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Do eSIMs work in China, and can I use my eSIM device?

Yes, and yes.

· 4 min read

In today's connected world where there is such a heavy reliance on smartphones, one of the last things you want when you are traveling is to have to deal with the anxiety of not being able to use your phone — whether it is to stay in touch with your loved ones, access essential services, or to navigate your way through unfamiliar territories.

The introduction of eSIM technology in modern devices has made it much easier for travelers to maintain connectivity as they travel. In fact, with the increased adoption of eSIMs globally, some devices are now entirely eSIM-only, and no longer have a physical SIM tray.

However, in China, where internet and communication is heavily regulated, what is allowed and what isn't might not always be clear to tourists. You might have heard that eSIMs are not allowed in China (that's not entirely true), and so if you are currently using an eSIM-only phone, or if you are using an eSIM, there could be concerns over whether you can still use your own phone in China.

Shanghai eSIM

Can eSIMs work in China?

The quick answer is that yes, they can.

China does not prohibit the use of eSIMs, so if you are currently already using an eSIM or eSIM phone, you will still be able to use your own phone. However, it is important to note that the ability to remain connected largely depends on your network provider and the plan that you have with them. If your plan includes roaming in China, and you have enabled roaming on your device, then you will be able to stay connected with the same eSIM that is already installed in your device.

The misconception of eSIMs being unable to work in China is largely due to the fact that most (if not all) Chinese phones do not come with eSIM support. This is not brand-specific. Rather, it applies to all phones that are sold in China. That is to say if you were to purchase a phone in China, chances are that they do not have eSIM-support — whether it is a homegrown Chinese brand like Xiaomi and Oppo, or an international brand like Apple and Samsung.

However, if you are currently using an eSIM device, you will still be able to use it even when traveling in China, subject to your eSIM plan having coverage in China.

iPad 10 to come with eSIM support in China

That said, the upcoming release of the iPad 10th Generation (Wi-Fi + Cellular) in China will come with eSIM-support. This will be the first iPad/iPhone in China that comes with eSIM support. According to a new Apple support document, China Unicom will be the only supported eSIM carrier for the iPad 10 in China. This means that if you want to use an eSIM for the iPad 10, you will have to get a plan from China Unicom.

Note that aside from the iPad 10th Generation (Wi-Fi + Cellular), all other iPhones and iPads purchased in China do not come with eSIM support.

Can I buy a tourist eSIM from a Chinese telco?

Now that we are clear that eSIM phones can be used in China, the next thing you might be interested in finding out would be whether you can get a tourist eSIM from a Chinese telco, so that you can stay connected as you travel through China.

China has three major mobile carriers, including China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. Each of these carriers offer various data plans for tourists, and you will be able to pick up a tourist SIM card at most of the major airports in China. However, these telcos currently do not offer eSIM options.

It is also important to note that if you were to purchase a SIM card from one of these telcos, there will be network restrictions on the apps that you might be able to access.

Nomad eSIM

Get a Nomad Travel eSIM for China

If you are on an eSIM-only phone, or if you prefer using an eSIM for your travels, you can get a travel eSIM instead. In fact, even if you are not on an eSIM-only phone, we would recommend that you get a travel eSIM, as opposed to getting a physical SIM from a local telco.

Affordable data rates

Nomad is a provider of travel eSIMs, and offers various data plans for many destinations, including China. Nomad offers various plans for China with rates starting from as low as $0.98/GB, and you will be able to find a plan that best suits your travel needs and data consumption patterns.

💡If you are not sure how much data you need, Nomad's data calculator will help you find a plan that's most suitable for you in three simple questions.

Surf the internet without restrictions

Getting a physical SIM from a local Chinese telco means that you will be subject to the restrictions of the Great Firewall of China, and this would limit your access to many of your favourite apps. While there are ways to bypass these restrictions while using a SIM card from a local telco, these methods often involve incurring additional costs.

By getting Nomad's travel eSIM for China, you don't have to worry about purchasing an extra VPN service or incur expensive data roaming charges just to access your essential apps and services. You can seamlessly surf the internet without restrictions, and stay in touch with your loved ones as you wander through the streets of China.

Purchase your eSIM before you fly

You will need a stable internet connection to purchase and install your eSIM. It is recommended to purchase and install your eSIM before you fly, so that you can hit the ground running once your flight land!