When in China, you may want to stay in contact with folks back home. Buying a Chinese cell phone can be as cheap or expensive as your tastes dictate. You can get a phone for as little as 180RMB ($25 USD) that you can charge with a prepared sim card for 100RMB ($14 USD). This amount of money should last you about two months of regular talk time in China, or two weeks of international call receiving. Total, you’re looking at around $40 USD to stay in touch with the international community while in China.
To buy a phone, you can head to basically any grocery store and ask if they sell phones. The word for phone is pronounced “show-gee,” gee and in gee shucks. This is a common place to buy cheap phones. You can also find any number of China Mobile retail shops around, especially in common shopping areas like Nanjing Road or Yu Gardens. 180RMB is for the cheapest possible phone, and that was a negotiated price for a simple phone with no frills.
Once you have the phone you can buy a phone card for quite cheap at any little 7/11 type convenience store. You can say “Zhong Guo Yi Dong” which means china phone card. Pronounce it, ‘chonk guoa ee dong.’ This should cost between 50 to 100RMB depending on the number of minutes you want.
Most phones can be put in English for you by the seller. Just ask in English and point at the phone. Most sellers will know what you need. Once in English it is easy to program, and the phone cards have an English language service.
Every call, text and incoming call costs you something that is deducted from the prepared money that was on your sim card. It is relatively cheap, and for an avid texter/talker you’ll spend less than 100 RMB a month on nationwide calls.