Planning a trip to South Africa and looking for the best way to stay connected? Get yourself a local prepaid sim card or an e-sim card and avoid slow overseas data roaming plans or high roaming charges. This is a complete guide with everything you need to know about staying connected when you travel to South Africa.

Find out where to buy a prepaid sim card, up to date prices as per June 2024, the best 4G/5G network, buying a sim card at the airport, my recommendation, the best e-sim cards for South Africa, my experiences, information about international sim sim cards and more.

If I don't have an e-sim card yet the first thing I do when getting to a new country is buying a local prepaid sim card. As Traveltomtom is on a journey to visit every country I get to a lot of places and airports and I like to document all my travel tips for fellow world travelers.

That is how on Traveltomtom you can find more than 200 sim card guides from all over the world: LesothoNamibia, Zambia, UgandaTanzania, Kenya, Europe, UK, London, New York, Germany, Italy, SpainUSA, New YorkCanada, Hong Kong, VietnamThailand, Indonesia, Australia and many more.

When flying into South Africa then go directly to my articles about buying a sim card at Cape Town Airport or Johannesburg Airport.

So next time you are planning your adventure abroad come check out Traveltomtom for the latest prepaid and e-sim card advice for your next holiday destination. Bookmark me!

Some links in this article about the best way to stay connected in South Africa are affiliate links. If you buy any of the products after using an affiliate link I will earn a small commission. Don’t worry this is at no extra cost to you.

Why buying a sim card in South Africa?

Local prepaid sim cards in South Africa are cheap and you can find some great prepaid sim card deals for tourists in South Africa. Just visit a sim card shop with your passport and within a couple minutes you are connected.

Being connected when traveling has so many advantages. Think about ordering an Uber on the streets, find a cool nearby roof top bar or restaurant with good reviews or simply getting directions from Google Maps. There are so many reasons I can come up with for getting a local sim card.

On top of that it makes you not depend on WiFi. Because yes, the hotel offer free WiFi, Im sure. But that is no guarantee that it actually works or is fast enough. Also keep in mind that public WiFi is an UNSECURED network.

My recommendation

Traveltomtom recommends an MTN prepaid sim card for South Africa. They have affordable prepaid sim card plans for tourists and good 4G/5G mobile data network coverage.

Of course Traveltomtom recommends using e-sim cards for traveling abroad and there are some great e-sim card deals for example 10 GB data for $26 USD. Traveltomtom recommends ordering an e-sim card for South Africa via either Nomad, SimOptions or Airalo.

Another way of staying connected is an international travel sim card that works in multiple countries, sometimes a great alternative. Check out my comparison of the best international sim card to travel the world in 2024 and pick the one that suits your trip.

When changing phone numbers and swapping sim cards has not your preference then have a look into so called portable WiFi devices. These pocket WiFi's are one of the best ways to stay connected while traveling. Click on the link to read my HONEST review about these little travel items.

Best e-sim cards for South Africa

The easiest ways to stay connected when traveling to South Africa in 2024 is an e-sim card. You arrange everything online within just a couple clicks. No more swapping physical sim cards or visiting a phone store.

You order an e-sim card for South Africa on the internet, you receive a QR code, scan it, follow the simple steps and within less than 2 minutes you have a South Africa e-sim card installed on your phone.

Upon arrival in South Africa it automatically connects you to an available network and you enjoy data on your phone pretty much when the plane lands.

Make sure your phone is e-sim compatible before ordering an e-sim card for South Africa.

Airalo

airalo esim card plans for south africa 2024

Airalo is a reliable e-sim provider that Traveltomtom has used in more than 50 countries around the world and never had an issue. Check out the Airalo South Africa e-sim card plans for 2024:

  • 1 GB data for 7 days = $4.5 USD
  • 2 GB data for 15 days = $8 USD
  • 3 GB data for 30 days = $11 USD
  • 5 GB data for 30 days = $15.5 USD
  • 10 GB data for 30 days = $26 USD

Click here to order a South Africa e-sim card directly online via Airalo.

The above data-only e-sim cards you can order via Airalo are from CellSA and are valid in South Africa only. They operate on the 4G/LTE network of Vodacom, the best 4G/5G mobile network in South Africa.

SimOptions

SimOptions is another trusted and reviewed e-sim provider. Traveltomtom has been recommending SimOptions sim cards for more than 5 years now.

SimOptions sells international e-sim cards that are valid in up to 141 countries, including South Africa.

three esim card plans for south africa 2024

The above international e-sim cards are from Three HK and valid in 93 countries:

  • 3 GB data for 30 days = $24.90 USD
  • 5 GB data for 30 days = $34.90 USD

They come with a phone number from Hong Kong that starts with +852. Technically you are able to receive phone calls, but since you lack credit that is not possible. However, this e-sim cards supports receiving sms.

Unfortunately because of regulations in Hong Kong on these sim cards it is not possible to use TikTok as TikTok is blocked in Hong Kong.

simoptions esim card plans for south africa 2024

SimOptions has 2 other international e-sim cards for South Africa:

  • 6 GB data for 15 days = $39.90 USD
  • 10 GB data for 14 days = $39.90 USD

Click here for more info or to order an international e-sim card for South Africa via SimOptions.

Nomad

nomad esim card plans for south africa 2024

A third trusted e-sim provider is Nomad. Nomad has often amazing e-sim card deals, but when comparing the Nomad e-sim card plans for South Africa with SimOptions and Airalo it turns out Nomad is more expensive.

  • 1 GB data for 7 days = $11 USD
  • 3 GB data for 30 days = $20 USD
  • 5 GB data for 30 days = $28 USD
  • 10 GB data for 30 days = $45 USD

Click here for more info or to order an e-sim card for South Africa via Nomad.

With an e-sim card you keep your phone number from home, but make sure your phone is e-sim card compatible. How to find out? Ask Google and find your answer instantly.

Mobile internet operators in South Africa

There are 4 main mobile internet providers in South Africa with country wide network coverage:

  • MTN
  • Vodacom
  • Cell C
  • Telkom

On top of that there is a fairly new provider on the market called Rain, a co-called MVNO. They provide data-only sim cards for South Africa, phone calls are NOT supported. Their network is very small but for the big cities they offer competitive prices and unlimited data sim cards for South Africa.

Rain operates partially on the Vodacom and MTN network. More about the best 4G/5G network in South Africa in 2024 later.

As of June 2024 the mobile internet operators in South Africa only offer physical prepaid sim cards in stores, there are no e-sim cards for tourists available.

Where to buy a sim card for South Africa

If you are looking to buy a local prepaid sim card your best bid is to get one straight away on arrival. All the international airports sell prepaid South Africa sim cards for tourists. E-sim cards for South Africa you can only buy online.

Buying a sim card at Cape Town Airport

When flying to Cape Town international airport you have the option between MTN and Vodacom. Their shops are located next to each other on your right when you enter the arrival hall from either the international terminal or the domestic terminal.

Check out my complete guide for buying a sim card at Cape Town Airport in 2024.

RELATED: Ultimate Itinerary from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth - The Garden Route!

Buying a sim card at Johannesburg Airport

At Johannesburg Airport you have 1 extra option. When you walk out into the arrival hall you go to your right and you will find: MTN, Vodacom and Cell C all next to each other. They all sell prepaid sim cards for tourists.

Check here my guide for buying a sim card at Johannesburg Airport in 2024.

Bigger shopping malls

In case you didn’t get a chance to buy a sim card at the airport then there are numerous mobile phone stores scattered around the city center of every big city in South Africa. Convenient places are the bigger malls. If you travel overland to South Africa you can find kiosks at the border that sell sim cards for tourists.

If you are looking to buy a Rain data only sim card with unlimited data you can simply pick up a free Rain sim card at any Pargo store. Pargo is like the DHL/Fedex of South Africa. You will find them everywhere.

Online

Buying a sim card for South Africa on the internet is very convenient. You arrive prepared and you don't need to find a phone store on arrival to get a local sim card.

There are international physical sim cards for those that don't have an e-sim compatible phone. A physical sim card will be delivered to your home address before your trip to South Africa.

For example an international sim card for South Africa with 10 GB data for $49.90 USD. Click on the link to order one directly via SimOptions or find more info.

E-sim cards are from a whole different level and are super convenient. Ordering and installing an e-sim card for South Africa takes just a couple minutes work, but e-sim cards only work in e-sim compatible phones.

Traveltomtom recommends ordering an e-sim card for South Africa via either Nomad, SimOptions or Airalo.

Prices prepaid sim cards South Africa

Prepaid sim card prices and data plans constantly change. Traveltomtom does everything in its power to keep all the information up to date.

Prices and info below are up dated with the latest info as as per June 2024. Prices are in South African Rand: $1 USD = 18.8 SAR and 10 SAR = $0.53 USD.

Cell C

A prepaid Cell C sim card costs 25 SAR and comes with loaded credit:

  • 1 GB data
  • 50 minutes
  • 20 SAR calling credit
  • Valid for 12 days

Additionally you can buy weekly and monthly data bundles, here is an example:

  • 3 GB data + 3 GB data after midnight till 6 am - valid for 30 days = 170 SAR - $9.2 USD

Well these after midnight data bundles etc. are useless when you ask me. I am not a fan of the Cell C prepaid sim card deals. Value for money is NOT what I had hoped for, especially regarding their weak 4G/5G network across South Africa.

Traveltomtom comes to the conclusion that Cell C sim cards are not recommended for tourists visiting South Africa.

The Cell C website is very slow and not helpful either when it comes to finding info about additional data bundles for prepaid sim cards. You can try to give it a go in the link for the latest info. Cell C only provides physical prepaid sim cards in stores in South Africa, e-sim cards for tourists are not available.

Telkom

telkom south africa prepaid sim card plan 2024

A great thing about a Telkom prepaid sim card is that they are for free. After registration you can top up with one of their prepaid data plans as shown above in the picture.

In the above Telkom bundles there are also minutes to Telkom numbers included as well as some free GB for WhatsApp and YouTube. Overall these bundles are very complicated for tourists who just want to use data while on their South Africa holiday.

Also because of the weak Telkom network coverage a prepaid sim card from Telkom is not recommend for tourist, but if you want more info check the Telkom South Africa website. Telkom only provides physical prepaid sim cards in stores in South Africa, e-sim cards for tourists are not available.

Vodacom

A Vodacom South Africa sim card costs 20 SAR ($1.5) and comes with no credit. They offer tourist sim cards with Voice & Data combo bundles:

  • 3 GB data + 30 minutes + 50 SAR credit + 30 SMS - valid for 30 days = 299 SAR - $16.2 USD
  • 5 GB data + 50 minutes + 100 SAR credit + 50 SMS - valid for 50 days = 449  SAR - $24.4 USD
  • 10 GB data + 100 minutes + 150 SAR credit + 100 SMS - valid 100 days = 699 SAR - $38 USD

Vodacom South Africa calls it a promotion… Well, Traveltomtom calls it EXPENSIVE!

Reminder that an e-sim card for South Africa with 10 GB data costs $26 USD and you don't need to visit a store and can arrange everything online within just a couple minutes.

sim card vodacom south africa

A much better option is to choose the data/calling bundles yourself. Get one of the data bundles for 1 month and add some calling time separately:

  • 5 GB data = 349 SAR - $19 USD
  • 10 GB data = 469 SAR - $26 USD
  • 20 GB data = 699 SAR - $38 USD

Then adding just a couple minutes for emergency calls and you get much more value for money with Vodacom South Africa. For more info check the Vodacom South Africa website. Vodacom only provides physical prepaid sim cards in stores in South Africa, e-sim cards for tourists are not available.

MTN

mtn south africa prepaid sim card plans 2024

An MTN South Africa sim card costs 4 SAR ($0.3) for the registration and you will have to add voice and/or data bundles. MTN offers weekly and monthly bundles:

  • 2 GB data + 60 minutes for 1 month = 99 SAR - $5.5 USD
  • 4.5 GB data + 100 minutes for 1 month = 169 SAR
  • 7.5 GB data + 200 minutes for 1 month = 299 SAR
  • 15 GB data + 400 minutes for 1 month = 399 SAR - $22 USD

The MTN slogan is: Complicated. Combo offers. Simplified.

mtn south africa sim card

For more information check the MTN South Africa website. MTN only provides physical prepaid sim cards in stores in South Africa, e-sim cards for tourists are not available.

Rain

rain south africa prepaid sim card plans 2024

As mentioned before a Rain sim card is free and can be picked up from any Pargo store around the country. You will have to do the registration and activation yourself through their website, so you need WiFi. It is pretty simple though…

A little more complicated for tourists but Rain has some of the best sim only deals in South Africa. Keep in mind though that this is a data only sim card, voice calls are NOT supported, but data calling is of course available.

  • unlimited data plan with a 4G connection costs 319 SAR - $17.4 USD for 1 month.

A hotspot is NOT available on the Rain data plans. Rain uses the Vodacom and the MTN network, but it is only available in and around the big cities, so for tourists going for example on a road trip from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth it is not recommended. Check out the Rain website for more info.

Best 4G/5G network in South Africa

As briefly mentioned before MTN and Vodacom have the best 4G/5G mobile network in South Africa. Telkom, Cell C and Rain are not recommend for road trips in South Africa as their network is much weaker.

Is there 5G in South Africa?

Yes, there is 5G in South Africa and as of 2024 it is decently well spread around the country and in most tourist destinations in South Africa you can find a 5G signal.

At the moment only Vodacom and MTN offer 5G. As Rain operates on the Vodacom network they also offer 5G. When I was in Cape Town recently I was enjoying a 5G signal almost all the time and the data speed was pretty good.

Let’s have a look at the 4G/5G network coverage maps for South Africa and compare the mobile data networks of the mobile internet operators in South Africa.

Cell C 4G/5G network coverage map

cell c 4g 5g network coverage map south africa 2024

Telkom 4G/5G network coverage map

telkom 4g 5g network coverage map south africa 2024

Vodacom 4G/5G network coverage map

vodacom 4g 5g network coverage map south africa 2024

MTN 4G/5G network coverage map

mtn 4g 5g network coverage map south africa 2024

Although the above mobile data network coverage maps are updated for 2024 they are not 100% accurate. However, they are a great reference to compare the 4G/5G networks of the mobile internet providers in South Africa in 2024.

Comparing the mobile internet operators mobile data network we clearly conclude that when buying a prepaid sim card for traveling in South Africa you have to stick to either MTN or Vodacom. Because its minimal network sim cards from Cell C and Telekom are not recommend for tourists visiting South Africa.

Looking at the above 4G/5G coverage maps for South Africa updated for 2024 Traveltomtom comes to the conclusion that Vodacom has the best 4G/5G mobile data network in South Africa in 2024, MTN is a good runner up.

Best prepaid sim card for South Africa in 2024

You would hope that the smaller mobile internet operators Telkom and Cell C come up with some great prepaid sim card deals and data bundles plans to make up for their smaller networks, but instead their sim card deals are not even interesting for tourists looking to buy a prepaid sim card in South Africa.

Therefore I definitely do NOT recommend a Telkom or a Cell C sim card for traveling in South Africa in 2024.

If you only travel to Cape Town and/or Johannesburg and wouldn’t mind picking up a free sim card at a Pargo store and registering and activating your sim card yourself then Rain is by far the cheapest prepaid sim card in South Africa as they offer unlimited data for $17 USD for 1 month.

Be careful though as their 4G/5G mobile data network is very limited to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Comparing Vodacom and MTN Traveltomtom comes to the conclusion that Vodacom has better mobile data network coverage in South Africa. However, the Vodacom prepaid sim cards are rather expensive. A Vodacom sim card for tourists with 10 GB data is 469 SAR, which is $26 USD.

Keep in mind that an Airalo e-sim card with 10 GB data also costs $26 USD, but you arrange everything online and don't need to visit a Vodacom store in South Africa. 

MTN has cheaper prepaid sim card plans that gives you 1 GB data per day starting from 99 ZAR - $5.38 USD. This and because MTN also has a great 4G/5G mobile data network Traveltomtom rates MTN the best sim card for traveling to South Africa in 2024.

You can buy this MTN sim card deal at Johannesburg Airport as well as at Cape Town Airport, but you will have to ask for it as it is mostly not advertised for some reason.

As just mentioned Traveltomtom definitely recommends e-sim cards for traveling to South Africa in 2024. E-sim cards make everything so much easier and you don't need to waste precious time on arrival in South Africa trying to find a sim card shop.

Traveltomtom recommends ordering an e-sim card for South Africa via either Nomad, SimOptions or Airalo. However, Airalo is the best value e-sim cards for traveling to South Africa in 2024.


Check out my vlog with everything you need to know about buying a sim card in South Africa. Here you can find my experiences going to the mobile phone shops, checking the prices, the details, requirements, etc.

Order a prepaid sim card for South Africa online

orange holiday world international prepaid sim card for south africa

If your phone is not e-sim compatible but you would like to order a sim card for traveling to South Africa online before your trip then check out the following.

Arrive prepared in South Africa with an international prepaid sim card. You order them online and a physical prepaid sim card will be delivered to your home address. You put this sim card in your phone and it automatically connects to an available network upon arrival in South Africa, basically when the plane lands you are instantly online.

SimOptions is the only sim card provider that sells physical prepaid sim cards for South Africa:

  • 10 GB data for 14 days = $49.90 USD

Click here for more info or to order an international prepaid sim card for South Africa via SimOptions.

Last reminder that if your phone is e-sim compatible you can arrange everything directly online without visiting a phone store. Get yourself an e-sim card for South Africa in just a couple clicks. Traveltomtom recommends ordering an e-sim card for South Africa via either Nomad, SimOptions or Airalo.

My experiences buying a sim card in South Africa

buying a sim card in south africa

On my latest trips to South Africa in March and September 2021 I had only positive experiences with getting connected. When arriving to the Cape Town Airport there were only two options available: MTN and Vodacom. I checked both shops and found out that MTN was much cheaper than Vodacom, so that was an easy decision regarding the fact that they both have a great network.

I was happy with my MTN sim card and it worked very good all around Cape Town and on my hiking adventures in the nearby hills. The internet speed was fast and I had no problems whatsoever. In August I even enjoyed a 5G signal all over Cape Town. Read all about my experiences in my article buying a sim card at Cape Town Airport, including a vlog.

As part of my big Africa overland trip I ended up in South Africa again in July and September 2021 and this time traveled to Lesotho and Eswatini. Are you traveling to South Africa soon? Then I can personally recommend you to get an MTN sim card for your trip to South Africa.

In some South Africa sim card guides I read some wrong information:

  • There is free roaming with MTN South Africa in Eswatini... NOT TRUE!
  • There is free roaming with Vodacom South Africa in Lesotho... NOT TRUE!

For more info about buying a sim card in Lesotho in 2024, click on the link to read my article.

How do I know? I asked in the stores and they confirmed this, but I also traveled to both, Eswatini and Lesotho and tried it out myself! I told you I am trying to visit every country in the world. As of June 2024 I have visited more than 155 countries around the world.

I hope all the above tips for staying connected when traveling to South Africa were helpful. If you have any additional questions please let me know in the comments below and I will try to help you out.

Enjoy your trip to South Africa!