Planning your trip to Sao Tome? You must be an adventurer because there are not many people traveling to this unknown country in Central Africa. But you going to have a great time, I loved it. Staying connected in Sao Tome is a challenge, because there is not even 4G yet as of June 2023.
Buying a local prepaid sim card is the best way to stay connected and it is fairly easy when arriving in Sao Tome. This is your complete guide for buying a sim card for traveling in Sao Tome & Principe. Find out where to buy a sim card, up to date prices as per June 2023, the best network coverage, my experience and recommendation and everything else you need to know.
As part of traveling to every country in the world I made it to Sao Tome & Principe. It was country number 123 in and between a trip to Cameroon and Gabon. As I went on a road trip around the island by myself I needed a local prepaid sim card for getting directions, etc.
Check out my Sao Tome & Principe travel blog with all my adventures and travel tips.
Why buying a sim card in Sao Tome
If you don’t want to get stuck with high roaming charges or slow overseas data plans then you should consider getting a local prepaid sim card. It is the first thing I do when traveling to a new country. That is how I already wrote more than 150 local prepaid sim card guides from all over the world: Portugal, Lisbon, Gabon, Douala, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, France, Paris and so on.
Therefore when traveling abroad next time return to the Traveltomtom website to find the best prepaid sim card advice. Bookmark this Traveltomtom!
Traveling in Sao Tome is fairly easy and being disconnected feel awesome sometimes, but not being able to use Google Maps, look up nearby restaurants or finding hotels while traveling in Sao Tome makes it all a little more complicated.
I was happy I had a working data connection on my phone as public WiFi in Sao Tome is non-existing or very slow. When using public WiFi quick reminder that this is an UNSECURED network and the use of a VPN is recommended.
Buying a sim card in Sao Tome is done pretty fast, you are instantly connected and it is not too expensive.
Traveltomtom recommends an CTS sim card for Sao Tome based on advice from locals and my own experiences. However, Unitel recently announced that it will be the first mobile internet provider in Sao Tome who will launch 4G soon. Which means at the end of 2023!
There are also international prepaid sim cards that work in Sao Tome & Principe but the choice is very limited and it is not recommended unless you are willing to pay $49.90 USD for 50 MB.
If you are traveling to more countries on your trip then you might still want to check out my comparison of the best international sim cards in 2023 and find the one that suits your trip if interested.
Heads up there are no e-sim cards for Sao Tome available. If you have an iPhone 14 without a sim card slot then you have to bring another phone to stay connected or use data roaming.
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Where to buy a sim card in Sao Tome
Normally I would say get your sim card straight away on arrival at the international airport of Sao Tome. When you step outside the airport there are two kiosks that sell sim cards for tourists, but unfortunately these days the kiosks are not operational. May be when tourism will be back to normal they will open again.
But don’t worry Sao Tome is very small and the city center is just a couple minutes away. Take a 5-10 minutes taxi for about 100 STD ($5) or a motorbike for 50 STD ($2.5) and let them drop you at either the CST or the Initel store near Mercado Municipal (central market).
Mobile internet operators in Sao Tome & Principe
There are two mobile internet operators in Sao Tome & Principe: Initel and CST. CST is the biggest mobile internet provider in the country and you will see CST stands everywhere.
Best mobile internet network in Sao Tome
Although Unitel announced in May 2023 that they will be the first operator to launch 4G in Sao Tome, it is not expected to arrive until the end of 2023. That means the fastest network connection you will find is 3G!
Unfortunately there is not much data to be found online about the network strength around the country. That leaves us in the hands of the locals who actually know best anyway. Asking around which mobile internet provider they would recommend it was very clear. Literally everyone I asked recommended me a CST sim card for Sao Tome. Apparently they have the best network coverage.
More about it later when I speak about my experiences buying a prepaid sim card in Sao Tome.
Prices prepaid sim cards in Sao Tome & Principe
Prices below are stated in the Sao Tome Dobra, $1 USD is around 22.8 STD.
An Initel prepaid sim card costs 80 STD which is around $4 USD. It comes with 50 STD calling credit, but no data. Initel offers the following prepaid data packages:
- 1 GB for 7 days = 90 STD
- 2 GB for 14 days = 110 STD
- 3 GB for 31 days = 220 STD
- 5 GB for 15 days = 220 STD
- 6 GB for 31 days = 330 STD
- 15 GB for 31 days = 660 STD
- 30 GB for 31 days = 990 STD
For a CST prepaid sim card you also pay 80 STD and you get 50 STD credit for calling. CST does not have that many data packages to choose from:
- 900 MB for 30 days = 110 STD
- 3 GB for 30 days = 220 STD
- 6 GB for 30 days = 330 STD
It is clearly that CST prepaid sim cards are much more expensive than Initel.
Best prepaid sim card in Sao Tome & Principe
Based on the prices for prepaid sim cards in Sao Tome & Principe it would be an easy choice and we would recommend Initel. The fact that they have a much smaller network coverage around the country weighs in a lot in this case.
Sao Tome is already pretty off the beaten path and especially the tourist destinations around the island feel a little deserted. So when checking in to your hotel in the middle of nowhere and not having phone signal that would suck. I mean it is amazing to be disconnected, but you bought a prepaid sim card for the opposite.
Therefore Traveltomtom concludes that CST is the best prepaid sim card in Sao Tome & Principe. You pay a couple dollars more for your data package but in the end it is worth it.
My experience buying a sim card in Sao Tome & Principe
Before my trip to Sao Tome I arranged a rental car through a friend. The local guy called Didi showed up at the airport on my arrival to hand me over the car. I asked him where I could buy a prepaid sim card as the airport kiosks were not operational.
He escorted me to the city center where he showed me the Initel store and the CST store, but urged me to buy a CST prepaid sim card. The whole process took me just 5 minutes and I walked out of the CST store with a working data connection on my phone. In total I paid 410 STD ($20). It twas 80 STD for the sim card + 330 STD for 6 GB data.
I noticed straight away that I only had a 3G signal and asking the guy in the CST store about it. He apologized but explained there is no 4G in Sao Tome & Principe. Funny, but shocking. I did not know there were still countries in the world without a 4G signal.
However, believe it or not this 3G signal was FAST! Meaning everywhere around the world where I find myself in places with only a 3G signal I am not able to properly watch Instagram stories or TikTok videos. But in Sao Tome I had no issues whatsoever using YouTube, streaming videos, uploading Instagram stories and TikToks. The 3G data connection in Sao Tome was surprisingly fast!
I was also equally surprised with the network coverage. I drove all around the island, to the most Western point, the North, the East and all the way to the most Southern point on Sao Tome and I enjoyed a strong 3G signal pretty much everywhere.
So based on my own experiences I can also recommend you an CST prepaid sim card for traveling in Sao Tome.
I hope all the above tips for buying a sim card in Sao Tome were helpful. Leave me a comment and let me know if there is anything I can help you with.
Looking for some Sao Tome travel tips and inspiration then check out my Instagram profile @traveltomtom and see where I went. Here is also where you can keep track of my journey to visit every country in the world. As of June 2023 I have visited more than 155 countries around the world.
Enjoy your trip to Sao Tome & Principe!