Since SIM card at Pudong International Airport is so expensive, I'm going to purchase a SIM card at local branches in China/Shanghai. I consider either China Unicom or China Mobile, though the latter might not be available to my phone due to different frequencies (so I prefer China Unicom).

However, because I don't have cash, I have to purchase it using a credit card (either Amex or Visa, and not UnionPay). I must definitely avoid the case of failing to purchase it, since it is so essential for a 15-day stay.

So I have to make sure that I can purchase it with certainty. Can I purchase it using a credit card in these branches?

  • 4
    I would say getting cash is task #1 after you arrive in China. Unless you have very unusual plans, you ought to get some. (@pnuts I had no trouble using the ATM at a major Chinese airport, though obviously that's just one data point.)
    – user35890
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 11:17
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    @pnuts while I agree, in many places (e.g. Western Europe, USA) you can do almost anything with no cash in your pocket. That's certainly not true in China, where not having cash would be a quite limiting restriction.
    – user35890
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 11:27
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    By the way, do you speak any/much Chinese?
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 11:39
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    If you have a way to top up your transportation card with your card, then you can use the former to pay in Shanghai taxis. It is a nice feat since it avoids the problem of drivers unwilling to give change. For the simcard, just go to shops and give it a try I guess. And report back ;)
    – mts
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 20:33
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    For your information I purchased it at the airport, but negotiated so much. The original price was 350 to 400 RMB for 6GB SIM but it was down to 210 RMB, so I purchased it (but everyone seems to buy it at the suggested price, including me in the past!). As to the credit card, when I have a chance I'll investigate it in the city, but don't expect it so much :=). I still want to know the answer, though, as sometimes it is more convenient to buy it in the city and I would like to know about China Mobile as well (at the airport only China Unicom is sold).
    – Blaszard
    Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 1:47

1 Answer 1


If you "have to make sure that [you] can purchase it with certainty", I would highly recommend that you buy a SIM card at the airport.

In general, non-Chinese credit cards are rarely accepted within China, even online. They are usually only accepted at high-end stores or stores that cater to foreigners.

A bigger problem you may have is trying to get a SIM card (outside of an airport) without a National Identity Card. The stores that I have tried in Chengdu and Beijing will not sell you one without an ID card. As a foreign citizen living in China, I am currently using a SIM card that is tied to a friend's ID. I believe there is in concept, a way to use a passport in place of the ID, but the stores I have tried did not accept it.

Another problem you will have is trying to get a SIM card if you don't speak Chinese.

==== update ====

If you need to buy a SIM card/phone plan while in China, you will need to have your passport with you. Also, China Unicom is your best bet in terms of service provider.

The cases I've mentioned above where the stores refuse to sell a plan/SIM card to foreigners were China Mobile/Telecom chains.

  • It will also depend where. Rules are not applied uniformly. I used to be able to buy cheap prepaid SIM cards in Guangdong. This isn't possible anymore. There are no prepaid cards any longer in Guangdong. I did manage to get a postpaid card with a passport and residence permit.
    – user67108
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 10:36

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