Note It is much easier to recharge now via Alipay or Wechat pay, but not all foreigners have that setup quickly. I haven’t tried this method in quite some time, so I hope it still works.

I wrote before that I decided to go with China Unicom for cell phone service in China, primarily because they offer 3G which I use extensively, and I think I have a 1 year contract. (Oh the fun of not knowing what you have!)

About a month ago, I realized I had never received a bill for the service, which left me worried. Was the bill going to the wrong address? Was my cell phone service about to be cut off for non-payment? The answer for both is no. Even though I have a contract, I still pay for it similar to pay-as-you-go. I refill my phone every month to pay for the contract. Periodically, you need to add more money to your phone, and doing this is straightforward, once you know how.

Check Your Balance

Checking your balance is straightforward and in English. From your cell phone, call China Unicom at 10011 and follow the English prompts. (There is a lot of Chinese at the beginning, so be patient).

Add Money

I’ve found two ways to add money to your phone. In either case, you’ll need to tell the cashier China Unicom in Chinese: 中国联通 (zhōngguó liántōng). I usually go to FamilyMart since it is close to where I live, but you can do this at many other places.

Instant Charge

  1. Go to most major convenience stores and tell them you want to add money: 加钱电话 (jiā qián diànhuà)
  2. Pay for the recharge
  3. The cashier will redirect you to a machine. Enter your phone number and press OK, then enter your phone number again and press OK
  4. You should get a text message within a few seconds

Recharge Card

  1. Go to most convenience stores and buy the recharge card for China Unicom
  2. Call China Unicom at 10011 and follow the English prompts