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How to find the best prepaid SIM card when visiting Malawi

Local SIM cards can provide you with the best data rates when visiting Malawi.

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One of the smallest countries in Africa, Malawi has two major smartphone operators that command most of the country’s prepaid SIM card business: Airtel and TNM. Coverage and speed are both spotty but thought to be improving with technological investments. If you are visiting Malawi and want to avoid heavy roaming charges from your home network for local calls, texts and data usage, a local prepaid SIM card could suit your situation well. A basic starter pack with 5MB of data, 5 minutes of voice and 5 text messages can be purchased for MWK500 (US$0.69).

What follows is an overview of the two Malawi telcos, describing the various options and packages, followed by some tips and other information that will help you choose a SIM card.

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Prices last updated 09/13/2017

Airtel

Formerly known as Zain, Airtel Malawi is a subsidiary of India’s Bharti Airtel and has slightly more than one-half of the nation’s subscribers as customers. In 2017, it introduced a 3.75G network that it hailed as “the most advanced Internet-capable telecommunication system in Africa” offering “the widest coverage in Malawi”. Airtel does not combine voice, SMS and data services in one package. Rather, it has you pick what services you want “a la carte” from its voice bundles, SMS bundles and data bundles.

Airtel local voice bundles

Name Minutes Hours Cost Validity Buy code Balance code
Chezani 50 6 9pm –
6am
MWK50 1 day *121# *137*50#
Chezani 100 12 9pm –
6am
MWK100 2 days *121# *137*100#
Chezani 200 8 11am –
4pm
MWK200 1 day *121# *137*200#
Chezani 400 16 6am –
12am
MWK400 1 day *121# *137*400#
Chezani 1000 40 24 hours MWK1,000 3 days *121# *137*1000#

Airtel international voice bundles

Name Minutes Cost Validity Buy code Balance code
International 80 1 MWK80 1 day *121# *137*60#
International 320 4 MWK320 1 day *121# *137*240#
International 480 6 MWK480 2 days *121# *137*360#
International 800 10 MWK800 7 days *121# *137*600#
International 1600 20 MWK1,600 20 days *121# *137*1200#
International 2400 30 MWK2,400 30 days *121# *137*1800#

Airtel SMS bundles

Name Number of texts Cost Validity Buy code
Ticheze 30 15 MWK30 1 day #121#
Ticheze 70 70 MWK80 1 day #121#
Ticheze 350 600 MWK400 5 days #121#
Ticheze 700 1,800 MWK800 10 days #121#

For 1-day plans, expiration is at midnight on the date of purchase.

To check your balance on any SMS bundle plan, dial *137*23#

Airtel data bundles

Name Data volume Cost Validity
PaNet 15MB 15MB MWK100 24 hours
PaNet 30MB 30MB MWK150 24 hours
PaNet 175MB 175MB MWK500 24 hours
PaNet 1GB 1.024GB MWK1,800 24 hours
PaNet 50MB 50MB MWK300 7 days
PaNet Night Chilaz Weekly 200MB MWK250 7 days
PaNet 150MB 150MB MWK600 7 days
PaNet 300MB 300MB MWK1,000 7 days
PaNet 1GB 1.024GB MWK2,500 7 days
PaNet 1.2GB 1.28GB MWK3,500 30 days
PaNet 2GB 2.048GB MWK5,000 30 days
PaNet 3.5GB 3.584GB MWK7,000 30 days
PaNet 6GB 6.144GB MWK10,500 30 days
PaNet 10GB 10.24GB MWK15,500 30 days
PaNet 15GB 15.36GB MWK19,200 30 days
PaNet 40GB 40.96GB MWK40,000 30 days
PaNet Night Chilaz Monthly 1.024GB MWK1,100 30 days

Other airtel data bundles

Airtel also offers data bundles specifically for use with Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. They are as follows:

Facebook

  • PaNet Facebook Daily: 50MB, 1 day, MWK110. To buy, dial *301*300#
  • PaNet Facebook Weekly: 115MB, 7 days, MWK230. To buy, dial *301*301#
  • PaNet Facebook 20 days: 1.024GB, 20 days, MWK1,200. To buy, dial *301*302#

Twitter

  • PaNet Twitter Daily: 40MB, 1 day, MWK100. To buy, dial *301*500#
  • PaNet Twitter Weekly: 110MB, 7 days, MWK240. To buy, dial *301*501#
  • PaNet Twitter Monthly: 1.024GB, 30 days, MWK1,250. To buy, dial *301*502#

WhatsApp

  • PaNet WhatsApp Daily: 30MB, 1 day, MWK70. To buy, dial *301*200#
  • PaNet WhatsApp Weekly: 120MB, 7 days, MWK230. To buy, dial *301*201#
  • PaNet WhatsApp Monthly: 500MB, 30 days, MWK560. To buy, dial *301*202#

For all data bundle balances, dial *304#.

APN: internet, and website: http://africa.airtel.com/wps/wcm/connect/africarevamp/Malawi/

TNM

Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) was the first to offer 3G in Malawi and began offering 4G/LTE in June of 2016. 4G is currently offered in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. Starter sets, which include 5 minutes of voice, 5 SMS messages and 5MB of data, cost MWK500.

TNM SIM cards and top-up vouchers are sold at retail outlets as well as by many street vendors. To check your balance, dial #123# and to top up an account, dial *111*<voucher PIN>#

Beyond the starter kit, TNM offers four packages that offer minutes or texts, charged on an “a la carte” basis. These plans are:

  • Yaboo! – Peak-hour calls (7am-10pm) MWK83/minute; off-peak-hour calls (10pm-7am) MWK41.50/minute; SMS on Net MWK17.60/SMS; SMS off Net MWK21.60/SMS; data MWK33/MB.
  • Yanga – Calls MWK103/minute.
  • Yofewa – Calls MWK70/minute; SMS MWK15/SMS; data MWK33/MB.
  • International – Calls to G20 countries MWK200/minute; SMS International MWK44/SMS.

Like Airtel, TNM has an extensive offering of data plans lasting from 1 day to 1 month.

Validity Data volume Price Activation code
1 day 15MB MWK100 *200*7#
1 day 30MB MWK150 *200*9#
1 day 1GB MWK1,800 *200*5#
7 days 140MB MWK1,200 *200*44#
7 days 1GB MWK2,500 *200*55#
15 days 100MB MWK680 *200*10#
31 days 600MB MWK3,000 *200*444#
31 days 1GB MWK4,800 *200*12#
31 days 2GB MWK7,000 *200*13#
31 days 4GB MWK10,500 *200*14#
31 days 10GB MWK23,000 *200*16#
31 days 20GB MWK40,000 *200*17#

Other TNM data bundles

TMV also offers data bundles specifically for use with Facebook and WhatsApp. They are as follows:

Facebook

  • Daily – 50MB, MWK110, activation: *200*2#
  • Weekly – 120MB, MWK230, activation: *200*22#
  • 20 days – 1GB, MWK1,200, activation: *200*222#

WhatsApp

  • Daily – 30MB, MWK70, activation: *200*3#
  • Weekly – 120MB, MWK230, activation: *200*33#
  • Monthly – 500MB, MWK560, activation: *200*333#

APN: internet, and website: http://www.tnm.co.mw/

Advice from TripAdvisor users on SIM cards in Malawi

While plenty of people use Trip Advisor to discuss hotels and attractions in different cities, it’s also great for learning about local resources, including SIM cards. Here are some thoughts from a previous SIM card buyer in Malawi.

Both Airtel and TNM simcards are 1,000MWK. You can buy them at (almost) every ‘table’ in Lilongwe that sells the top-up cards. Very easy to find them!”

Pros and cons of Malawi’s top SIM card operators

Airtel and TNM are the only major SIM card operators in Malawi, and both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Pros:

  • Both operators have a broad range of data packs available.
  • While they are not available across the entire country as of yet, Airtel’s upgrade to a 900 MHz 3G network and TNM’s launch of a 4G/LTE network are strong signs of a more reliable future market in Malawi.

Cons:

  • As of Sept. 13, 2017, all links on Airtel’s 3G FAQ connect to blank pages.
  • Both operators are highly committed to data plans. Deals for extra minutes or text messages are few and far between.
  • Speed and coverage are still inconsistent in some areas of the country.

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:
Sprint
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.
SIMPLE Mobile
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.
FreedomPop
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.
NET10 Wireless
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.
Straight Talk Wireless
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.
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