Ping Pong Cellular Telephony: Chinese phones and US SIM cards
June 4, 2008 8:13 PM   Subscribe

Phone from China, SIM card in the US: what do I need to know to make sure I have a working cell phone when I return to the US for a month or two this summer?

My girlfriend and I are currently living in China and will be returning to the US for a month or so this summer. We would both like to have cell phones while in the US without having to get on a plan or buying separate phones for the two countries. I've never dealt with SIM cards in the US.

The best solution I envision is being able to purchase prepaid SIM cards when we arrive in the US, pop it into our phones, and start making phone calls. How plausible is this? My cell phone is a Nokia 2100, which I believe is EGSM 900, GSM 1800. Because it works with both of the major providers' SIM cards in China, I believe it is also unlocked. What other specifications are important?

My girlfriend, on the other hand, needs to purchase a new cell phone and would like one that works in both countries. What specifications does the phone need to have so we can be assured it will work in the US?
posted by msbrauer to Technology (6 answers total)
In the US, the two frequencies used are 1900 and 850. As your phone supports neither of these, you will need to buy new phones for the two of you. I would recommend you buy something like the GoPhone even though that will be only usable on our crappy wireless companies.
posted by ooklala at 8:25 PM on June 4, 2008

I've always used Sony Ericsson phones in both the US and China/HK. I used T-Mobile in the US and a variety of major telecoms in China. Never had an issue. Just switched out the SIM cards and I was good to go.

I specifically used the K700 & K750i. Both work great.
posted by qwip at 9:33 PM on June 4, 2008

Best answer: Two options... I'd just buy a virgin mobile card from 7-11 in the US.

The second option is to buy one in China.

Use a bit of intuition and smarts, and buy the cheapest quad you can find there in China.

One thing to look for is on the list of features on the card next to the phone, there will be a list of the features and price of the phone. You know what I'm talking about, right... the list that's not in English, is usually blue for reason, and has the price stamped on the bottom. They're in those big cell phone store monstrosities that are in every mid to upper-tier shopping area in Chinese cities. The two things you'd be looking for us the price and a line that has the number of bands on the phone.

There's usually a line that has the number of bands... I forget the second character, but the first character is just a number. So there's

二band, 三band, and 四band phones.

It might help if you could write down "800 MHz, 950 MHz, 1850MHz, and 1900MHz". They'll know what you're talking about.

This isn't an exotic request, I believe it's important for those traveling to Hong Kong or Taiwan.

And then, as an exercise to you, the reader, wrangle out a SIM card from a company in the states.
posted by sleslie at 9:54 PM on June 4, 2008

I bought a phone just a few weeks before I left China for similar reasons. If you put in a SIM, no problems. But yeah, your phone isn't going to work in the US. I bought a nokia 2610, which was the cheapest phone I could find that would work in both countries and had a dictionary. They're widely available, and pretty cheap, I can't remember the exact price, but I think it was about 550 RMB, two months ago.
posted by bluejayk at 11:15 PM on June 4, 2008

I did the same thing and it did not work. We had to buy cheap-o prepaids back in the US despite buying several sim cards and "unlocked" phones at some supposedly reliable black market shops in Beijing.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:15 AM on June 5, 2008

My Nokia 3230^ that I purchased in Chongqing before returning stateside works fine with AT&T. For an additional $10 a month I have international text messaging. I recall paying ~1500rmb a year ago so I expect you could find one for considerably less in the rapidly changing Chinese cellular market.
posted by geekyguy at 10:13 AM on June 8, 2008

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