Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Kenya Guide

Kenya is the third-most populous country in East Africa, behind Ethiopia and Tanzania. However, it is an exciting country.

Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is known as the safari gateway. You can find the Nairobi National Park, plenty of museums, shops for shopping, and a thrilling nightlife.

Mombasa is also known for its safaris, but they also have cool beaches and resorts.

There are plenty of parks and reserves to visit, like the Amboseli National Park, Maasai Mara, and Tsavo East National Park.

Want more water? Lamu has cool beaches,so does Watamu. Lake Naivasha is spectacular, but you should not swim there unless you can befriend the hippos.

What will probably ruin your relationship with your operator is receiving an expensive roaming bill for roaming in Kenya. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers prefer to buy a local SIM card, like a Kenyan one.

Mobile rates are low in Kenya, compared to the world's average, which is 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 Kenya. Let's do this.

Telecom Providers in Kenya

Kenya has 3 telecom providers: Safaricom, Airtel Kenya, and Telkom. All these operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.

Fabia is a 4G/LTE-only operator that has limited coverage throughout Kenya – only in the big cities. They mainly target those who want an alternative to broadband internet, making them a bad choice for travelers. However, if your device supports 700 MHz on Band 28 and you are staying in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumuor, or Thika, then Faiba can be a cheap data option. Because not many travelers can use Fabia, they will not be covered in this article.

What SIM card should you buy when visiting Kenya? If you want to buy a SIM card in Kenya, I would recommend going with Safaricom because they are simply the best operator in Kenya. Airtel is a good second option if you want to save a bit of money while wanting to have good coverage. If you are staying in the cities and do not feel like spending a lot on data, consider Telkom.

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Like most countries in East Africa, and Africa in general, you have to register yourself when buying a SIM card. It is, therefore, recommended to buy a SIM card at official stores and not on the streets, as the street-sellers may not ask for identification or may not process it (properly), which could lead to your SIM card getting blocked, or worse, you getting fined.

Also, in 2019, Airtel Kenya and Telkom have announced that they plan on merging to compete with Safaricom. For the coming years, the two brands will stay as they are, including the plans they offer.

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

Tip: Looking for cheap flights? Book with AirWander and add stopovers! Not in a hurry yet? Set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog and get notified when ticket prices for your preferred route(s) drop!

Safaricom

Safaricom Logo

Safaricom is the largest operator in Kenya with a market share of roughly 75%. One of the reasons they have so many customers is that they have the best coverage throughout Kenya, even in the most remote places. However, this also resulted in overcrowded networks that, in turn, results in slower speeds and network dropouts.

Safaricom SIM cards are sold for 100 KES ($0.95) in many stores, but they have to be registered at a Safaricom store. It is, therefore, recommended to go to a Safaricom store to buy your SIM card. Make sure to ask for their 4G/LTE SIM card if you plan on using their 4G/LTE network.

Recharge vouchers are called Bamba and are sold from 5 KES to 1000 KES in almost every commercial store in Kenya.

As of 2020, Safaricom has new bundles, which they call PostPay packages. I have not used these plans myself, but I have been told by a Safaricom representative that travelers can take advantage of the PostPay plan and packages.

With the new PostPay feature, one has to set a monthly expense limited on the mySafaricom app. After that, a PostPay plan can be purchased. Those who are already on Safaricom PrePay can dial *544# to switch to PostPay.

Unlike the old Safaricom PrePay plans, PostPay do not have an expiry, which means your allowance can be used whenever. The worry that I have is that these bundles do renew on a monthly basis, which makes it feel like they do expire. I assume that the allowance stacks up if you have not used up all of them.

In addition to all of this, these plans come with unlimited minutes for calling to Canada, China, India, and the United States.

The Safaricom representative told me that one can still decide to go with the PrePay if you want to, which are the plans I have used in the past.

First, I will mention the PrePay plans. After that, the PostPay plans.

Safaricom has 5 Daily Data Bundles that are valid for 24 hours. These data bundles also come with SMS, and some of them come with free WhatsApp, which has a cap of 500 MB, but WhatsApp voice- and video calls are not included. Any of these Daily Data Bundles can be purchased by dialing *544# and selecting option Daily Bundle:

  • 5 KES: 7 MB and 7 SMS
  • 10 KES: 15 MB and 15 SMS
  • 20 KES: 50 MB, free WhatsApp, and 20 SMS
  • 50 KES: 150 MB, Free WhatsApp, and 50 SMS
  • 99 KES: 500 MB, free WhatsApp, and 500 SMS

These Daily Data Bundles can be purchased as one-off purchases or let them auto-renew. To disable auto-renewal, dial *544# and select Stop Auto Renewal.

Need a data plan that will last you for a week? Safaricom has 4 plans that have a validity of 7 days. Some of these bundles come with free WhatsApp, which is capped at 3.5 GB, and does not apply to WhatsApp voice- and video calls. Any of these Weekly Data Bundles can be purchased by dialing *544# and selecting option 7 Day Bundle:

  • 50 KES: 100 MB
  • 99 KES: 350 MB and free WhatsApp
  • 250 KES: 1 GB and free WhatsApp
  • 500 KES: 3 GB and free WhatsApp

You also have more than 20 different Safaricom monthly plans at different price points. Some of them come with minutes, some of them come with free WhatsApp (capped at 10 GB), while others come with solely data. Because Safaricom groups them by their price, I will be doing the same. Any of these Monthly Data Bundles can be purchased by dialing *544# and selecting option 30 Day Bundles.

Some of these bundles come with FLEX units. These units give you the FLEXibility to decide what to do with them. Just be aware of the following unit prices:

  • 1 minute of calling costs 3 FLEX units
  • 3 SMS costs 1 FLEX unit
  • 3 MB costs 1 FLEX unit

Let’s say you have 100 units. You could call for 33.3 minutes, send 300 SMS, or use 300 MB. Of course, endless combinations can be made with these units.

For 250 KES, you will get 350 MB. For 500 KES, you get 2 GB and free WhatsApp.

These Safaricom monthly bundles will cost you 1000 KES and come with the following perks:

  • 1200 FLEX units
  • 1 GB, free WhatsApp, and 500 minutes
  • 4 GB, free WhatsApp, and 200 minutes
  • 5 GB

These Safaricom monthly bundles will cost you 2000 KES and come with the following perks:

  • 2700 FLEX units
  • 5 GB, free WhatsApp, and 1000 minutes
  • 12 GB, free WhatsApp, and 400 minutes
  • 15 GB

These Safaricom monthly bundles will cost you 3000 KES and come with the following perks:

  • 4200 FLEX units
  • 8 GB, free WhatsApp, and 2000 minutes
  • 20 GB, free WhatsApp, and 600 minutes
  • 25 GB

These Safaricom monthly bundles will cost you 5000 KES and come with the following perks:

  • 7500 FLEX units
  • 10 GB, free WhatsApp, and 3000 minutes
  • 35 GB, free WhatsApp, and 1000 minutes
  • 60 GB

These Safaricom monthly bundles will cost you 10 000 KES and come with the following perks:

  • 16 000 FLEX units
  • 20 GB, free WhatsApp, and 6000 minutes
  • 40 GB, free WhatsApp, and 1500 minutes
  • 150 GB

Need a data for 90 days? Safaricom has 3 bundles that last you 90 days:

  • 3000 KES: 6 GB
  • 6000 KES: 16 GB
  • 9000 KES: 30 GB

Now to the PostPay packages – there are 5 of them: 

  • 1000 KES: 5 GB, 400 minutes, and unlimited SMS
  • 2000 KES: 15 GB, 1000 minutes, and unlimited SMS
  • 3000 KES: 25 GB, 1500 minutes, and unlimited SMS
  • 5000 KES: Unlimited data*, 2500 minutes, and unlimited SMS
  • 10 000 KES: Unlimited data**, unlimited calls, and unlimited SMS

* High-speed data for the first 50 GB, then throttled to 1 Mbps
** High-speed data for the first 100 GB, then throttled to 1 Mbps

These plans renew every month. Dial *544# and select stop auto renew to disable auto-renewal.

Airtel Kenya

Airtel Logo

Airtel Kenya, just Airtel, is the second-largest operator in Kenya. They have a market share of around 15 million, which means that Airtel and Safaricom together have a market share of 90% of the Kenyan telecom market. Although Airtel’s coverage is not as great as the one of Safaricom, their coverage is still good

Airtel SIM cards are sold in Airtel stores. Prices vary depending on where you buy it, but I expect that you should not have to pay more than 200 KES for your Airtel SIM card.

Airtel has several data packs, called Airtel Amazing Data Bundles, to choose from, ranging from plans lasting you 24 hours all the way up to plans that are valid for 90 days. Some of these plans come with free WhatsApp, which is capped at 50 MB per day. You can purchase these plans by dialing *544#. You get the option of whether you want it to be a one-off purchase or it to auto-renew.

Airtel has 4 daily data bundles to choose from:

  • 10 KES: 70 MB
  • 20 KES: 200 MB and free WhatsApp
  • 50 KES: 500 MB and free WhatsApp
  • 99 KES: 2 GB and free WhatsApp

Staying in Kenya for a week? Consider one of these 4 Airtel weekly plans:

  • 50 KES: 350 MB and free WhatsApp
  • 100 KES: 750 MB and free WhatsApp
  • 250 KES: 2.5 GB and free WhatsApp
  • 500 KES: 6 GB and free WhatsApp

Exploring Kenya for a month or just need a lot of data? Get one of these 6 Airtel monthly plans:

  • 300 KES: 3 GB and free WhatsApp
  • 500 KES: 5 GB and free WhatsApp
  • 1000 KES: 12 GB and free WhatsApp
  • 1500 KES: 20 GB and free WhatsApp
  • 2000 KES: 30 GB and free WhatsApp
  • 3000 KES: 50 GB and free WhatsApp

If you are staying in Kenya for a few months, then one of these 3 Airtel 90-day may be for you:

  • 3000 KES: 25 GB
  • 6000 KES: 55 GB
  • 9000 KES: 90 GB
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Telkom

Telkom Kenya Logo

Telkom is the smallest full operator in Kenya, with a market share of around 8%. Because they are so small, their network is not overcrowded, which can result in high speeds. Unfortunately, their overage is limited. That should change when the merger between the Airtel and Telkom networks start happening.

Telkom SIM cards are sold in Telkom stores for not more than 200 KES.

Telkom has different types of bundles, which all come in different validities.

First, we have the Telkom Freedom Bundles that come with free WhatsApp (50 MB/day) and free Telkom calls (60 on-net min/day). Any Freedom Bundle can be activated by dialing *544#. Check your Freedom Bundle balance by dialing *131#.

The following 4 Telkom Freedom Daily Bundles are available:

  • 10 KES: 70 MB
  • 20 KES: 200 MB and free WhatsApp
  • 50 KES: 700 MB, free WhatsApp, and free Telkom calls
  • 100 KES: 2 GB and free WhatsApp

Want a Freedom Bundle that lasts you a week? You have 3 options, which all come with free WhatsApp:

  • 49 KES: 350 MB
  • 99 KES: 750 MB
  • 249 LES: 2.5 GB

Telkom also has 5 Freedom Monthly Bundles. They come with free WhatsApp but no free Telkom calls:

  • 249 KES: 2 GB
  • 499 KES: 5 GB
  • 1499 KES: 10 GB
  • 1999 KES: 30 GB
  • 2999 KES: 50 GB

Besides the Freedom Bundles, Telkom also has 3 Mzito Bundles that come with data, minutes, and SMS. All plans also come with free data to be used at night (12 AM – 6 AM). Dial *544# to activate a Mzito Bundle, and dial *144# to see your Mzito Bundle balance:

  • 499 KES: 3 GB, 100 minutes, and 100 SMS for 30 days. 10 GB night data for 7 days
  • 999 KES: 8 GB, 10 GB night data, 300 minutes, and 300 SMS for 30 days
  • 1999 KES: 17 GB, 10 GB night data, 600 minutes, and 600 SMS for 30 days

You can also get one of the 2 Telkom Share Life bundles by dialing *544# (and dial *144# to check your Share Life bundle balance):

  • 49 KES: 500 MB, 500 MB night data (12 AM – 6 AM), 50 MB WhatsApp data, and 60 minutes for 24 hours
  • 99 KES: 2 GB, 2 GB night data (12 AM – 6 AM), 50 MB WhatsApp data, and 60 minutes for 24 hours

Besides these Telkom plans, there are few bundles that do not really fit in a category.

  • Looking for a simple combo plan? For 999 KES, you can get 7 GB and 300 minutes for 30 days.
  • Do you use WhatsApp a lot? Telkom has a WhatsApp bundle that comes with 50 MB for WhatsApp for 5 KES a day. The data can be used for WhatsApp voice- and video calls. This plan does auto-renew
  • Are you active during 12 AM and 6 AM? The #StayWoke bundle is a bundle for night owls that comes with 5 GB to be used in the designated time slot.
  • Is 2 GB a day enough for you? Then the Daily 2GB Bundle may be enough for you. For 99 KES, you get 2 GB a day and free WhatsApp (50 MB)

Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Kenya

Now you know everything about buying a SIM card in Kenya, but what are your other options? Although buying a local SIM card is almost always the cheapest option, the cheapest option would be using free WIFI connections in Kenya, but you can also roam with your provider in Kenya, use an international SIM card in Kenya, or use a mobile hotspot in Kenya. Let’s see what our options are.

Using Free WIFI hotspots in Kenya

Using something free is always better than paying for something. However, sometimes, free stuff may be of bad quality. Sure, you do not have to pay anything for using a free hotspot (unless you are required to purchase a beverage or meal at an establishment), but it may be a challenge to find a free hotspot. Moreover, the connection may be so slow that it is practically useless.

In the case of Kenya, there will be many hotspots around, especially in the big cities. They can be slow, though.

Do note that public hotspots are unsecure. Hackers love to steal sensitive information on unprotected connections because it is apparently easy to do so. That is why I use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when using a public hotspot, and I would encourage you to do so too.

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 NordVPN subscription now!

Roaming with Your Provider in Kenya

Roaming is a term used in wireless telecommunication that indicates a mobile device is outside the range of its home network and has connected to a different, available cell network. Let’s say your provider is 9mobile from Nigeria, then you would be roaming with9mobile in Kenya.

Roaming may be the most convenient way of using your phone abroad. You do not have to buy a new SIM card, which, in turn, means you do not have to swap SIM cards. As a result, your friends and family from home can easily reach you on your cell. With many providers, the only thing you need to do is to turn on the data roaming setting on your phone, and you are good to go.

No idea how roaming works? I made this comprehensive guide about what roaming is and how it works. It is worth the read – promised!

Although roaming with your provider may be the most convenient way of staying connected in Kenya, it can also be the most expensive option. There have been many horror stories where people have racked up roaming bills up in the thousands and even more than ten thousand.

Luckily, many providers have affordable roaming plans, allow you to roam for free in some destinations like Kenya, or allow you to use your plan’s allowance in Kenya. For example, with Virgin Mobile Canada, you can use your plan’s allowance for 12 Canadian dollars per day. This may be affordable in some destinations for a small number of days, but it will be expensive for prolonged periods.

If you are unsure about the roaming options of your provider, I have written many articles about roaming with various operators around the world. I analyze them in-depth and give you my advice on whether you should roam with your provider or not. If yes, I also state for how long you should roam to take the most advantage of the offer.

One thing that should be avoided at all costs is to Pay As You Go roaming where you pay per minute, SMS, or MB. This is how many people get expensive roaming bills because the roaming prices for data are usually extremely high.

If you want to roam, make sure to get a roaming plan. Unless your provider offers extremely low Pay As You Go roaming rates, which is only a handful of providers, then you can consider doing so. Furthermore, if your provider lets you roam for free in Kenya, then you should go for it. Just note that your speeds will be lower as a roamer than if you were to buy a Kenyan SIM card.

Using an International SIM Card in Kenya

International SIM cards are SIM cards that work internationally. Most SIM cards do work abroad, but then you have to roam with your provider. International SIM cards, however, let’s you use one SIM card in many destinations around the world for, often, the same price. This way, your friends and families can still reach out to you while traveling.

International SIM cards are, however, much more expensive than buying a local SIM card in many cases, but they are often cheaper than to roam with your provider. There are many international SIM card providers out there, but a few providers I can recommend are OneSimCard, SimOptions, Surfroam, BNESIM, and SimCorner.

Surfroam Banner

International SIM cards are useful for those who frequently travel for leisure or for business. That way, everyone can reach you on one number instead of a handful of local numbers scattered around the world.

Moreover, many destinations in the world require you to register yourself before you can buy a local SIM card. In some countries, the process is quick, while others require much more of your time. Furthermore, the registration process may be cumbersome in countries.

Finally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some. It can be a challenge dealing with a salesperson who does not understand you. They may try and sell you the most expensive option out there. Luckily, you know the prices of SIM cards and packs in Kenya, so you cannot be taken advantage of.

My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple destinations in one trip, an international SIM card could be handy. If you want to learn more about international SIM cards, check out my international SIM card comparison article, where I analyze 10 international SIM card providers so that you do not have to.

Using a Mobile Hotspot in Kenya

A mobile hotspot is a portable, 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 compact and lightweight so that you take them along with you whenever you need internet access on the go.

Many companies have created mobile hotspots (just have a quick search on Amazon, for example, you will find many). Skyroam, Vision Global Wireless, and Travelwifi are reputable pocket WIFI providers I know. You can get a discount if you rent a router through Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ. Cellular access with Skyroam starts at $8 a day while using a Vision Global device starts at $2 a day. Travelwifi offers Teppy, the name of the pocket WIFI, starting from $7 per day. All these services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.

Skyroam Banner

I often recommend mobile hotspots to those who are traveling in groups or with families. They can save groups a lot of money if they are visiting destinations where buying multiple SIM cards would become an expensive endeavor.

I recently wrote an article analyzing the 7 Best Mobile Hotspots for Travelers like yourself, which should be an interesting read if pocket WIFI is something you are considering. I do reviews of individual devices every now and then, so check out my mobile hotspot category to stay up to date.

The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Kenya

Getting a SIM card from Safaricom, Airtel, or Telkom would do you well when considering a Kenyan SIM card. Be sure to explore the roaming options your provider offers you, as they may offer free or cheap roaming bundles.

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You could also consider getting an international SIM card or using a portable hotspot. International SIM cards like OneSimCard, SimOptions, Surfroam, BNESIM, and SimCorner are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots like Skyroam, Vision Global Wireless, and Travelwifi will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.

Going to other countries in East Africa and Southeast Africa? Check out my East Africa and Southeast Africa SIM card buying guide, covering other (South)East African nations, such as Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eswatini (Swaziland) Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mayotte, Mozambique, Réunion, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

What about other places in Africa? My Africa SIM card buying guide covers all African destinations, such as Algeria, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, and Tunisia.

Going to other places around the world? Then you should also check out my sim card buying guides for other destinations around the world.

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 Kenya

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 Kenya. If you are not ready to take off yet, set up flight alerts with Airfarewatchdog, and they will notify you once ticket prices to Kenya drop.

Book Your Accommodation for Kenya

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 Kenya. At least, that is how I see it. Moreover, Airbnb can often be much cheaper than staying in a Kenyan hotel.

Get Your Travel Insurance for Kenya

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 Kenya, 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 Kenyan Shilling 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 due to the current pandemic and does not have any travel plans for after his stay in Taiwan.

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