Using a mobile phone in Hong Kong

Using a mobile phone in Hong Kong

30th January, 2012

I always assumed that using a mobile phone in Hong Kong would be straight-forward, and for the most part that was true. But I made the classic mistake of many mobile phone users – I waited until I arrived in the country to get set-up.

This wasn’t the end of the world – there were plenty of helpful people to get me networked and phoning home after I’d arrived. Though if I’d taken a few steps before I left I would have found using a mobile phone in Hong Kong a little easier.


In this post I’ll look at all this in more detail. If you’re moving to Hong Kong soon, you might also find it useful to read more about becoming an Expat in our free eBook The New Expat.

International roaming

If you want to use your mobile phone with your network SIM card abroad you’ll need to enable international roaming on your phone before you leave your home country.  Many people are surprised to discover they cannot use their phone at all. This is because telecom companies lock phones for international calls as standard to protect owners against high call charges if their phone is stolen. If your phone is new or you have not yet used it abroad, make sure you call or go online in your home country and have international roaming allowed.

If you find yourself out in Hong Kong without international roaming – don’t despair. Some providers now allow you to make the change online rather than by phone. And if that isn’t possible then they can supply an international number for you to call.

SIM lock

So what if you’ve moved to Hong Kong and want to use your existing mobile phone without incurring substantial call charges? If you’re planning on making most of your calls to other local mobile phones then it’s a good idea to get a local SIM card. If you wait until you arrive like I did, then you’ll discover your phone has to first be ‘unlocked’ to receive a SIM card from any network. Worse still this can be quite difficult to do on the ground with an international phone. Although with a bit of hunting I found a service in Tsim Sha Tsui.

By far the best thing to do is take your phone to an unlocking service in your own country, which are available in many high street locations and well advertised. Be aware, however, that you will need your phone unlocked to receive any country SIM card – not just any network. Some providers restrict both so be sure to check the unlocking will work with a Hong Kong SIM.

Phone Skype

So what if you’d prefer to keep your original SIM? What’s the most cost effective way of using a mobile phone in Hong Kong? If you have a smartphone you can download a Skype app and use this service directly through your phone anywhere there is WiFi.

This means that if you’re in touch with another user logged onto Skype you can call for free. And you can also take advantage of favourable Skype rates to make international calls. Another Skype trick is to work out where most of your calls will be made and register the service to a local address. As Skype is an internet service they pay exactly the same costs for any call made anywhere in the world. But since many of us still assume a call ‘abroad’ should cost more, Skype weights their charges accordingly. So no matter where you are in the world, wherever your home service is registered will reflect the cheapest call charges.

Once again it’s sensible to download Skype before you leave in a trusted WiFi location. Then you can test it out and if you get it wrong and accidentally connect via your mobile network you won’t receive substantial charges.

Cost saving tips when using a mobile phone in Hong Kong

Planning on keeping your phone running more or less as it was at home? To avoid huge data charges you should always ensure your Data roaming is turned OFF. This is different to international roaming permissions and is usually found in general settings under network. And if you’re calling home have the person call you back – it’s cheaper for you to receive incoming calls from abroad than to call out.

I hope you find this information useful when it comes to using a mobile phone in Hong Kong. For more on making the move abroad, don’t forget to download our free eBook The New Expat which covers family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements, medical considerations and much more.

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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