If you are planning a trip to South Africa then put ‘buying a local sim card’ high up on your things to do list. It is very easy to get a prepaid sim card in South Africa, it will save you big time on high roaming costs and it gets you the fastest data connection. In this guide you will read everything you need to know about a local South African sim card: up to date prices, where to buy one, info about 5G and the best mobile network.
The first thing I do when getting to a new country is buying a local prepaid sim card. It is the best way to save on high roaming costs. As I am on a journey to visit every country I get to a lot of places and providing tourists with helpful travel tips is a huge passion.
This article is updated with the latest prices and info as per August 2021.
That is how I wrote more than 150 local guide for buying sim cards. Unfortunately not that many yet about Africa sim cards, but these are the countries so far that I covered in Africa: Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya.
A local prepaid sim card is ALWAYS cheaper than international sim cards AND guarantee you the best network coverage.
Why buying a sim card in South Africa?
Local sim cards are cheap and you can find some great sim only deals in South Africa. Just visit a 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.
I recommend people to get a MTN sim card for South Africa. They have the best network by far and prices are the cheapest. The best prepaid sim card deals for South Africa you can actually find at the airport on arrival. More about that later.
I do not recommend travelers to buy a global sim card on the internet. Those that claim to have coverage in every country. Yes, they may have, but most of these international sim cards are incredibly expensive. Read my complete guide about buying an international sim card to travel the world.
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.
Getting a South Africa sim card online
Buying a local sim card is ALWAYS cheaper, but there are some options buying a sim card for South Africa online is you like the convenience of getting one before you fly to South Africa. These prepaid sim cards will be send to your home address before your trip to South Africa and are automatically activated.
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Vlog about buying a sim card in South Africa
Check out my video 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.
Mobile internet operators in South Africa
There are 4 main mobile internet providers in South Africa with country wide network coverage:
- Cell C
On top of that there is a fairly new provider on the market called Rain. They provide data-only sim cards for South Africa, phone calls are NOT supported. However, they offer great prices and unlimited data sim cards.
Rain operates on the Vodacom network. More about the best 4G/5G network in South Africa later.
Where to buy a South Africa sim card
If you are looking to buy a local sim card your best bid is to get one straight away on arrival. All the international airports sell prepaid South Africa sim cards.
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.
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 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.
Prices prepaid sim cards South Africa
A prepaid Cell C sim card costs 25 SAR ($1.80) and comes with loaded credit:
- 600 MB data
- 30 minutes
- 20 SAR calling credit
- Valid for 15 days
Additionally you can buy weekly and monthly data bundles. Here are some examples:
- 199 SAR = 2 GB data + 4 GB data after midnight till 6 am - valid for 30 days. ($14)
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.
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.
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 plans. Find here the latest sim only deals for Telkom South Africa.
These are the best bundles they offer:
- 189 SAR = 2 GB data + 50 minutes + 100 sms - valid for 31 days ($13)
- 289 SAR = 4 GB data + 100 minutes + 100 sms - valid for 31 days ($21)
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 sound very complicated to me and I would not quickly recommend buying a Telkom sim card when traveling to South Africa.
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:
- 399 SAR = 3 GB data + 30 minutes + 30 SAR credit + 30 SMS - valid for 1 month. ($28)
- 549 SAR = 5 GB data + 50 minutes + 50 SAR credit + 50 SMS - valid for 1 month. ($39)
- 799 SAR = 10 GB data + 100 minutes + 100 SAR credit + 100 SMS - valid for 1 month. ($57)
Vodacom South Africa calls it summer sale… Well, I call it EXPENSIVE! At least with these bundles is what you see is what you get.
A much better option is to choose your bundles yourself. Get one of the data bundles (1 month) and add some calling time separately:
- 349 SAR = 5 GB data ($25)
- 469 SAR = 10 GB data ($33)
- 699 SAR = 20 GB data ($50)
Then adding just a couple minutes for emergency calls and you get much more value for money with Vodacom South Africa. In the link you will find the latest info and prices of the Vodacom prepaid data bundles.
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:
- 70 SAR = 1 GB data for 1 week. ($5)
- 199 SAR = 5 GB data for 1 week. ($14)
- 189 SAR = 2 GB data for 1 month. ($13.50)
- 469 SAR = 10 GB data for 1 month. ($33.50)
The MTN slogan is: Complicated. Combo offers. Simplified. GREAT! Because that is what it actually is. MTN is more expensive than Telkom and Cell C, but at least not so complicated. Check out the latest MTN data top up deals on their website.
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 simple though…
A little more complicated for tourists may be, 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 calls are available.
- Rain unlimited data plan with a 4G connection costs 299 SAR ($21) for 1 month.
A hotspot is NOT available on the Rain data plans. Comparing with the other operators a Rain sim card is obviously great value for money. Rain uses the Vodacom network. Check out the Rain website for the latest info and prices.
Best 4G/5G network in South Africa
As briefly mentioned before MTN and Vodacom have the best network in South Africa. Telkom and Cell C are not recommend for road trips in South Africa as their network is much weaker.
Is there 5G in South Africa?
Yes there is! Unlike anywhere else in Africa, 5G has been introduced to South Africa already! 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 in August 2021 I was enjoying a 5G signal almost all the time!
Let’s have a look at the 4G/5G network coverage maps for South Africa.
Cell C mobile internet coverage map 4G
Telkom mobile internet coverage map 4G
Vodacom mobile internet coverage map 4G/5G
MTN mobile internet coverage map 4G/5G
Looking at the above 4G/5G coverage maps for South Africa confirms that MTN and Vodacom have the best network by far. For the most up to date South Africa network coverage maps have a look at the Nperf website that collects data about 4G coverage.
Best prepaid sim card for South Africa
You would hope that the smaller mobile internet operators Telkom and Cell C come with great prepaid sim card deals and data bundles to make up for the smaller network, but instead they make it pretty complicated. They are slightly cheaper, that is a fact, but not significantly.
Therefore I definitely do NOT recommend you buying a Telkom or a Cell C sim card for traveling in South Africa.
If you wouldn’t mind registering and activating your sim card yourself then Rain is by far the best prepaid sim card in South Africa. However, it is a data only sim card! But if you are a data lover, this is your best bid!
Comparing Vodacom and MTN is a little difficult as they are very similar in price as well as in network. However, I come to the following conclusion:
MTN is the best prepaid sim card in South Africa in 2021!
My experiences buying a sim card in South Africa
On my latest trips to South Africa in March and August 2021 I had only positive experiences with getting connected. When arriving to the Cape Town Airport in March 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 August 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, 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.
I hope all the above tips for buying a sim card in South Africa were helpful. May 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!