Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in Sierra Leone Guide

Logos of Telecom Providers in Sierra Leone: Orange Sierra Leone, and Africell Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the countries in Western Africa that does not get much attention. Whenever I asked people what they know of Sierra Leone, or where the country is, I usually get blank answers. However, Sierra Leone is regarded as the friendliest African country and has many attractions.

Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, is full of beaches. It is also home to the Cotton Tree. In fact, the whole country is full of beautiful beaches. More can be found in Aberdeen, Kenema, and John Obey Beach.

The Outamba-Kilimi National Park has hippos. Tiwai Island has a protected rainforest, and the Banana Islands have remarkable shipwrecks. In short, there is no reason to be bored in Sierra Leone.

You should share your Sierra Leone experiences online. In fact, I bet you were planning on doing that already. However, I would not recommend roaming with your provider in Sierra Leone because roaming can be expensive in many cases. That is why many travelers prefer to buy a Sierra Leonean SIM card to take advantage of low data rates.

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

Telecom Providers in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has 2 telecom operators: Africell Sierra Leone and Orange Sierra Leone. Both operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.

Sierratel is a government-owned operator that used CDMA, which is incompatible with GSM (which almost all phones use nowadays), which is why they will not be discussed in this article. Both Comium and GreenN had their licenses revoked in 2014.

You may have read about Smart mobile that entered the country in 2014. The operator got shut down in 2017 for not paying their (tax) debt.

While there used to be competition in Sierra Leone, there are only 2 operators left, which created a Duopoly.

What SIM card should you buy when visiting Sierra Leone? If you want to buy a SIM card in Sierra Leone, I would recommend going with either Orange or Africell. Orange has better coverage and speeds than Africell, but Africell is the largest operator in the country, mainly because they are cheaper than Orange.

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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 Sierra Leone. Although you can buy SIM cards on the streets (in fact, you may be offered multiple when walking around), these SIM cards have been registered on someone else’s name and can be disconnected at any time. So I would not recommend purchasing them.

The quality of service is OK in the country, although the telecom regulator, NATCOM, fined both Africell and Orange for the bad quality of service in 2017.

With that being said, let’s see what Africell and Orange have to offer to us.

Africell Sierra Leone

Africell Logo

Africell Sierra Leone, just Africell, is the largest operator in Sierra Leone. What makes this achievement remarkable is that their coverage is not as extensive and fast as the one of Orange Sierra Leone. However, speeds all the way up to 100 Mbps on Africell’s 4G/LTE network have been reported.

Often, the biggest operator in the country is either the fastest or has the most extensive network. That is not the case with Africell.

The reason why Africell is so popular is that they are cheaper than Orange Sierra Leone.

Africell SIM cards are sold for 20 000 SLL ($2.05). Recharge cards are sold all over the country.

Africell has 9 data bundles, which can be activated by dialing *113#:

  • 400 SLL: 10 MB for 1 day
  • 1350 SLL: 35 MB for 1 day
  • 1990 SLL: 55 MB for 7 days
  • 4250 SLL: 120 MB for 7 days
  • 8250 SLL: 225 MB for 7 days
  • 23 000 SLL: 750 MB for 7 days
  • 55 000 SLL: 2 GB for 30 days
  • 200 000 SLL: 8.5 GB for 60 days
  • 400 000 SLL: 18 GB for 60 days

You can also get an Africell 4G LTE MIFI device for 200 000 SLL. It comes with 5 GB to start with, and up to 10 devices can connect to it. The following 3 data plans can be added to the Africell 4G LTE MIFI device by dialing *114#:

  • 120 000 SLL: 4.5 GB
  • 200 000 SLL: 8.5 GB
  • 400 000 SLL: 18 GB

Orange Sierra Leone

Orange Logo

Orange Sierra Leone, just Orange, bought Airtel Sierra Leone in 2016 and rebranded it into Orange in 2017. Back then, Airtel Sierra Leone was known for their bad coverage. However, Orange has invested a lot into improving their network and has managed to outdo Africell in terms of speed and coverage. Unfortunately, the population has not forgotten about Airtel Sierra Leone and know that Africell is cheaper.

Orange SIM cards can be bought for 20 000 SLL in Orange stores. Top-up cards can be bought in almost every store. To top-up, dial *136*VoucherCode#. For example, if your voucher code is 123456, you would dial *136*123456#. Dial *137# to check your Orange balance.

Orange has 11 data plans to choose from, which can be activated by dialing *137*8#:

  • 450 SSL: 10 MB for 1 day
  • 1400 SSL: 35 MB for 1 day
  • 4500 SLL: 120 MB for 1 day
  • 8400 SLL: 225 MB for 7 days
  • 9000 SLL: 300 MB for 1 day
  • 15 000 SLL: 450 MB for 7 days
  • 29 000 SLL: 1.2 GB for 7 days
  • 60 000 SLL: 2 GB for 30 days
  • 125 000 SLL: 4.5 GB for 30 days
  • 200 000 SLL: 8 GB for 30 days
  • 390 000 SLL: 17 GB for 30 days
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Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in Sierra Leone

I have discussed the relevant providers in Sierra Leone in this article because using a Sierra Leonean 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 Sierra Leone. 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 Sierra Leone.

Roaming in Sierra Leone 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 KT Rwanda, then you would be roaming with KT Rwanda in Sierra Leone.

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 Sierra Leone, 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 Sierra Leone 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 Sierra Leone.

Using an International SIM Card in Sierra Leone

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 Sierra Leone. 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 Sierra Leone

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 Sierra Leone

Finally, we have the most cost-effective way to stay connected in Sierra Leone 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 Sierra Leone, you will find many hotspots. Those you find will be slow.

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 Sierra Leone

Getting a SIM card from either Orange or Africell would do you well when considering a Sierra Leonean 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 Sierra Leone

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

Book Your Accommodation for Sierra Leone

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

Get Your Travel Insurance for Sierra Leone

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 Sierra Leone, 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 the local currency 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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