Prepaid SIMs for Travel to South Africa Compared

If you are travelling to South Africa you need to stay connected with data, calling your airBnB agent and SMS (texts) as soon as you land. There is a variety of packages from each operator and it’s worth spending a minute or two to find the most suitable.

You will need to bring along your own unlocked GSM phone supporting 900Mhz/1800Mhz (most up to date  GSM smartphones). Your charger must support 220v and it may require an adapter to the two round prong europlug often used in SA. All SIM sizes are offered by the operators.

How to get connected

It’s recommended to arrange a SIM at the airport as the retail outlets tend to be most experienced with international travellers. Due to the RICA law requirements any SIM will require the retailer to verify your passport and you proof of residence (hotel bookings are accepted) to activate the SIM.

MTN and Vodacom outlets are available all three international airports in  Johannesburg (ORT),  Cape Town and Durban airports whereas Cell C is only available at Johannesburg.

Criteria

Firstly you need the widest coverage for your travel. Although Google and Here maps (my preferred offline map iOS and Android versions) can be used offline you should always have data on hand. Secondly smartphones are data hungry and in the absence of uncapped packages in SA a minimum of a 2GB bundle is recommended. Exceeding your data bundle will result in your airtime consumed at R2/MB. Lastly your package should offer cheap international calling to contact friends and family back home.

MTN – R320

South Africa’s second largest network in coverage and numbers. Offers competitive data deals. MTN offers international calling bundles for reduced calls home.

MTN international calling bundle rates

  • R160 – 2GB valid 30 days
  • R150 Airtime – equivalent to 190 local mins or approx 100 mins international
  • R5 – SIM pack (should default to 79c/min plan)
  • R5 – International calling bundle – dial *141*2*427# to purchase

Vodacom – R409

Part of the Vodafone group South Africa’s largest network with widest coverage and also the most expensive. Vodacom offers international calling bundles for reduced calls home.

Vodacom international calling bundle rates

Cell C – R409

South Africa’s third network, also allows roaming on Vodacom and data coverage is spotty in rural areas.

Cell C international call rate listing

  • R249 – 2GB valid 30 days
  • R150 Airtime – equivalent to 190 local mins or approx 100 mins international calling
  • R5 – Starter SIM pack (change to 66c/min plan)

Telkom Mobile – R294

The smallest of the mobile networks. TM’s coverage is heavily dependant on MTN roaming outside major urban areas. TM lack complete international call rates on their website

TM International call rate listing

  • R5 – Starter SIM pack (choose SIM Sonke plan)
  • R139 – 2GB valid 30 days
  • R150 Airtime – equivalent to 200 local mins or approx 50 mins international calling

Contract vs Prepaid

Prepaid is better than contract:

  • Cheaper per minute voice calls
  • Flexibility to move between networks
  • Phones can be bought for cash or financed through FNB
  • Contacts can destroy your bank account

If you’re on the Vodacom network, you should be on Prepaid – 

Gone are the day of free phones bundled into contracts. This isn’t Vodacom’s fault, to be fair you’re no longer wanting a Nokia 3210 but an IPhone 6 smart phone. You pay a monthly fee to get the phone on top of your contract price. So if I wanted a Apple IPhone 6 64Gb through Vodacom I’m in for R648.99 x 24 months which equates to R15575. The solution, pop into FNB connect and get the same phone for R575 x 24 months which means an all in cost of R13800, that’s a savings of R1775.

All in all, over the period of 24 months, including the phone and an itemised bill each month, you’re looking at a Vodacom price of R33 311. If I went the prepaid option and FNB, which provides full flexibility, over 24 months I’m paying R28 200.

That’s an overall saving of R5 111

Contracts have no billing limits

Ms Tarr, a Vodacom customer set R50 contract limit yet she received a R20,000 bill. Her contract also had a  R3,000 call limit and an R8,500 account limit, neither limit took effect. Vodacom says it has a disclaimer in its terms and conditions should a limit requested by a customer not kick in and the customer is therefor always liable.

Vodacom’s sets R50 limit and gets R50 000 bill