Traveling to Ethiopia? A guide to finding the best prepaid SIM card

A local SIM could reduce your roaming bills.

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Using your home phone in Ethiopia could work out to be expensive, so consider switching to a local SIM card to take advantage of cheaper local tariffs. Ethiopia has some good prepaid SIM card offers, including deals that could significantly reduce your bills. You can buy 1GB of data for ETB165 (US$7.20), which could work out cheaper than your current roaming rates abroad. So, whether you’re planning a holiday or an African tour, check out the best SIM card options available on finder.com.

Travel Sim Card

Travel Sim Card from SimCorner

SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards let you enjoy local call, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world.

View details
Updated October 20th, 2019
Name Product Number of countries Data range Shipment time
150+
1GB-7GB
3-7 business days
Attach the Flexiroam X ultra-thin microchip sticker to your current SIM card to access data roaming in over 140 countries.
80+
1GB-Unlimited
1-12 business days
SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards offer local call, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world. Choose from a range of data packages, including unlimited data in the USA.

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Prices last updated 6 Jul 2017

Telco in Ethiopia

There is one main phone operator in Ethiopia: Ethio Telecom. It can be trusted because it has been tested by locals, travelers and leading testing sites. According to OpenSignal’s service map, Ethiopia has strong coverage around the main cities and towns, but it can become weaker the further out you head. Some areas of the country are still not covered by any network at all, but signals on all highways are above average.

About Ethiopia’s telco provider: Ethio Telecom

Ethio Telecom sells prepaid credit, which allows users to take advantage of local offers and deals. Roaming rates can be a little high compared to what is normally expected of phone operators, so make sure you compare deals against your own provider before committing.

Locals call their SIM cards “SIM SIMs” and they can be purchased from almost anywhere in Ethiopia including supermarkets, street sellers and stalls. Ethio Telecom shops are the best place to purchase the SIM cards but they can also be picked up from supermarkets or at the post office. We advise purchasing them from official stores and approved resellers because there have been reports of “bad vendors” selling fake or stolen SIMs on the street, and that could land you in trouble.

Top-ups can be purchased from most retailers; the official stores are the more reliable. According to local law, all SIM cards must be registered using your passport and a passport-sized photograph, and official stores are the best place to do this.

Ethio Telecom offers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE wireless services, sometimes at reasonable rates. They offer SIM cards for both GSM and CDMA/EVDO devices and the cards can be picked up from almost anywhere in the country.

SIM cards can be purchased for ETB30, and they come with ETB15 worth of credit. To register the SIM card with Ethio Telecom you will need to show your passport and hand over a passport sized-photograph of yourself. Some stores will just take a photocopy of your passport page so don’t worry too much if you’re unable to take a photo with you.

Only standard and micro SIM cards are sold in Ethiopia; Nano SIMs are extremely hard to come by. However, stores are now stocking cutting devices or punches, which means they will be able to cut down the size of your SIM card to match your phone. Don’t worry, this will not damage the SIM or the service it provides. The cutting service can be found for free but some stores will charge ETB20 for the service.

Unfortunately, it’s still not possible to purchase SIM cards from the airport. Ethiopian authorities have said that they will soon offer this service but until it’s ready the best place to purchase the SIM card is downtown. Be aware of SIM card scalpers who might approach you at the airport, because it’s illegal and the card number will be shut off. In fact, avoid all street sellers at all costs.

Top-ups can be purchased all over the country in voucher form, in the following denominations: ETB5, ETB10, ETB15, ETB25,ETB50, ETB100, ETB250, ETB500 and ETB1,000. Vouchers costing ETB5-ETB100 will be valid for the same number of days as the voucher value, ie an ETB5 voucher covers 5 days. Vouchers of ETB250 or more will be valid for 120 days. If your SIM card is not used for one month it will be cancelled.

Dial *805*<voucher code># to add credit. Dial *804# to check balance.

The standard default rate is ETB0.20 per MB and the following data packages are available:

Valid 24 hours25MBETB3
Valid 24 hours45MBETB5
Valid 24 hours100MBETB10
Valid 24 hours200MBETB15
Valid 24 hours500MBETB35
Valid for 7 days500MBETB50
Valid for 7 days700MBETB60
Valid for 7 days1GBETB60
Valid for 30 days1GBETB100
Valid for 30 days2GBETB190
Valid for 30 days4GBETB350
Valid for 30 days8GBETB600
Valid for 30 days10GBETB700
Valid for 30 days20GBETB1,300
Valid for 30 days30GBETB1,800

Dial *999# to go through the motions to book the right package for you. Double check online or ask a store assistant before making your purchase, since the system can sometimes be complicated.

Ethio Telecom’s APN: etc.com (username etc and password etc)

Website in English: http://www.ethiotelecom.et

Some top tips from finder.com staff:

  • Oromo and Amharic are spoken in Ethiopia. Oromo is the language widely used by Ethopians, and you may want to download Google Translate onto your phone before you set out on your travels. However, most people in Ethiopia also speak English as one of their languages.
  • Locals call a SIM card a “SIM SIM”.
  • Ask the official sellers to set up the SIM for you, because they will know how to do it. If not, follow the instructions above or go to the official website for advice.
  • Make sure you purchase your SIM card from official stores. Top-up vouchers can be

trusted from supermarkets and approved resellers. As we said earlier, try to avoid street sellers.

TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them

While it’s well known for hotels, flights and holiday bookings, TripAdvisor also has many user comments that can advise you on which SIM cards have been tried and tested in Ethiopia.

Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:

There is no SIM shop at the airport, but you can get them from many shops or any ETC office. Ask at your hotel for the nearest source.

Shops selling them will be open into the evening but not much past 8pm.”

The difference is that if you have a local SIM the cost of the international call is on your caller. It saves you money.

Pros and cons of Ethiopia’s telco

All networks require that you have a SIM-unlocked GSM compatible phone. To double check you have this type of phone or whether you can have it unlocked, contact your provider before you leave.

Pros:

  • Prepaid credit when required.
  • No in-store contract needed.
  • Could be compatible with your current device.

Cons:

  • Can be expensive. Compare roaming rates with your current provider to make sure it’s cheaper.
  • No devices offered with the SIM card packages.
  • Can only be used on SIM-unlocked phones.
  • Street sellers can be unpredictable.

One more question about finding the best SIM

Is the signal good in Ethiopia’s countryside?

All networks will suffer a decline in service away from the main cities and highway areas. There is virtually no coverage at all in remote regions, so if you plan on trekking make sure your tour guide has some form of satellite phone before you set off. A lack of coverage is not just a problem for the Ethiopian provider, it will also happen on your usual network. So, if the local deal works out cheaper than your current provider, we highly recommend you switch over during your trip.

Switch to a cell phone plan with international calling

Name Product Data Minutes Texts Can I bring my own phone? Cell phone plans starting at:
Starting at 2 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$25
Get unlimited data, calls and text or a customized plan on a 5G network. Eligible plans come with Hulu, Amazon Prime or Tidal subscriptions.
Starting at 2 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$30
30-day phone plans that allow you to cancel your service at anytime. Choose from five different talk, text and data options with the choice to add international calling for $10/month.
Starting at 500 MB
Starting at 200 minutes
Starting at 500 texts
Yes
$0
Bring your own phone for a free plan with 500MB of data, 200 minutes and 500 texts per month using Sprint's CDMA Network. Prepaid plans with more data, talk and text start at $9.99/month.
Starting at 1 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$20
30-day plans with unlimited talk and text and the option to choose how much data is right for you. Add-on rollover data is available starting at $5/500MB.
Starting at 3 GB
Unlimited
Unlimited
Yes
$35
Choose from several different plan options with no contracts, no fees and coverage on the same networks as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Compare up to 4 providers

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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    EthMay 22, 2018

    SIM card registered

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      nikkiangcoMay 23, 2018Staff

      Hi Eth,

      Thanks for your message and for visiting finder – the leading comparison website & general information service built to give you advice in your buying decision needs. How are you doing today?

      Glad to know you were able to register your card. Should you have any concerns moving forward, please let us know.

      Best Regards,
      Nikki

  2. Default Gravatar
    YonasJuly 10, 2017

    Does Ethio-telecome provide NANO SIM Card ( the smallest thin one)

    • Default Gravatar
      ArnoldJuly 12, 2017

      Hi Yonas,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      Yes, Ethio-telecom does provide NANO sim. Usually they provide the tri-cut simcard which includes the original size case, the micro and the nano cut all in one simcard.

      Hope this information helped.

      Cheers,
      Arnold

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