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I went to an Apple store in Shanghai/China to buy an apple watch with cellular and they told me I'll not be able to use it because SIM card providers (i.e. China Unicom, China mobile) require Chinese ID (which foreigners don't have) to unlock the cellular feature. The issue is not buy the SIM card but to put both iPhone and Watch on the same number.

It seems the eSIM (used by watch) is not that welcome in China. New iPhones are coming without it and instead hold two physical SIM cards.

One option would be to ask a chinese friend to buy a SIM card for me.

What other options are there?

(This whole story looks like the lock I use to see on phones years ago)

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  • Just doing a cursory search, it seems you can buy prepaid SIM cards to use in China as a visitor. I would double check what the Apple Store person told you. – Allan Oct 19 '20 at 1:31
  • That's correct. And it's also possible to buy non prepaid SIM. What seems not to be possible is to have two devices on the same number, which use to happen for apple watch users. – KcFnMi Oct 20 '20 at 0:17
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Note that there's no slot for a physical SIM card on the Apple Watch. You must add the SIM card to your iPhone. This can either be a physical SIM card, or a virtual SIM-card known as an eSIM. An eSIM usually takes the form of a letter or email containing a QR-code that you scan with the camera in your phone.

If you have a recent iPhone, you can add both a physical SIM and an eSIM to your phone at the same time. So it might be easiest to ask your friend to purchase an eSIM, and scan the code on your phone.

Note: In some places it could be illegal to get others to buy phone services in order to circumvent legislation.

Also note that there exists different models of the Watch that supports different radio bands - the watch you have bought in Shanghai probably won't work with cellular in North America. Apple has a list of the models and bands here:

https://www.apple.com/watch/cellular/#table-series-6

Apple's lists here that there are unique restrictions on Apple Watch cellular usage in China - stating that for China Mobile you can only use it with subscriptions opened in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, Hangzhou and Tianjin, while for Chine Tleecom it can only be used with subscriptions opened in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Wuhan.

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  • I'm aware Watch uses eSIM. So, for Watch its mandatory to have an eSIM, right? And on iPhone, may I (or should I) use the same eSIM? And in this case I don't need any physical SIM? – KcFnMi Oct 20 '20 at 0:43
  • No it can be either actually. The point is you buy a subscription for the phone - either Physical SIM or eSIM - and then you add Watch support to that - which then transfers an eSIM to the watch. You cannot buy a prepaid SIM just for the watch as some other comments seem to indicate. – jksoegaard Oct 20 '20 at 7:07
  • So in essence - you MUST choose a provider that supports Apple Watch. You cannot use any random prepaid or non-prepaid SIM or eSIM you can get hold of. – jksoegaard Oct 20 '20 at 7:09
  • Went to another apple store today and they told me the same, SIM cards bought with foreign passport won't work. No matter the provider. – KcFnMi Oct 20 '20 at 16:47

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