Travelling to South Africa? 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 network in South Africa can be expensive, so consider switching over to a local SIM card to take advantage of cheaper local tariffs. South Africa has some good prepaid SIM card offers, with deals that could reduce your bills. You can buy 1GB of data for ZAR149 (AUD$14.25), which might sound expensive but will most probably work out cheaper than roaming on your current phone plan. So, whether you’re planning a holiday or an African tour, check out the best SIM card options available on finder.com.au.
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Telco providers in South Africa
There are four main operators in South Africa: Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom. All four can be trusted and have been tested by locals, travellers and leading testing sites. According to OpenSignal’s coverage report, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C have the best coverage in the country. Network coverage and Internet speeds are generally good in the main towns and cities but can suffer as you head into the remote regions.
About South Africa’s operators
All four operators offer prepaid SIM cards, and you can buy them from stores, supermarkets, kiosks, drug stores and official outlets, as well as at the O.R. Tambo International Airport. 2G, 3G and 4G plans are available on all networks for unlocked GSM phones. You can buy a SIM card by showing your passport, and your telephone number is already active when you purchase it. Please note that all prepaid SIM card purchases will need to be registered under the South African law on Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information (RICA), which means you will have to fill out a registration form containing your personal details. To add credit, there are several prepaid card machines around various towns and cities, and vouchers are stocked in stores and supermarkets.
Below, we have broken down each telco provider to highlight exactly what they can offer you during your stay in South Africa.
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Vodacom is owned by Vodafone and is the largest provider in South Africa. It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on a GSM platform. Its network coverage is the best in South Africa, and its Internet speeds are the fastest. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, and your passport must be shown before your card can be activated. Credit can be found at the same retailers plus most supermarkets, corner stores or service stations.
There are two prepaid SIM cards on offer, the “regular” plan and the “B4IGO” tourist plan. The “regular” SIM cards can be purchased for ZAR5, which comes with a small amount of credit, but packages will have to be added to reap the full benefits.
The standard data rate is ZAR2 per MB. The following packs can be added:
Daily bundles (valid until midnight). Activation: *111# then 6, then select option 1:
Monthly bundles. Activation: *111# then 6, then select option 2:
Dial *111# and select the relevant pack to activate. You can also manage your account online. Dial *111# to check your balance.
The “B4IGO” SIM card can be purchased for ZAR100, and many different plans and packages can be added. The following packages can be added to this SIM card:
- Starter packs for voice, text and data:
- ZAR449: Smartphone, SIM card, 500MB data, ZAR139 airtime
- ZAR649: Smartphone plus, SIM card, 1GB data, ZAR275 airtime
- ZAR999: Smartphone mega, SIM card, 2GB data, ZAR550 airtime
- Starter packs for data only:
- ZAR299: Basic Data, SIM card, 1GB data
- ZAR399: Superdata, SIM card, 2GB data
- ZAR599: Megadata, SIM card, 5GB data
- ZAR449: Modem, SIM card, USB dongle (Vodafone K3772Z), 1GB data
- ZAR1,199 Router: SIM card, Wi-Fi router (Vodafone R206-Z), 2GB data
Vodacom’s APN: internet, and website: http://www.vodacom.co.za/
MTN is the second-largest provider in South Africa and the main competitor to Vodacom. It also offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on a GSM platform. MTN’s network coverage is good around the main towns and cities, and its Internet speeds are reliable. It currently offers the cheapest data plans in South Africa. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, and your passport must be shown before they can be activated. Credit can be found at the same retailers plus most supermarkets, corner stores or petrol stations.
The “PayAsYouGo” prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for as little as ZAR1.50 when they are on promotion, but the usual price is ZAR5. The SIM cards are already activated to the base plan, which charges ZAR1.50 per minute for calls. Credit can be purchased in the following denominations: ZAR5, ZAR10, ZAR15, ZAR30, ZAR60 or ZAR180.
The standard data rate is charged at ZAR0.99 per MB. The following data packages can also be added:
(valid for 2 weeks)
The following data packages can also be added to prepaid SIM cards:
|Regular data||Bonus data||Bonus validity||Price|
|10GB||2.5GB||15 days||ZAR 650|
Dial *141*2# to activate. Dial *141*1# for your credit balance.
The following nighttime packages can also be added, valid between midnight and 6am:
(valid for 30 nights)
(valid for 30 nights)
(valid for 30 nights)
MTN’s APN: internet, and website: http://www.mtn.co.za
Cell C is the third-largest operator in South Africa. It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on a GSM platform. Its network coverage is good around the main towns and cities, but suffers once you head toward the remote regions. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official outlets and approved resellers, and your passport must be shown before they can be activated. Credit can be found at the same retailers plus most supermarkets, corner stores or petrol stations.
Cell C’s prepaid SIM card starter packs can be purchased for ZAR1 and allow for the following elements:
- The standard data rate is charged at ZAR2 per MB.
- Comes with access to the SupaCharge plan, which gives you credit bonuses each time you top up.
- The MegaData Bundle plan can also be used. For ZAR50 or more, data bonuses will be added to bring up the volume to 3GB.
- You can also activate the Bhansela Data Bundle; dial *108# to activate. If you recharge ZAR20 or more within one month, you will receive 50MB of bonus data, valid for 7 days.
The following data packs can be added to all prepaid plans:
WhatsApp use for one month: ZAR7.50 for 1GB
Dial *109# or *147# and select the relevant plan to activate.
Cell C’s APN: internet, and website: http://www.cellc.co.za
Telkom is the smallest operator in South Africa. It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services on a GSM platform. Its network coverage is the worst, and Internet speeds can become slow. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, and your passport must be shown before they can be activated. Credit can be found at the same retailers plus most supermarkets, corner stores or petrol stations.
There are two prepaid SIM cards on offer, “SIM-Sonke” and “More”. Both SIM card options can be purchased for ZAR1.
The standard data rate is charged at ZAR0.29 per MB. The following data packages can be added:
The following monthly packs are also available:
(for 6 months)
(for 12 months)
(for 12 months)
Dial *180# and select the relevant pack to activate.
Telkom’s APN: internet, and website: http://www.telkommobile.co.za
- Most people speak Afrikaans and English in South Africa.
- 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 the official stores. Top-up vouchers are trusted from chain supermarkets and approved resellers. Try to avoid street sellers.
TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them
While it’s well known for reviews, booking hotels, flights and holidays, TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in South Africa.
“I used Vodacom -they were very helpful with setting up my phone and ensuring everything was set properly. They are in JNB airport arrivals area.”
“Get your phone unlocked before you come and, if you are a technophobe, the store will insert it in your phone and activate the SIM card for you. Normally there is no wait and should be all operational within 3 or 4 mins.”
“I have just phoned Vodacom at OR Tambo airport. The lady that took the call said that they accept just about any document as proof of address (local or foreign) and the most common is a hotel/guest house/lodge reservation.”
Pros and cons of South Africa’s top telco providers
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current phone
- Signal can suffer in the remote regions
- No devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
- Street sellers should be avoided
- Complicated rules and regulations could make setting up a SIM card difficult
More questions about finding the best SIM card?
Q: What about other providers in South Africa?
A: There are several mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) on the Cell C network, including Hello Mobile and Virgin Mobile, which also offer good deals. Although we recommend picking deals from the main providers we have listed above, MVNOs can be trusted. Check the latest options before purchasing your SIM card.
Q: Is the signal really that bad in the countryside?
A: All networks will suffer in the countryside, no matter what provider you use. South African networks offer a relatively reliable service that is no worse than what you would get on a home phone network there, so it makes sense to opt for a local SIM card because the rates are cheaper. Just note that Vodacom and MTN are the better providers!
Q: What shall I do if I lose my phone?
A: Your phone is your lifeline, especially when travelling around South Africa. Make sure you keep it safe and always make a note of where it is. The importance of having a direct link to family and friends via social media or through phone services can never be underestimated! If you do lose your phone, then retrace your steps and ask around. If you don’t have any luck, then report it missing. Finally, find a cheap replacement to keep in touch with the outside world, and don’t let this one out of your sight.
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