GoKunming Forums

Cannot receive SMS from overseas

laohu (14 posts) • 0

Recently I bought a SIM card from China Unicom (中国联通) in Kunming. The number is 155-xxxx-xxxx.
It turns out that this SIM card cannot receive SMS from overseas (I tried from Germany, USA, and via Skype).

I once heard, that sometimes receiving SMS needs to be enabled by the phone company. A native chinese speaking friend tried twice to do that by ringing 10010, but the operator apparently did not know how to enable SMS from overseas.

A few years ago I bought a China Unicom (中国联通) SIM card in Guangzhou, number 130-xxxx-xxxx. SMS to/from overseas worked straight away without problem.

Can anybody give some advice? Thanks!!!

Greginchina (239 posts) • 0

Unfortunately this is always going to be a problem and doesn't matter if you're on China Mobile or China Unicom.

I used to be on China Mobile and could only receive UK texts from the Vodafone network. Now I'm on China Unicom and I receive texts from different UK networks but the numbers aren't always correct so I don't know who sent them.

Basically there are 2 issues here. One is with the receiving of SMS. I think China just hasn't got this sorted out yet. I doubt there's any sinister reason like with blocking the internet, I think its just because they can't be arsed and assume its unimportant.

The same goes for international caller ID. Whenever I get an international call it displays a random number totally unconnected with the actual caller. I have no idea why this is. Again its probably just they can't be bothered to get it right.

It also stupidly depends on your location. There isn't actually a company called China Mobile and there is no China Unicom. There is a Beijing Mobile, Beijing Unicom, Guangdong Mobile, Guangdong Unicom etc... These local companies are part of a China Mobile Group or China Unicom group that lists in HK or NY for shareholders but inside the country its a very different story.

rejected_goods (349 posts) • 0

the problem, i believe, is roaming.
if you can get overseas roaming enabled on your sim, you will get overseas sms, mate.
sim cards sold in guangdong region, shenzhen in particular, are roaming enabled by default. so good luck!

Greginchina (239 posts) • 0

Actually this has nothing whatsoever to do with roaming. I'll explain when I'm back on a computer, currently on mobile.

laohu (14 posts) • 0

Hi Greginchina, thanks for your explanations on how Chinese mobile companies work. I'm still interested in your view why "this has nothing whatsoever to do with roaming". I'll probably get roaming switched on sometime anyway, as it may be nice to check for messages occasionally when I'm not in China.
If I can solve the problem with receiving overseas SMS I would like to keep this SIM card for a few years.
I will post a summary if I can get this sorted.

Greginchina (239 posts) • 0

Basically international roaming is so that you can use your phone abroad and people can contact you on the same number wherever you are in the world. It has nothing at all to do with using your phone inside China. They do actually have roaming within China also (ie, if you use your Yunnan SIM card in Chengdu) but this is almost always switched on by default.

There may have been some confusion between turning on international roaming and turning on international calling (not the same as roaming) but even this is not actually connected with text messaging which is different. Text messages are sent to a local service number and then redistributed by the network from that service center. Your phone is not making any connection abroad to send an international SMS - that is done at the network's service center. The same is true of receiving SMS. An SMS sent from say Britain to China would be sent to the China Mobile service center which would then send it on to your phone. At no point is your phone having to make any kind of international connection so both roaming and international call function are irrelevant.

Both roaming and international calling usually require a hefty deposit. International SMS doesn't, its just 1 yuan per message instead of 1 jiao or whatever deal you've got as a package. But even if international SMS sending was a function that you could request to be turned on (I think its usually just on by default), it is not connected to receiving SMS from abroad. Sending and receiving are 2 totally separate things.

It would be great if this was something that can be sorted out by switching on a service or paying a deposit but the truth is that the chinese mobile system is just messed up. Things that work in one province won't work in another. Nobody will explain why or take any responsibility. There is not much you can do about it.

For example, when I was on China Mobile in Kunming I had all my numbers stored in the international format +86 1xxxxxxxxxx. When I went on a trip to somewhere in the north of the province I was unable to call anyone. I finally worked out that if I removed the country code for China and the plus sign it worked fine. They can't even get the same thing to work within one province - don't expect any uniformity across multiple provinces.

There is no easy solution. If you have a smartphone there are various apps which allow free messaging between users of the same app using your phone's data connection rather than SMS but this is not suitable for getting in touch with someone who doesn't have the same app. There are also various apps that send international SMS via the internet rather than the mobile network. I use one called biteSMS for iphone and send texts abroad through that saving lots of money. However this won't help you in receiving texts which is what the thread is about.

If you want to go for international roaming be prepared to pay a big deposit. Last time I did this China Mobile required a downpayment of 3000 RMB.

rejected_goods (349 posts) • 0

first thing first, i have to say that i am not a technical user.

i just talk as a user. my china unicom sim (prepaid) bought in shenzhen 130 x.... a few years back, works in hong kong, macau, taiwan, sydney and SF, receives international sms in and out china without any problem at all, with cost per sms of course. CU in shenzhen did not charge anything nor any monthly fee for turning it on. CU just sent a sms to say it was turn on when i was in hong kong the first time. my CU prepaid sim bought in yunnan does not work outside mainland china nor would it get international sms. so, that is why i think international roaming might work.
thanks greg

Greginchina (239 posts) • 0

thats interesting. was it a purely local China Unicom SIM or was it one of these China Unicom mainland-HK dual SIMs. See www.china-mobile-phones.com/HongKong-China-SIM-card.html

They actually assign you a different number when you cross the border to hong kong. They have a deal with one of the Hong Kong networks and perhaps its that Hong Kong network that gives you roaming in Taiwan, SF etc.

If it was a standard China Unicom SIM then that's pretty amazing. Must only be available in Guangdong Province. Most of the country they want a big deposit for roaming.

I still don't think this is connected to receiving international SMS though.

rejected_goods (349 posts) • 0


it is a plain/Standard China Unicom prepaid SIM, not the dual number sim variety.

form memory, it was quite a shock to receive a sms from CU saying i could use the sim in hong kong, thinking they must be trying to rob me in monthly subscription fee..etc by stealth, as it turned out it was not the case. CU did not charge anything at all for that at all. i think CU shenzhen must be a separate unit to the rest of china CU. :-(

laohu (14 posts) • 0

Thanks for all your info! It gives me a pretty good idea on what is happening.

My solution is now:

1. I use the local Kunming SIM card (155-*) for use within China (is has the cheapest rates);
2. I also use a SIM card bought in Guangzhou (130-*) for SMS and calls to/from other countries.

I have a phone with 2 SIM card slots (which can be used simultaneously), that makes it very easy. Alternatively one could use 2 phones.

The SIM cards from Guangzhou Unicom are fairly cheap to maintain:
* Adding Y30 gives you another 3 months of validity (so put your money on in Y30 increments, not Y50, etc. to get maximum validity).
* No monthly charges apply.
* International SMS and calls worked straight away, so did incoming call number display.
* After the validity period expires, you still have 2 months to recharge until the SIM card becomes extinct. Any credit you have on the SIM card remains until the card becomes extinct.
* I have heard that Guangzhou Unicom SIM cards can now be recharged at Unicom offices anywhere in China (but I have not tried that). They can be recharged online if you have a Chinese bank account (I usually ask a Chinese friend to recharge my card occasionally - it's easy).

Of course - if you don't make many calls within your local province (eg Yunnan), then getting a single Guangzou, Shenzhen, etc SIM card is the easiest solution (you may need to ask a friend there to buy you one). Local SMS/Calls are a little more expensive, but you don't have the hassle on keeping 2 SIM cards.


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