Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Mali Guide

Mali has many salt mines throughout the country. The country also plays a large roll in sub-Saharan trade because of its favorable position between West Africa and North Africa.

But how do you indirectly know about Mali? Timbuktu is in Mali. For some reason, I always heard about Timbuktu when I was smaller, but never knew where it exactly was – now I do.

What can you do in Mali? Bamako has many zoos and museums. Segou is known for its pottery, and Kayes has many waterfalls. The Great Mosque of Djenne is impressive to see. The Inner Niger Delta is just beautiful, and Zoo de Bamako is cool too. There is no reason to be bored in Mali.

What you should not do is roaming with your provider in Mali. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers prefer to buy a local SIM card when traveling around, even in Mali.

The internet may be considered to be slightly expensive for African standards. At least, that is based on me analyzing the SIM cards and data packages of all African countries.

The reason why mobile data in Mali is slightly more expensive compared to the rest of Africa is because the country is landlocked and does not have direct access to submarine cables. However, compared to the world average, mobile data is affordable in Mali, so you should take advantage of that.

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

Telecom Providers in Mali

There are 3 telecom operators in Mali: Orange Mali, Malitel, and Telecel. All operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.

The Malian government issued a license to Algeria Telecom, with their mobile brand called Mobilis, to enter the Malian market in December 2019. In the coming year(s), Mali will have 4 operators.

What SIM card should you buy when visiting Mali? If you want to buy a SIM card in Mali, I would recommend going with Orange because they have the best speeds and coverage throughout Mali.

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Like most countries in West Africa, and Africa in general, you have to register yourself when buying a SIM card in Mali.

There is not more to say about Mali, so let's see what they have to offer to us.

Orange Mali

Orange Logo

Orange Mali, just Orange, is the largest operator in Mali. They also have the best coverage and speeds throughout the country.

Orange SIM cards are sold for 1000 XOF ($1.65), which comes with at least 500 XOF in credit. Be sure to ask for their 4G/LTE SIM card if you plan on using their 4G/LTE network. Recharge cards are sold from 1000 XOF to 25 000. To top-up, dial *123*VoucherCode#. For example, if your voucher code is 123456, you would have to dial *123*123456#. Dial #123# to check your Orange balance.

Orange has different types of packages that include data, which are:

  • Orange Séwa
  • Orange Forfaits prépayés non S'cool
  • Orange Forfaits Internet Mobile
  • Orange Forfaits Data Nuit
  • Orange Internet Everywhere

Let's go through each of them.

Orange Séwa

Séwa is a combi plan that comes with data, minutes, and SMS, which can last up to 7 days. The following 8 Séwa plans are available, which can be activated by dialing #101#63#:

  • 250 XOF: 10 MB, 5 minutes, and 10 SMS for 1 day
  • 490 XOF: 50 MB, 15 minutes, and 50 SMS for 3 days
  • 500 XOF: 50 MB, 20 minutes, and 50 SMS for 2 days
  • 790 XOF: 60 MB, 25 minutes, and 60 SMS for 4 days
  • 970 XOF: 80 MB, 40 minutes, and 80 SMS for 5 days
  • 1320 XOF: 100 MB, 55 minutes, and 100 SMS for 6 days
  • 1890 XOF: 150 MB, 90 minutes, and unlimited SMS for 7 days
  • 5000 XOF: 250 MB, 240 minutes, and unlimited SMS for 7 days

Orange Forfaits prépayés non S'cool

Forfaits prépayés non S'cool is another combo plan of Orange. However, these plans start from 9900 XOF, with a minimum amount of data – 100 MB, to 50 000 XOF, for 1 GB, which is why I do not recommend this plan. If you need 1 GB or more, consider one of the data-only plans mentioned below. If you, however, want to learn more, head over to this page.

Orange Forfaits Internet Mobile

The Forfaits Internet Mobile plans are basic data-only plans. They come in daily, weekly, and monthly variants. All these plans can be activated by dialing #101#211# and dial #101#22 to check your data balance.

Forfaits Jour

Although these plans are called daily plans (jour means day), some plans are valid for 4 days.

  • 100 XOF: 30 MB for 1 day
  • 100 XOF: 20 MB for 4 days
  • 250 XOF: 100 MB for 1 day
  • 250 XOF: 50 MB for 4 days
  • 1000 XOF: 1 GB for 1 day
Forfaits Semaine

The following 3 weekly bundles are available:

  • 500 XOF: 300 MB
  • 1000 XOF: 750 MB
  • 2000 XOF: 2 GB
Forfaits Mois

The following 3 monthly bundles are available:

  • 2000 XOF: 1.5 GB
  • 5000 XOF: 5 GB
  • 10 000 XOF: 15 GB

Orange Forfaits Data Nuit

Are you active at night, specifically between 11 PM and 7 AM? Then these 4 night bundles may be interesting. They can be activated by dialing #101#213#, and you can check your data balance by dialing #101#22#:

  • 500 XOF: 600 MB for 1 night
  • 900 XOF: 1.2 GB for 1 night
  • 1400 XOF: 2.5 GB for 1 night
  • 2000 XOF: 4 GB for 1 night

Orange Internet Everywhere

Internet Everywhere is another of Orange's data-only plans. What is the difference between Forfaits Internet Mobile and Internet Everywhere? The data allowances. The packages are the same, in terms of the same prices and the same number of packages for a day, 4 days, 7 days, and 30 days.

The data allowance for Internet Everywhere is at least 20 MB to 5 GB less than Forfaits Internet Mobile in all categories. I have no idea why these plans are still offered. For more info, head over to this page.

Malitel

Malitel used to be the main and only competitor of Orange until Telecel entered the market. Even then, Malitel has a solid market share. Do note that their 3G and 4G/LTE network is not as extensive as the one of Orange. These are the areas where 3G is available, according to Malitel:

  • Bamako et Kati
  • Diboli (Bamako-Senegal border)
  • Gounkoto mine
  • Kayes Ville
  • Kenieba
  • Koulikoro ville
  • Loulou mine
  • Mopti ville
  • Morila min
  • Sadiola mine
  • Segou ville
  • Siama mine
  • Sikasso ville
  • Tabakoto mine

3G is, as per Malitel, restricted in the following areas:

  • Banbara Maoudé
  • Barouéli
  • Bla
  • Boussin
  • Dioïla
  • Dioro
  • Douentza
  • Doumba
  • Heremakono
  • Kalakè
  • Kokri
  • Kolondiéba
  • Konobougou
  • Koumantou
  • Macina
  • Maféa
  • Mahina
  • Markala
  • Menaka
  • Natié
  • Neguela
  • Niafounké
  • Niene
  • Ouelessébougou
  • Séribala
  • Sirakorola
  • Termesso
  • Tiéfala
  • Tiemporosso
  • Togou
  • Tominian
  • Tonan
  • Tonka
  • Yangasso
  • Zantiguila

Malitel SIM cards are called Waatibe and sold for 500 XOF. Top-up cards are sold from 200 XOF to 20 000. To top-up, dial *102*VoucherCode#. For example, if your voucher code is 123456, you would have to dial *102*123456#. Dial #101# to check your Malitel balance.

Mali has many types of plans. Only a handful of them come with data, which are:

  • Malitel Forfaits Douman
  • Malitel Grati+
  • Malitel Damou
  • Malitel 3G+
  • Malitel Forfait Data Nuit

First, I will start with the combo plans (the first 3). Then the data-only plans will be listed (the last 2).

Malitel Forfaits Douman

Forfaits Douman packs are monthly combo plans that come with unlimited minutes and SMS to a phone number of choice between selected hours or all day. The following three Forfaits Douman plans are available:

  • 9000 XOF: 120 MB, 9000 XOF credit for local calls, 2000 XOF bonus credit for on-net calls, and unlimited minutes and SMS for 1 favorite number between 8 AM and 6 PM (not on Wednesdays). Activation: dial *222*1111*441#
  • 19 000 XOF: 300 MB, 19 000 XOF credit for local calls, 4500 XOF bonus credit for on-net calls, and unlimited minutes and SMS for 1 favorite number between 8 PM and 8 AM. Activation: dial *222*1111*442#
  • 39 000 XOF: 1 GB, 39 000 XOF credit for local calls, 10 000 XOF bonus credit for on-net calls, and unlimited minutes and SMS for 1 favorite number. Activation: dial *222*1111*443#

Worry not, it becomes cheaper after this.

Malitel Grati+

Grati+ plans are another form of combo plans that are valid for up to 3 days. All these plans can be activated with a Grati+ card. Then, dial 102*VoucherCode*1#. For example, if your voucher code is 123456, you would have to dial *102*123456*1#. The following 3 Grati+ plans are available:

  • 200 XOF: 20 MB, 10 on-net minutes, and 20 on-net SMS for 1 day
  • 500 XOF: 50 MB, 25 on-net minutes, and 50 on-net SMS for 2 days
  • 1000 XOF: 100 MB, 60 local minutes, and 100 local SMS for 3 days

Malitel Damou

Damou is another type of combo plan. On Mondays, you can get bonuses. The following 6 Damou plans can be purchased

  • 250 XOF: 20 MB, 5 minutes, and 10 SMS for 1 day. Activation: dial #555#2#1#1#
  • 490 XOF: 100 MB, 20 minutes, and 50 SMS for 3 days. Activation: dial #555#2#1#2#
  • 790 XOF: 120 MB, 30 minutes, and 60 SMS for 4 days. Activation: dial #555#2#1#3#
  • 970 XOF: 160 MB, 40 minutes, and 80 SMS for 5 days. Activation: dial #555#2#1#4#
  • 1320 XOF: 200 MB, 60 minutes, and 100 SMS for 6 days. Activation: dial #555#2#1#5#
  • 1890 XOF:  300 MB, 90 minutes, and unlimited SMS for 7 days. Activation: dial #555#2#1#6#

Malitel 3G+

As the name implies, these are data-only SIM cards that work on Malitel's 3G network. You have 7 plans to choose from:

  • 200 XOF: 10 MB for 30 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*200#
  • 500 XOF: 25 MB for 30 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*500#
  • 1000 XOF: 55 MB for 30 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*201#
  • 2000 XOF: 200 MB for 30 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*202#
  • 4700 XOF: 500 MB for 45 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*204#
  • 7500 XOF: 1 GB for 60 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*207#
  • 13 500 XOF: 2 GB for 60 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*213#
  • 20 000 XOF: 3 GB for 60 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*220#
  • 30 000 XOF: 5 GB for 60 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*230#
  • 50 000 XOF: 10 GB for 60 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*250#
  • 75 000 XOF: 20 GB for 60 days. Activation: dial *222*1111*275#

Malitel Forfait Data Nuit

Those who are active between 11 PM and 7 AM can take advantage of Malitel's night plans:

  • 500 XOF: 1 GB. Activation: dial #555#3#2#1#
  • 900 XOF: 2 GB. Activation: dial #555#3#2#2#
  • 1400 XOF: 3.5 GB. Activation: dial #555#3#2#3#
  • 200 XOF: 6 GB. Activation: dial #555#3#2#4#

Telecel

Telecel Logo

Telecel, by Alpha Telecom, is the newest player in Mali. Although they received their license back in 2012, it took until 2017 for them to get started, and the first phase of their network deployment was completed in 2018. Since then, Telecel was able to accept customers.

The issue is that their coverage is still limited to Southern Mali, with places like Kati, Segou, Sikasso, and Kayes being covered. Northern Mali will be covered soon, so Telecel may not be useful for those going on adventures.

Telecel SIM cards are called Fiyen Douman and are sold for 500 XOF.

There are 4 data packs to choose from:

  • 100 XOF: 10 MB for 30 days. Activation: dial *550*10#
  • 500 XOF: 100 MB for 30 days. Activation: dial *550*100#
  • 2500 XOF: 1 GB for 30 days. Activation: dial *550*1000#
  • 9000 XOF: 5 GB for 60 days. Activation: dial *550*5000#

Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Mali

I have discussed the relevant providers in Mali in this article because using a Mali SIM card would be much cheaper than roaming with your provider… in most cases. However, buying a local SIM card is not the only way to stay connected in Mali. You can buy an international SIM card, use a mobile hotspot, or use free WIFI connections. Below, I will discuss the alternative options to use your phone in Mali.

Roaming in Mali with Your Provider

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 SFR Mayotte, then you would be roaming with SFR Mayotte in Mali.

The issue with roaming is that it can be expensive. There have been many horror stories where people had to pay thousands in roaming fees when coming back from their holidays, which is just a shame, in my opinion. However, roaming does not always have to be expensive, especially when visiting a neighboring country.

Many providers offer roaming plans. Some allow you to roam for free in Mali, while others would offer you a roaming bundle with a set number of minutes, SMS, and data. Finally, several operators let you use your plan’s allowance for a daily fee.

As you can see, there are many options out there, so be sure to explore the roaming options your provider has. Conveniently for you, I have reviewed the roaming options of many providers (and many more to come) and discussed everything you need to know about roaming with your provider. If you are lucky, you may not even have to buy a SIM card in Mali and can roam for free there.

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

One thing I would not recommend doing is to Roam As You Go. Just like prepaid cards where you can buy bundles or Pay As You Go (as in, charged per minute, SMS, or MB), Roaming As You Go can be insanely expensive (that is how people get expensive roaming bills). So far, there are a handful of providers I have reviewed that offer affordable Roam As You Go rates. But generally, avoid it. Get a roaming plan if you can or buy a SIM in Mali.

Using an International SIM Card in Mali

International SIM cards are cards that have been made for travelers so that they do not have to deal with roaming costs.

The number of international SIM card providers is too many to count, but international SIM cards give you the same convenience as roaming with your provider. A few providers I know are OneSimCard, SimOptions, Surfroam, BNESIM, and SimCorner.

They allow people to call you at one number instead of five in case you are exploring multiple countries in one trip. Moreover, you do not have to deal with multiple SIM cards you will never use again. In short, international SIM cards have been made for the international traveler in mind.

Although this sounds fabulous, international SIM cards are much more expensive than local SIM cards in Mali. Some international SIM card providers charge ridiculous fees (sometimes, even more than roaming with your provider), while others offer awful service. It is, therefore, important to go with a reputable company so that you do not have to deal with surprised when traveling around the world.

On the other hand, international SIM cards are appealing to those who travel frequently or are visiting multiple destinations in one trip. Many countries in Africa require you to register before you can use a SIM card, which can be a hassle for some. Additionally, the language barrier may be off-putting to some travelers, which is why an international SIM card can be handy. You order it before you depart and can use it in various destinations.

My recommendation, however, is to get a local SIM card if you are only visiting one destination. If you are visiting multiple ones, 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 Portable Hotspots (Pocket WIFI) in Mali

Portable hotspots, also referred to mobile hotspots or pocket WIFI, are routers small enough to bring with you everywhere you go. They are portable, battery-powered wireless routers that allow 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.

Just like with the number of international SIM card providers, there are so many mobile hotspots out there that it is challenging to keep track of them all. Skyroam and Vision Global Wireless are reputable pocket WIFI providers. 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. Both services cover more than 130 destinations around the world.

The first time I used a portable hotspot was when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, with my dad. He uses the Dutch telecom provider called KPN, which does not let you roam for free in Thailand. I was with 3 Denmark (3 Danmark), which also did not allow me to roam for free. The router was offered for free by our Airbnb host. Let me tell you how convenient that thing was!

I do not remember the exact brand router we used, but we could connect our phones to it, explore Bangkok, and upload highlights of our trip on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp without the need of connecting to unsecure and slow connections in Thailand.

That is why I often recommend those who are traveling in groups or with families to consider getting a pocket WIFI device so that each individual does not need to buy a local SIM card and data packages. In some countries, the cost of getting a local SIM card or packages is so low that it is not even worth getting a mobile hotspot. In others, it could save you money.

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.

Connecting to Free WIFI Networks in Mali

Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Mali which is using free WIFI networks.

Using WIFI networks should not cost you any money (unless you are connecting to premium hotspots), which is why it is a popular option for travelers. Go to a local café, buy a coffee, connect to their WIFI, and post your pictures to Facebook or Instagram. Straightforward, right? Well, let’s see if that is indeed the case.

First, you need to find hotspots. In some regions, they are readily available. In others, you cannot find any, require you to give your personal details (for commercial purposes), are restricted for those who are a subscriber of an operator’s, or are so slow that you wished you never connected to them.

In the case of Mali, you will mainly find hotspots in touristy areas. They can be slow, though.

Public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes. That is I use, and would recommend you to start using, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you connect to a public hotspot. 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 or learn more about NordVPN.

The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in Mali

Getting a SIM card from Orange would do you well when considering a Malian 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 are attractive for those visiting multiple destinations at once or within a year. Portable hotspots will be useful when traveling with multiple people so that not each individual has to get a SIM card but can use the hotspot.

Visiting other countries in Africa? Check out my Africa SIM card buying guide, covering other African countries, such as Algeria, Botswana, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Egypt, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. 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 Mali

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

Book Your Accommodation for Mali

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

Get Your Travel Insurance for Mali

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 Mali, 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 West African CFA Franc 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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