Use your cellphone when travelling (to South Africa)!

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South Africa is becoming more and more a popular destination for travellers and holiday makers. And while we are travelling most of us still like to stay in touch with the world we left behind. One of the recent Nimbuzz polls showed that most people are afraid of unknown and large costs related to keeping that connection. I will cover some general tips and a few South Africa specific tips in the following. I know now from experience that my communications costs when travelling can stay at roughly the same level as when I am at home.

1. If you use your home sim-card you will be charged for international roaming. Roaming charges are extremely expensive so try to limit your use. Be aware that email and internet browsing incur international data roaming charges that can be a few dollars per MB so webpages or emails with attachments will cost you a few dollars for each email or webpage you receive on your phone!! On most phones you can deactivate international data roaming and I advise you to do this before your trip starts!

2. You can buy a local sim-card and use this in your phone or if you are lucky enough to have an old phone that still works you can use that. I always use an old phone so that I still have connection with my home number for emergencies. You can buy a local sim-card online before you leave at various sites like You can then leave a message on your voice mail and inform everyone with your South African cellphone number before you leave. I find that extremely useful as I can then simply switch off my local number when travelling and save lots !

Beware that all South African SIM cards need to be registered with the authorities before they will work. You can register at the airport, cellphone shops and large retail chains. You will need your passport and a letter with proof of your address and name such as a utility bill or a bank statement.

3. If you use your email and internet a lot you can add pre-paid data packages to your new SIM. You can buy data packages at all major retail chains and the cost is about USD 0.05 per MB. Without a data package data costs will be taken from your normal airtime and the costs are about USD 0.25 per MB. Its a big difference and it usually makes sense to buy a data package. If you have a datacard with your notebook computer or if your phone can function as a modem a local data-package is a must unless the place where you are staying has free/cheap WIFI. In most cases however mobile data costs are less than the WIFI charges. For a list of free WIFI points in South Africa see here.

Read further for the – my :) –  ideal international travel set-up

If you, like me, want to talk a lot, use your computer, send photos etc. whilst travelling my ideal set-up is the following.

Buy a pre-paid SIM card for the destination you are going to upfront. Tell your good friends and family what this number is and when you will start using it. Change your voicemail message to include your “new” number and set your phone up to function as a modem (so-called tethering). Many phones allow tethering and with others such as iPhone and Android you may have to do some “hacking” to get it to work. I have set-up my phone to function as a modem for my Macbook via bluetooth. Buy a data package and make sure you there is still credit on your NimbuzzOUT account.

For about USD 20 a week I can then:

  1. basically use the internet unlimited for browsing, mails, Facebook etc. as long as I don’t watch too many youtube videos.
  2. Phone for hours with people in Europe and the US as NimbuzzOUT calls are only USD 0.02 per minute.
  3. Not pay when others call me :)

Oh yes …..don’t forget your charger or you’ll end up like me with a box full of chargers I had to buy because I forgot to pack mine!! :)

6 Responses to “Use your cellphone when travelling (to South Africa)!”

  1. […] Nimbuzz South Africa Use your cellphone when travelling (to South Africa)! […]

    The Best of Nimbuzz January 29th, 2010
  2. […] if you want to use your 3G on your phone make sure to read the article I wrote about using your cellphone whilst in South Africa. It is not as expensive as you may […]

    The FIFA World Cup 2010 – Soccer City Johannesburg February 2nd, 2010
  3. hiiiii

    mohamed February 6th, 2010
  4. Hi, great article. I checked out the South African registration process and you have to have proof of your address in South Africa when you register your SIM card. So if as a tourist you buy from then you’ll not be able to activate your SIM card when you arrive at the airport. Are there any other options?

    Dave February 17th, 2010
  5. Hi Dave …I’ll do another check as I heard the rules are proof of residence and not proof of residence in SA. There are of course rental companies at the airports but you and I know those are ridiculously expensive. I’ll do alittle more research and update the post/send you a message.

    reiniervv February 18th, 2010
  6. Thanks for the great article. I have a couple questions, if you don’t mind:

    “You can buy data packages at all major retail chains and the cost is about USD 0.05 per MB. Without a data package data costs will be taken from your normal airtime and the costs are about USD 0.25 per MB.”

    1) What constitutes a “major retail chain” in this context? Are said chains in South Africa, or in one’s country of origin?

    2) I’d be THRILLED if the normal data costs were only USD $0.25/MB. AT&T does not have a discount plan for South Africa, and all data is charged at USD $0.0195/KB. Yes…KB…not MB. When converted, that is roughly USD $20/MB. Who has these phenomenally low rates you describe?

    Ray March 4th, 2010

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