Travel

Should I exchange currency/ Buy sim card at the airport?

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  • Aug 13th, 2018 11:31 am
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Should I exchange currency/ Buy sim card at the airport?

I am planning to go to shanghai and taiwan next month. Should I exchange currency/ Buy sim card at the airport or is it cheaper to buy it in the city or exchange currency via Debit Card with a ATM?
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For SIM cards in China, be aware, it's not that simple. See here: http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/China. When I visited three years ago, I bought a SIM from a provider catering to international travellers, who shipped it to my hotel and had it waiting for me on my first day of travel. It cost a little more but it probably saved me a bunch of hassle, and having instructions in English was useful too.

For Taiwan, things are simpler, and you can probably buy one on arrival at the airport: http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Taiwan
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taeyang987 wrote:
Aug 8th, 2018 9:34 am
I am planning to go to shanghai and taiwan next month. Should I exchange currency/ Buy sim card at the airport or is it cheaper to buy it in the city or exchange currency via Debit Card with a ATM?
For Mainland China, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE RESEARCH CHINA SCAMS BEFORE YOU GO!!! SHANGHAI, CHINA IS SCAM CENTRAL!!!

Anyone coming up to you in the airport, speaking English, and offering you a SIM card (or taxi) is a scammer. NO EXCEPTIONS.
You have to go to an actual Chinese phone store and buy a SIM using your passport. They will scan your passport, and photograph you holding your passport. In Shanghai, someone in the store will speak English. And you can only refill the SIM from a Chinese bank account, or from refill cards you buy from vendors who never speak English. No VISA/MC, etc.

I ended up getting Unicom HK SIM (Hong Kong) that roams in China. It is super convenient for non-Chinese, although the cost is far more expensive than a domestic Chinese plan. As a bonus, the HK SIM, or any SIM from outside of China will not experience internet censorship. Let me know if you have any questions, I have personally used that SIM that I linked on amazon. (That SIM also has specific roaming rates for Taiwan too, but it's probably cheaper to get a local domestic TW SIM.)

Note: There is another seller called "Lvycom" that sells China SIMs. This seems to be a one-woman business who resells Chinese SIMs. If you buy from her, you'll have to e-mail her a scan of your passport to activate it, and you are forced to go through her for data top-ups. Her data prices are quite inflated.

RE: Currency

Get a small amount, like 1000 RMB before you go.
Then use something like Tangerine to withdraw from China ATMs. I find their ATMs are actually quite nice and they always have an English option. And I saved typically CAD $14 per 1000 RMB withdrawn, thanks to better exchange rates in China versus Canada.
Last edited by Jucius Maximus on Aug 12th, 2018 12:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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[OP]
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Jucius Maximus wrote:
Aug 11th, 2018 11:40 pm
For Mainland China, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE RESEARCH CHINA SCAMS BEFORE YOU GO!!! SHANGHAI, CHINA IS SCAM CENTRAL!!!

Anyone coming up to you in the airport, speaking English, and offering you a SIM card (or taxi) is a scammer. NO EXCEPTIONS.
You have to go to an actual Chinese phone store and buy a SIM using your passport. They will scan your passport, and photograph you holding your passport. In Shanghai, someone in the store will speak English. And you can only refill the SIM from a Chinese bank account, or from refill cards you buy from vendors who never speak English. No VISA/MC, etc.

I ended up getting Unicom HK SIM (Hong Kong) that roams in China. It is super convenient for non-Chinese though the cost far more expensive than a domestic Chinese plan. As a bonus, the HK SIM, or any SIM from outside of China will not experience internet censorship. Let me know if you have any questions, I have personally used that SIM that I linked on amazon. (That SIM also has specific roaming rates for Taiwan too, but it's probably cheaper to get a local domestic TW SIM.)

Note: There is another seller called "Lvycom" that sells China SIMs. This seems to be a one-woman business who resells Chinese SIMs. If you buy from her, you'll have to e-mail her a scan of your passport to activate it, and you are forced to go through her for data top-ups.

RE: Currency

Get a small amount, like 1000 RMB before you go.
Then use something like Tangerine to withdraw from China ATMs. I find their ATMs are actually quite nice and they always have an English option. And I saved typically CAD $14 per 1000 RMB withdrawn, thanks to better exchange rates in China versus Canada.
thank you very much for your tips. Is it cheaper to exchange $ at a china ATM compared to if I exchanged money in canada or in china via bank or china. Also how much cheaper is the data in china compared to the data in canada. I plan to use a lot. I am planning to be there for about 7 days
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taeyang987 wrote:
Aug 12th, 2018 12:30 am
thank you very much for your tips. Is it cheaper to exchange $ at a china ATM compared to if I exchanged money in canada or in china via bank or china. Also how much cheaper is the data in china compared to the data in canada. I plan to use a lot. I am planning to be there for about 7 days
The question about exchanging money is answered in the last paragraph of my post. (I edited it in later so maybe you didn't see it.)

A domestic China phone plan will have unlimited data for 50 RMB (CAD $10) per month. Yes, $10.
Check in advance if your phone supports the Chinese 4G bands. Most phones sold in Canada do not suppot Chinese 4G frequencies.
Just be aware, if you go through the legwork to actually get a SIM in China, you should also go back to the same store (*must be the actual store where you bought the SIM) at the end to cancel your plan. Otherwise your passport may be blacklisted from buying Chinese SIMs in the future.

For 7 days, I would seriously consider not having a SIM. Just use CityMaps2Go for offline mapping.
Download the Google Translate and Microsoft Translate dictionaries in advance.
Get your obligatory VPN in advance.
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In Taipei I got a SIM card upon arrival at Taoyuan International Airport in October last year.
If I recall correctly there are booths to the right hand side just before you walk to the immigration lineup and the SIM I got cost about 400 or 500 TWD.

For currency exchange, I always use a no FX fee credit card and withdraw from the ATM.
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aznrsx1979 wrote:
Aug 12th, 2018 1:12 am
If I recall correctly there are booths to the right hand side just before you walk to the immigration lineup and the SIM I got cost about 400 or 500 TWD.
SIMs before immigration?! That's something!
I was surprised to find currency exchange before immigration in Thailand, but I guess that's expected due to "visa on arrival" fees for Chinese who have difficulty exchanging their money in the harmonious Guo. I've never seen SIMs before immigration. I should go to TW!
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Jucius Maximus wrote:
Aug 12th, 2018 1:35 am
SIMs before immigration?! That's something!
I was surprised to find currency exchange before immigration in Thailand, but I guess that's expected due to "visa on arrival" fees for Chinese who have difficulty exchanging their money in the harmonious Guo. I've never seen SIMs before immigration. I should go to TW!
I just double checked the map of the airport and it's marked as currency exchange just before the Arrivals Passport Check Hall.
The SIM I bought was from one of those booths, there were about 5 booths which did currency exchange and sold SIM's.

https://www.taoyuan-airport.com/uploads ... map_en.pdf
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Jucius Maximus wrote:
Aug 12th, 2018 1:35 am
SIMs before immigration?! That's something!
I was surprised to find currency exchange before immigration in Thailand, but I guess that's expected due to "visa on arrival" fees for Chinese who have difficulty exchanging their money in the harmonious Guo. I've never seen SIMs before immigration. I should go to TW!
try KUL also
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For 7 days, I would seriously consider not having a SIM. Just use CityMaps2Go for offline mapping.
Download the Google Translate and Microsoft Translate dictionaries in advance.
Get your obligatory VPN in advance.

Disagree. I found that a lot of the VPN services worked fine on mobile data but would not work on most public or hotel WiFi networks. Furthermore, a lot of WiFi networks required receiving an SMS code to your local Chinese phone number to log in. So if you're counting on just relying on WiFi, then you may want to reconsider.
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seriesofcontradictions wrote:
Aug 12th, 2018 11:57 pm
Disagree. I found that a lot of the VPN services worked fine on mobile data but would not work on most public or hotel WiFi networks. Furthermore, a lot of WiFi networks required receiving an SMS code to your local Chinese phone number to log in. So if you're counting on just relying on WiFi, then you may want to reconsider.
I spent 5 weeks in China this year and found exactly 1 WiFi network that needed an SMS verification, and it actually worked with my Canada number. Everything else had a WeChat connection option.

As for VPN, don't go with those famous services like Express VPN. The famous ones are the biggest targets and get blocked the most. (I agree the big ones work better on 4G.) I never had a single problem connecting to VPN on WiFi once I stopped using Express.
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Jucius Maximus wrote:
Aug 13th, 2018 12:28 am
I spent 5 weeks in China this year and found exactly 1 WiFi network that needed an SMS verification, and it actually worked with my Canada number. Everything else had a WeChat connection option.

As for VPN, don't go with those famous services like Express VPN. The famous ones are the biggest targets and get blocked the most. (I agree the big ones work better on 4G.) I never had a single problem connecting to VPN on WiFi once I stopped using Express.
I wasn't using one of the big or well-known VPNs. Actually, I had two different ones -- both small and relatively niche, both paid services of good quality. Both were consistently blocked on hotel and other public WiFi networks. Not to mention, the WiFi itself was less than reliable depending on where I was.

Agree that getting a WeChat account prior to travel is a good idea. Still doesn't always work though.

I suspect this is a YMMV situation. I still don't think that the advice to go without a SIM is very practical if OP is looking to have reliable connectivity.
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Jucius Maximus wrote:
Aug 11th, 2018 11:40 pm
I ended up getting Unicom HK SIM (Hong Kong) that roams in China. It is super convenient for non-Chinese, although the cost is far more expensive than a domestic Chinese plan. As a bonus, the HK SIM, or any SIM from outside of China will not experience internet censorship. Let me know if you have any questions, I have personally used that SIM that I linked on amazon. (That SIM also has specific roaming rates for Taiwan too, but it's probably cheaper to get a local domestic TW SIM.)
I used a very similar China Unicom HK sim card when I was in Beijing. It was reasonably priced (though more expensive than a local SIM) and worked well, with none of the internet censorship or other hassles of a local SIM. I did have to refill it from China to buy more data, and was able to do it easily on the China Unicom HK website using my Canadian issued Visa card.

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