A tourist’s guide to the best prepaid SIM cards in Zambia

Manage your data, voice and SMS costs in Zambia with a local SIM.

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Home of Victoria Falls and one of the world’s largest lion populations, Zambia is a popular tourist destination in southern Africa. If you’re planning a trip to Zambia, a smart hack for cutting your travel expenses is to purchase a prepaid SIM card from a local merchant. You can buy a prepaid SIM card with free access to Facebook and 1GB of data good for a week for ZMW105 (US$10.30).

In order to help you make the best selection for your prepaid SIM card needs in Zambia, finder.com offers the following guide to the nation’s mobile network operators.

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Prices last updated November 2017

Mobile network operators in Zambia

There are three mobile full-service network operators in Zambia as well as one that operates only on 4G/LTE. They are:

  • MTN
  • Airtel
  • Zamtel
  • Vodafone (4G/LTE only)

Prepaid SIMs are very popular in Zambia because the nation’s fixed-line coverage is of low quality. This means most Zambians rely on prepaid cards for Internet access.

SIM registration in Zambia

In 2011, Zambia’s government made it mandatory to register SIM cards sold in the country. For foreigners, this means bringing your passport as well as the address of the hotel where you’re staying when you go to buy the SIM card. The SIM card number and IMEI number, a unique 15-digit code on every phone and mobile device, will also be recorded. The Zambian government actively pursues and prosecutes those who sell pre-activated SIM cards. If someone approaches you with the offer of a non-registered SIM card, you’re taking the risk of it being shut down by the government if you purchase it. For more details on SIM card registration in Zambia, visit this site.

MTN

MTN is the largest network in Zambia and began its 4G/LTE network in 2014. It was first available in the capital city of Lusaka and has since grown to several other populated areas. You can buy its SIM cards at any MTN Connect Store including at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport for a cost of ZMW5. Vouchers for topping-up are available at the same location.

To top-up, dial 113 followed by your voucher code and then #. To check your balance, dial *114#.

MTN offers two data bundles:

  • MTN Call per Second, which has a default data rate of ZMW1.05 per MB. Facebook access is free.
  • Browse 4eva and WhatsApp bundle. The rate for data is reduced to ZMW0.03 per MB after the ZMW5 level has been reached. You can use up to 1GB per day. The bundle has 20MB free each day and WhatsApp is free. This bundle costs ZMW3.15 per day.

MTN data-only bundles

The following data bundles can be purchased by dialing *335#. You have the choice of having the validity period chosen as a one-off or as an auto-renewal. Data rates are as follows.

PriceData VolumeValidity
ZMW3.1520MB1 day
ZMW775MB1 day
ZMW2075MB30 days
ZMW15150MB1 day
ZMW27150MB7 days
ZMW35150MB30 days
ZMW24300MB1 day
ZMW40300MB7 days
ZMW60300MB30 days
ZMW50500MB7 days
ZMW100500MB30 days
ZMW1001GB7 days
ZMW1301GB30 days
ZMW1402GB7 days
ZMW1852GB30 days
ZMW262.53GB30 days
ZMW498.756GB60 days
ZMW70010GB60 days
ZMW1,15020GB60 days

MTN also offers special packages for nighttime and weekend usage. These are available by dialing *335#. A few notes on time restrictions:

  • The weekend bundles are valid from 12:01am Saturday to 11:59pm Sunday.
  • The Sunday bundles are good from 12:01am to 11:59pm on Sunday.
  • The nighttime bundles are good from 12am to 5am.
PriceDataValidity
ZMW7.51.5GB1 night
ZMV101.5GB1 Sunday
ZMW254.5GB1 night
ZMW304.5GB1 Sunday
ZMW604.5GB1 weekend
ZMW356GB1 night

MTN Data Roaming

There are three packages offered by MTN for roaming in the South African Development Community (SADC). The SADC includes: Angola, Botswana, Congo, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

To book a package, dial *211# and select “SPAKA”. These bundles last for 30 days. Be advised, once you select a package you cannot change it to another until it expires. The three roaming packages available are:

PlanPriceDataZambia minutesRoaming minutesInternational minutesSMS
ExecutiveZMW200100MB65251025
Executive ProZMW500200MB130502040
Executive PremiumZMW1,000500MB32013040100

APN: internet

Website: http://www.mtnzambia.com/

Airtel

Airtel is MTN’s biggest competitor in Zambia, operating what it calls a 3.75G network in all 72 districts. SIM cards are available in Airtel stores as well as at the airport for ZMW5. Top-up vouchers are also at Airtel stores and other retail outlets. To top up, you dial *113* followed by the voucher code and then #. Checking your balance is done by dialing *114#. Airtel offers data-only bundles, social bundles and roaming bundles based on amount of data and validity period. The standard rate for data is ZMW1 per MB.

Airtel data-only bundles

PriceData VolumeValidity
VMW220MB1 day
VMW360MB1 day
VMW5200MB1 day
VMW7350MB1 day
VMW10700MB1 day
VMW252G1 day
VMW251GB7 days
VMW502.5GB7 days
VMW1006GB7 days
VMW15010GB7 days
VMW501.5GB30 days
VMW1005GB30 days
VMW20012GB30 days
VMW40025GB30 days
VMW70035GB60 days
VMW90050GB90 days
VMW1,500100GB90 days

Airtel social bundles

PlanCostValidity
Facebook onlyZMW21 day
Facebook onlyZMW107 days
Facebook onlyZMW5030 days
Facebook, WhatsApp and TwitterZMW61 day
Facebook, WhatsApp and TwitterZMW257 days
Facebook, WhatsApp and TwitterZMW10030 days
WhatsApp onlyZMW31 day
WhatsApp onlyZMW107 days
WhatsApp onlyZMW5030 days

Airtel data roaming charges

Airtel allows data roaming for prepaid customers in countries where it has networks at the following rates. You would be better served to buy a SIM card locally.

Country/RegionData Rate
South AfricaZMW3.5/MB
All other African countriesZMW32/MB
EuropeZMW62.5/MB
North America / South AmericaZMW94.5/MB
AsiaZMW126.5/MB

APN: internet

Website: http://africa.airtel.com/wps/wcm/connect/africarevamp/Zambia/

Zamtel

Zamtel is owned by the Zambian government. It launched a 4G network in 2014 exclusively in Kitwe. SIM cards are sold at Zamtel outlets for around ZMW5. You cannot top up online, only by buying top-up vouchers which start at ZMW2. Zamtel offers voice/text/data bundles as well as data-only bundles and social media bundles on prepaid.

Zamtel data-only bundles

PriceData volumeValidity
ZMW150MB1 day
ZMW2100MB1 day
ZMW3300MB1 day
ZMW5500MB1 day
ZMW71GB1 day
ZMW152GB1 day
ZMW5500MB7 days
ZMW101.5GB7 days
ZMW252.5GB7 days
ZMW706GB7 days
ZMW10510GB7 days
ZMW351.5GB30 days
ZMW1005GB30 days
ZMW17510GB30 days
ZMW35010GB60 days
ZMW1,05020GB90 days
ZMW4.611GBNight (10:30PM – 05:30AM)
ZMW9.232GBNight (10:30PM – 05:30AM)
ZMW36.905GBNight (10:30PM – 05:30AM)

Zamtel social media bundles

WebsiteDaily PriceWeekly PriceMonthly PriceActivation #
FacebookZMW0.31ZMW1.57ZMW5.27*325#
TwitterZMW0.30ZMW1.26ZMW5.22*515#

APN: zamtel.net

Website: http://www.zamtel.zm/

Vodafone Zambia

Vodafone only provides data on its 4G/LTE network. It uses the TD-LTE band 40 at 2300 MHz which is not a common frequency. Therefore new phones, routers, mifi devices or tablets are sold along with SIM cards in Vodafone stores. Top-up vouchers are sold at the Vodafone stores or you can do it online with most credit cards. Data plans are as follows:

Data volumeDailyWeeklyMonthly
75MBZMW7n/an/a
200MBn/aZMW30n/a
400MBZMW40n/an/a
500MBn/an/aZMW100
1GBn/aZMW100n/a
2GBn/an/aZMW185
5GBn/an/aZMW230
10GBn/an/aZMW250
25GBn/an/aZMW550
50GBn/an/aZMW999
100GBn/an/aZMW1,850

Vodafone also offers social media add-ons as follows:

  • Facebook: ZMW15 for 1 week or ZMW50 for 1 month
  • WhatsApp: ZMW10 for 1 week or ZMW30 for 1 month

APN: n/a

Website: http://www.vodafone.zm/

Advice from TripAdvisor about SIM cards in Zambia

In addition to being an online review platform for hotels and attractions, TripAdvisor has an impressive online community of members. Here’s some advice from a recent visitor to Zambia:“Airtel, MTN and Zamtel are the main providers. The process is fairly simple. If you’re going via Lusaka, all the main shopping malls sell the SIM cards and top-ups. Most hotels also sell them, even the roadside shacks sell them. Last time I was there, they asked me for ID and address before selling me the SIM.If you can use Wi-Fi most of the time, please do as Zambian mobile tariffs are astronomical.”

Pros and cons of Zambia’s top SIM card operators

Zambia has four SIM card providers. Here are some of the positives and negatives about these companies.

Pros

  • MTN offers weekend and nighttime mini-plans for travelers working odd hours or in the country for brief amounts of time.
  • Airtel has affordable packages for using strictly Facebook and WhatsApp.

Cons

  • Vodafone’s 4G data-only network is on an uncommon network.
  • Airtel’s roaming packages to other countries/regions are not good deals.

Switch to a cell phone plan with international calling

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2 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    RemmyDecember 13, 2018

    how can I reach Zimbabwe using my MTN mobile phone? I am in Zambia?

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      JoshuaDecember 17, 2018Staff

      Hi Remmy,

      Thanks for getting in touch with finder. I hope all is well with you. :)

      You can call someone in Zimbabwe by using your phone and having the phone number of the person you intend to call. Make sure you have enough load balance since international calls are a lot more expensive than local calls.

      I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

      Have a wonderful day!

      Cheers,
      Joshua

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