.

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Don't worry, there are plenty of free wifi in China. Coffee shops, KFC, hotels, KTVs, etc. If you really need wifi 24-7, just get one of those hotspot connections that you plug into your phone (about 2000 rmb for a year) and your golden. – MaoYiyi Sep 14 '12 at 6:04
    
As far as I understood, you need to register your phone on name, before you can use the sim-card for internet. I don't know the details, I do know that with my China Mobile sim-card I couldn't connect indeed. – Bernhard May 20 '13 at 17:38

I had no problem getting a sim card at Unicom. I had to pay for a month though, which was 26 Yuan. That got me text, talk, and 600MB of data for a month.

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Hi Theodore, welcome to Travel.SE and thanks for your answer. Is there anything additional you can add to help others who come across this post? For example, are Unicom at Beijing airport? – Tim Malone Jun 17 at 5:28
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The one I went to was not at an airport; it was at a university. However, Unicom is a big company, so offices are not hard to find. – Theodore Norvell Jun 17 at 8:02

I bought a SIM card from a street vendor stall. It's difficult for non-nationals to register a SIM card which must be done prior to using one. For foreigners, the vendor would typically register it himself and sell to you with a somewhat higher mark up. You need to make sure that the SIM card is registered and test it on your phone before walking away. After you've bought it, get ready for a lot of spam. Fortunately, you probably won't understand any of it...

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True but you can buy and register a regular SIM at a CM or Unicom store as a foreigner. An address might be needed but you can just put down your hotel in case. – mts Jun 17 at 9:03
    
@mts Good to know for next time! – Berwyn Jun 17 at 9:06

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