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Travelling to Kenya? A guide to finding the best prepaid SIM card
A local SIM could reduce your roaming bills.
Using your home phone in Kenya can be expensive, so consider switching to a local SIM card to take advantage of cheaper local tariffs. Kenya has some good prepaid SIM card offers and deals that could reduce your bills. You can buy 1GB of data for KES500 (CAD5.80), and that is probably cheaper than your current roaming rates abroad. So, whether you’re planning a vacation or an African safari, check out the best SIM card options available on finder.com/ca.Prices last updated 8 Aug 2017
Telco providers in Kenya
There are three main operators in Kenya: Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom. All three can be trusted, and have been tested by locals, travelers and leading testing sites. According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, Kenya has a strong network coverage around the central area, the main cities and highways, but it can become weaker the further out you head. The signal is good, except for the remote areas in the north. Network towers can become overloaded in some areas, which leads to slower speeds.
About Kenya’s telco providers
Kenya’s operators sell prepaid credit, which allow 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. All networks offer 2G, 3G and 4G services. Locals call their SIM cards “SIM SIMs”. You must show your passport or some form of ID to purchase and use the SIM card.
There are now government guidelines surrounding phones in Kenya. You must not use anyone else’s phone, otherwise it could lead to six months in jail. The new rules have been put in place to cut down on phone thefts or criminal activity being conducted from numbers within Kenya. We strongly advise you to avoid street sellers and make sure that your SIM card has been registered in official stores – make sure you get a proof of purchase receipt before you leave the store.
Safaricom is the market leader with the best coverage and best deals. It takes up a massive 75% market share and offers some great promotions and offers. This telco provides customers with 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services, and SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved resellers. Avoid street sellers at all costs. Safaricom prepaid SIM cards must be registered before you can use them, so go to a Safaricom store or an M-Pesa store to activate the SIM. Dial *232# to make sure you have registered properly.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for KES100. Credit can be purchased in the form of “Bamba vouchers” sold almost everywhere. Top-ups can be purchased from between KES5 and KES1,000 and are valid between 30 to 120 days, depending on amount added.
The standard default data rate outside of packages is KES4 per MB. The following data packs can also be added:
Safaricom’s APN: safaricom, and website: www.safaricom.co.ke
Airtel is the second largest operator in Kenya, offering 2G, 3G and 4G services. Its network coverage is not as good as Safaricom’s but it does offer some good deals. Airtel has good network coverage around the main cities and towns, so if you plan to stay in the built-up areas then you can’t really go wrong with this provider. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved resellers. Customers topping up KES50 or more will receive a bonus of KES30-worth of calls, unlimited SMS to networks in Kenya and 30MB data, all valid for 7 days. Airtel customers also receive free access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Top-ups of KES20, will receive a KES10 call time and SMS bonus, free social media and 10MB of data, valid for 3 days. Credit can be updated online or by purchasing top-ups in store.
The following data packs can also be added:
Dial *544# or go online to select your desired bundle.
Free social media is also included. The following data top-ups can be added to the above packages:
Dial *544# and select a pack to add.
Airtel’s APN: internet, and website:Airtel Kenya
Telkom is the smallest provider in Kenya with the narrowest network reach. Although it’s small, speeds are fast and offers available are extremely competitive. Telkom provides 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services and SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved resellers. Its standard prepaid SIM card is called “Tujuane” and credit can also be purchased from official stores, approved resellers or at Pesapoint ATMs.
The standard default data rate outside of packages is KES4 per MB. The following data packages are also available:
Dial #123# and select the relevant bundle to activate. Dial *131# to check your balance.
Telkom’s APN: bew.orange.co.ke, website:http://www.telkom.co.ke
- Swahili and English are spoken in Kenya.
- 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 the official stores. Top-up vouchers can be trusted if bought from chain supermarkets, and approved resellers. 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 has many user comments that can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in Kenya.
“Generally Safaricom coverage and services are better. Mobile voice calls and mobile Internet (if you buy separate Internet bundle, they will explain in the shop) are really cheap in Kenya. International calls are also quite cheap.”
[On using the same SIM card in Kenya and Tanzania] “It seems you would be better getting a SIM card in both countries, or if you want it for emergencies and are not going to make great use of it whilst in Tanzania, just rely on the normal Safaricom roaming charges which seem reasonable.”
“I took an unlocked phone – and they were unable to get the SIM card to work in it. After many tries we gave up and bought another unlocked phone there… disappointing!”
Pros and cons of Kenya’s top telco providers
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible phone. To double check you have this phone or whether you can have it unlocked, contact your provider before you leave.
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current mobile phone
- 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 GSM phones
- Street sellers should be avoided
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