Finding the best prepaid SIM card when travelling to Madagascar
Buying a local SIM card can reduce your data costs.
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The African island nation of Madagascar is renowned for its biological diversity. It has experienced a population boom over the past two decades, doubling in size to 24.4 million since 1993. However, its infrastructure has not grown as quickly and cell phone coverage is sparse in many areas. But whether you are visiting for an exotic vacation, on business or seeing friends, purchasing a local SIM card can significantly cut down on your expenses.
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Madagascar SIM card requirements
Before we get into comparing Madagascar's companies and plans, be aware that Madagascar law requires that you present a copy of your passport when purchasing a prepaid SIM card. Depending on where you buy your card, you may also be required to have your photograph taken. If you don’t have a copy of your passport, you can’t legally buy a SIM card in Madagascar.
There are four companies in Madagascar currently offering prepaid SIM cards to foreign visitors. A majority of the coverage is in 2G on 900/1800 MHz and in 3G on 2100 MHz. You can get a basic SIM card set up for around MGA2,000 (AUD$0.83). The providers are:
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Airtel is owned and operated by India’s Bharti Airtel. It has previously appeared under the names Zain, Celtel and Madacom. Its SIM card product is called “puce” and can be purchased for between MGA2,000 and MGA4,000 at any Airtel store. Top-ups can be purchased at the same locations. Airtel has a wide range of data plans depending on whether you need more data for a day, a week or a month during your trip to Madagascar.
If you want to check your available data, text *999*114#. If you surpass your plan’s limit, you will be charged MGA5 for every 10 KB.
APN: internet, and website: http://africa.airtel.com/wps/wcm/connect/africarevamp/Madagasca
Telma is short for Telecom Malagasy, formerly the state-run provider that has since been privatised. In 2015, Telma became Madagascar’s first provider of 4G/LTE. As seen on the company’s 4G/LTE map, its coverage is strongest in the major cities and drops off considerably outside of them. Telma’s website is in French, and you can top up your SIM card online if you speak the language. Otherwise, recharge cards costing from MGA1,000 to MGA50,000 for corresponding lengths of 5 to 100 days can be purchased at any Telma store. You can also check how much credit you have left by entering #357# or #358#. To check on your available data balance, enter #358*14#.
Telma’s data packages are wide-ranging from a single day up to 12 months.
There is no overage fee for data. When you reach the limit, you are simply cut off.
APN: internet, and website in French: http://www.telma.mg
Orange has the most extensive coverage on 2G – approximately 85% of the population. Its 4G coverage is available only in the capital city of Antananarivo. The basic SIM card costs MGA1,500 at a minimum and is called “puce”. You can buy the cards in Orange shops. To top up, you’ll need to buy recharge cards that are sold throughout the country or by calling Orange’s customer service line to “tele-charge” your update.
Orange’s data packages range from 10MB for 1 day to up to 50GB across a two-month span. You can check your available data by dialling #358#.
*These two plans can be purchased twice in a single day.
APN: orangenet, and website in French: http://www.orange.mg
A product of Blueline, bip is the new kid on the block in Madagascar. Presently, it offers only 3G services but is planning its 4G/LTE network. Its basic card is a hit with locals who call or text infrequently. Known as “Tongasoa” and sold in bip stores, the basic package includes 6 domestic minutes, 6 domestic texts, 20MB of data and credit of MGA500 for MGA1,500. Bip offers the use of a number of websites for free regardless of whether you have an active data plan. They include:
- BBC Afrique
The network has nine data plans that can be added to your card. Once purchased, you can enter *398# to activate the plan.
|Contract length||Data volume||Price|
APN: bip, and website in French: http://www.bip.mg/
Advice from TripAdvisor users on SIM cards in Madagascar
While plenty of people use Trip Advisor to discuss hotels and attractions in different cities, it’s also a great resource for learning about local information, including about SIM cards. Here are some thoughts from previous SIM card buyers in Madagascar.
“We use Telma, it seems to have the best coverage for us, but some people prefer the other networks, which are Orange and Airtel. If you don't get it at the airport, there are shops all over Antananarivo but they can sometimes have very long queues and I do recommend the airport. The cost is negligible but the data plans can be expensive so do check what you are buying before you buy. If you buy Telma, I would purchase credit on cards rather than getting it put into my phone direct because once it is in your phone, if your data plan runs out without you noticing it will eat your credit in seconds. There are other smaller plans but they are kind of annoying because you have to type in codes every day.”
“I would get Telma. It has good coverage in most areas of Madagascar. Just make sure you ask about the codes to enter so that calling is cheap. Cards are about $1 so you could potentially get two.”
“I use Orange and Telma. For data, Telma is pulling ahead with coverage and 4G speed.”
Pros and cons of Madagascar’s top SIM card providers
With four plans to choose from, there’s something for everyone when it comes to buying a SIM card while visiting Madagascar. Here are some of the pros and cons when looking for the best fit.
- Recharge cards are sold throughout the country for all four networks.
- Bip’s data plan includes unlimited use of certain websites, including Facebook and Bing.
- Most of the websites associated with the networks do not have an English translation.
- Orange has 4G coverage, but only in the capital city of Antananarivo.
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