Long-distance phone calls can be placed from hotel-room phones, though this is expensive without an internet phonecard. You may need a dial-out number for a direct line. Local calls should be free.

Note the following country and city codes:

Běijīng010
People’s Republic of China00 86
Shànghǎi021

If calling Shànghǎi or Běijīng from abroad, drop the first zero.

The following numbers are useful:

Enquiry about international calls106
Local directory enquiries114
Weather12121

Mobile Phones

Using a mobile phone is naturally most convenient. If you have the right phone and are in a wi-fi zone, Skype (www.skype.com) and Viber (www.viber.com) can make calls either very cheap or free. You won't get far communicating with anyone in China unless you have the WeChat app (also known as Weixin in China).

More Information

You can certainly take your mobile phone to China, but ensure it is unlocked, so you can use another network’s SIM card in your phone. Purchasing a SIM card in Shànghǎi is straightforward: pick one up from a branch of China Mobile (中国移动; Zhōngguó Yídòng); branches are widespread.

Mobile-phone shops (手机店; shǒujīdiàn) can sell you a SIM card, which will cost from ¥60 to ¥100 and will include ¥50 of credit. SIM cards are also available from newspaper kiosks (报刊亭; bàokāntíng). When credit runs out, you can top up the number by buying a credit-charging card (充值卡; chōngzhí kǎ) for ¥50 or ¥100 worth of credits. The main networks are China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, with branches throughout the city.

The Chinese avoid the number four (sì; which sounds like but has a different tone from the word for death – ) and love the number eight (bā). Consequently, the cheapest numbers tend to contain numerous fours and the priciest have strings of eights.

Buying a mobile phone in Shànghǎi is also an option as they are generally inexpensive. Cafes, restaurants and bars in larger towns and cities usually have wi-fi.

Phonecards

The internet phonecard (IP card; IP卡) connects via the internet and is much cheaper than dialling direct. You can use any home phone, some hotel and some public phones (but not card phones), or a mobile phone to dial a special telephone number and follow the instructions (there is usually an English option).

Phonecards can be bought at newspaper kiosks, but are far less available than they used to be. Cards come in denominations of ¥50, ¥100, ¥200 and ¥500 – but they are always discounted, with a ¥100 card costing in the region of ¥35 to ¥40. Check that you are buying the right card. Some are for use in Shànghǎi only, while others can be used around the country. Check that the country you wish to call can be called on the card.

Generally, a safe bet is the CNC 10-country card (国际十国卡; guójì shíguókǎ), which can be used for calls to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Macau, Taiwan, England, France, Germany and some East Asian countries. Check the expiry date. If travelling around China, check it can be used outside the city or province you buy it in.