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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.
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. SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards let you enjoy local call, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world.
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SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards let you enjoy local call, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world.View details
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:
- 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 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.
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.
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:
|Plan||Price||Data||Zambia minutes||Roaming minutes||International minutes||SMS|
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
Airtel social bundles
|Facebook only||ZMW2||1 day|
|Facebook only||ZMW10||7 days|
|Facebook only||ZMW50||30 days|
|Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter||ZMW6||1 day|
|Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter||ZMW25||7 days|
|Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter||ZMW100||30 days|
|WhatsApp only||ZMW3||1 day|
|WhatsApp only||ZMW10||7 days|
|WhatsApp only||ZMW50||30 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.
|All other African countries||ZMW32/MB|
|North America / South America||ZMW94.5/MB|
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
|ZMW4.61||1GB||Night (10:30PM – 05:30AM)|
|ZMW9.23||2GB||Night (10:30PM – 05:30AM)|
|ZMW36.90||5GB||Night (10:30PM – 05:30AM)|
Zamtel social media bundles
|Website||Daily Price||Weekly Price||Monthly Price||Activation #|
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:
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
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.
- 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.
- Vodafone’s 4G data-only network is on an uncommon network.
- Airtel’s roaming packages to other countries/regions are not good deals.
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