Where to find the best prepaid SIM cards when visiting Rwanda
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Despite its small size, Rwanda attracts tourists by being one of only two countries where you can visit mountain gorillas. If you’re planning a trip to Rwanda, consider investing in a local prepaid SIM card. Doing so can lower your budget by giving you better deals on calls, SMS messages and data outside of your home network. You can purchase a prepaid SIM card with a data plan of 7GB over 7 days for RWF5,500 (AUD$8.50).
In order to help you make the best selection for your prepaid SIM card needs in Rwanda, finder.com.au offers the following guide to the nation’s mobile network operators.
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Mobile network operators in Rwanda
When you buy a prepaid SIM card, you must register it. This process can take up to half an hour, so make sure you have time in your schedule for it. When you buy the SIM card, you must show your passport, have a copy of it made (usually by going to a different store) and fill out a registration form.
All 4G/LTE coverage is provided by Korea Telecom Rwanda Networks (KTRN), a wholesaler that provides bandwidth to the three operators along with multiple resale partners. This article will focus on the the main three network operators, as the resale companies do not own their own space and their prices fluctuate daily.
Based in South Africa, MTN had the early jump on coverage in the 1990s on 2G. It’s available as a prepaid SIM card at its own shops and at the airport. It will always have mini and micro sizes available, but you might have to ask for a nano to be cut for you.
Its top-up cards are sold in its outlets or at M-Charge outlets. If you’re using an out-of-country credit card, you can use services including Ding and ezetop to fill up.
If you aren’t using a data plan, the default rate for MTN in Rwanda is RWF56 per MB during the day and RWF30 per MB between 1am and 6am.
If you’re only looking to use Facebook, it’s free for seven days after you activate your SIM card by using code *198#. After those seven days,the cost is RWF35 per day, RWF150 per week or RWF350 per month.
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For 2G/3G, MTN offers the following data bundles in Rwanda:
You can check your bundle’s balance by dialling *345*. To check your overall credit, dial *110#. You can surf Wikipedia free of charge on all plans.
For 4G/LTE bundles, you have to purchase a 4G SIM card for RWF1,000. Your 4G-capable device has to be able to operate on 800MHz. Once you have your SIM card, dial *345# and select the 4G bundle to buy one of the following packages:
APN: internet.mtn, and website: http://www.mtn.co.rw
Tigo has been in the Rwanda market since 2008. In 2017, it owned a 39% share of the market, second to MTN. Tigo’s coverage is not as extensive as MTN’s, but rates are generally lower. SIM cards are available at all Tigo point-of-sale stores in all sizes. Top-up vouchers cost between RWF300 and RWF10,000 and are valid for 30-60 days. If you want to top up online, you can use your credit card and do so at https://www.aryty.com/RechargeRwanda.aspx. In 2017, Tigo extended the validity of prepaid SIM card credit to two years; it was previously six months.
The standard data rate for Tigo is RWF51 per MB. The following data bundles are available on 2G and 3G networks.
|Surf 50||RWF50||7MB||24 hours||*222#|
|Surf 100||RWF100||17MB||24 hours||*222*10|
|Surf & Talk||RWF200||25MB||24 hours||*222*53#|
|Day Phone||RWF150||30MB||24 hours||“Phone” to 7050|
|Surf 300||RWF300||200MB||24 hours||*222*0300#|
|Surf 500||RWF500||500MB||24 hours||*222*505#|
|Surf all day||RWF800||1.2GB||24 hours||*222*1500#|
|Surf 1000||RWF1,000||750MB||7 days||*222*07#|
|Surf all week||RWF5,000||5GB||7 days||*222*7000#|
|Monthly 3000||RWF3,000||3GB||30 days||*222*031#|
|Monthly 5000||RWF5,000||5GB||30 days||*222*5000#|
|Monthly 8000||RWF8,000||8GB||30 days||*222*8000#|
|RWF10,000||14GB (max 2GB/day)||7 days|
|RWF40,000||60GB (max 2GB/day)||30 days|
APN: web.tigo.rw, and website: http://www.tigo.co.rw
India-based Airtel started in Rwanda in 2013 and had nearly 19% of the market in 2017. It has the least coverage but the best prices. Its SIM cards are available in its distributor shops. You can check your balance by dialling *131#. If you’re recharging with a voucher, dial *130*<PIN #>. Airtel calls its standard network the “3.75G”. Outside of data bundles, the standard rate is RWF51 per MB.
Like its competitors, Airtel also has 4G data bundles courtesy of KTRN.
APN: internet, and website: http://africa.airtel.com/wps/wcm/connect/africarevamp/Rwanda/
Advice from TripAdvisor about SIM cards in Rwanda
In addition to being an online review platform for hotels and attractions, TripAdvisor has an impressive online community of members. Here’s some advice from recent visitors to Rwanda:
“With regards to SIMs, I use the Tigo network, but I'm not sure there's much difference between them and MTN. You can purchase SIMs at any MTN or Tigo service centre. Depending on where you're staying in Kigali, you should find one nearby. For Tigo, there's a service centre in the CBD at the UTC shopping centre. For MTN, just head to the MTN Centre - it's outside of the CBD.”
Pros and cons of Rwanda’s top SIM card operators
Rwanda has three major SIM card providers. Here are some of the positives and negatives about these companies.
- All networks rent space from KTRN, making for a competitive 4G/LTE market.
- Airtel offers two “unlimited” data programs.
- Most of the data plans and the best coverage is limited to 2G/3G.
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