China Mobile – the definitive guide

Here’s some really useful information I wish I knew from the start.  Most of it was rather painfully obtained, through trial and error (lots of errors).

  • Firstly, the English support is really good.  Ring 12580 [NB: I was told today that the correct line for changing plan details is 10086].  The automatic menu may not be, but the people are.  Use it!  It’s far better than getting a chinese speaker to ask the questions for you, and then translating for you – unless they are *really* good at english.  Telecommunications lingo isn’t exactly the first thing they teach in english class.

Plans and Expiry

  • When you walk into a shop and get a SIM card, you are put on a prepaid plan.
  • You may be told “your number will not expire so long as there is money on the account”
  • This is true.  Sort of.  What I didn’t know is that China Mobile will deduct money from your account every month as a monthly-fee.  So if you want to keep your number alive for when you return – make sure there’s enough yuan in the account to pay the monthly fees until you return.
  • Also, there are expiry dates – I think it’s half a year for a 100 yuan card, up to a maximum of a year or something.
  • I think it would be possible to recharge from abroad (if you already have a prepaid card), and you could certainly ask a local to do it for you.  There are some websites offering this service, but they all seem a tad dodge.
  • If your credit is exhausted, I believe you get 90 days to recharge before the number is recycled.


  • Data rates China Mobile without a plan is 0.01 yuan per KB.  0.01 yuan is almost nothing.  But so is 1 KB.  That’s actually 10 yuan per MB – which is expensive.
  • You can subscribe to a data plan.  20 yuan gives you 150MB, 50 yuan gives you 500MB.
  • The data plans are activated on the first day of the month – so if you want a plan you must ring BEFORE the first of the month to set it up, then wait (so potentially you could do this before arriving in china)
  • Actually, the plan is activated on the second day of the month.  Yeah it’s bizarre – everyone told me the first of the month.  But the money is deducted at midnight in the morning of the 2nd, and that’s when your data plan is active – don’t use it on the 1st or you will still be paying 10yuan per MB.  Go figure.
  • To setup data access on an iPhone, go into Settings -> Network -> Cellular Data.  Set the APN to cmnet. Leave the username and password blank.  Your iPhone must be unlocked to see this option.
  • If you want data on your iPhone – don’t go with China Unicom.  I could not get them to work with my SIM.  Go with China Mobile instead.
  • What I plan to do is call China Mobile from abroad a month before arriving next time to set this up so I have data when I arrive.  Yeah… I’m a geek.
  • There is no 3G access in China


  • To call an international number, use the IP dialing, it’s way cheaper.  Just a little above SkypeOut for AU mobile calls.
  • Dial 12593 then your four digit country code, e.g. 0061, then the number
  • The guy on the phone said to “punch in the code” every time, and not save it to the address book or else it may use the standard, non-IP (read: expensive) dialing.  I’m not sure if he’s right but I’m not game to test it.
  • Apparently this incurs a 5 yuan per month service fee
  • Rates on the IP line is 1.5 yuan per minute.
  • Intra-China rates are rock-bottom.  0.1 yuan per minute.  0.1 yuan per SMS.  If only every mobile carrier was that cheap!

SMS Commands

  • You can SMS certain commands to 10086
  • YE is ‘balance inquiry’
  • CZ <recharge pin> is ‘recharge with this pin’  (only works if you have a positive balance)

Recharging over the Phone

  • dial 13800138000
  • 2  [for english]
  • 2 [to recharge]
  • 1# [to recharge current mobile]
  • 1 [to confirm]
  • enter PIN
  • # [to end]
  • All done…
  • more info

If this was useful for you, perhaps you might like to buy my iPhone App – GPS Log ;-)

2 comments on “China Mobile – the definitive guide

  1. Thanks for your informative post!

    I still have a couple of questions about GPRS data in China. I’m going to be arriving on October 1, travelling to Beijing, Chengdu, and Harbin. I see some sites online selling prepaid China Mobile SIMs (, but they seem to be regionalized – you’ll end up paying 1 yuan / MB outside the designated region. Is there any way to get a flat rate for the whole country?

  2. Pingback: Checking minutes on china mobile | 1on1 Mandarin Blog, learn to speak Chinese