Traveling to Ethiopia? A guide to finding the best prepaid SIM card
A local SIM could reduce your roaming bills.
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Using your home phone in Ethiopia could work out to be expensive, so consider switching to a local SIM card to take advantage of cheaper local tariffs. Ethiopia has some good prepaid SIM card offers, including deals that could significantly reduce your bills. You can buy 1GB of data for ETB165 (AUD8.80), which could work out cheaper than your current roaming rates abroad. So, whether you’re planning a holiday or an African tour, check out the best SIM card options available.
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There is one main phone operator in Ethiopia: Ethio Telecom. It can be trusted because it has been tested by locals, travelers and leading testing sites. According to OpenSignal’s service map, Ethiopia has strong coverage around the main cities and towns, but it can become weaker the further out you head. Some areas of the country are still not covered by any network at all, but signals on all highways are above average.
About Ethiopia’s telco provider: Ethio Telecom
Ethio Telecom sells prepaid credit, which allows users to take advantage of local offers and deals. Roaming rates can be a little high compared to what is normally expected of phone operators, so make sure you compare deals against your own provider before committing.
Locals call their SIM cards “SIM SIMs” and they can be purchased from almost anywhere in Ethiopia including supermarkets, street sellers and stalls. Ethio Telecom shops are the best place to purchase the SIM cards but they can also be picked up from supermarkets or at the post office. We advise purchasing them from official stores and approved resellers because there have been reports of “bad vendors” selling fake or stolen SIMs on the street, and that could land you in trouble.
Top-ups can be purchased from most retailers; the official stores are the more reliable. According to local law, all SIM cards must be registered using your passport and a passport-sized photograph, and official stores are the best place to do this.
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Ethio Telecom offers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE wireless services, sometimes at reasonable rates. They offer SIM cards for both GSM and CDMA/EVDO devices and the cards can be picked up from almost anywhere in the country.
SIM cards can be purchased for ETB30, and they come with ETB15 worth of credit. To register the SIM card with Ethio Telecom you will need to show your passport and hand over a passport sized-photograph of yourself. Some stores will just take a photocopy of your passport page so don’t worry too much if you’re unable to take a photo with you.
Only standard and micro SIM cards are sold in Ethiopia; Nano SIMs are extremely hard to come by. However, stores are now stocking cutting devices or punches, which means they will be able to cut down the size of your SIM card to match your phone. Don’t worry, this will not damage the SIM or the service it provides. The cutting service can be found for free but some stores will charge ETB20 for the service.
Unfortunately, it’s still not possible to purchase SIM cards from the airport. Ethiopian authorities have said that they will soon offer this service but until it’s ready the best place to purchase the SIM card is downtown. Be aware of SIM card scalpers who might approach you at the airport, because it’s illegal and the card number will be shut off. In fact, avoid all street sellers at all costs.
Top-ups can be purchased all over the country in voucher form, in the following denominations: ETB5, ETB10, ETB15, ETB25,ETB50, ETB100, ETB250, ETB500 and ETB1,000. Vouchers costing ETB5-ETB100 will be valid for the same number of days as the voucher value, ie an ETB5 voucher covers 5 days. Vouchers of ETB250 or more will be valid for 120 days. If your SIM card is not used for one month it will be cancelled.
Dial *805*<voucher code># to add credit. Dial *804# to check balance.
The standard default rate is ETB0.35 per MB and the following data packages are available:
|25MB||Valid 24 hours||ETB5|
|100MB||Valid for 7 days||ETB20|
|500MB||Valid for 30 days||ETB85|
Ethio Telecom’s APN: etc.com (username etc and password etc)
Website in English:http://www.ethiotelecom.et
- Oromo and Amharic are spoken in Ethiopia. Oromo is the language widely used by Ethiopians, and you may want to download Google Translate onto your phone before you set out on your travels. However, most people in Ethiopia also speak English as one of their languages.
- Locals call a SIM card a “SIM SIM”.
- Ask the official sellers to set up the SIM for you, because they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions above or go to the official website for advice.
- Make sure you purchase your SIM card from official stores. Top-up vouchers can be
trusted from supermarkets and approved resellers. As we said earlier, try to avoid street sellers.
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:
“There is no SIM shop at the airport, but you can get them from many shops or any ETC office. Ask at your hotel for the nearest source.”
“Shops selling them will be open into the evening but not much past 8pm.”
“The difference is that if you have a local SIM the cost of the international call is on your caller. It saves you money.”
All networks require that you have a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible phone. To double check you have this type of phone or whether you can have it unlocked, contact your provider before you leave.
- Prepaid credit when required.
- No in-store contract needed.
- Could be compatible with your current device.
- Can be expensive. Compare roaming rates with your current provider to make sure it’s cheaper.
- No devices offered with the SIM card packages.
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked phones.
- Street sellers can be unpredictable.
One more question about finding the best SIM
Q: Is the signal good in Ethiopia’s countryside?
A: All networks will suffer a decline in service away from the main cities and highway areas. There is virtually no coverage at all in remote regions, so if you plan on trekking make sure your tour guide has some form of satellite phone before you set off. A lack of coverage is not just a problem for the Ethiopian provider, it will also happen on your usual network. So, if the local deal works out cheaper than your current provider, we highly recommend you switch over during your trip.
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