Are you planning a trip to China and wondering if you can buy a sim card for traveling in China on arrival at Shanghai International Airport - PVG? The answer is yes! But is it the best way to stay connected when traveling to China? No! Let me explain…
This is a complete guide for buying a sim card at Shanghai Airport including up to date prices as per January 2024, my recommendation and experiences, the best e-sim cards for China and everything else you need to know before buying a sim card to stay connected when traveling to Shanghai.
Plus a vlog about my arrival and buying a sim card at Shanghai Airport and a conclusion after 3 days struggling to connect to the internet.
All the recommendations and advices in this travel blog are based on my own experiences. Traveltomtom recently traveled to Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong and tested local prepaid sim cards, VPN’s and international e-sim cards. You can read all my tips and conclusions below.
Looking for the best way to stay connected when traveling abroad is a vital part of my travel planning. Traveling with a working data connection on your phone is just so much more convenient. Imagine not being able to use Google Maps, taxi apps, social media, WhatsApp, Google, etc. then life becomes much more complicated these days.
To save money on high roaming costs you can order a sim card for traveling to China on the internet and arrive prepared or buy a China prepaid sim card at Shanghai Airport on arrival.
In most cases Traveltomtom recommends using local prepaid sim cards, especially for heavy data users. Though, China is an exception.
E-sim cards are super convenient, but also a little more expensive. However, I can already tell you that e-sim cards are the best way to stay connected when traveling to China. For several reasons.
Traveltomtom is on a journey to travel to every country in the world and everywhere I go I write sim card guides for other travelers to find the best ways to stay connected. That is why on Traveltomtom you can already find more than 200 sim card guides from all over the world: Hong Kong, Thailand, Bangkok, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Jakarta, Bali, Vietnam, Australia, Sydney, New Zealand, Auckland, Europe, United Kingdom, Italy, USA, Canada and many more.
Traveltomtom also wrote an extensive guide for the best China sim card for tourists in 2024, including 4G/5G coverage maps and more detailed info. If you are looking for more info about using e-sim cards in China then check out my detailed guide about the best e-sim cards for traveling in China in 2024.
Are you traveling to multiple countries in Asia then you should take a look into buying an international sim card or e-sim card for Asia.
Traveltomtom is the no.1 sim card expert in the world, so next time you are planning your trip abroad come check out Traveltomtom for the latest prepaid and e-sim card advice for your holiday destination. Bookmark me!
Traveltomtom does NOT recommend buying a local prepaid sim card at Shanghai International Airport.
Western tourists using a local prepaid sim card from China will be struggling to use their phones like normal. Pretty much all apps you would normally use are blocked, which means with a China prepaid sim card you need a VPN.
Most people know that when traveling to China a VPN is a requirement. It would not be too much of a problem to download and instal a VPN. However, the Great Firewall of China has recently blocked the use of pretty much all big VPN’s. More about it later.
And without a VPN your local China prepaid sim card is pretty much useless!
So which sim card to use for traveling to China? Traveltomtom recommends international prepaid sim cards or an e-sim card that allows roaming in China. The Great Firewall of China allows foreign sim cards to roam like home.
The best thing about using an international prepaid sim card or an e-sim card for China is that there are no restrictions, no internet censorship and no need for a VPN!
All the above information is based on my own experiences on a recent trip to China.
In fact ordering an e-sim card for China on the internet is even cheaper than buying a sim card at Shanghai Airport, as China e-sim cards already start from just $4 USD.
If you are traveling to multiple countries on your trip to Asia then check out some of the international prepaid sim cads for traveling abroad. These physical prepaid as well as e-sim cards are valid in multiple countries around the world, so they could be great for your next holiday and big plus is that these international sim cards go around the Great Firewall of China and you can use your phone as normal.
Be aware that the local prepaid sim cards you buy in China, as well as e-sim cards and international sim cards only work in unlocked phones. If your phone is locked make sure to unlock your phone before your trip to China. Contact your mobile internet provider in your home country if you are not sure about this.
Best e-sim cards for China
As I said before the best way to use your phone in China like you normally do is by using an e-sim card. It is the easiest and the most convenient way to stay connected when traveling to China and also the cheapest way as prices start from just $4 USD.
No need to visit a sim card store anymore on arrival in China and no need to buy a sim card at Shanghai Airport. As soon as the plane lands you are already online and the best thing is that there are no restrictions, no internet censorship and no need for a VPN.
The e-sim cards for China you buy on the internet just need to be installed on your phone in a couple simple steps. Then once installed the e-sim instantly connects to an available network as soon as the plane touches the ground.
You can order an e-sim card for China directly on the internet, you process the payment, receive a QR code, scan it, follow the instructions and instal the e-sim card in a couple simple steps. You are all set in less than 2 minutes.
Also another reminder that the sim card shops at Shanghai Airport do NOT sell e-sim cards, only physical prepaid sim cards.
Airalo is a recommended e-sim card provider that Traveltomtom has used multiple times. When in China an Airalo e-sim card came to the rescue and I found out that using an Airalo e-sim card for China came with 0 internet censorship and restrictions. It was a life saver.
Check out the following China e-sim card plans from Airalo:
- 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 directly order a China e-sim card from Airalo.
The Chinacom e-sim cards for China operate on the 4G/LTE network of China Unicom, 5G is not supported. The Airalo e-sim cards for China are data-only and incoming and outgoing phone calls are not supported.
SimOptions is another e-sim card provider, they offer international e-sim cards that are also valid in China. They are more expensive than Airalo. Traveltomtom also tested the SimOptions e-sim cards and they also worked with 0 restrictions.
- 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 directly order a China e-sim card from SimOptions.
The SimOptions e-sim cards for China only support 4G/LTE, 5G is not supported. The SimOptions e-sim cards for China are data-only and incoming and outgoing phone calls are not supported.
Last but not least Traveltomtom recommends Nomad e-sim cards for traveling in China. Nomad has amazing e-sim card plans for China and also the cheapest ones. They Nomad e-sim cards for China start from just $4 USD.
- 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
- 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 directly order a China e-sim card from Nomad.
The Nomad e-sim cards for China are from Joytel and they operate on the 5G/4G/LTE network of China Unicom. As you can see the Nomad e-sim cards for China are 5G ready! The Joytel Nomad e-sim cards for China are data-only and incoming and outgoing phone calls are not supported.
For a complete guide about using e-sim cards when traveling to China and a comparison of the best e-sim cards for China in 2024 click on the link and read all my tips.
Before ordering an e-sim card for China make sure your phone is first of all unlocked. E-sim cards only work in unlocked phones. Second, make sure your phone is e-sim compatible. Pretty much all newer smartphones are e-sim card compatible.
Arrival at Shanghai International Airport PVG
Shanghai is one of the biggest and most famous cities in China and a lot of international flights arrive at Shanghai International Airport. Shanghai Airport with airport code PVG is also called Shanghai Pudong International Airport.
There is free WiFi at Shanghai PVG Airport however, it requires an sms confirmation. I tried it with several phone numbers from UAE and from Europe and never received an sms with a code. There are also WiFi machines that generate a code after swiping your passport but they are only in the Arrival Hall.
It took me a while to finally get connected to the free WiFi at Shanghai Airport, but even though you manage to connect, pretty much nothing works on your phone unless you have a working VPN. Since all my VPN’s were not working I could not do much with the WiFi.
Anyway, after you disembark the plane you follow the long hallway to immigration and foreigners are asked to do a fingerprint scan to speed up the process along the way. The fingerprint scan machine will print a QR code which you will need at immigration.
After you pass through immigration you get to the baggage claim area where there are multiple luggage belts, duty free shops, money exchange and even a place to buy a China sim card.
After you collected your luggage you pass through the last customs check where your bags gets scanned and then you walk into the Arrival Hall.
There is only one exit, so you can’t get lost. However, big chance you get overwhelmed just like me with how busy it is.
Where to buy a sim card at Shanghai Airport
For those who want to buy a local prepaid sim card for China at Shanghai Airport you can do so as I said at the luggage belts opposite luggage belt 28, see the photo above. Little English is spoken, but just enough to set you up with a China sim card even before you collect your luggage. The cheapest sim card here cost 200 Yuan which is around $28 USD.
Other places to buy a China sim card at Shanghai Airport are in the Arrival Hall when you turn right upon entering. There is counter on your right hand side that has signs of sim card and pocket wifi, the shop does not really have a name.
The ladies speak ok English, but have very little patience when you ask questions.
A third option is 20 meter further also on your right hand side in the corner of the Cheerway Easy Go convenient store. There is a sim card shop that sells China sim cards for tourists.
The sim card shops are very easy recognizable as staff will be in front of them with signs for buying a sim card and trying to attract people by loudly screaming: ‘China prepaid sim card’.
Great thing is that the sim card shops at Shanghai International Airport are open 24 hours and they accept international credit cards as well as cash. So no matter what time you arrive you can always buy a sim card at Shanghai Airport.
Prices prepaid sim cards Shanghai Airport
All the information below is updated in January 2024 and prices are in Chinese Yuan also called RMB. $1 USD = 7.1 RMB and 100 RMB = $14.12 USD. RMB is the same as the Chinese Yuan.
Expect to pay tourist prices for sim cards at Shanghai Airport. If you want the cheapest China prepaid sim card deals then you have to buy a sim card in a phone shop in Shanghai City center and not at the airport. At the airport they sell tourist sim cards for tourist prices.
However, if you don’t speak Chinese things can get really complicated in Shanghai city center. At least at Shanghai Airport the staff in the sim card shops speaks a little English, in Shanghai city center there is no guarantee you will find English speaking staff.
Anyway keep in mind that when buying a local sim card for China in Shanghai you will need a working VPN, without a VPN a local prepaid sim card is USELESS for Western tourists.
Sim card shop Luggage Belt 28
They sell 3 different China prepaid sim cards for tourists at this sim card shop.
- China Unicom: 20 GB data + 300 minutes for 30 days = 200 RMB - $28 USD
- China Telecom: 30 GB data + 500 minutes for 30 days = 300 RMB - $42 USD
- China Unicom: 40 GB data + 700 minutes for 30 days = 500 RMB - $70 USD
They only sell physical prepaid sim cards, no e-sim cards. On all sim cards 5G is supported and you can use a hotspot.
Sim card shop arrival hall
They sell 4 different China prepaid sim cards for tourists at this sim card shop.
- 30 GB data + 300 minutes for 30 days = 230 RMB - $32 USD
- 45 GB data + 300 minutes for 30 days = 259 RMB - $36 USD
- 80 GB data + 500 minutes for 30 days = 350 RMB - $49 USD
- 130 GB data + 600 minutes for 60 days = 500 RMB - $70 USD
Cheerway Easy Go
In the corner of Cheerway Easy Go convenient store there is a so called Airport Business Hall sim card shop with a sign from China Unicom. It says China Unicom everywhere but they also sell China Mobile sim cards.
- 20 GB data + 80 minutes for 30 days = 150 RMB - $21 USD
- 30 GB data + 200 minutes for 30 days = 200 RMB - $28 USD
- 40 GB data + 500 minutes for 30 days = 250 RMB - $35 USD
- 100 GB data + 700 minutes for 60 days = 500 RMB - $70 USD
All the above tourist sim cards for China are only available as physical prepaid sim cards. E-sim cards are NOT available at all at Shanghai International Airport.
Best sim card for tourists at Shanghai Airport
For those that are willing to take a leap of faith and buy a local sim card for traveling in China at Shanghai Airport it is a fairly easy conclusion that the China Mobile sim card from the Cheerway Easy Go convenient store is the best buy.
For $21 USD you get 20 GB data and 80 minutes. Although I am not recommending to buy a sim card at Shanghai Airport but to use an international prepaid sim card or an e-sim card for China, I also bought the exact same China Mobile sim card on my arrival.
Using a VPN in China
There are much more detailed articles on the internet about using VPN’s when traveling to China, but I can keep it very simple and clear. All the websites telling you to use either Nord VPN, Express VPN or SurfShark VPN I can tell you that at the moment none of them work.
I literally spent almost $40 USD in subscriptions to make them work, but without success. All of them are momentarily blocked by the Great Firewall of China. It made my China Mobile sim card pretty useless.
In the end my Chinese friends helped me download LetsVPN and Shadowrocket. These two VPN’s worked quite ok, but the data speed is at times very slow and I personally have no patience for slow internet. Also on both VPN’s TikTok is still blocked!
My experiences buying a sim card in Shanghai
At the Shanghai Airport it was a fairly easy decision which sim card to buy as the China Mobile sim card was by far the cheapest and best tourist sim card available.
As soon as the staff made it work for me, I was shocked how little was actually working. No Google or Safari, how was I even looking up things. Trying to make my VPN’s run on my phone was also not a success and therefore in the taxi to my hotel I was already pretty disappointed with my China Mobile sim card.
The WiFi in the hotel was not helping much either as everything is still blocked. Luckily my Chinese friends instantly installed two VPN’s on my phone that actually worked after I already spent almost $40 USD on VPN subscriptions that were not even working.
Data speed with the VPN’s was sometimes so slow that I started looking for other way to get data on my phone. It took me more than 2 days to figure out that ordering an e-sim card on the internet was the ultimate solution for staying connected for when traveling to China.
No more VPN, no more slow internet speed, no more restrictions! It was such a blessing to use the internet in China as normal.
Below you can find a complete vlog with all my experiences.
Order a prepaid sim card for your trip to Shanghai online
Remember that e-sim cards can only be used in e-sim compatible phones. If your phone is not e-sim compatible and you want to order a sim card for China on the internet then you have to look into buying an international prepaid sim card for China.
These pre-activated physical prepaid sim cards will be delivered to your home address before your trip. You put them in your phone during your flight and you are online as soon as the plane touches the ground and your international sim card connects to an available network.
Arrive prepared in Shanghai with an international prepaid sim card for China:
- 10 GB data for 14 days = $49.90 USD
Click here to order an international prepaid sim card for China directly online via SimOptions.
The above Orange Holiday World international prepaid sim card actually works pretty fine. I have used it before for traveling in West Africa and had no problems. Another person of our group of foreigners was using this exact sim card for staying connected on his trip to Shanghai.
I am sure some of the above tips on how to stay connected when traveling to Shanghai were helpful. If you have any additional questions then please leave me a comment below or reach out to me on social media.
Curious what the road to 197 / visiting every country in the world looks like then head to my Instagram @traveltomtom and follow along. As of January 2024 I have visited more than 155 countries, so still more than 40 to go, but no rush.
Enjoy your trip to Shanghai!
Some links in this article about the best ways to stay connected when traveling to Shanghai are affiliate links. If you buy any of the products after using an affiliate link I earn a small commission. This is at absolutely no extra cost to you!