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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

How to buy bundles

First you need to have sufficient airtime loaded, also referred to as as credit in you main account. Many mobile operators will give you “free” or “bonus” airtime on recharges that cannot be used to buy bundles. Once you have loaded the airtime via your bank, voucher or shop then access the operator menu below using the USSD codes below

MTN USSD menu

  • Balance *141#
  • Detailed balances *141*1#
  • Bundle purchase *141*0# option 2

More USSD codes for MTN

Vodacom USSD menu

  • Balance *141#
  • Main menu *111#
  • Detailed balances *141*1#
  • Bundle purchases *111*0#
    • Buy – opt 2
    • More power” – opt 3
    • Just for you – opt 4
    • Promotions – opt 6

more Vodacom USSD codes

Cell C

  • Balance *101#
  • Detailed balances *147# opt 2
  • Main menu *147#
  • Bundle purchases *147# opt 4

Telkom mobile

  • Balance *100#
  • Main menu *180# or *111#
  • Bundle purchases *180# opt 1