Local SIM cards can provide you with the best data rates when visiting Malawi.
One of the smallest countries in Africa, Malawi has two major smartphone operators that command most of the country’s prepaid SIM card business: Airtel and TNM. Coverage and speed are both spotty but thought to be improving with technological investments. If you are visiting Malawi and want to avoid heavy roaming charges from your home network for local calls, texts and data usage, a local prepaid SIM card could suit your situation well. A basic starter pack with 5MB of data, 5 minutes of voice and 5 text messages can be purchased for MWK500 (AUD$0.88).
What follows is an overview of the two Malawi telcos, describing the various options and packages, followed by some tips and other information that will help you choose a SIM card.
Formerly known as Zain, Airtel Malawi is a subsidiary of India’s Bharti Airtel and has slightly more than one-half of the nation’s subscribers as customers. In 2017, it introduced a 3.75G network that it hailed as “the most advanced Internet-capable telecommunication system in Africa” offering “the widest coverage in Malawi”. Airtel does not combine voice, SMS and data services in one package. Rather, it has you pick what services you want “a la carte” from its voice bundles, SMS bundles and data bundles.
Airtel local voice bundles
|Name||Minutes||Hours||Cost||Validity||Buy code||Balance code|
|Chezani 50||6||9pm -|
|Chezani 100||12||9pm -|
|Chezani 200||8||11am -|
|Chezani 400||16||6am -|
|Chezani 1000||40||24 hours||MWK1,000||3 days||*121#||*137*1000#|
Airtel international voice bundles
|Name||Minutes||Cost||Validity||Buy code||Balance code|
|International 80||1||MWK80||1 day||*121#||*137*60#|
|International 320||4||MWK320||1 day||*121#||*137*240#|
|International 480||6||MWK480||2 days||*121#||*137*360#|
|International 800||10||MWK800||7 days||*121#||*137*600#|
|International 1600||20||MWK1,600||20 days||*121#||*137*1200#|
|International 2400||30||MWK2,400||30 days||*121#||*137*1800#|
Airtel SMS bundles
|Name||Number of texts||Cost||Validity||Buy code|
|Ticheze 30||15||MWK30||1 day||#121#|
|Ticheze 70||70||MWK80||1 day||#121#|
|Ticheze 350||600||MWK400||5 days||#121#|
|Ticheze 700||1,800||MWK800||10 days||#121#|
For 1-day plans, expiration is at midnight on the date of purchase.
To check your balance on any SMS bundle plan, dial *137*23#
Airtel data bundles
|PaNet 15MB||15MB||MWK100||24 hours|
|PaNet 30MB||30MB||MWK150||24 hours|
|PaNet 175MB||175MB||MWK500||24 hours|
|PaNet 1GB||1.024GB||MWK1,800||24 hours|
|PaNet 50MB||50MB||MWK300||7 days|
|PaNet Night Chilaz Weekly||200MB||MWK250||7 days|
|PaNet 150MB||150MB||MWK600||7 days|
|PaNet 300MB||300MB||MWK1,000||7 days|
|PaNet 1GB||1.024GB||MWK2,500||7 days|
|PaNet 1.2GB||1.28GB||MWK3,500||30 days|
|PaNet 2GB||2.048GB||MWK5,000||30 days|
|PaNet 3.5GB||3.584GB||MWK7,000||30 days|
|PaNet 6GB||6.144GB||MWK10,500||30 days|
|PaNet 10GB||10.24GB||MWK15,500||30 days|
|PaNet 15GB||15.36GB||MWK19,200||30 days|
|PaNet 40GB||40.96GB||MWK40,000||30 days|
|PaNet Night Chilaz Monthly||1.024GB||MWK1,100||30 days|
Other Airtel data bundles
Airtel also offers data bundles specifically for use with Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. They are as follows:
- PaNet Facebook Daily: 50MB, 1 day, MWK110. To buy, dial *301*300#
- PaNet Facebook Weekly: 115MB, 7 days, MWK230. To buy, dial *301*301#
- PaNet Facebook 20 days: 1.024GB, 20 days, MWK1,200. To buy, dial *301*302#
- PaNet Twitter Daily: 40MB, 1 day, MWK100. To buy, dial *301*500#
- PaNet Twitter Weekly: 110MB, 7 days, MWK240. To buy, dial *301*501#
- PaNet Twitter Monthly: 1.024GB, 30 days, MWK1,250. To buy, dial *301*502#
- PaNet WhatsApp Daily: 30MB, 1 day, MWK70. To buy, dial *301*200#
- PaNet WhatsApp Weekly: 120MB, 7 days, MWK230. To buy, dial *301*201#
- PaNet WhatsApp Monthly: 500MB, 30 days, MWK560. To buy, dial *301*202#
For all data bundle balances, dial *304#.
APN: internet, and website: http://africa.airtel.com/wps/wcm/connect/africarevamp/Malawi/
Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) was the first to offer 3G in Malawi and began offering 4G/LTE in June of 2016. 4G is currently offered in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. Starter sets, which include 5 minutes of voice, 5 SMS messages and 5MB of data, cost MWK500.
TNM SIM cards and top-up vouchers are sold at retail outlets as well as by many street vendors. To check your balance, dial #123# and to top up an account, dial *111*<voucher PIN>#
Beyond the starter kit, TNM offers four packages that offer minutes or texts, charged on an “a la carte” basis. These plans are:
- Yaboo! – Peak-hour calls (7am-10pm) MWK83/minute; off-peak-hour calls (10pm-7am) MWK41.50/minute; SMS on Net MWK17.60/SMS; SMS off Net MWK21.60/SMS; data MWK33/MB.
- Yanga – Calls MWK103/minute.
- Yofewa – Calls MWK70/minute; SMS MWK15/SMS; data MWK33/MB.
- International – Calls to G20 countries MWK200/minute; SMS International MWK44/SMS.
Like Airtel, TNM has an extensive offering of data plans lasting from 1 day to 1 month.
|Validity||Data volume||Price||Activation code|
Other TNM data bundles
TMV also offers data bundles specifically for use with Facebook and WhatsApp. They are as follows:
- Daily – 50MB, MWK110, activation: *200*2#
- Weekly – 120MB, MWK230, activation: *200*22#
- 20 days – 1GB, MWK1,200, activation: *200*222#
- Daily – 30MB, MWK70, activation: *200*3#
- Weekly – 120MB, MWK230, activation: *200*33#
- Monthly – 500MB, MWK560, activation: *200*333#
APN: internet, and website: http://www.tnm.co.mw/
Advice from TripAdvisor users on SIM cards in Malawi
While plenty of people use Trip Advisor to discuss hotels and attractions in different cities, it’s also great for learning about local resources, including SIM cards. Here are some thoughts from a previous SIM card buyer in Malawi.
“Both Airtel and TNM simcards are 1,000MWK. You can buy them at (almost) every ‘table’ in Lilongwe that sells the top-up cards. Very easy to find them!”
Pros and cons of Malawi’s top SIM card operators
Airtel and TNM are the only major SIM card operators in Malawi, and both have their strengths and weaknesses.
- Both operators have a broad range of data packs available.
- While they are not available across the entire country as of yet, Airtel’s upgrade to a 900 MHz 3G network and TNM’s launch of a 4G/LTE network are strong signs of a more reliable future market in Malawi.
- As of 13 September 2017, all links on Airtel’s 3G FAQ connect to blank pages.
- Both operators are highly committed to data plans. Deals for extra minutes or text messages are few and far between.
- Speed and coverage are still inconsistent in some areas of the country.