I just got back from a business trip to China. I carry my personal android CDMA phone in airplane mode while there and connect it to wifi hotspots in the hotel and such to check mail and what have you. I then carry an unlocked blackberry perl I bummed off of a friend in the US. The nice thing is that the phone is all in english. As soon as I checked into my hotel, I handed the concierge 100RMB and asked him to get me a sim card for the town I would be in. My traveling guide then helped me activate the sim card in the phone.
Some things to remember:
- Make sure the GSM phone operates on China frequencies (GSM in china is different than GSM frequencies in US)
- Calling plans in China are typically free inward calls so set up your friends on google voice / skype so they can call you
- The sim card I got was local only so it only worked in the town I was in, I do not know about plans that take you elsewhere
- When you activate you will get instructions to a Chinese voip tunnel which you can use to call US for cheap. This is a much cheaper way than dialing international from your new SIM.
Also to note in my research China Telcom which operates the national CDMA network requires a local address to sign up so I did not try to get my CDMA phone registered there so if trying this route good luck.
- best of luck and good travels
Also good to know all the bartenders know american for BEER but unfortunately you should probly learn the mandrin for toilet :)