Buying a Prepaid SIM Card in the Gambia Guide

The Gambia is, together with the Bahamas, one of the countries where “the” is part of the country name. However, many omit “the” and just refer to the country as Gambia (like what I have done in many of my other articles that mention the Gambia).

The history of the name of the Gambia is worth an article on its own, but it is beyond the scope of this article. You are, instead, interested in buying a Gambian SIM card to share your Gambia experiences online.

Many know that roaming with your provider can be expensive, which is why getting a local SIM card is popular so that tourists and travelers can enjoy local rates, especially in the Gambia, where mobile data rates are low compared to the world’s average.

In this article, I will go over everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in the Gambia. Let’s do this.

Telecom Operators, Networks, and Frequencies in the Gambia

The Gambia has 5 telecom providers:

  • Africell Gambia (2G, 3G & 4G/LTE)
  • QCell (3G & 4G/LTE)
  • Gamcel by Gamtel (2G & 3G)
  • Comium Mobile (2G)
  • Netscape (4G/LTE)

Gamcel’s 3G coverage is awful, and 2G is too slow for modern data browsing. As a result, they will not be covered in this article – the same counts for Comium. Comium is a 2G-only operator. Thus, they cannot be recommended for travelers either.

Netscape is a 4G/LTE operator using WiMax and TD-LTE on 2300 MHz (Band 40), and they are only active in Banjul (capital region). They focus on mobile internet for routers instead of the mobile phone market. As a result, they cannot be recommended for travelers, and they will not be covered in this article.

However, if you are staying in Greater Banjul and want data packages without data quotas (but with speed restrictions, from 256 Kbps to 5 Mbps), then Netpage can be of interest. For more information about Netpage, check their website.

The Best SIM card in the Gambia

If you want to buy a SIM card in the Gambia, then both Africell and QCell are the best options. Africell has the best coverage throughout the country but can be slow at times due to network overload. QCell is, on average, faster than Africell, but their coverage is limited compared to Africell.

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SIM Card Registration Regulations in the Gambia

Like most countries in West Africa, and Africa in general, you have to register your passport details when buying a SIM card in the Gambia.

As of 2019, you can only buy Gambian SIM cards at the official stores of the operators, not from third-party sellers anymore. If someone on the street offers to sell you a SIM card, deny it, especially if they want to charge you for it.

Both Africell Gambia and QCell give out their SIM cards for free in their shops and at Banjul International Airport, with proper registration, so there is no need to buy a SIM card form a stranger on the street when you can get them for free.

Flag of the Gambia

Currency in the Gambia

The Gambia uses the Gambian Dalasi with the symbol GMD (which will be used throughout this article). However, prices are often listed as just D (Dalasis). For example, 25 GMD is D25 (Dalasis). For reference, below are some exchange rates between GMD and USD (US Dollars):

  • 1 GMD = 0.02 USD
  • 10 GMD = 0.19 USD
  • 100 GMD = 1.94 USD
  • 1000 GMD = 19.42 USD
  • 10 000 GMD = 194.17 USD

Gambian Prepaid SIM Cards

Below, I will guide you through the Gambian telecom operators, Africell Gambia and QCell and go through:

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

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

Africell Gambia

Africell Logo

Africell Gambia, just Africell, is the largest operator in the Gambia, with a market share of almost 60%. Africell has the best coverage in the Gambia. However, their speeds can be slow due to overloaded networks. But this does not mean that speeds are always slow. Download speeds up to 100 Mbps have been reported all over the country, and proudly shown on their website.

Africell SIM cards are available for FREE in Africell stores and at Banjul International Airport (also known as Yundum International Airport – BJL). Africell SIM cards come with 10 “Africell Credits” (or 10 GMD in normal terms) and 15 on-net SMS.

It is also possible to get an Africell eSIM. Just like the regular Africell SIM cards, eSIMs are FREE, but you have to buy at least an 8 GB data bundle, which costs 970 GMD.

Africell scratch cards are sold in denominations of 25 GMD, 45 GMD, 100 GMD, and 250 GMD. You can also recharge with an eVoucher, which come in denominations from 5 GMD to 5000 GMD.

Africell Data Bundles

Africell has many data bundles, which are valid for 30 days, 45 days, or 60 days. All Africell data bundles can be purchased by dialing *120#. You can check your data balance by dialing *132#.

Below are the Africell data bundles grouped by validity.

Africell 30-day bundles

Africell has 10 data bundles that are valid for 30 days:

  • 8 GMD: 20 MB
  • 17 GMD: 40 MB
  • 26 GMD: 50 MB
  • 29 GMD: 80 MB
  • 45 GMD: 100 MB
  • 56 GMD: 150 MB
  • 90 GMD: 200 MB
  • 109 GMD: 300 MB
  • 145 GMD: 500 MB
  • 179 GMD: 750 MB
Africell 45-day bundles

Africell has 4 data bundles with a validity of 45 days:

  • 250 GMD: 1 GB
  • 259 GMD: 1.5 GB
  • 495 GMD: 2 GB
  • 575 GMD: 3 GB
Africell 60-day bundles

Africell has 6 bundles that are valid for 60 days:

  • 750 GMD: 4 GB
  • 770 GMD: 5 GB
  • 970 GMD: 8 GB
  • 1300 GMD: 10 GB
  • 1615 GMD: 12 GB
  • 1620 GMD: 13 GB

Africell Gambia APN Settings

In most cases, your phone will retrieve the correct APN settings automatically. If you need to enter it manually, then you need the following details (do not add anything not mentioned below):

  • APN: africellnet

RELATED GUIDES

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QCell

QCell Logo

QCell is the second-largest operator in the Gambia. They were the first to introduce 3G and 4G/LTE in the Gambia. However, QCell does not have a 2G network.

QCell SIM cards, called Sunu SIM, are given away for FREE in QCell stores. You may have to dial *335# to activate 4G/LTE after obtaining your SIM card if 4G/LTE does not work yet. It can take up to 4 hours before 4G/LTE will be enabled. In the meantime, you will be using QCell’s 3G network.

QCell Sunu Bundles

QCell has 30-day data bundles called Sunu bundles. To activate a Sunu bundle, you have to dial *303# and select option 1 (Buy Sunu Bundle). You can check your QCell credit balance by dialing 101.

The following 12 monthly QCell data bundles are available:

  • 9 GMD: 20 MB
  • 18 GMD: 40 MB
  • 31 GMD: 80 MB
  • 58 GMD: 150 MB
  • 112 GMD: 300 MB
  • 182 GMD: 750 MB
  • 262 GMD: 1.5 GB
  • 580 GMD: 3 GB
  • 775 GMD: 5 GB
  • 975 GMD: 8 GB
  • 1310 GMD: 10 GB
  • 1630 GMD: 13 GB

QCell APN Settings

In most cases, your phone will retrieve the correct APN settings automatically. If you need to enter it manually, then you need the following details (do not add anything not mentioned below):

  • APN: qcellnet

Other Ways to Use the Internet When Traveling in the Gambia

Getting a Gambian SIM card is probably the cheapest way to connect to the internet when traveling in the Gambia. However, you can also:

Mobile Hotspots

Mobile hotspots are 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 excellent for those traveling in groups, like friends or family.

You can either buy a mobile hotspot (like the ones I cover in this article) or rent them. As a solo traveler, I barely get a mobile hotspot for myself. When I do, I rent them from Travelwifi, which covers 130+ destinations for as little as $7/day, or Skyroam, which also covers more than 130 destinations, and data starts from $8/day. You can get a discount with Skyroam by using coupon code PHONETRAVELWIZ upon checkout.

Travelwifi banner
Skyroam banner

International SIM Cards & Travel SIM Cards

International SIM cards and travel SIM cards can be a convenient way to stay connected when traveling around multiple countries. Many countries require those buying local prepaid SIM cards to go through a registration procedure, like in the Gambia.

Although I love to collect SIM cards, many do not. So having one SIM card that covers all the destinations you are visiting can be a blessing. I recommend four companies that sell international SIM cards or travel SIM cards:

Roaming

Roaming with your provider is the most convenient way to stay connected when traveling because you can keep using your SIM card and do not have to buy a new one. However, roaming often results in expensive bills, but that does not always have to be the case. Your operator may offer attractive roaming packages, but it will most likely be more expensive than buying a local prepaid SIM card and getting a data package from a local operator.

I have an article explaining why roaming is so expensive. I also have many articles covering the roaming options of operators around the world, and make a verdict saying roaming can be worth it or not. Finally, I discuss many phone travel tips to keep your phone bills low when traveling.

Free WIFI Hotspots

Using free WIFI connections is the cheapest way to connect to the internet because you do not have to pay anything. However, free WIFI hotspots can be unsecure and unreliable.

You can find quite some WIFI hotspots in the Gambia, but they can be slow at times. Additionally, public WIFI hotspots are unsecure. They are a prime target for hackers to steal your data and use it for illicit purposes, which is why I ALWAYS use a VPN on open WIFI connections (and even on private ones, even at home).

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!

The Preferred Way to Stay Connected When Traveling in the Gambia

Getting a SIM card from Africell (best coverage) or QCell (fastest speeds) would do you well when considering a Gambian SIM card.

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Going to other countries in West Africa? Check out my West Africa SIM card buying guide, covering other East African nations, such as:

Be sure to check out this guide covering all African countries, such as these popular African travel destinations:

Otherwise, I have many guides covering countries all over the world. Get my SIM card recommendation sheet by signing up for my newsletter!

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 the Gambia

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 the Gambia.

Book Your Accommodation for the Gambia

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

Get Your Travel Insurance for the Gambia

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 the Gambia, 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 Gambian Dalasi 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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