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Communication Methods In China

Phone and Fax

International fax (传真 chuanzhen) services are available in most large hotels for a fee of a dozen renminbi or more. Faxes within China can be made in the ubiquitous photocopy outlets that have the Chinese characters for fax written on the front door.

Cellular phones are very widespread and offer very good service. If you are staying more than a few weeks, it may be advisable to buy one. Prices start around ¥400. If you are travelling around, be sure to get a GSM phone and a SIM card that lets your phone work anywhere in China; some cards work only in one province. Avoid the cheaper PHS (小灵通 xiaolingtong); they only work in one city.

Unlike most Western countries, you don't sign up for "a plan" and a monthly bill when you buy a cellphone in China. All cell phone service is prepaid; you just go to a shop and purchase a charge card, which has a number and password that must be used to call the telephone company to recharge the money in your account. You will be calling a computer and the default language is Chinese, which can be changed to English if you understand the Chinese. Even the English language options may be daunting, as there are several options. The typical expat spends ¥100 (US $12.50) a month or a bit more; tourists might use it less. Charge cards are sold in denominations of ¥100 and ¥50, but discounts are frequently available, so a ¥100 charge card may actually only cost ¥80 or less.

Cell phones will not normally make international calls. To get that service, you need to go to the local office for China Mobile or China Unicom and ask them to enable it. They may require a deposit.

The Chinese GSM system uses 900 and 1800 MHz, and most phones are sold with only those frequencies. Those phones will work in Europe, South East Asia, and Australia, but not in the US, Canada or South America (1900 or 850 MHz). Consider buying a "world phone" with more frequencies.

  • Panasonic GD55 is a cheap (under ¥700) 3-frequency (900/1800/1900) phone.
  • Nokia has many three-band models, e.g. 6310i
  • Motorola has several high-end models with four frequencies, camera and other extras, e.g. RAZR V3 which is just under 2000 RMB in China as of May 2006.

These and other brands are all available in China, but often slightly cheaper in Hong Kong.

Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked". They will work with any SIM card you put in them, not just cards from one vendor.

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Area codes for major cities

Country code for mainland China is 86. The patterns for numbers are:

  • Major cities get their own two-digit area code. Local calls use an 8-digit number; for long distance prefix it with:
    • 010 Beijing
    • 020 Guangzhou
    • 021 Shanghai
    • 022 Tianjin
    • 023 Chongqing
    • 024 Shenyang
    • 025 Nanjing
    • 026 (not assigned yet)
    • 027 Wuhan
    • 028 Chengdu
    • 029 Xian
  • Other places use seven or eight digit local numbers and a three-digit area code that does not start with 0, 1 or 2. So, for example:
    • 0756 plus 7 digits for Zhuhai
    • 0591 plus 8 digits for Fuzhou
  • Normal cell phones do not need an area code. The numbers are just:
    • 130 to 132 plus 8 digits — China Unicom, GSM
    • 133 plus 8 digits — China Unicom, CDMA
    • 134 to 139 plus 8 digits — China Mobile, GSM
  • Some mobile phones (小灵通 xiaolingtong) work only in one city. These have numbers that look exactly like land line numbers for their cities. They are the cheapest choice, both for cost of phone and for usage fees, but not flexible enough for most travellers. The technology is neither GSM nor CDMA, but basically a wireless phone on steroids called PHS.

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This article is based on information from an article on Wikitravel contributed by Anonymous and is distributed under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0

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