Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in South Africa Guide

South Africa is a beloved travel destination in Africa. Travelers love the country, as they were the 3rd most visited country in 2018, with 10.5 million international tourist arrivals. But why is the country so loved?

The country is home to 10 UNESCO world heritage sites, from Vredefort Dome to Robben Island, and from Maloti-Drakensberg Park to Khomani Cultural Landscape.  

The Kruger National Park is something you should not miss when visiting South Africa. There is also accommodation in the park, so there is no reason to skip it.

Durban has a cool promenade. Cape Town and Johannesburg are the big South African cities everyone knows about, and the Addo Elephant National Park is, home to, you guessed it, hundreds of elephants. Your time in South Africa will be exciting.

What will not be exciting is dealing with an expensive roaming bill you will get from roaming with your provider in South Africa. Roaming can be expensive in many cases, which is why many travelers prefer to buy local SIM cards, like a South African one.

Mobile data rates are low in South Africa, compared to the world’s average, which is why you should definitely take advantage of this opportunity.

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

Telecom Providers in South Africa

South Africa has 4 telecom providers: Vodacom South Africa, MTN South Africa, Cell C, and Telkom. All operators have 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.

Additionally, there are 4 Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) called Hellomobile, Virgin Mobile South Africa, Lycamobile South Africa, and Trace Mobile, which primarily run on the Cell C and Vodacom networks.

What SIM card should you buy when visiting South Africa? If you want to buy a SIM card in South Africa, I would recommend going with either Vodacom or MTN. Vodacom is the best option because they have the best network and speeds. However, they are the most expensive. MTN is slightly cheaper than Vodacom, but their network is somewhat “worse” too.

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Like most countries in Southern Africa, and Africa in general, you have to register your SIM card before you can use it. In South Africa, this has to be done with a RICA agent.

Normally, the RICA registration can be done upon purchase. This can be done in an official store or at a supermarket if you plan on buying your SIM card at a supermarket.

You need to bring your passport and proof of residency for your RICA registration. Most RICA agents will accept the address of your ho(s)tel, Airbnb, or wherever you are staying, but there have been reports where some RICA agents will reject you because you do not have proper residency in South Africa. If this happens, you can just go to another RICA agent, I have been told.

Be aware that South African providers offer a lot of types of packages. Hourly ones, daily ones, fortnightly (14 days), all the way up to 12 months. At first, it may seem intimidating, but everything has been categorized correctly from the shortest period, often hourly, to the longest, 12 months.

Moreover, I will mainly highlight the data-only packages as the All-In-One or Combo plans often come with such a low data allowance for the price you pay that they are not worth considering.

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

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Vodacom South Africa

Vodacom Logo

Vodacom South Africa, just Vodacom, is the largest operator in South Africa. The company is partially owned by Vodafone, which is why you probably recognized the logo from.

Besides being the largest operator, Vodacom also has the best coverage and speeds throughout South Africa. The downside of going with Vodacom is that they are also the most expensive.

You can buy a Vodacom SIM card for 5 ZAR in Vodacom stores and supermarkets. You can also get it at Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Tambo airports. However, the prices there can go all the way up to 150 ZAR, which is still cheap compared to many countries around a world, but still a scam compared to regular Vodacom SIM card prices. Recharge cards are sold from 5 ZAR to 180 ZAR.

Vodacom has a variety of data packages ranging from an hour to a month. All bundles can be purchased online or by dialing *135#. Let’s have a look.

Vodacom has 2 Hourly Data Bundles:

  • 5 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 12 ZAR: 1 GB

Vodacom also has 5 Internet Daily bundles that are valid until midnight:

  • 5 ZAR: 20 MB
  • 10 ZAR: 60 MB
  • 15 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 27 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 30 ZAR: 1 GB

Do you like to be active during the night? Vodacom has 2 Night Owl Weekly bundles, which are active from 12 AM until 5 AM:

  • 30 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 50 ZAR: 1 GB

Need a Vodacom bundle that lasts you for a full week? Get one of the 5 Vodacom Weekly bundles:

  • 17 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 35 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 60 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 80 ZAR: 1 GB
  • 120 ZAR: 2 GB

Want your data bundle to last longer? Vodacom has 1 Fortnight bundle, 14 days, which will cost you 100 ZAR and comes with 1 GB.

What about monthly data bundles or bundles that come with much more data? Vodacom has got your back. You can purchase one of the 9 Monthly data packs:

  • 12 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 30 ZAR: 150 MB
  • 55 ZAR: 325 MB
  • 80 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 100 ZAR: 1 GB
  • 230 ZAR: 3 GB
  • 350 ZAR: 5 GB
  • 470 ZAR: 10 GB
  • 700 ZAR: 20 GB

If you are staying in South Africa for an extended period, you can also consider one of the Vodacom Pay-once upfront bundles. These are bundles where you pay a significant price upfront and get the data allowance split over at least 3 months. How does it work? Let’s see:

  • 30 ZAR: 150 MB for 3 months. 50 MB per month (10 ZAR per month)
  • 120 ZAR: 600 MB for 6 months. 100 MB per month (20 ZAR per month)
  • 220 ZAR: 1500 MB for 6 months. 250 MB per month (37 ZAR per month)
  • 340 ZAR: 3000 MB for 6 months. 500 MB per month (57 ZAR per month)
  • 900 ZAR: 12 GB for 12 months. 1 GB per month (75 ZAR per month)
  • 1400 ZAR: 24 GB for 12 months. 2 GB per month (117 ZAR per month)
  • 3500 ZAR: 60 GB for 12 months. 5 GB per month (292 ZAR per month)
  • 6000 ZAR: 120 GB for 12 months. 10 GB per month (500 ZAR per month)

As you can see, a lot of choice with Vodacom.

FURTHER READ: Looking for other SIM cards in Africa? Check out my Buying a SIM Card in Africa Guide.

MTN South Africa

MTN Logo

MTN South Africa, just MTN, is an operator from South Africa that is active in multiple parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In South Africa, they are Vodacom’s biggest competitor. They have great coverage and fast speeds. Sometimes, they are faster than Vodacom.  

MTN SIM cards are sold for 5 ZAR. At the airport, the SIM card can cost you up to 100 ZAR, so better wait until you are in town. MTN recharge cards are sold from 5 ZAR to 180 ZAR.

MTN is a good option for those who want to visit Eswatini (Swaziland) but do not feel like buying a local SIM card there. MTN is the only South African provider that can roam in Eswatini.

Like Vodacom, MTN has plenty of plans to choose from, starting from an hour to a year. Let’s see what you can get.

MTN’s hourly plans, called MTN Rush Hour, come in 3 variants:

  • 1.50 ZAR: 10 MB. Activation: dial *136*2*44311#
  • 5 ZAR: 50 MB. Activation: dial *136*2*44321#
  • 10 ZAR: 100 MB. Activation: dial *136*2*44331#

Need a plan that lasts you a full day (24 hours)? Get one of the 7 MTN One Day bundles, which can be activated by dialing *136*2#:

  • 4 ZAR: 20 MB
  • 6 ZAR: 35 MB
  • 8.50 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 12 ZAR: 75 MB
  • 15 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 25 ZAR: 200 MB
  • 40 ZAR: “Uncapped” (150 MB Fair Use Policy)

Are you active during the night? MTN offers 2 Daily MTN Night Express packages (valid from 12 AM until 6 AM), by dialing *136*2#:

  • 5 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 10 ZAR: 1 GB

Staying in South Africa for a week? Consider one of the 5 MTN Weekly plans which can be activated by dialing *136*2#:

  • 10 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 15 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 35 ZAR: 300 MB
  • 45 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 65 ZAR: 1 GB

MTN also has 1 fortnight plan (14 days), which costs 90 ZAR and comes with 1 GB. Dial *136*2# to activate this plan.

Additionally, MTN has 12 MTN Monthly plans. You know the drill: activate one of these plans by dialing *136*2#:

  • 4 ZAR: 4 MB
  • 12 ZAR: 20 MB
  • 25 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 35 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 85 ZAR: 300 MB
  • 105 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 160 ZAR: 1 GB
  • 260 ZAR: 2 GB
  • 330 ZAR: 3 GB
  • 430 ZAR: 5 GB
  • 650 ZAR: 10 GB
  • 1250 ZAR: 20 GB

Night owls can rejoice because MTN has 8 MTN Monthly Night Express bundles, which are valid from 12 AM until 5 AM (dial *136*2# to activate):

  • 10 ZAR:  100 MB
  • 25 ZAR: 300 MB
  • 35 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 60 ZAR: 1 GB
  • 110 ZAR: 2 GB
  • 140 ZAR: 5 GB
  • 210 ZAR: 20 GB
  • 360 ZAR: 20 GB

Staying in South Africa for 6 or 12 months, and you do not use that much data but do not feel like buying daily or weekly data bundles? Consider one of the 5 MTN OneTime bundles that last you 6 months or 12 months (dial *136*2# to activate):

  • 100 ZAR: 100 MB for 6 months
  • 160 ZAR: 100 MB for 12 months
  • 260 ZAR: 300 MB for 6 months
  • 340 ZAR: 500 MB for 6 months
  • 400 ZAR: 300 MB for 12 months
  • 530 ZAR: 500 MB for 12 months
  • 580 ZAR: 1 GB for 6 months
  • 900 ZAR: 1 GB for 12 months
  • 930 ZAR: 2 GB for 6 months
  • 1400 ZAR: 2 GB for 12 months

Finally, you have the MTN Data4Keeps plans that are valid for 12 months. Dial 141*2*999# to activate:

  • 4 ZAR: 5 MB
  • 12 ZAR: 20 MB
  • 25 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 35 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 75 ZAR: 300 MB
  • 105 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 160 ZAR: 1 GB
  • 260 ZAR: 2 GB
  • 330 ZAR: 3 GB

As of 2020, MTN offers a tourist SIM card called MTN Traveller Bundle. They come in 2 variants: 450 ZAR for 10 GB and 80 ZAR for 20 GB, all for 30 days. These Traveller Bundles can be purchased as select MTN stores, Tambo Airport, King Shaka Airport, and Cape Town Airport.

Cell C

Cell C Logo

Cell C is the third-largest operator in South Africa. A few years ago, they were the budget option because they had the lowest prices. Now, the other operators lowered their prices, so the Cell C appeal got lost.

Cell C has a roaming agreement with MTN, which allows Cell C customers to roam on the MTN network outside of populated areas where Cell C does not want to build its own antennas.

You can get a Cell C SIM card for 1 ZAR in Cell C stores.

Cell C has 6 Smartdata Daily Bundles you can purchase by dialing *109#:

  • 2 ZAR: 5 MB
  • 4 ZAR: 25 MB
  • 9 ZAR: 65 MB
  • 14 ZAR: 120 MB
  • 17 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 20 ZAR: 1 GB

Are you active during the night (1 AM until 7 AM)? Then you can get one of the 2 Cell C’ Smartdata Daily Nite Bundles by dialing *147# and selecting option 4.

  • 6 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 15 ZAR: 1 GB

Staying in South Africa for 5 days? Then one of these 6 Cell C 5-day bundles may be for you. Dial *109# to activate:

  • 8 ZAR: 45 MB
  • 12 ZAR: 80 MB
  • 25 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 50 ZAR: 600 MB
  • 80 ZAR: 1288.8 MB
  • 100 ZAR: 2252.8 MB

Exploring South Africa for a month, or do you need a lot of data? Cell C has 17 data bundles that last you for a month, starting from 5 ZAR for 15 MB up to 3000 ZAR for 100 GB. One cool feature of these bundles is that unused data gets carried over to the new month, as long as you buy a new bundle.

Additionally, some of these plans come with Nite Data that is a separate data allowance that can be used between 1 AM and 7 PM. Let’s check our options:

  • 5 ZAR: 15 MB
  • 12 ZAR: 40 MB
  • 20 ZAR: 65 MB
  • 30 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 40 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 50 ZAR: 300 MB
  • 80 ZAR: 750 MB and 1 GB Nite Data
  • 100 ZAR: 1 GB and 2 GB Nite Data
  • 200 ZAR: 2 GB and 4 GB Nite Data
  • 250 ZAR: 3 GB and 5 GB Nite Data
  • 300 ZAR: 6 GB and 7 GB Nite Data
  • 400 ZAR: 7 GB and 10 GB Nite Data

Finally, we have plans that will last you 90 days. Like the 30-day plans, one 90-day plan, the 500 ZAR one, comes with Nite data, which can be used between 1 AM to 7 PM:

  • 500 ZAR: 10 GB and 15 GB Nite data
  • 800 ZAR: 20 GB
  • 900 ZAR: 30 GB
  • 1200 ZAR: 40 GB
  • 2000 ZAR: 100 GB

Telkom

Telkom Logo

Telkom is the smallest operator in South Africa. They also, however, have the lowest rate but the “worst” coverage too. If you are staying in the cities, it may be worth considering Telkom. For outside the cities, Telkom has a roaming agreement with Vodacom that allows Telkom customers to use Vodacom’s 2G, 3G, and 4G/LTE networks.  

Moreover, Telkom uses frequency 2300 MHz on Band 40 for their 4G/LTE network, which is an uncommon frequency. Therefore, you need a high-end phone to use Telkom’s 4G/LTE network.

You can get a Telkom SIM card for 1 ZAR in Telkom stores and various other stores.

Just like all the other operators, there is so much choice in terms of data packages. All these plans can be activated online or via the Telkom app. Let’s take a look.

Telkom has 6 Time-based bundles, which are valid for an hour, a day, or a weekend. Telkom considers a weekend to be from Friday midnight until Sunday midnight:

  • 5 ZAR: 75 MB for 1 hour
  • 10 ZAR: 100 MB for a weekend
  • 10.10 ZAR: 150 MB for 24 hours
  • 20 ZAR: 200 MB for a weekend
  • 30 ZAR: 500 MB for a weekend
  • 50 ZAR: 1 GB for a weekend

Telkom also has 13 Once Off Data bundles that are valid until the end of the next calendar month. For example, if you buy your bundle on the 1st of February, the data plan will expire on the 31st of March. Some of these plans come with Night Surfer Data that can be used from midnight until 7 AM:

  • 7.30 ZAR: 25 MB
  • 14.65 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 30 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 40 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 70 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 100 ZAR: 1 GB and 1 GB Night Surfer Data
  • 140 ZAR: 2 GB and 2 GB Night Surfer Data
  • 201 ZAR: 3 GB and 3 GB Night Surfer Data
  • 301 ZAR: 5 GB and 5 GB Night Surfer Data
  • 505 ZAR: 10 GB and 10 GB Night Surfer Data

If you are staying in South Africa for a while and do not feel like buying a new plan every month, then you can choose to select a Monthly Recurring Data Bundle. They come at the same data allowances and prices. You do, however, have to go to a Telkom store if you need to cancel your Monthly Recurring Data Bundle.

Night Owls can enjoy themselves with the 100 GB Night Surfer Once-ff-Data Bundle for 150 ZAR. This data pack is valid for 31 days and can be used from midnight until 7 AM. Unlike any other plan, you cannot roam on Vodacom when using this plan. This bundle can be purchased by dialing *180#, Telkom App, or online.

Finally, Telkom has a few long-term Once Off Data Bundles that will last you 6 months or 12 months:

  • 905 ZAR: 20 GB valid for 6 months
  • 1815 ZAR: 50 GB valid for 12 months
  • 3227 ZAR: 100 GB valid for 12 months
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Hellomobile

Hellomobile Logo

Hellomobile is the most popular MVNO in South Africa. They use the Cell C network and are allowed to roam on Vodacom’s 2G and 3G networks. Hellomobile is mainly popular with expats living in South Africa because they have low international call rates.

You can buy Hellomobile SIM cards for free in Hellomobile stores, Hello Paisa stores, and various other stores. You can check your Hellomobile data balance by dialing *101#.

Hellomobile is the only MVNO that offers a bunch of data packs. All the others have a more streamlined selection. Hellomobile has daily, 5-day, and monthly data packs.

Hellomobile has 4 Daily Data Bundles you can choose from by dialing *109#:

  • 9 ZAR: 65 MB
  • 14 ZAR: 120 MB
  • 17 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 20 ZAR: 1 GB

Are you mainly active between 1 AM until 7 AM? Then you can get one of the 2 Hellomobile Night Data bundles by dialing *109#:

  • 6 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 15 ZAR: 1 GB

Staying in South Africa for 5 days? Select one of the Hellomobile 6 5-day data bundles. You can activate a 5-day plan by dialing *147#

  • 8 ZAR: 45 MB
  • 12 ZAR: 80 MB
  • 25 ZAR: 250 MB
  • 50 ZAR: 600 MB
  • 80 ZAR: 1.2 GB
  • 100 ZAR: 2.2 GB

Exploring South Africa for a month, or do you need a lot of data? Then Hellomobile’s monthly data bundles are for you. In addition to regular data, you get a Nite Data allowance to be used between 1 AM until 7 AM. Moreover, unused data will roll over to the new period if you renew the plan before it expires. You can activate a monthly plan by dialing *147#:

  • 80 ZAR: 750 MB and 1 GB Nite Data
  • 100 ZAR: 1 GB and 2 GB Nite Data
  • 150 ZAR: 1.5 GB and 3 GB Nite data
  • 200 ZAR: 2 GB and 4 GB Nite Data
  • 250 ZAR: 3 GB and 5 GB Nite Data
  • 300 ZAR: 6 GB and 7 GB Nite Data

Virgin Mobile South Africa

Virgin Mobile Logo

Virgin Mobile South Africa, just Virgin Mobile, was the first MVNO in South Africa. It is an MVNO using the Cell C network and roams on Vodacom for their 2G and 3G networks.

You can get a Virgin Mobile SIM card for free in Virgin Mobile stores and at Johannesburg airport.

Virgin Mobile has 5 monthly data bundles you can choose from by dialing *110#:

  • 10 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 40 ZAR: 200
  • 75 ZAR: 400 MB
  • 100 ZAR: 600 MB
  • 200 ZAR: 1.5 GB

Dial *110# if you want to disable auto-renewal, as it is activated by default.

Lycamobile South Africa

Lycamobile Logo

Lycamobile South Africa, just Lycamobile, entered South Africa in 2017. Lycamobile, as a company, is active in many countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. It is a Cell C MVNO which also roams on Vodacom’s 2G and 3G network.

You can get your Lycamobile SIM card for free in Lycamobile stores. Be prepared to recharge immediately. Many supermarkets, gas stations, and convenience stores have Lycamobile SIM cards too, but I am not sure if you can get them for free there.

Dial *136# to see your  Lycamobile bundle balance.

Lycamobile is known for offering low rates for international calls or includes them in their plans.  

Unlike the All-in-One data plans of all the other operators, Lycamobile’s combo bundles come with a significant amount of data. Moreover, some of them come with international minutes to select destinations. The following 5 monthly Lycamobile National and International plans are available:

  • 30 ZAR: 300 MB, 30 local minutes, and 300 local SMS. Activation: dial *139*1029#
  • 100 ZAR: 1 GB, 100 local minutes, and 300 local SMS. Activation: dial *139*1099#
  • 200 ZAR: 7 GB, 100 local and international minutes, and 100 local SMS. Activation: dial *139*2710#
  • 330 ZAR: 15 GB, 500 local and international minutes, and 500 local SMS. Activation: dial *139*2715#
  • 500 ZAR: 23 GB, 700 local and international minutes, and 700 local SMS. Activation: dial *139*2720#

An alternative way of activating a data plan is by texting the bundle code (the one after *139*) to 3535. For example, if you want the 200 ZAR  plan, you could text 2710 to 3535 to activate that plan.

You cannot call every international number you want with these international minutes. You can call to the following 27 destinations:

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Bangladesh
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Denmark
  • France 1
  • Germany
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Mexico
  • Morocco 1
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Pakistan 1
  • Poland 1
  • Portugal 1
  • Romania 1
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey 1
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

1 landline only

If you are only interested in data, then get yourself one of the 8 monthly Lycamobile data-only plans:

  • 10 ZAR: 100 MB. Activation: dial *139*2701#
  • 20 ZAR: 300 MB. Activation: dial *139*2702#
  • 80 ZAR: 1 GB. Activation: dial *139*2703#
  • 150 ZAR: 6 GB. Activation: dial *139*2704#
  • 245 ZAR: 8 GB. Activation: dial *139*2705#
  • 300 ZAR: 15 GB. Activation: dial *139*2706#
  • 400 ZAR: 20 GB. Activation: dial *139*2707#
  • 600 ZAR: 35 GB. Activation: dial *139*2708#

An alternative way of activating a data plan is by texting the bundle code (the one after *139*) to 3535. For example, if you want the 150 ZAR 5 GB plan, you could text 2704 to 3535 to activate that plan.

Trace Mobile

Trace Mobile Logo

Trace Mobile is a Cell C MVNO. It is targeted to the youth (18-35), but you can buy these SIM cards, for 5 ZAR, in many places without anyone checking how old (or young) you are.

One cool perk with Trace Mobile is that their data plans do not expire. You can use them for as long as you want, but be aware of the 90-day inactivity rule for the SIM card validity.

Another perk is that you can get discounts at select stores with Trace Mobile. The more you spend on a data plan, the more places you can get a discount at, such as free entry to clubs, discounts on clothes, and discount as (fast) food places.

You can choose from the following 12 Trace Mobile data plans, which can be activated on the Trace Mobile app only:

  • 5 ZAR: 10 MB
  • 8 ZAR: 20 MB
  • 15 ZAR: 50 MB
  • 20 ZAR: 75 MB
  • 25 ZAR: 100 MB
  • 40 ZAR: 200 MB
  • 55 ZAR: 300 MB
  • 75 ZAR: 400 MB
  • 85 ZAR: 500 MB
  • 100 ZAR: 750 MB
  • 110 ZAR: 1 GB
  • 150 ZAR: 1.5 GB

Other Ways to Stay Connected When Traveling in South Africa

Now you know everything about buying a SIM card in South Africa, 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 South Africa, but you can also roam with your provider in South Africa, use an international SIM card in South Africa, or use a mobile hotspot in South Africa. Let’s see what our options are.

Using Free WIFI hotspots in South Africa

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 South Africa, there will be many hotspots around, especially in the big cities. They can, however, be slow.

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 South Africa

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 IPKO from Kosovo, then you would be roaming with IPKO in South Africa.

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 South Africa, 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 South Africa, or allow you to use your plan’s allowance in South Africa. 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 South Africa, then you should go for it. Just note that your speeds will be lower as a roamer than if you were to buy a South African SIM card.

Using an International SIM Card in South Africa

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 South Africa, 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 South Africa

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.

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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 South Africa

Getting a SIM card from Vodacom or MTN would do you well when considering a South African 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 Southern Africa? Check out my Southern Africa SIM card buying guide, covering other South African nations, such as Angola, Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland) Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, 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, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Uganda.

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 South Africa

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

Book Your Accommodation for South Africa

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

Get Your Travel Insurance for South Africa

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 South Africa, 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 South African Rand 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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