Getting A SIM Card in South Africa (No Affiliate, No Bull Guide)

sim card south africa

So you are visiting South Africa and need a sim card to stay connected with your loved ones back home at a fraction of the cost? I’ve seen some of the advice given to travelers online where they are given terrible choices that make them pay more for an affiliate commission and knew I had to come in and share this. So, if you want the real, no bullsh*t guide that’s going to save you money AND give you more data + more days for that money, read on, and I’ll share exactly what you need to do.

Why should you trust me? I am a local and have many friends who come to South Africa on holiday and so I know what works and the best options that will save you money.

Getting A SIM Card in South Africa (Quick Didn’t Read Guide)

Here’s how to get a SIM card in South Africa:

  • Don’t get a SIM card at the airport unless you need to be connected right-away.
  • Go to your hotel first and when you get there ask them to direct you to the nearest Vodacom, MTN, Telkom or Cell C phone shop or a Pick n Pay, Spar or Checkers supermarket. Ask them for proof of their address to confirm that you’re staying with them.
  • Take your passport and proof of address with you because you will need those to register your SIM card.
  • At the shop choose the option that suits your needs and buy a SIM card.
  • The store staff will assist to get your card activated before you leave the shop.
  • You also have the choice to buy your SIM card online before your arrival in South Africa.

Something to note: The staff at the supermarkets may not be able to help you set up and activate your SIM card as this is not their core service so it’s best you go to a phone shop if you need help with this.

Which is The Best SIM To Get in South Africa?

Either get a Vodacom or an MTN SIM card at the airport if you need to be connected immediately. Both companies have great coverage. Otherwise go to a local supermarket or cellphone shop, either a Vodacom or a MTN shop and ask about their plans. Both will have shops inside any mall. MTN has better rates and the best download and upload speeds.

The four main network providers in South Africa are:

  • Vodacom
  • MTN
  • Cell C
  • Telkom

Both Vodacom and MTN have the best coverage as they are the biggest companies, and I recommend you go with either one but, you will have to compare their packages to decide. Cell C is also good but doesn’t have good coverage. Most people agree that Vodacom and MTN are the best. Cell C and Telkom don’t do well in rural areas, so if you’re going on a safari it’s best that you don’t use them.

Getting A SIM At a South African Airport

Both Johannesburg and Cape Town have cellphone shops located at the arrivals hall in the airports. In Johannesburg, as you come out the doors at arrivals go right and all of them will be clearly displayed there. In Cape Town, it is the same – as you exit the doors into either the international or domestic arrivals hall the shops will be on your right.

The SIM card prices for Vodacom at the airport are:

  • 1 GB data = 85 ZAR ($4.70)
  • 3 GB data = 229 ZAR ($16.60)
  • 5 GB data = 349 ZAR ($19)

For MTN the prices are:

  • 1 GB data = 99 ZAR ($5.50)
  • 3 GB data = 229 ZAR ($12.70)
  • 6 GB data = 399 ZAR ($22.10)

You can get much better deals outside of the airport at the network shops and authorized agents and retailers, so don’t buy at the airport, unless you can help it.

Shops That Sell SIM Cards in South Africa

All the network providers have shops that sell SIM cards and you will find them easily at the airports and in the malls all around the country. You can also buy SIM cards online at the online store called TakeaLot.

You can buy a SIM card in South Africa from shops like:

  • Any network provider:
    • Vodacom
    • MTN
    • Cell C
    • Telkom
  • Convenience shops:
    • Pick n Pay
    • Checkers
    • Spar

Getting A SIM Before Arriving in South Africa – What Are My Options?

If you would like to get a SIM before arriving in South Africa there are two options:

  • Pre-Paid SIMs that can be bought online
  • E-SIMs – virtual cards that can be used on newer model phones (iPhones post 2018, Samsung or Google Pixel post-2020)

The prices that you’ll pay when buying from these online companies aren’t cheaper than what you’ll pay at a South African airport, so if you’re looking to save some money, it’s best that you just wait until you arrive in South Africa. The Orange Holiday World SIM that is available from Amazon, for instance, costs $39.99 for 10 G of data. The only advantage I can see from buying these is that they are automatically activated when you reach your destination so you won’t have to go through the whole activation process.

The advantage of an e-SIM card is, you don’t have to take your original SIM out of your phone, so you won’t lose it, and if you need 2FA texts on holiday for any reason, you don’t have to switch SIMs (trust me it’s annoying).

How About E-Sim Cards?

The top providers for e-SIM cards in South Africa are:

  • e-Travel SIM
  • Airalo
  • Maya
  • SimOptions
  • Holafly
  • Nomad
  • B4i.travel

When comparing the plans e-Travel SIM came out with the best prices and options, closely followed by Airalo and Maya. All have partnered with local provider, Vodacom so coverage will be great. Holafly, though not the cheapest, offers unlimited data packages which gives you more peace of mind than having to worry about running out and needing to top up.

e-Travel SIM

e-Travel SIM is the best e-SIM for South Africa. Not only do they have the best prices, but they also have more packages to choose from including unlimited packages, and the best coverage for South Africa since they are partnered with Vodacom (one of the biggest network providers in the country).

Airalo

Airalo seems to have some of the best-priced SIMs after e-Travel, though they don’t have the unlimited data option. Airalo prices are very close to what you pay when you go with the local company Vodacom and since they are also partnered with them, you’ll get the best coverage.

Maya

Price-wise Maya comes third after Airalo however they have a wider range of options to choose from including unlimited packages. Because they’re also partnering with Vodacom which is one of the biggest network providers in the country you can be confident that coverage will be best.

SimOptions

Sim Options doesn’t seem to have that many options to choose from for South African travel and so it’s not the best when compared to other providers. It’s great that they run specials though so you can save some money. But none of their packages come with unlimited data or offer one the ability to make calls or send texts. In my opinion, it’ll be best to get a SIM card on arrival in SA than to go with any of these.

Holafly

Holafly is certainly not the cheapest option but it comes with many options to choose from and allows you to choose based on the number of days you will be visiting instead of forcing you to choose either a 15-day or a 30-day plan like most providers do. I also like that it gives unlimited data rather than the amount of gigabytes which may run out.

Nomad

Nomad promises great coverage in South Africa and high-speed data. They don’t have that many options to choose from though and they don’t have an unlimited data option, however, they promise the ability to easily top up whenever you run out. With regards to pricing, they come after Airalo and Maya so they are a good option still, though not better than getting a local physical SIM.

Nomad is also a great option for people traveling around Africa because you can get a package that covers 14 countries in Africa, including SA.

B4i.travel

B4i.travel prices are almost similar to Nomad’s but they don’t have that many options to choose from and certainly don’t have the unlimited data option. Their physical SIM card offerings are better than the e-SIM range, so I recommend getting a prepaid SIM from a shop.

Which SIM Provider is Best?

The best SIM providers in South Africa are (in order):

  • MTN – fastest internet, a wide variety of options to choose from at decent rates, and best coverage
  • Vodacom – most reliable, the rates are slightly higher but you get the best coverage
  • Cell C – good coverage but not the best especially if you want to visit remote areas, competitive rates.
  • Telkom – patchy coverage, lowest rates, many options to choose from

Vodacom

Vodacom is one of the largest network providers in South Africa and so they have one of the biggest infrastructures which means most reliable and better coverage throughout the country. Their rates aren’t the cheapest but they are still competitive. They’ve also partnered with many e-SIM providers for travelers to use their network.

A Vodacom pre-paid SIM card costs 10 ZAR ($0.55) and you can buy it at a Vodacom cellphone shop or any of the authorized retailers like supermarkets or online in and around South Africa.

Here are some of their data plans, all of them are valid for 30 days

  • 4 GB costs 249 ZAR ($14)
  • 6 GB costs 349 ZAR ($19)
  • 10 GB costs 469 ZAR ($26)
  • 30 GB costs 699 ZAR ($39)

The Vodacom speed test showed the following result:

Vodacom coverage is the best in the country as you can see below:

MTN

MTN is also one of the most reliable network providers. Like Vodacom they have heavily invested in infrastructure and so they have great coverage like Vodacom, and the best speeds above all the other networks in the country. They also have great data packages to choose from including combo deals that come with calls and texts.

MTN SIM cards are available country-wide from MTN shops, airport agents, retailers like Pick n Pay and Checkers and can also be bought online from TakeALot (Amazon equivalent) and delivered to your address. MTN has several plans to choose from, and they are all valid for 30 days:

  • 50 GB costs 799 ZAR ($44)
  • 20 GB costs 599 ZAR ($33)
  • 10 GB costs 469 ZAR ($26)
  • 5 GB costs 299 ZAR ($16.60)
  • 3GB costs 199 ZAR ($11)

*prices valid at the time of writing this article*

For combo deals that include voice and text these are the options that are currently available:

MTN rates are fairly competitive and their coverage is similar to that of Vodacom which covers almost the whole country since they are one of the biggest network providers.

MTN speeds are pretty impressive in fact they scored the fastest on both download and upload speeds, and even though the difference could partially be due to the time of day we tested them, research done by MyBroadband showed that MTN was the best mobile network in South Africa in 2022.

Telkom

Telkom offers competitive rates but their coverage is patchy and so not great for those who want to travel to remote parts of the country. Telkom has a wide variety of plans and often run specials on their data bundles. You will have to visit their website to see the latest offers as these are updated regularly.

Telkom SIM cards re also available nationwide from Telkom shops, authorized retailers and can be bought online. Once you’ve bought your card you can register it online in a few easy steps, top up with a data bundle and you’re good to go. Telkom has different data bundles that they advertise from time to time and here’s an example below. For simplicity use the 1:18 UDS/ZAR conversion rate.

Telkom coverage isn’t the best, mainly concentrated in the northern parts of the country, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re traveling to remote areas of the country.

The Telkom speed test yielded the worst results of all four networks:

Cell C

Cell C has much better coverage nationwide, almost as good as the two main networks, MTN and Vodacom. Their download speeds came second to MTN which was impressive. They also have a variety of data plans to choose from at competitive rates.

These are some of the Cell C data packages advertised on their website:

Here is the coverage of Cell C in South Africa:

Here is a speed test for Cell C in South Africa:

Summary – The Best Pre-Paid SIM Cards for South Africa

Here are the best pre-paid SIM cards for South Africa:

  • Best coverage – Vodacom, because they have the best coverage across South Africa, but lower speeds than MTN
  • Highest speeds – MTN, download speeds of 98.35Mbps, the 20 GB bundle valid for 30 days is one of the best-priced plans, but coverage is slightly worse
  • Most cost-effective – Telkom Smart Broadband bundles. The coverage on these are pretty bad, but if you’re only in the city you should be fine.

The most convenient SIM with good speeds, a variety of data bundles, and great coverage, is MTN. It’s most convenient because you will find them at any MTN shop, online, and in major supermarkets like Pick n Pay. The shop assistants at the MTN shops will help you set it up, The 50 GB bundle only costs $44 and is valid for 30 days. They also have the e-SIM option which you’ll have to apply for online.

Things to note:

  • If you want to go trekking and coverage is your main concern – Either Vodacom or MTN will be best for this. Their coverage is much stronger in rural areas. MTN speeds are much better compared to Vodacom and Vodacom is generally more expensive. I’ve used both providers before but MTN the longest and was very happy with it.
  • If you are going to be in the city and relatively built-up locations, all four network providers are great options. Cell C is better in terms of pricing but Telkom is the cheapest.
  • If you are on long-term travel around Africa then this E-Sim package is the best option: Airalo is available in over 200 countries and has a wide variety of plans to choose from and best rates.

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