8 Best Prepaid SIM Cards in South Africa: Buying 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.

Mobile Operators, Networks & Frequencies in South Africa

South Africa has four mobile network operator (main operators) and four Mobile Virtual Network Operators:

  • Vodacom South Africa
  • MTN South Africa
  • Cell C
  • Telkom
  • Hellomobile (MVNO)
  • Virgin Mobile South Africa (MVNO)
  • Lycamobile South Africa (MVNO)
  • Trace Mobile (MVNO)

The following frequencies are used in South Africa:

Best SIM Card in 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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SIM Card Registration in South Africa

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.

South Africa Prepaid SIM Cards

Below, I will guide you through the South African operators and go through:

  • Background information
  • Mobile coverage
  • SIM card types, prices, and availability
  • Recharge/top-up information
  • Combo plans, data plans, and special packs (such as social media packs) 

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

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

The Best Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in South Africa

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Local Prepaid SIM Cards in Other African Countries

Visiting other countries in Africa? Check out my Africa SIM card buying guide, covering other African countries, such as

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

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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 is Asia. In particular, East and Southeast Asia. He currently lives in Tainan, Taiwan.

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