The thing is, mobile data is affordable in Ethiopia, so are SIM cards, especially when compared to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
How much do you have to pay for an Ethiopian SIM card?
You can get an Ethiopian SIM card for 30 ETB (0.80 USD) in Ethio Telecom stores. Expect to pay 80 ETB (2.15 USD) for 1 GB of data valid for 7 days.
That indeed sounds cheap. The average cost of 1 GB of data in Ethiopia is 2.44 USD.
When you know that the Sub-Saharan average is 6.61 USD, you can indeed say that mobile data is relatively cheap.
But, accurate information on how to get an Ethiopian SIM card, SIM card prices, and packages can be hard to find.
In this guide, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Ethiopia. Let’s get this done.
Original publication: 16th of June 2020. Last updated: 19th of February 2021.
Table of Contents
Can I Use My Phone in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia has GSM networks utilizing frequencies used in many regions around the world (such as Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania), but not in the Americas (North-, Central-, and South America + the Caribbean).
If you purchased your phone in the Americas, if your device has not been unlocked, or the phone does not support Ethiopia's frequencies, then you cannot use your phone in Ethiopia.
Mobile Operators, Networks & Frequencies in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has only one telecom operator:
Ethio Telecom has 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.
The following frequencies by Ethio Telecom:
- 2G: 900 MHz
- 3G: 2100 MHz
- 4G/LTE: 1800 MHz (Band 3)
To check whether your phone will work in Ethiopia, check out this page by Will My Phone Work.
Again, make sure your phone is unlocked. Otherwise, you will not be able to use any SIM card except the one from your home operator (meaning you have to roam internationally or buy another unlocked phone that does support the frequencies listed above).
If you want to learn how international roaming works, this guide explains it in-depth. If you wonder why it is often so expensive to roam, this article explains the hidden reason they do not want you to know.
The Best SIM Card in Ethiopia
If you want to buy a SIM card in Ethiopia, then Ethio Telecom is your only option Because there is no competition to the incumbent operator.
SIM Card Registration Regulations in Ethiopia
SIM card registration with your passport information is mandatory in Ethiopia. It will be done at the point of sale. Moreover, you have to bring 2 recent passport-sized photos to the point of purchase as well.
The State of the Ethiopian Telecom Market
The mobile phone and smartphone penetration rate in Ethiopia have 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 (update: postponed to 2021). 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.
CommsUpdate reported that Ethiopia has set a new deadline for the sale of two mobile network operator licenses in February 2021. The article highlights that both the Orange Group and the MTN Group are strong candidates for the acquisition.
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
For up-to-date ETB:USD exchange rates, search ETB to USD on Google, or replace USD with the currency you use.
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Ethiopian Prepaid SIM Cards & Video Guide
Below, I will guide you through Ethio Telecom and go through:
- Background information of Ethio Telecom
- SIM card types, prices, and availability for Ethio Telecom
- Recharge/top-up information for Ethio Telecom
- Combo plans and data plans offered by Ethio Telecom
If you like to watch content over reading content, make sure to check out the video below. I recommend the rest of the guide after watching the video because some of the essential information related to Ethio Telecom is not covered in the video (I refer to this guide a few times throughout the video). Subscribe to my channel for more local prepaid SIM card guides, SIM card reviews (prepaid and international), mobile hotspots, and international roaming guides!
With that being said, let’s see what Ethio Telecom has to offer to us.
Ethio Telecom is, for now, the sole operator in Ethiopia. The company has held a monopoly since it was founded in 2010.
Ethio Telecom Coverage
Mobile coverage throughout the Ethiopia with Ethio Telecom is disappointing.
Although Ethio Telecom does not have an official coverage map on their website, the Speedtest app has a tool that allows you to see the mobile coverage of mobile operators around the world, including Ethio Telecom.
Below is Ethio Telecom's coverage map:
Getting an Ethio Telecom SIM Card & Price
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. However, you will pay a steep premium for them there, so it is recommended to get your SIM card in town.
Topping Up Your Ethio Telecom SIM Card
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 Internet Packages, Plans, Bundles & Offers
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. 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:
|Data||500 MB||1 GB||2 GB||4 GB||8 GB||10 GB||20 GB||30 GB||Unlimited|
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
The following Mobile Internet Packages are available:
|3 ETB||Night||50 MB||0:00-6:00 (12 AM-6 AM)|
|3 ETB||Day||25 MB||1 day|
|5 ETB||Night||100 MB||0:00-6:00 (12 AM-6 AM)|
|5 ETB||Day||45 MB||1 day|
|7 ETB||Night||160 MB||0:00-6:00 (12 AM-6 AM)|
|10 ETB||Day||100 MB||1 day|
|15 ETB||Day||200 MB||1 day|
|35 ETB||Day||500 MB||1 day|
|35 ETB||Weekend||500 MB||Saturday & Sunday|
|50 ETB||Week||500 MB||7 days|
|60 ETB||Weekend||1 GB||Saturday & Sunday|
|60 ETB||Week||700 MB||7 days|
|80 ETB||Week||1 GB||7 days|
|100 ETB||Month||1 GB||30 days|
|110 ETB||Weekend||2 GB||Saturday & Sunday|
|190 ETB||Month||2 GB||30 days|
|350 ETB||Month||4 GB||30 days|
|600 ETB||Month||8 GB||30 days|
|700 ETB||Month||10 GB||30 days|
|1300 ETB||Month||20 GB||30 days|
|1900 ETB||Month||30 GB||30 days|
|4900 ETB||Month||Unlimited||30 days|
Ethio Telecom APN Settings
In most cases, your phone will retrieve the correct APN settings for Ethio Telecom 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
- Buying a SIM Card in Africa (All Countries)
- Buying a SIM Card in Djibouti
- Buying a SIM Card in Kenya
- Buying a SIM Card in Uganda
- Buying a SIM Card in Suda
Other Ways to Use the Internet When Traveling in Ethiopia
Buying a SIM card from Ethio Telecom will be the cheapest way to get online when in Ethiopia.
International SIM Cards or Travel SIM Cards
International SIM cards or Travel SIM cards are made for the traveler in mind – you do not have to buy a local SIM card for every country you visit, and they are cheaper than international roaming.
The issue is that most international SIM cards and travel SIM cards that cover Ethiopia are criminally expensive when compared to getting an Ethio Telecom SIM card. This is, unfortunately, the case for most African nations.
Right now, there is no international SIM card I would recommend for Ethiopia. However, you can learn more about international SIM cards and travel SIM cards on this page – they could be useful when traveling in other parts of the world, like the Americas, Europe, or Asia.
Although international roaming can be expensive in many cases, it does not always have to be the case. If you are a SIM card from Eastern, Central, or Southern Africa, your operator may have attractive roaming rates or packages for your visit to Ethiopia. Be sure to check your options.
If you have a SIM card from another country or region, however, you may want to avoid international roaming.
Mobile hotspots, or pocket WIFI, are small devices that connect to the local operators of the country you are visiting. Mobile hotspots are ideal for families or those traveling in a large group. They allow you to connect multiple devices to one hotspot without each traveler having to buy a SIM card.
Sadly, the companies that rent out mobile hotspots do not cover Ethiopia. However, you can always buy one and insert a SIM card in it and use it as a personal WIFI connection.
Free WIFI Networks
Using free WIFI connections is the cheapest way to stay connected because they are free. The major downside of trying to use WIFI hotspots is that you will have to locate them – they are not available all the time, especially when on the road.
You will not find many free WIFI hotspots throughout Ethiopia – they are quite rare. If you manage to find one, however, make sure to protect your internet traffic with a VPN so that hackers cannot steal your personal data.
The Preferred Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Ethiopia
Getting a SIM card from Ethio Telecom would be your only considering an Ethiopian SIM card.
Local Prepaid SIM Cards in Other African Countries
Visiting other countries in Africa? Check out my Africa SIM card buying guide, covering other African countries, such as
Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.
Next Steps to Enhance Your Travel Experiences
Looking for the next steps to enhance your phone travel experiences? Here is what to do:
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Learn About Your Phone Travel Options
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