Will a Chinese / Imported Smartphone Work in the UK?

Chinese Shipping container

If you’re your thinking of buying an imported Chinese phone bargain, then you’ll want to know; will it work in the UK?

Over the course of the next five minutes (okay maybe 10), I’m going to explain the ins and outs of buying a phone from overseas. I’ll show you what you should be watching out for to guarantee that your new phone will work in the UK.

Don’t worry if you’ve already gone ahead and bought your first smartphone from overseas, this guide will still be useful to know as it covers the basics, should you ever have to troubleshoot any connectivity issues. Those of you still to take the plunge are in luck as we’ll be covering ‘what to look for’ when importing your first Chinese or non-EU phone.

By the end of this article you’ll know:

Xiaomi Mi 14 Pro
Xiaomi Mi 14 Pro
Xiaomi Mi 14 Pro
Xiaomi Mi 14 Pro
  1. How to tell if a Chinese Phone or non-EU phone will work in the UK on your mobile network?
  2. What bandwidths to look for that will support 2G, 3G & 4G LTE & 5G.
  3. Which UK mobile network carriers are piggy-backing (using other networks).
  4. Some useful facts about mobile frequencies that might help you win a very geeky pub quiz.

Popular UK Mobile carriers & their frequencies

The table below shows the most common UK mobile network providers also known as network carriers.

UK Networks

Three (3)

4G – 800/1800MHz

3G – 2100

T-Mobile, Orange, EE

4G – 800/1800/2600MHz

3G – 2100

O2 / Telefonica

4G – 800MHz

3G – 900/2100


4G – 800/2600MHz

3G – 900/2100

Giff Gaff

4G – 800MHz

3G – 900/2100


4G – 800MHz

3G – 900/2100


4G – 800/1800/2600MHz

3G – 900/2100

Virgin Mobile

4G – 800/1800/2600MHz

3G – 900/2100

TalkTalk Mobile

4G – 800/2600MHz

3G – 900/2100

How do I find out what frequencies my Chinese or non-EU phone supports?

When importing a phone, you first need to check which frequencies the phone supports. You can do this by either looking on the phone manufacturers website or alternatively websites such as devicespecifications.com are great for finding out full device information.

Once you know what bandwidth the phone supports, you can then cross check this against the carrier information above.

4G LTE is listed as either a ‘Bandwidth (MHz)’ or as a ‘Number’

In the UK, we currently use only three bands for our 4G network. These are Band 3, 7 and 20. Below, I’ve converted the frequency to a band number. Often manufacturers decide to use either the frequency or the band, so hopefully this will come in handy.

Frequency 2600MHz = Band 7

Frequency 1800MHz = Band 3

Frequency 800MHz = Band 20

Update: There’s been some Spectrum Re-Farming in the U.K

What the heck is spectrum farming? Is exactly what I was thinking too. It’s actually pretty simple. The networks EE & Three are going to start using the 2100MHz (traditionally only for 3G) for to improve your 4G data. Other networks will likely adopt the same refarm’ing practises soon.

You don’t have to do anything as this will happen automatically. So it’s good news for everyone. The reason for the change, or refarm, is that almost all smartphones are now 4G capable meaning a lot of the radio frequencies are just going to waste by providing 3G only.

Working out if my Chinese or import phone’s bandwidth is supported in the UK?

Below I’ve posted a couple of examples of phones and their bandwidths, so we can see what all this GSM / LTE Frequency stuff is all about.

Don’t forget to read the next section where I explain why to always use the 4G Band Numbers rather than the frequencies.

VIVO Y85 Smartphone

Network Support:

2G – GSM 800/ 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900

3G – HSDPA 850 / 900  / 1900+ / 2100 / 2000

4G – LTE band 1 (2100), 3 (1800), 5 (850), 7 (2600), 8 (900), 34 (TDD 2100), 38 (TDD 2600), 39 (TDD 1900), 40 (TDD 2300), 41 (TDD 2500)


While the VIVO Y85 is a stunning low-cost smartphone, it’s missing the 4G Band 20 (800MHz). Since this is needed for 4G Data Calls and Data in general, you’d want to avoid this smartphone.

For 3G, it passes as it does supports the 2100MHz frequency.

Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite

Network Support:

2G – GSM B2 (1900), B3 (1800), B5 (850), B8 (900)

3G – HSDPAB1 (2100), B2 (1900), B5 (850), B8 (900), B34 (TD 2000), B39 (TD 1900+)

4G – B1 (2100), B2 (1900), B3 (1800), B4 (1700/2100 AWS 1), B5 (850), B7 (2600), B8 (900), B20 (800), B38 (TDD 2600), B40 (TDD 2300)


The Xiaomi Mi A2 Lite has full U.K support. We can find bands 3, 7 & 20 in its 4G frequencies and also both 900MHz and 2100Mhz in the 3G section.

What’s the difference between FDD LTE & TDD LTE

The LTE part of this is simple. It stands for ‘Long Term Evolution’ and simple means 4G.

The FDD and TDD are different versions of 4G. Here in the U.K., we only use the FDD standard. If you want more technical explanation, read up on FDD and TDD LTE here.

Now onto the important bit.

Each 4G band has its own unique number. But, frequencies can be shared across FDD and TDD. So you can have a phone that supports 2600MHz FDD or 2600MHz TDD.

Luckily for us, the band numbers are unique. Band 7 is (FDD 2600MHz) and Band 38 is (TDD 2600MHz).

So make sure to use the 4G band numbers when checking if your smartphone is supported by your network carrier.

Didn’t You Say Something About Piggybacking Earlier?

That’s right, not all the networks above use their own frequencies. It’s quite common for UK carriers to use a virtual network, or in simple terms, they rent the network spectrum from other providers. Until recently there have only been 4 networks in the UK that own the frequencies they operate on.

EE, Vodaphone, Three & O2. All the other carriers rent the frequencies they use allowing them to provide network coverage for their customers.

*BT is the exception here as they recently bought some of the 4G spectrum and became the 5th biggest network owner in the U.K.

Here’s a very helpful list of all the UK Carriers who piggyback from over at USwitch.

Here the boring bit I was talking about, read on if you dare! Or skip to the bottom and leave a comment if this helped you out.

What is VoLTE?

Let’s start with the basics. VoLTE or Voice over LTE (commonly referred to as 4G) is when a phone uses its internet connectivity to make and receive calls. This is super useful as often you can have internet connectivity but no 3G signal. Traditionally you would need 3G to make and receive calls; with VoLTE you can make this call on the 4G network.

Certain bandwidth spectrums (common urban city areas) in the UK are very good at penetrating deep into buildings meaning you are more likely to get 4G signal when 3G isn’t available.

Another added benefit of 4G voice calling is that it’s able to send around 2-3 times more data than 3G. To take advantage of this your voice over VoLTE has been upgraded to Voice HD. The Voice HD is clearer and should give a richer audio experience.

Does your smartphone or your network provider support VoLTE?

There are some limitations to making Voice over 4G (VoLTE) calls. The most obvious being both phone need to be 4G enabled and have 4G signal for the call to work. Next, you need to be on a network that supports 4G over Voice.

Currently, in the UK, the following providers all support a form of Voice over 4G (VoLTE):

  • Three Network (4G Super-Voice) – 50%+ UK Coverage
  • EE (4G Calling)
  • Vodafone (HD Voice) (Vodafone to Vodafone only)
  • O2

Which smartphones support 4G Voice Calls (VoLTE)?

This isn’t as simple as you’d first think. When you buy a phone directly from a network provider such as EE they will have customised the phone to include their 4G Calling software.

If you’ve bought your phone SIM-free or have switched networks then you might be out of luck for the time being. For certain popular handset such as the Galaxy S7, EE have been rumoured to be pushing out VoLTE updates.

Popular high-end phones from Apple, Google, Huawei, Samsung & LG that were produced in 2017 onwards are all including the VoLTE feature built in. For the non-flagships smartphones, your best bet is to visit the store or ask the network providers online and buy the device from them.

Making calls on WiFi

As well as VoLTE most network providers are also rolling out apps or built-in software which allows you to make calls over your WiFi network. You can check the Network providers websites for how to enable this on your device.

What’s the difference between Dual Band, Tri-Band & Quad Band?

In essence, when a phone is classed as a multi-band device it can support multiple radio frequencies / bandwidths. A band is classed as a group of frequencies within a certain range. If your phone supports bandwidths 900MHz and 1800MHz, it is actually using two spectrums of bandwidth, 880-960MHz and 1710-1879MHz, one for upload and one the other for download. Each area in the world chooses what frequencies to output its cellular waves onto. If you’d like to delve a little deeper and brush up on you GMS frequency bands then check out Wikipedia GSM Frequency page.

Where will a Dual Band phone work?

Dual Band is one of the most widely used frequencies and uses 900MHz & 1800MHz. This will allow the phone to work in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Australia and most parts of Asia. If your mobile phone only supports this frequency it will not work in US and Canada.

The other Dual Band frequencies that are widely used are GSM 850MHz & 1900MHz. These frequencies are used in the US, Canada, Brazil and other parts of South America. If your mobile phone supports these frequencies is will not work in Europe, Middle East, Africa, Australia and most parts of Asia

Where will a Tri-Band phone work?

Tri Band or Triband like the name suggests means that the phone will work on 3 different frequencies. Generally, tri-band phones work the 900 MHz, 1800Mhz and the 1900Mhz spectrum which means you can use it in Europe, most of North America and most of Asia.

Where will a Quad Band phone work?

A quad-band phone will work almost anywhere in the world and covers the following frequencies:

  • 850 MHz (U.S. / Canada / Latin America / Brazil)
  • 900 MHz (Africa / Europe / Brazil / Africa / Australia / Asia (excluding Japan and South Korea))
  • 1800 MHz (Africa / Europe / Australia / Asia / Brazil)
  • 1900 MHz (U.S. / Canada / Latin America)

What is 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G?

1G – Stands for 1st Generation so without giving anything away this was the 1st wireless network that phones communicated on and was introduced in the 1980s to allow the transfer of analogue signals.

2G – You guessed it, stands for 2nd generation wireless network and was commercially launched in 1991. The advent of 2G allowed for digital voice to be transferred over radio waves.

2.5G – They improved upon the 2G network allowing faster internet speeds more commonly known as GPRS.

2.75G – Or EDGE as you might see it appear on your phone is another enhancement on 2.5G.

3G – Was released to further the standards and improve speeds again.

4G – This is where things change, the 4th generation wireless network was created primarily for data use, allowing us to achieve even faster mobile internet speeds.

5G – Now we are looking into the future. As more people adopt data-heavy mobile plans and streaming increases we will inevitably have to open up more frequencies. This will be known as 5G and will enable faster speeds whilst supporting more people at once.

Join the conversation

If you found this article useful please share and comment below : ).


  1. Ive been buying Chinese Smartphones for last 4 years now and never had any problems…Always find the Chinese Manufactures very helpful too,if ever i have any questions :-)

    • Hi Russ, do you have any experience with Doogee phones and the Three network ? I have tried to get a Valencia 100Y Plus working – makes phone calls but won’t do data. I have entered the Three APN details but still no dice. BR,
      Paul O’Brien

      • Hi Paul,

        I’ve had experience with Doogee phones (not the Y100 but similar) & I actually use the 3 network here in the UK.

        I’ve checked the Frequencies for the Valencia Y100 and it supports both of the 4G frequencies that 3 uses (800, 1800MHz).

        There’s a couple of thing you can check for in the settings:
        – Under Mobile Network Settings > do you have 4G as your recommended network.
        – Under data usage > set mobile data to on
        – Under data usage > Check data limit isn’t set to 0

        If this doesn’t work I recommend turning it off. Taking the battery out waiting 10 seconds and then turning it on again. I used to work at EE and you’d be surprised how many problems this fixes : )

        Hope this helps you out,
        James @ Review Hub

        • Hi james. I am thinking about buying the Xiaomi Mi 5 smartphone which is also a chinese company, not sure if you’ve used it or not but after seeing that the only bands which will work on 3 for the Xiaomi Mi 5 are 3G on 2100MHZ and 4G on 1800MHZ. Is it worth it? I really want to buy it but it will not be worth buying a phone with bad signal as I want it to last me a few years. Thanks!

          • Hi Rajan,

            Yeah it looks like it’s missing the 800MHz spectrum that a lot of UK providers use for 4G. I haven’t had experience with the Xiaomi Mi 5 myself so can’t say for sure whether it would work okay just on the 1800MHz for 4G on network 3.

            Maybe check out the Reddit Forum: https://www.reddit.com/r/Xiaomi/ and see if anyone else has tested the 4G in the UK on 3 network.

            Hope this helps : )
            James @ Review Hub

          • Hi Rajan, I am in the position…..please let me know if you find out whether the MI5 on Three UK can work properly with the 1800Mhz band only

        • @james gil , im looking at buying a lenovo vibe shot z90-3 and was wondering if it will work in uk i dont mind it not getting 4g as long as i get H or H+ , im using 02/giffgaff atm but dont mind going to EE if i means it will work ok

  2. Hi I purchased an Elephone P6000 Pro, new and unlocked. It works with every Uk simcard apart from Virgin media. I’ve had a replacement sim sent out in case that was the issue, however as I suspected it wasn’t. I am wondering if you have had any thoughts/experience on how to overcome this issue?

    • Hey Veronica,

      Virgin piggybacks off the EE network, did you try an EE SIM and it worked? I just checked the bandwidths supported for the P6000 and it should work on all UK networks (2G, 3G & 4G). My best guess would be that it’s a problem with the Virgin network.

      Have you tried the SIM in both of the SIM slots? (Make sure to restart after putting the SIM in)

      • Hi James,
        Thanks for taking time out to reply. It worked straight away with EE. I’ve currently got it working on this sim. l’ve tried it I’m both slots restarting each time.

        I popped into a Virgin Media store but they were unable to advise other than it must be a fault with this handset… Even the technical they called gave the same reason.

        I’m curious to get to the bottom of why it doesn’t work.

        The handset doesn’t even acknowledge the virgin sim card is in the slot it reports as empty. When I gave the VM adviser the two IMEI numbers she said she couldn’t find them on her database. I suspect this could be the issue/ or certainly part of it.

        I checked on IMEI.org and the IMEI numbers show up and correlate with the handset make and model.

        VM either do not understand my line of questioning or are reluctant to provide me with further information on the steps in their process for a VM sim to successfully acknowledge and connect with a handset. Which is frustrating.

        As always any info/ suggestions are greatly appreciated!

        • Hi Veronica,

          I know that some carriers only allow phones that they have registered on their systems. This can be a problem for people buying phones in the states a lot, but I didn’t think UK carriers were implementing this kind of thing.

          If it works on EE, I can’t see any reason for it not to work on Virgin unless they have a whitelist of phones models.

          Keep me posted if you find out anymore : )


  3. I’m in the UK and on the Three network. Looking on the internet the frequency is listed as:
    Three (3)
    4G – 800/1800MHz
    3G – 2100

    The phone I’m interested in is listed as working on:
    XiaoMi Mi5 128GB 4G Smartphone

    2G: GSM 850/900/1800/1900MHz
    3G: WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100MHz
    4G: FDD-LTE 1800/2100/2600MHz

    I think the problem I’m having trouble with is the 850Mhz the phone works on. Am I right in thinking that the phone would work on the 1800mhz frequency for 2G and 2100Mhz for the 3G.

    • Hi Daniel,

      As far as I’m aware Three Network don’t use the 2G signal here in the UK. So 3G would work with on the 2100MHz spectrum and 4G would be hit and miss depending on your location.

      If it was me, I would choose a phone that has 4G support for the 800MHz, 1800MHz & 2600MHz bands.

      That way you are guaranteed that the phone will work anywhere in the UK.

      Hope that helps : ),
      James @ Review Hub

  4. Hi James I was thinking of buying the honor 6x it supports all the Uk bandwiths however it also supports Gsm 950 1900 will it work in the Uk still?

    • Hi Kab,

      There will be no issues if phones support extra bandwidths. Phones only use the bandwidths available to it. As long as it supports the bandwidths for UK 3G & 4G you’ll be good to go : )

  5. I want to buy the Xiaomi Mi Mix. With Three network only the 1800mhz frequency is compatible. Does that mean I won’t get 4G is as many areas? Do different Three masts use different bands or do they all transmit all of them?
    Thank you

    • Hi Dave,

      Yes you’re right by the looks of it, the Mi Mix doesn’t support the 800MHz for 4G. Only 3G.

      It depends what area you live in to which spectrum three will be using for their 4G signal. I’d wait and see once the Mi Mix starts being released as I’ve seen supported bandwidths change depending where you buy the phones.

  6. Hi James,

    Sorry, same old question. This time regarding the Xiaomi Redmi 4. The phone supports:
    2G – 850,900,1800,1900
    3G – 850,900,1900,2100
    4G – 1800,2100,2600…….
    I’m currently on EE and happy to stay, and from what I can find EE uses:
    2G – 1800
    3G – 2100
    4G – 1800,2600

    Am I going to have any issues missing band 20, 800MHz?

    Thanks, Dave

    • Hi Dave,

      When I last checked EE uses 800/1800/2600MHz for 4G signal. It depends on the area you in to which part of the spectrum they use. Some spectrum’s work best for built up areas some for the suburbs.

      If you head into an EE store they should be able to tell you which signal is used in your area on a map.

      • Many thanks for the reply.

        Think I’ll go for a phone with band 20 support. If I ever found myself in an area where i needed the 800mhz frequency and the phone didn’t receive it, I’d just have a pretty useless expensive calculator in my pocket.

        Cheers, Dave

        • Hi Dave,

          If you were in an area where the 4G signal was using the 800MHz spectrum you would just fall back to the 2100MHz 3G. Not ideal but you’d still be connected.

          Hopefully a full support model will come out soon!

  7. Ive just bought an xcody x200 and my network is O2 Iput my sim card in there bit says sim card slot empty help I’m going mad !!!!

  8. what about buying a phone made for a specific country, for example a galaxy s7 edge g9350, which is meant for hong kong use, would that work on the 3 network?

  9. Hey Tom,

    It’s all about the bandwidth frequencies. In the UK Three Network doesn’t block phone manufacturers so as long as the frequencies (bands) match it’ll work fine!

    James @ Review Hub

  10. Hey Nita,

    After placing a SIM card into a new phone always make sure to turn the device on and off. Sometime the phone won’t recognise the new SIM until it’s rebooted.

    Failing that if it’s a dual SIM phone try your SIM in the 2nd SIM slot.

    Make sure your SIM is the right size. If you’ve cut your SIM from a Micro to Nano yourself? This only works on certain SIM cards.

    Try another SIM card to see if you can isolate the problem to your SIM only.

    Finally check http://willmyphonework.net/ to see if the phone supports the UK Frequencies for the O2 network.

    Hope this helps : )

    James @ Review Hub

    • Thanks for replying James but my new phone from ebay was broken the sim reader was faulty have took it into shop to be repaired his was 2 weeks ago hence being a Chinese phone they have to order the bit so going to be a while the person we bought it off has transfered the cost of the repair to us luckily

  11. Hey Andrew,

    If it supports the UK bandwidths you shouldn’t have problem. If it’s missing the bands you need then there’s no way to update it unfortunately.

    The only other thing I can think of is that it’s still partially, fully locked or that Tesco are not allowing it on the network as it’s an overseas exclusive.

    Have you got any further with it?

  12. So glad I found review–hub as it was written so clearly as it’s easy to understand. As I already saw some parts of how technology works it made this so clear for me today. Now I can look at phones from China & know what I’m doing for a change & not taking hours looking & wondering should i or should i buy. It was doing my head in but now look forward to seeing more from this website to learn more & tell everyone about it. So thanks for being a geek. Great job.

  13. hi there ,off to kuala lumper for a couple of weeks and thinking of getting Xiaomi phone. ant recomendations and will it work in uk

  14. Hi, I know I’m late to the party, but any idea if the Redmi K20 Pro will work on Three or EE in the UK? It doesn’t seem to have band 20 but has B3 and B7 on FDD. I definitely don’t want to be stuck with a 3G phone! Cheers.

  15. Hi , I recently bought redmi k 20 pro global rom ( Chinese edition). It is missing band 20(800) for 4g. Which means I m stuck with 3g (h+).
    I am wondering, Please correct me as I m a total noob.
    The band frequencies on the phone is a hardware feature and manipulating the software or reprogramming the bands won’t help.
    Is there any possible way to add the missing band ? Do I need to change the network chip to get the missing band ?
    * Now Xiaomi released the 9t pro which supporte the 20 band for 4g , i m thinking have the changed the network chipset for the new one?
    Thanks in advance

    • Hey Ahmad,

      It’s been a while since I researched this, but, if my memory serves me well, the bands are software based and more of a licensing issue.

      You may be able to search unlocking extra LTE bands on the Redmi K20 Pro but it’s beyond the scope of my knowledge. Good luck and let me know if you get it working.

  16. I suspect things have moved on since this article was posted. I’m on Three, and my NEX 3 defaults on the preferred network type of TD-SCDMA/CDMA/UTMS. Same LTE.


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