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how to use a china mobile recharge card

i recently bought a pay-as-you-go china mobile SIM card (for 100 yuan, or around $12 USD) at my local convenience store. while trying to get it to work i ran into a few problems, so i thought i'd share my solutions in case anyone else has a similar problem (the cards are not very intuitive to use if you can't read chinese, and i found the voice menus to be pretty difficult to understand).

1.) buying the card: despite the fact that most countries use scratch-off paper or plastic cards to give you the phone recharge code, and indeed many stores in china have plastic china mobile recharge cards in their display, don't panic if you get a blue-and-white piece of paper with holes down the sides. this is also a recharge 'card'.

2.) reading the card: everything in the instructions is in chinese, and to add to the fun there are several strings of numbers on the inside of the recharge card. don't panic. your 'recharge pin' is the long number beginning with '09' (or it may start with a different number, such as '19'). this is all you need to know.

3.) using the card: dial 13800138000 (yes that's an extra '0' at the end) from your mobile phone, then dial 2, then 2, then 1#, then 1, and then enter your recharge pin followed by the # sign.

4.) you should hear 'please wait a moment', then a success message. that's it! your card is now recharged.

if you need additional help: as difficult as the recharge cards are to use for people who don't speak chinese, the chinese/english bilingual china mobile customer service operators are VERY helpful. dial 11086 (note: this number used to be 1860. if the new 11086 number doesn't work for you, please let me know!) from your phone for assistance -- if you get an unhelpful operator or you can't get through, just hang up and call again, and you should get promptly connected to another (and hopefully better) operator.

thanks to the helpful reader David who also added that the number to dial if you want to check your prepaid China Mobile balance is 10086.

hope this helps someone else trying to do the same thing!

Comments (17)


i live in china for 5 months now. today i got the receipt not the card.
the pin number begins with 19, thats probably because theyve run out of cominations begining with 09.
anyway the pin number is not correct and the 186o is no more.
i need to call my co-workers in urgent matter. but i guess i will use skype for that.
thanks for puting that on web site. official China Mobile site does not have any service numbers listed, only milestones, mission statment and this sort of crap.so chinese


Thank you for the very clear instruction, it ended my two-day struggle with the prepaid card. After you pointed out that the card's PIN begins with 09, I realized I've been typing in wrong line of figures from the card. Thanks a lot, the sequence works like magic!


kat and michal -- i'm glad i was able to help you out! i've also updated the entry to cover michal's comments on the changed numbers.

best of luck, fellow international cell phone users! :)


Yes, thank you very much for the detail instructions.

Like Michael I have been scouring the web looking for more infomation on China mobile, but their website is definately lacking.

If anyone else stumbles upon here and wants to know about the call costs and some other tips - have a look at this site :


I posted a question there, and a very helpful editor responded.

He previously told me that international MMS messages are not supported on any of the networks in China, and in fact you can't even post cross network.

China can be fun sometimes!


thank you so much for your 'how-to'. ive almost lost my nerves on this!
greetings from shanghai,


jeni and phil: glad my instructions helped. don't forget to stop by the delicious Element Fresh in Shanghai for the best expat breakfast in town while you're out there!


i've been studying in beijing for the past few months, and usually i went ot this small store to recharge my phone and they always did it for me, now i bought one and like usual the chinglish is so hard to understand that i couldnt make anything out of it, glad i googled it. Thanks for the clear instructions!


I think you'll find the number to check your balance is 10086


thanks for the update, David! i've updated the blog post with the new number to check balance.


hi, thank you, you helped us out with this one!!!
bye, xxx

Thank You so much for the clear instructions,because of the awful operator english it was terrible to understand the instructions. thank you again !
best from Shanghai


Thank you so much - who would have thought something so simple could be so complicated!! I was pulling my hair out and thought I was the only one till I found your site - well done!


Thanks soo much! I was totally lost! BIG Help!


OMG, i tried for like a hour and couldn't recharge my phone.. it came to the "wait a moment" an after that she just said that the pin number was wrong..

Exploding banana!!!:

GRRRRRRR extremely frustrated, couldn't understand a friggin' word of the chinglish instructions and several operators later.... enough to drive any sane person through the roof!

1. DIAL 13800138000
2. PRESS 2
3. PRESS 4
7. PRESS 1

.... and that's all!


Thanks for the "How to recharge someone else's China Mobile account", Mr. Banana! I'll add this to the post body when I have a moment, but in the meantime having this in the comments should help out some other people as well.

Keep those tips and comments coming, folks! I'm glad this webpage has become as useful as it has. :)

French hommy:

Thank you so much !!
My english is not good enough to understand and follow the instructions so...
You almost save my life ;)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 6, 2006 6:16 PM.

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