Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Ethiopia Guide

Logo of Telecom Operator in Ethiopia: Ethio Telecom

Ethiopia is known for its coffee, for having a 13th month, and for a different system for calculating time. Moreover, Ethiopia is the largest country in East Africa. There are plenty of things to do and see in Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, has its famous National Museum with many fossils. The Merkato Market is also a must-see. The Simien Mountains National Park has majestic views from the top and challenging, but fun, hiking trails. Lake Tana is an enormous lake. There is also an island there with many churches. As you can see, there is no reason to be bored in Ethiopia.

You probably want to share your Ethiopia experiences online on social media, but you know what roaming with your provider can be expensive in many cases. That is why local SIM cards are so popular with travelers and tourists because they can enjoy local rates instead of paying expensive roaming fees.

Luckily, mobile data rates in Ethiopia are low compared to the world average, which is another reason why you should take advantage of it.

In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Ethiopia. Let’s get this done.

Telecom Operator, Networks & Frequencies in Ethiopia

Flag of Ethiopia

Ethiopia has only one telecom operator:

  • Ethio Telecom

Ethio Telecom has 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.

The following frequencies are in Ethiopia:

  • 2G: 900 MHz
  • 3G: 2100 MHz
  • 4G/LTE: 1800 MHz (Band 3)

The Best SIM Card in Ethiopia

Because there is no competition in Ethiopia (yet), getting an Ethio Telecom SIM card would be your only option when considering an Ethiopian SIM card.

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SIM Card Registration Regulations in Ethiopia

Like most countries in East Africa, and Africa in general, you have to register yourself with a passport when buying a SIM card in Ethiopia. Be sure to bring 2 recent passport-sized photos as well.

The State of the Ethiopian Telecom Market

The mobile phone and smartphone penetration rate in Ethiopia has grown significantly over the years, so has mobile internet use in the country. However, the quality of service has not kept pace with the rapid growth.

Ethio Telecom is the largest telecom operator in the world that has a monopoly. However, that monopoly is about to end because the Ethiopian government is awarding two telecom licenses to operators who want to enter the Ethiopian market in 2020. This will make the Ethiopian telecom market competitive, which, in turn, should result in better service and lower prices.

Safaricom from Kenya, Orange from France, MTN from South Africa, and Econet from Zimbabwe have shown interest in entering the Ethiopian market. All these operators are the largest in their base countries and have the best coverage and speeds, which is a good sign for Ethiopia.

Right now, the state of the telecom industry is poor in Ethiopia. There are frequent blackouts, and the network is often overloaded. Moreover, the coverage throughout the country is subpar, unless one is staying in the capital, Addis Ababa.

I hope Ethiopia’s telecom market will flourish like other East African nations, such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania, in the coming few years, as it can benefit the local population a lot and contribute to a more pleasant internet experience for travelers and tourists.

Currency in Ethiopia

Ethiopia uses the Ethiopian Birr with the symbol ETB (which will be used throughout this article). However, prices are often listed as just Br. (Birr). For example, 25 ETB is Br. 25. For reference, below are some exchange rates between ETB and USD (US Dollars):

  • 1 ETB = 0.03 USD
  • 10 ETB = 0.30 USD
  • 100 ETB = 2.90 USD
  • 1000 ETB = 29.00 USD
  • 10 000 ETB = 290.00 USD

Ethiopian Prepaid SIM Cards

Below, I will guide you through Ethio Telecom and go through:

  • Background information
  • SIM card types, prices, and availability
  • Recharge/top-up information
  • Combo plans, data plans, and special packs (such as social media packs)   

With that being said, let’s see what Ethio Telecom has to offer to us.

Ethio Telecom

Ethio Telecom Logo

Ethio Telecom is, for now, the sole operator in Ethiopia. The company has held a monopoly since it was founded in 2010.

You can get an Ethio Telecom SIM card for 30 ETB, which comes with 15 ETB in credit, in Ethio Telecom stores. You can also get Ethio Telecom SIM cards at Addis Ababa Bole Airport (ADD), but you will pay a steep premium for them, so it is recommended to get your SIM card in town.

Recharge cards are sold in denominations from 5 ETB to 1000 ETB. To top-up, dial *805*VoucherCode#. For example, if your voucher code is 123456, you would dial *805*123456#. Dial *804# to check your Ethio Telecom balance.

Ethio Telecom has 2 types of packages that feature data. The Monthly Voice plus Data Tariffs and Mobile Internet Packages.

Ethio Telecom Monthly Voice Plus Data Tariffs

The Monthly Voice Plus Data Bundles are bundles that come with both data and minutes. Unlike most combo plans, you can choose how you want to mix your data and minutes. Data rates start from 55 ETB for 500 MB to 4900 ETB for unlimited data. For minutes, rates start from 60 ETB for 166 minutes to 1350 ETB for 4150.

In short, the minimum you have to pay for a Monthly Mobile Voice plus Data bundle is 115 ETB (500 MB (55 ETB) and 166 minutes (60 ETB)). The most you can pay is 6250 ETB (unlimited data (4900 ETB) and 4150 minutes (1350 ETB)).

Below is the complete Monthly Voice plus Data matrix:

Data500 MB1 GB2 GB4 GB8 GB10 GB20 GB30 GBUnlimited
MinutesPrice (ETB) 55100190350600700130018004900
166 60115160250410660760136018604960
280 100155200290450700800140019005000
415 140195240330490740840144019405040
450 150205250340500750850145019505050
600 200255300390550800900150020005100
750 250305350440600850950155020505150
830 270325370460620870970157020705170
930 3003554004906509001000160021005200
1080 3504054505407009501050165021505250
1230 40045550059075010001100170022005300
1380 45050555064080010501150175022505350
1545 50055560069085011001200180023005400
1660 54059564073089011401240184023405440
184560065570079095012001300190024005500
4150 1350140514501540170019502050265031506250


Ethio Telecom Mobile Internet Packages

The data packages are standard data-only bundles. They come in the following variants: day, night, weekend, week, and month. To purchase a Mobile Internet Package, you have to follow the following steps:

  • Dial *999#
  • Select option 1 (package offer)
  • Select option 1 again (purchasing for yourself)
  • Select option 2 (internet package)
  • Choose the package validity of choice (1 for daily, 2 for weekly, 3 for monthly, 4 for nightly, 5 for a weekend)
  • Choose the preferred mobile internet package
Ethio Telecom Day Mobile Internet Packages

There are 5 daily internet packages available:

  • 3 ETB: 25 MB
  • 5 ETB: 45 MB
  • 10 ETB: 100 MB
  • 15 ETB: 200 MB
  • 35 ETB: 500 MB
Ethio Telecom Night Mobile Internet Packages

The following 3 Mobile Internet Night Packages are available and are valid from 12 AM to 6 AM:

  • 3 ETB: 50 MB
  • 5 ETB: 100 MB
  • 7 ETB: 160 MB
Ethio Telecom Weekend Mobile Internet Packages

Those who need an internet package for the weekend, Saturday and Sunday, can choose from the following 3 Weekend Mobile Internet Packages:

  • 35 ETB: 500 MB
  • 60 ETB: 1 GB
  • 110 ETB: 2 GB
Ethio Telecom Week Mobile Internet Packages

The following 3 weekly Mobile Internet Packages are available:

  • 50 ETB: 500 MB
  • 60 ETB: 700 MB
  • 80 ETB: 1 GB
Ethio Telecom Month Mobile Internet Packages

If you need a lot of data or are exploring Ethiopia for the month, then you can choose from any of these 8 monthly Mobile Internet Packages:

  • 100 ETB: 1 GB
  • 190 ETB: 2 GB
  • 350 ETB: 4 GB
  • 600 ETB: 8 GB
  • 700 ETB: 10 GB
  • 1300 ETB: 20 GB
  • 1900 ETB: 30 GB
  • 4900 ETB: Unlimited data

Ethio Telecom APN Settings

In most cases, your phone will retrieve the correct APN settings automatically. If you need to enter it manually, then you need the following details (do not add anything not mentioned below):

  • APN: etc.com
  • Username: etc
  • Password: etc

RELATED GUIDES

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Other Ways to Use the Internet When Traveling in Ethiopia

Getting an Ethiopia SIM card is probably the cheapest way to connect to the internet when traveling in Ethiopia. However, you can also:

Mobile Hotspots

Mobile hotspots are battery-powered wireless router that allows you to connect your phone, laptop, or tablet without needing multiple SIM cards for those devices to be connected to the internet. They are excellent for those traveling in groups, like friends or family.

You can either buy a mobile hotspot (like the ones I cover in this article) or rent them. As a solo traveler, I barely get a mobile hotspot for myself. When I do, I rent them from Travelwifi, which covers 130+ destinations for as little as $7/day, or Skyroam, which also covers more than 130 destinations, and data starts from $8/day. You can get a discount with Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ upon checkout.

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International SIM Cards & Travel SIM Cards

International SIM cards and travel SIM cards can be a convenient way to stay connected when traveling around multiple countries. Many countries require those buying local prepaid SIM cards to go through a registration procedure, like in Ethiopia.

Although I love to collect SIM cards, many do not. So having one SIM card that covers all the destinations you are visiting can be a blessing. I recommend four companies that sell international SIM cards or travel SIM cards:

  • Surfroam: my go-to SIM card when I arrive in a new destination and do not have a local prepaid SIM card yet. Airport WIFI is usually slow, and I am impatient and need to be connected right away. Data for as little as €0.01/MB (or €10.24/GB) in over 200 destinations. Read my Surfroam review.
  • SimOptions: a travel SIM card reseller that sells AMAZING travel SIM cards, covering multiple destinations, for reasonable prices. I have tried multiple SIM cards from SimOptions and have always been satisfied. Check out my review covering SimOptions SIM cards.
  • SimCorner: a travel SIM card reseller, but they also sell local SIM cards of the destination you are visiting and deliver them to your home, which is rather unique. See my SimCorner review.
  • OneSimCard: the ultimate international SIM card. It works in every corner in the world, and you can even buy multiple numbers from different countries and use them on ONE SIM card. A game-changer! See my article analyzing OneSimCard.

Roaming

Roaming with your provider is the most convenient way to stay connected when traveling because you can keep using your SIM card and do not have to buy a new one. However, roaming often results in expensive bills, but that does not always have to be the case. Your operator may offer attractive roaming packages, but it will most likely be more expensive than buying a local prepaid SIM card and getting a data package from a local operator.

I have an article explaining why roaming is so expensive. I also have many articles covering the roaming options of operators around the world, and make a verdict saying roaming can be worth it or not. Finally, I discuss many phone travel tips to keep your phone bills low when traveling.

Free WIFI Hotspots

Using free WIFI connections is the cheapest way to connect to the internet because you do not have to pay anything. However, free WIFI hotspots can be unsecure and unreliable.

You can find quite some WIFI hotspots in Ethiopia, but they can be slow at times. Additionally, public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes, which is why I ALWAYS use a VPN on open WIFI connections (and even on private ones, even at home).

What a VPN does is creating an encrypted tunnel between your device and the hotspot so that your data will stay private. I use NordVPN, and you can get up to 70% off when you get a NordVPN subscription. Get your subscription now!

The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Ethiopia

Getting a SIM card from Ethio Telecom would be your only considering an Ethiopian SIM card.

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Local Prepaid SIM Card in Other African Countries

Going to other countries in East Africa? Check out my East Africa SIM card buying guide, covering other East African nations, such as:

Be sure to check out this guide covering all African countries, such as these popular African travel destinations:

Otherwise, I have many guides covering countries all over the world. Get my SIM card recommendation sheet by signing up for my newsletter!

What is next?

Looking for the best companies and gadgets to enhance your travel experience? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! Save money on plane tickets, bus rides, cruises, and accommodation. Besides that, I also list services and items I use to make my life easier – and I believe they will help you too!

Book Your Flight for Ethiopia

It is time to book your flight. Find cheap flights with AirWander so that you can add free or cheap stopovers in destinations you have not considered yet before going to Ethiopia.

Book Your Accommodation for Ethiopia

I am a huge fan of Airbnb because it allows me to live with a local or get a local place for myself. Staying in someone’s house or apartment feels much different than being in a ho(s)tel, especially in Ethiopia. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in an Ethiopia hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance for Ethiopia

You will regret not having travel insurance once you actually need it and “forgot” to get it. Nowadays, travel insurance is cheap and comprehensive unlike back in the days. World Nomads is by far the best travel insurance for adventurous travelers like yourself. You can even get insured WHILE already traveling in Ethiopia, which is not something many insurance companies allow you to do.

Get a Travel Debit Card

Travel Cheques are outdated. Paying with your credit card or debit card can be expensive because of all the exchange commissions banks charge you. TransferWise allows you to convert your main currency to Ethiopian Birr for a small fee (up to 8 times less than with your bank!) Getting a Transferwise Borderless account is FREE, so you will get an instant return on your investment.

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Enjoy your trip!

Ernest Adu

Ernest Adu, going by just Adu, is the founder and editor at Phone Travel Wiz. He has been a traveler for 6 years. Although from Europe, the Netherlands, Adu's favorite region in Asia, in particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan, and plans on exploring Oceania and more of East and Southeast Asia.

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