Internet & Phone
Most mid-range and high-end hotels provide wired broadband internet access for guests with their own laptops, though there may be a daily fee (it tends to be more expensive in fancier hotels). Many hotels and almost all hostels will have wireless internet free of charge. However, sometimes it’s only available in common areas like the lobby. In youth hostels, you often find a PC or two in the lobby, either for free or for a small hourly fee (say ¥10).
More and more people are choosing to travel with their laptops, and a café with wireless internet can be a good place to have a quick lunch and check your email. China is full of Western-style cafes and bars that offer wifi, especially in bigger cities. You’ll know you’re on the right track when see a small “wifi” sticker in the window or notice that many of the patrons are on their laptops.
If you are not traveling with a computer, internet cafes are an easy way to get online. They might not be obvious at first, but once you recognize the characters 网吧 (wǎngbā, or internet café), you’ll start seeing them all over town. (You can remember the characters easily because the wǎng looks like a net.) These cafes can be dark and smoky, but they offer PCs for public use at a cheap rate of ¥3-6 per hour. The price may vary depending on when you visit and they’re often open 24/7. You’ll need to provide your passport before getting web access, and the café may hold on to it until you’re ready to leave. Be aware that your visit may be monitored in one way or another. Your picture may be taken at the front desk before you’re given a card with a user number and a password that you use to log in. One caution: if you want to print something out, make copies, or burn a CD, internet cafes aren’t your best option, they tend to cater to gamers and chatters and probably won’t provide these services.
Recognize the internet café characters
Inside an internet café
Censorship & VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)
Internet censorship in China is a government operation. Some sites may be blocked for political reasons, as they may include content that is not favorable to the Chinese government. In other cases, Chinese websites lobby the government to block their international counterparts so that they can corner the domestic market. Whatever the reasons, this so-called “Great Firewall” is inconvenient and upsetting to travelers who are used to complete internet freedom. For some, the best solution is just to put away the computer and enjoy a trip spent offline. But for those who prefer or need to access the web freely, there is a relatively simple solution: Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs.
Simply put, a VPN is a program that allows you to hop over the Great Firewall by connecting to a proxy server outside of Mainland China, allowing you to access the internet as if you were in that location instead of in China. Ironically, the websites for VPN providers are often blocked in China, so if you’re determined to use one, it’s smart to set it up before you leave home. Some reliable and popular VPN providers include 12VPN, StrongVPN and Witopia. See our review of the best VPNs in China for more information.
You may have a phone in your room if you’re staying at a hotel or hostel. Local calls are usually free, but long-distance and international can be quite pricey. Check with the staff for rates before you start dialing. When you’re out and about in the city, public phones are everywhere: you can usually make calls from newspaper stands and small hole-in-the-wall shops for less than ¥1. Look for a China Unicom or China Mobile sign. There are also pay phones in many locations, but they take phone cards, not change.
You may be able to use the mobile phone you use in your home country, unless it has been locked by your network – check with your phone company before you go. If your phone is locked, you can buy an inexpensive cell phone here for about ¥200-300. Either way, you’ll need to purchase a local SIM card: these can be found in China Unicom and China Mobile outlets all over town, as well as in many grocery stores and some convenience stores. A SIM card will set you back between ¥40 and ¥100, usually with ¥50 of credit to start. When your initial credit runs out, you can recharge your minutes with credit-charging cards that you can buy practically on every corner.
If you brought your laptop along, Skype is an excellent option for inexpensive calls, both domestically and internationally. A free software program, Skype allows you to call other Skype users for free, and charges a small amount to call mobiles and landlines. Of course, check out our overview of the most usefull APPs in China.
No matter what phone you’re calling from, phone cards offer the cheapest rates. There are two kinds of phone cards you should be aware of: IC cards and IP cards. You can buy both of these cards in convenience stores, newspaper stands, supermarkets, hotel lobbies, and other retail outlets throughout China. The Chinese word for “card” is kǎ (卡) so ask for an IC or IP kǎ. But note that they often only work in the region/province of purchase and also have an expiration date.
IC (Integrated Circuit) cards: These are prepaid cards you can use to make calls from payphones.
IP (Internet Phone) cards: For international calls on a mobile phone or a hotel phone, use one of these. IP cards offer a rate of ¥1.8 per minute to the United States and Canada and ¥3.2 to all other countries; domestic long-distance calls are ¥0.3 per minute. IP cards usually work like a calling card in the West. You dial a number and input a PIN, then your card will have dialing instructions on the back side, and English-language service is usually available.
To make an international call from China, dial: 00 + country code + area/region code + phone number.
International country dialing codes
New Zealand: 64
South Korea: 82
Hong Kong: 852
Area/Region calling codes