Are you planning to travel to China and thinking about ordering an e-sim card? This is a complete guide with everything you need to know about using an e-sim card for traveling to China including a comparison of the best China e-sim cards for 2024.

Let me start with telling you that getting connected with an e-sim card when traveling to China will make your life so much easier! Based on my own experiences on my recent trip to Shanghai and Shenzhen the internet censorship in China really is a pain and constantly trying to find a VPN that actually works and gives you a fast data connection is a daily challenge.

You can fix it all by buying an e-sim card for China and enjoy using data on your phone without any internet restriction and NO VPN NEEDED! How and what? Keep reading… 

Don’t waste money on high roaming charges, read my recommendations below and order an e-sim card for China on the internet and get connected in just a couple minutes. Below you will find up to date prices as per January 2024, including all specifications per e-sim card. 

I will show you where and when to order an e-sim card, a comparison with local prepaid sim cards for China and of course links to directly order your e-sim card for traveling to China online.

Already since 2012 I am traveling the world full time and eventually turned my passion for traveling into a lifestyle and became a full time nomadic travel blogger. That is why I constantly get to a different country and pretty much every week I need to look for a new sim card to stay connected. 

In 2024 I visited for example 34 different countries so imagine how many different prepaid and e-sim cards I used throughout the year.

In the past I used to buy a local prepaid sim card on arrival in every country, but nowadays I mostly use e-sim cards to stay connected when traveling abroad.

Helping other travelers to save money while traveling the world is one of the reasons I started this travel blog. Providing essential travel tips is what made me start writing sim card guides from every country I visited and now on Traveltomtom you can already find more than 200 sim card guides from all over the world.

Of course Traveltomtom also wrote a complete guide for buying a prepaid sim card for China in 2024.

Recently Traveltomtom also started writing specific and in-depth guides for buying e-sim cards: USA, Canada, AustraliaItaly, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Europe, Turkey, EgyptAsia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysiainternational e-sim cards and many more.

So next time you are planning your adventure abroad come check out Traveltomtom for the latest prepaid sim card and e-sim card advice for your holiday destination. 

In this guide I will show you a comparison of all the e-sim card plans for China with up to date prices as per January 2024. After I will explain how e-sim cards work, more about the network coverage and 4G/5G data speed, some FAQ about e-sim cards, the difference between e-sim cards and local prepaid sim cards in China and everything else you need to know about using e-sim cards when traveling to China.

Let me start with giving you my e-sim card recommendation for China. These are my favorite e-sim cards for traveling to China in 2024.

My recommendation

Traveltomtom recommends the following two e-sim cards for traveling to China in 2024:

1. Nomad e-sim card for $21 USD

  • 15 GB data-only e-sim
  • Valid in China only
  • 5G ready
  • Valid for 30 days

2. Chinacom e-sim card from Airalo for $28 USD 

  • 10 GB data-only e-sim
  • Valid in China only
  • 4G/LTE
  • Valid for 30 days

By far the best value e-sim card for China are the China e-sim cards from Nomad. their 15 GB data plan costs only $21 USD, which is just $1.4 USD per Gigabyte. They have more e-sim data plans and they go down as much as $0.98 per Gigabyte.

Besides the fact that the Nomad e-sim card plans for China are the best-buy they are also 5G ready. This in comparison with Airalo and SimOptions e-sim cards for China which only support 4G/LTE.

chinacom best esim card for china 2024

A good second best is an Airalo e-sim card for China. They are more expensive, but Traveltomtom personally had the best experiences with Airalo e-sim cards for China and therefore it is also one of my recommendations for staying connected when traveling to China.

Both e-sim cards are data-only e-sim cards and incoming and outgoing calls or sms are not supported. Data is only valid in China. 

Is China one of your stops on a trip to Asia then you can also look into getting an e-sim card for traveling in Asia. There are e-sim cards that cover multiple countries.

There are 2 very important things to check before ordering an e-sim card for China or in general before using an e-sim card.

Unlocked phones only

Make sure your phone is unlocked. E-sim cards only work in unlocked phones. If you are not sure if your phone is unlocked then contact your mobile internet provider in your home country. 

In general phones from Europe, Asia and the Middle East tend to be unlocked. Phones from North America are often locked. 

If your smartphone is locked that means it does not allow another prepaid sim card or e-sim card to operate in the device. You can easily unlock your phone, but depending on your mobile internet provider you will be charged a fee for unlocking your phone.

E-sim compatible phones only

Second, and equally important: e-sim cards only work if your smartphone supports e-sim cards, also called e-sim compatible. All newer smartphones support e-sim cards. If you are not sure if your phone is e-sim compatible then simply go to Google and type in your mobile phone model in the search bar and ask if it is e-sim compatible. You will get the answer instantly.

If your phone is NOT e-sim compatible then there is no other solution and you can NOT use an e-sim card for traveling to China.

However, you can still order a sim card for China on the internet before your trip. Check out Traveltomtom’s complete guide for buying a sim card for China in 2024 or find out everything you need to know about international sim cards for traveling abroad in 2024

Comparison of the best e-sim cards for China

Note that you can NOT buy an e-sim card on arrival in China. All mobile internet providers in China only sell physical prepaid sim cards for tourists, no e-sim cards.

And even if you would be able to buy an e-sim card from one of the China Mobile internet operators it is NOT recommended because of the internet censorship in China.

But luckily there are multiple e-sim providers on the internet that sell e-sim cards for China. Traveltomtom recommends ordering an e-sim card for traveling in China from one of the well-known e-sim card providers that have proven to be reliable operators.

These are the 3 big e-sim card providers and they sell great e-sim card plans for China. They are tested and reviewed multiple times by Traveltomtom:

  1. SimOptions
  2. Airalo
  3. Nomad

Nowadays, you can buy an e-sim card for pretty much every country around the world. Order directly from one of the above e-sim card providers and instantly receive your e-sim card in your email. But before you buy an e-sim card first read all my tips below.

SimOptions also offers international prepaid sim cards for China. These are pre-activated physical prepaid sim cards and will be delivered to your home address before your trip to China and it is plug and play when you arrive in the China. 

Airalo and Nomad only sell e-sim cards for China. 

SimOptions

SimOptions is a very reliable e-sim card provider and Traveltomtom has used SimOptions uncountable times in more than 50 countries around the world. I can totally recommend using SimOptions for ordering an e-sim card. 

SimOptions e-sims are always one of my top recommendations and the SimOptions e-sim card plans for China are not bad either.

Their 5 GB data e-sim plan for $14.90 USD is actually cheaper than an Airalo e-sim card with 5 GB data. However, the SimOptions plan is only valid for 7 days. The same for the 10 GB data plan, which is great value for $21.90 USD and thus for $2.19 USD per Gigabyte, but also only valid for 15 days.

simoptions esim card plans for china 2024

Here are the SimOptions data-only e-sim card plans for China for 2024:

  • 1 GB data for 7 days = $7.90 USD
  • 3 GB data for 5 days = $9.90 USD
  • 5 GB data for 7 days = $14.90 USD
  • 10 GB data for 15 days = $21.90 USD
  • 20 GB data for 30 days = $34.90 USD

Click here to order a SimOptions e-sim card for China.

These data-only e-sim cards are provided by SimOptions and are only valid in China. Unfortunately SimOptions doesn’t specify which mobile network operator in China they use, neither is there information if these e-sim cards are 5G ready.

Trust me, when they would be 5G ready SimOptions would mention it, so the max data speed on these China e-sim cards from SimOptions is 4G/LTE.

The SimOptions e-sim cards for China do NOT come with a phone number and they do not offer incoming/outgoing calls or sms services. The validity of these e-sim cards is 1 year and the credit validity starts instantly after installing the e-sim card, even if you are not in China. For more info check the SimOptions website.

Airalo

Airalo is another very reputable e-sim card provider that is very much recommended by Traveltomtom. Ordering your e-sim card for China through Airalo is done fast and easy. Traveltomtom has used Airalo uncountable times for staying connected when traveling abroad. Very reliable, never an issue and often some of the cheapest e-sim card deals.

Why using Airalo? When it comes to China e-sim cards Airalo has similar e-sim card plans as SimOptions and is therefore also recommended as one of the best e-sim cards for China.

For Traveltomtom Airalo came to the rescue on my recent trip to China. Read more about it in my article: ‘buying a sim card at Shanghai Airport’.

Basically after two days struggling with my local prepaid China sim card I gave up and tried Airalo and suddenly everything worked. No more VPN needed, no more internet censorship. I could use my phone like in any other country around the world.

Therefore you can understand that Airalo is Traveltomtom’s top recommendation when it comes to e-sim cards for China.

airalo esim card plans for china 2024

Here are China e-sim card plans from Airalo for 2024:

  • 1 GB data for 7 days = $5 USD
  • 2 GB data for 15 days = $8.5 USD
  • 3 GB data for 30 days = $11.5 USD
  • 5 GB data for 30 days = $16.5 USD
  • 10 GB data for 30 days = $28 USD
  • 20 GB data for 30 days = $49 USD

Click here to order an e-sim card for China from Airalo.

The 10 GB data e-sim plan costs $28 USD which is $2.8 USD per Gigabyte, slightly more expensive than SimOptions, but the Airalo plan is valid for 30 days.

The Airalo e-sim cards for China are from Chinacom and operate on the China Unicom 4G/LTE network in China. Unfortunately the Airalo Chinacom e-sim cards for China are not 5G ready. 

In pretty much all the amazing places to visit in China you will find a 4G/LTE signal and the data speed is very good, even on 4G/LTE.

For more info about the best 4G/5G network in China check my complete guide for the best prepaid sim card for China in 2024, including network coverage maps of all the mobile internet providers.

All the Airalo e-sim cards are data-only sim cards without a phone number, so any phone/sms service is NOT supported. An Airalo e-sim card has to be installed within 1 month and after activation the credit validity starts when it connects the first time to a supported network. For more info check out the Airalo website.

Nomad

Last but not least there is Nomad and actually Nomad has the cheapest China e-sim cards plans. Traveltomtom tested them out and it worked totally fine.

The best thing about Nomad e-sim cards for China is that they are 5G ready, this is a big plus compared the 4G/LTE e-sim cards from SimOptions and Airalo.

nomad esim card plans for china 2024

Here are the Nomad e-sim card plans for China: 

  • 1 GB data for 7 days = $4 USD
  • 3 GB data for 30 days = $7 USD
  • 5 GB data for 30 days = $10 USD
  • 10 GB data for 30 days = $13 USD
  • 15 GB data for 30 days = $21 USD

nomad esim card data plans for china 2024

They have more e-sim card plans for those who use a lot of Gigabyte.

  • 20 GB data for 30 days = $23 USD
  • 30 GB data for 30 days = $35 USD
  • 40 GB data for 30 days = $40 USD
  • 50 GB data for 30 days = $49 USD

Click here to order an e-sim card for China from Nomad.

The Nomad e-sim cards for China are from eSIM Go and are data-only. The Nomad e-sim cards for China are also NOT 5G ready, only 4G/LTE network is supported and they operate on the China Unicom network. Incoming and outgoing calls and sms are NOT supported.

But as I mentioned, Nomad has the cheapest e-sim cards for China and they go as low as $0.98 USD per Gigabyte.

The Nomad China e-sim cards have to be installed on your phone within 30 days and after installation its validity starts when it connects for the first time to a supported network in China. Basically when the plane lands. For more info check the Nomad website.

Why did Traveltomtom already used more than 100s of e-sim cards? I told you before that I travel full time and I am on the road constantly. Per year I use about 40 to 50 prepaid and e-sim cards which makes me the no. 1 sim card for tourists expert.

What is the cheapest e-sim card for China?

cheapest esim card for china 2024

The cheapest e-sim card for China is a Nomad e-sim card for just $4 USD, it will give you 1 GB data for 7 days. Airalo has the same plan, but charges $5 USD. These e-sims are only valid in China and do not support calling and texting.

Why ordering an e-sim card for traveling in China

E-sim cards are the easiest way to stay connected when traveling to China in 2024 and you can arrange everything online in just a couple clicks. No more visiting a sim card shop and swapping physical sim cards. Order online, scan the QR code, follow the steps and you are connected in less than 2 minutes.

The most important reason to get an e-sim card is because we would like to stay connected on our trip to China without wasting money on high roaming costs. Our smartphones are pretty useless without a working data connection. Think about ordering a taxi through an app, finding nearby friends, restaurants and bars. Get directions from Google Maps or simply staying in touch with family back home, check your social media apps on long bus rides or your banking apps when paying contactless. 

One of the best things about arriving in China with an activated e-sim card is that you are online as soon as the plane lands. More about when to instal your e-sim card later.

There are so many reasons to stay connected when traveling to China, but the most important reason is that it makes your trip to China so much more convenient and fun!

At the same time we don’t want to waste money on high roaming charges. Many mobile internet operators still charge $3 USD per MB for data roaming, that means just opening the Instagram app will already cost you 20 MB * $3 USD = $60 USD! Not kidding… it still is very common in 2024.

E-sim cards are the easiest way to avoid high roaming charges!

International data roaming plans

So what about overseas data roaming plans? Well, not recommended! Why? Did you read the small letters at what data speed you can use data roaming? Pretty much all mobile internet operators limit the data speed for overseas data roaming plans, which means you end up with 3G data speed, but there is at least 4G/LTE in all the amazing tourist destinations in China and actually pretty much everywhere there is 5G. Only unfortunately all the e-sim cards for China are not 5G ready. 

Uncountable times (mostly American) travel friends have asked me: “can I use your hotspot? My data roaming plan is so slow, it is barely working!” Trust me, get yourself an e-sim card or an international prepaid sim card for traveling to China. Spend a couple dollars extra and be connected all the time instead of begging for WiFi or a hotspot from friends.

Where to buy an e-sim card for China? 

Online

You can only buy an e-sim card for China on the internet through an e-sim card provider. There are multiple e-sim card providers for China. Traveltomtom compared 6 e-sim card providers and concluded that the above mentioned ones (SimOptions, Airalo and Nomad) are the best e-sim card providers for traveling to China in 2024.

When buying an e-sim card for China through one of the above recommended e-sim providers you only need your email address and the e-sim card is instantly ready to use after installation. There is no ID registration needed.

On arrival in China

None of the mobile internet operators in China sell tourist e-sim cards, not on the internet, nor in their stores across China. Updated info as per January 2024.

When you arrive in China and you want to buy a local sim card for tourists then only physical prepaid sim cards are available. Tourists can not get an e-sim card.

For more info about buying a prepaid sim card for tourists in China in 2024 click on the link to read my complete guide and comparison of all the mobile internet providers in China, including a comparison of the 4G/5G network.

Flying into China and landing in Shanghai or Beijing then you can buy a tourist sim card for China on arrival at the airport. However, there are NO e-sim cards sold at airports in China, only physical prepaid sim cards for tourists and expect to pay tourist prices when buying a sim card at the airport. 

Keep in mind that these local prepaid sim cards for China come with the full internet censorship of the Great Firewall of China which means you are unable to use Google, Safari, Google Maps, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Gmail, Outlook and so on unless you find a VPN that works in China. 

Trust me you do NOT want to buy a local prepaid sim card in China. I bought one on my last trip to China and it was a disaster. Pretty much useless. On top of that all the e-sim cards mentioned in this article are cheaper.

When to order/activate an e-sim card for China?

You can order an e-sim card for China pretty much any time you want. Most e-sim cards have to be installed on a phone within 1 month after purchasing, some even within 1 year, so you have time.

More important therefore is when do you instal/activate the e-sim card. The validity of some e-sims start straight after the installation, other e-sim cards only start their validity when they connect the first time to a supported network.

Traveltomtom advices to instal your e-sim card on the day of departure to China or before. When in China you will need an internet connection AND a VPN to instal your e-sim card. Many standard VPN’s like Express, Surfshark and NordVPN do NOT work in China. 

Personally it was a struggle to find a VPN that worked, thanks to my Chinese friends. However, the internet speed was very slow. I had no patience for it. It was barely enough to instal my e-sim card for China. 

So my personal advice is to instal your e-sim card for China before you get into the plane and as soon as the plane lands you will be connected without any problems, no VPN needed, no internet censorship from the Great China Firewall.

How do I know all this? Traveltomtom lately visited China and traveled to Shanghai, Dongguan and Shenzhen. For more info about my experiences buying a sim card at Shanghai Airport check out my blog about it.

How to activate an e-sim card

Installing and activating an e-sim card is made as simple as possible. Everyone can activate an e-sim card and the instructions on how to are very detailed and will be send to you instantly by email. But wait, it gets even easier. Just scan the QR code.

When you order an e-sim card plan for China you instantly receive a summery of your order including a QR-code after the payment is processed.

You will see a summary of your e-sim card order including a QR code on your screen and at the same time you will also receive an email with the same QR code. The email contains instructions on how to instal and activate your China e-sim card.

But installing an activating an e-sim card is as easy as scanning the QR code with the same phone where you want to activate the e-sim card on. The QR contains all the information about your China e-sim card.

Once you scan the code you will be guided through a couple simple steps and within less than 1 minute your e-sim card is successfully installed.

Very important is that you are connected to the internet when installing your e-sim card otherwise you will get an error and issues can occur. 

Tip: if you order an e-sim card with the same phone where you want to instal the e-sim card on then ask a friend or someone nearby to take a photo of the QR code and then you scan the QR code from his/her phone and start the installation.

Things to know before ordering an e-sim card for China

Here are some general tips for using e-sim cards when traveling abroad. These tips do not only apply for China e-sim cards, but are things you have to know before buying an e-sim card in general. 

Make sure your phone is unlocked

To make sure you didn’t miss this, let me say this again: e-sim cards only work in UNLOCKED phones. If your phone is unlocked then you can use any e-sim card without any problems. 

If your phone is locked then ask your mobile internet provider from your home country to unlock your phone before your trip to China. It is likely that your mobile internet provider will charge you a fee for unlocking your smartphone. 

If you are unable to unlock your phone you can look into getting a portable WiFi for staying connected when traveling to China or better… bring a second unlocked phone on your trip to China and use it as a portable WiFi device.

Which smartphones support e-sim cards?

Another very important thing you have to check before buying an e-sim card is if your smartphone supports e-sim cards. If you have any of the latest smartphones then there is no need to worry, all new smartphones of the well known brands support e-sim cards. 

The fastest way to find out if your phone is e-sim compatible is by asking Google the question: is my (your phone model) e-sim compatible? Simple as that!

Can I trust these e-sim card providers?

All the e-sim card providers for China recommended above (SimOptions, Airalo and Nomad) are reputable e-sim card providers reviewed and tested by Traveltomtom. All of them are licensed third party companies and resellers that partner or work directly with the mobile internet providers in China.

Traveltomtom has successfully partnered for several consecutive years with SimOptions and Airalo. Nomad is a fairly new partner of Traveltomtom, but has so far proven to be a reliable e-sim card provider. All e-sim card providers have their own Helpdesk which you can contact may you encounter any problems or in case you want to claim a refund.

Traveltomtom does NOT sell China e-sim cards, only RECOMMENDS you to use e-sim cards for traveling to China. 

Can I keep my phone number from home with a China e-sim card?

Yes, you can and this is for many people a reason to order an e-sim card to stay connected when traveling to China. An e-sim card can be used next to your physical or e-sim card from your home country at the same time. You do not need a dual-sim phone for using an e-sim card. 

So you can have multiple e-sim cards installed on your phone? Yes, no problem at all!

For example: you can turn off the mobile data from your sim card from home but still use it for texting and calling. Your new China e-sim card you can be used at the same time just for data to ensure you are not wasting money on high roaming costs. 

This is also the trick to keep receiving sms for example for OTP (one time password) sms to login to applications. 

Switching between physical and e-sim cards is a matter of turning them on/off in the settings. Just always make sure your sim card from home is switched off for data roaming.

Can I make phone calls with a China e-sim card?

No, unfortunately there are no e-sim cards for China available that include calling and texting. All the e-sim cards from Nomad, Airalo and SimOptions are data-only e-sim cards and any incoming/outgoing calls/sms are not supported.

Does a China e-sim card come with a phone number?

No, none of the China e-sim cards that you can buy on the internet come with a phone number which also means you can not receive any phone calls or sms. 

In the above China e-sim card comparison you can find all the specifications per e-sim card.

Can I use 5G on a China e-sim card?

Yes, the Nomad e-sim cards for China are 5G ready as of January 2024. This in contrast with Airalo and SimOptions e-sim cards for China which only support 4G/LTE network.

I hope SimOptions and Airalo step up their game, because the China 5G network is very extensive and there is pretty much 5G everywhere.

Are there e-sim cards for China with unlimited data?

None of the by Traveltomtom recommended China e-sim cards for tourists include unlimited data.

Even if you would come across e-sim card providers that offer e-sim cards for China with unlimited data then make sure the unlimited data is on max data speed. Mostly the data speed is capped after you used X amount of Gigabytes. 

Holafly is an e-sim card provider that sells e-sim cards with unlimited data for China, but does NOT specify what is the exact so-called Fair Use Policy (FUP).

Traveltomtom does NOT recommend China e-sim cards with unlimited data plans. There are always restrictions. And on Holafly sim cards I experienced a reduce in data speed after using more than 2 GB per day. After I contacted support they explained me that I had to wait for 24 hours until my data speed was restored to normal. 

Those 24 hours were a nightmare as my data speed was barely enough to use WhatsApp. Social media was not even loading! 

Again, Traveltomtom does NOT recommend e-sim cards for China with unlimited data. But if you think you will never use more than 2 GB per day, then this might be your favorite e-sim card.

But the question is what is 'unlimited' if the FUP only allows you to use 2 GB data per day on max data speed. The Airalo Chinacom e-sim card gives you 10 GB data as well as the Nomad e-sim card for China.

These e-sims offer a lot of data and there is no real need for an e-sim card with unlimited data unless you want to upload your whole camera roll to a Google Drive or iCloud via 4G instead of WiFi.

There are a lot of different specifications per e-sim card. Another reason why I advice you to take a close at my comparison of the best e-sim cards for traveling to China in 2024 before choosing your favorite.

Are e-sim cards the best way to stay connected when traveling to China?

E-sim cards are the easiest and fastest way to get data on your phone when traveling to China, but are they also the best way to stay connected when traveling to China?

There are 3 ways to stay connected when traveling to China:

  • Local prepaid sim cards
  • International prepaid sim cards
  • E-sim cards 

Let’s compare e-sim cards, local prepaid sim cards and international prepaid sim cards, for you to find out what is your preferred way of staying connected.

Local prepaid sim cards

If you use a lot of data then local prepaid sim cards are often a cheaper way to stay connected, depending on the length of your trip. Local prepaid sim cards mostly offer bigger data plans than e-sim cards and on top of that local prepaid sim cards come often with unlimited local calls and sms.

First of all a local China prepaid sim card can only be purchased on arrival in China in a phone store or at the airport and NOT on the internet.

Second, as said multiple time before, a China local prepaid sim card is pretty much useless for Western tourists as all our applications are blocked. Not only Social Media, also everything related to Google, so good luck browsing the internet. What about VPN’s? All the well-known VPN’s are also blocked.

More info about the best China sim cards for tourists can be found in my complete guide for buying a sim card for China in 2024. 

On top of that buying a sim card in China is also not cheap. The cheapest tourist sim card at Shagnahi Airport was $21 USD and came with 20 GB data.

A reminder there is already an e-sim card for China with 20 GB data for just $27 USD and it comes with no internet censorship and no VPN needed.

The advantage of a China local prepaid sim cards is that they are all 5G ready. All of the mobile internet operators in China (China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telekom) allow prepaid users to use the 5G network. 

International prepaid sim cards

orange holiday world international prepaid sim card for china

If your smartphone is not e-sim compatible you can order an international prepaid sim card for traveling to China. Some of them are great for using in China as well as in all other countries in for example Europe, USA, Asia and you can easily order them online. 

If after visiting China you are traveling onwards in Asia then check Traveltomtom’s list of the best sim cards for traveling internationally in 2024 or the best Asia tourist sim cards in 2024.

A pre-activated physical sim card will be delivered to your home address before your trip. You put this physical sim card in your phone and as soon as the plane touches the ground and the sim card connects to a supported network you are online. Plug and play!

Click here to order an international prepaid sim card for China directly online

International prepaid sim cards for China also come without any internet censorship from the Great Firewall of China, no VPN needed.

E-sim cards

There are two different e-sim cards:

  • E-sim cards that you buy on the internet through a third party
  • E-sim cards that you buy in China in a mobile internet provider store

However, as of January 2024 e-sim cards are very limited available for prepaid tourist sim cards. Traveltomtom personally shopped around in Shanghai and Shenzhen to find out if e-sim cards were available for tourists in China and the answer is: NO!

On arrival at the international airports in China they only sell physical prepaid sim cards for tourists. Read all about it in my detailed guide about buying a sim card at Shanghai Airport.

E-sim cards vs. local prepaid sim cards

Getting an e-sim card is the easiest way to stay connected when traveling to China, no doubt! You arrange everything online within just a couple clicks. Right here, right now and you are all set for your trip to China. You arrive prepared and there is no need to visit a sim card shop. As soon as the plane lands, you are online.

On top of that you have no issues whatsoever using the internet like you do at home. With an international prepaid sim card or an e-sim card for China the Great Firewall of China is not blocking any of your apps and you do NOT need a VPN. 

Isn’t that the best thing you heard in a while? :)

But what is cheaper? An e-sim card or a local prepaid sim card for tourists? When we compare China e-sim card prices with local prepaid sim cards for China, Traveltomtom comes to the simple conclusion that e-sim cards for China that you buy on the internet are in fact cheaper than local prepaid sim cards for tourists that they sell in mobile phone stores in China.

China has so called visitors sim cards for tourists and they are specially designed for foreigners buying a sim card with a non-Chinese passport. They are also specially designed to make a lot of money on tourists.

The cheapest tourist sim cards start from $21 USD and up. You can buy them in the official retail stores of in the city center of every popular tourist destination in China.

After a long flight you just want to go to your hotel and it is often a big task to go to a sim card store and get connected. On top of that there are much better deals online and with these e-sim cards as soon as the plane lands you are connected. Therefore Traveltomtom recommends to order one of the listed best e-sim cards for China in the comparison above. 

Many reasons why a lot of travelers simply get an e-sim card for China. Faster, easier, less stress and even cheaper.

Data speed

Another difference between a local prepaid sim card and an e-sim card is that e-sim cards are often through a third party, a so called MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). These MVNO’s operate on the network of one of the main mobile internet operators and basically buy bandwidth. 

This may sound a little bit too technical, but what it means is that e-sim cards through an MVNO are the last ones in line when the line is busy. Especially during peak times, the performance of an e-sim cards is less compared to a local prepaid sim card from a mobile internet operator.

For China it is very simple actually since local prepaid sim cards are all on 5G and e-sim cards for China are limited to 4G/LTE.

Bottomline: the data speed of e-sim cards can be less compared to a local prepaid China sim card.

I am sure some of the above tips for finding the best e-sim card for your trip to China were helpful. I hope that after reading through my comparison, tips and tricks it was easier to make a decision and order your e-sim card for China right away.

If you still have any questions about e-sim cards then please leave me a comment below or reach out to me on social media and I am more than happy to help you out.

Curious what the life of a full time nomadic traveler looks like? Go check out my Instagram account @traveltomtom and follow along with daily updates from around the world about the good, the bad and the ugly about traveling.

Traveltomtom is on the road to 197, meaning I would like to travel to every country in the world. As of January 2024 I have visited more than 155 countries, still about 40 to go, but no rush.

Enjoy your trip to China!

Some links in this article about the best e-sim cards for China are affiliate links. If you buy any product after clicking on an affiliate link I will earn a small commission. Don’t worry this is at absolutely no extra cost to you!