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 plans and high roaming costs. 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 August 2023, 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.
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 airports and providing tourists with helpful travel tips is a huge passion.
That is how on Traveltomtom you can find more than 200 guide for buying prepaid tourist sim cards: Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Europe, UK, London, New York, USA, New York, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and many more.
Why buying a sim card in South Africa?
Local prepaid sim cards in South Africa are cheap and you can find some great sim card deals for tourists 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.
Traveltomtom recommends an MTN sim card for South Africa. They have the best 4G/5G network and great prices for prepaid sim card for tourists plans in 2023.
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 2023 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
One of the easiest ways to stay connected when traveling to South Africa is a so-called e-sim card. The best thing is that you can order one directly on the internet. You receive a QR code, you scan it, follow the steps and within less than 2 minutes you are connected. No need for swapping physical sim cards or visiting a phone store anymore.
Check out the following South Africa e-sim card deals:
- 1 GB data for 7 days = $5 USD
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $13 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $17 USD
- 10 GB data for 30 days = $33 USD
Click here to order a South Africa e-sim card directly online.
The above data-only e-sim cards are from CellSA and are valid in South Africa only. They operate on the 4G/LTE network of Vodacom.
You can also find international e-sim cards for South Africa online. These e-sim cards are more expensive but valid in more than 70 countries including South Africa:
- 3 GB data for 30 days = $24.90 USD
- 5 GB data for 30 days = $34.90 USD
- 6 GB data for 15 days = $39.90 USD
Click here to order an international e-sim card for South Africa.
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:
- Cell C
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 2023 later.
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.
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.
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.
Order a sim card for South Africa online
Buying a local prepaid sim card is pretty much always cheaper. But buying a sim card for South Africa online is very convenient and you arrive prepared on your holiday. These international sim cards will be send to your home address before your trip to South Africa and are automatically activated from its first use.
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 or for more info.
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 below are up dated as per August 2023. $1 USD = 18.47 SAR and 100 SAR = $5.41 USD.
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.
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 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.
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 $33 USD and you don't need to visit a store and can arrange everything online within just a couple minutes.
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
- 10 GB data = 469 SAR
- 20 GB data = 699 SAR
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.
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
- 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
*the data you see is NOT the data you get. The bundles are split into day/night and streaming. Very complicated and annoying!
The MTN slogan is: Complicated. Combo offers. Simplified. Well... GREAT! I am lost now! For more information check the MTN South Africa 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 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 - $17.3 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, but don't expect much of the 5G network in South Africa. There is pretty much only a decent 5G signal in Johannesburg and Cape Town. 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
Telkom 4G/5G network coverage map
Vodacom 4G/5G network coverage map
MTN 4G/5G network coverage map
Looking at the above 4G/5G coverage maps for South Africa updated for 2023 it shows that Vodacom has the best mobile data network in South Africa in 2023. MTN is a good runner up.
Best prepaid sim card for South Africa in 2023
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 for a prepaid sim card for South Africa.
Therefore I definitely do NOT recommend tourists a Telkom or a Cell C sim card for traveling in South Africa in 2023.
If you only travel to Cape Town and/or Johannesburg and wouldn’t mind 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. However, it is a data only sim card and calls are not supported. But if you are a data lover, this is your best bid for these occasions. Personally I would not recommend a Rain sim card for traveling in South Africa because as soon as you drive out of the city you will lose connection.
Comparing Vodacom and MTN is a little difficult as they are very similar in price as well as in network. Must say that in 2023 Vodacom has the better 4G/5G network now and overtook MTN. The Vodacom prices for prepaid sim cards are pretty pricey though and therefore Traveltomtom comes to the conclusion that MTN is the best prepaid sim card in South Africa in 2023!
MTN has a amazing prepaid sim card plan that gives you 1 GB data per day starting from 99 ZAR - $5.38 USD.
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 sim card for South Africa online
If buying a prepaid sim card in South Africa sounds like too much hassle than a last reminder that you can also order an international prepaid sim card for South Africa online. These sim cards will be shipped to your home address before your trip your trip to South Africa and are pre-activated and valid in more than 70 countries.
Check out the following international prepaid sim cards for South Africa:
- 6 GB data for 15 days = $39.90 USD
- 10 GB data for 14 days = $49.90 USD
Or simply arrange everything online by ordering an e-sim card for South Africa. It takes just 2 minutes!
My experiences 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 2023, 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 August 2023 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!
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.