Phone--access towifi, international data plans, SIM cards,

Travel Forums Africa and The Middle East Phone--access towifi, international data plans, SIM cards,

1. Posted by tfreese1 (Budding Member 6 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Fellow travelers,

I plan on a couple of 3 week Safaris(mostly camping so away from population centers) in mid year 2023 to the listed countries. (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, then Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique).

Has anyone visited multiple Southern African countries in one trip and how did you deal with your phone-- internet access and data plans? I don't necessarily need calls and regular texts, but access to internet for WhatsApp, news, my investments, and social media for posting pics is important to me.

I have looked into International Sim cards but typically some or most of my destination countries are not included (those may be good for Europe or Asia). I typically buy a local sim card for each country, but as we will be doing land border crossings I don't know the availability of SIM cards at the borders in these countries and some countries I will only be in for a few days.

Any suggestions will help. Will a pocket wifi work? Should I just do without and hope to connect to wifi at the few lodges/towns we visit?


[ Edit: Edited on 7 Jan 2023, 15:53 GMT by tfreese1 ]

2. Posted by zzlangerhans (Travel Guru 553 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Look into eSIM.

3. Posted by tfreese1 (Budding Member 6 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

I have, but it seems to be either country specific, or for the international plans the Southern African countries are either not included in the packages or are quite limited. I was looking for an all-encompassing solution. Thank you.

4. Posted by GraemeBots (Budding Member 20 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

I don't know about an all encompassing solution - I've never found one for myself - but maybe a few useful hints if you do decide to buy cards country by country as you go.

It has become more difficult to buy SIM cards in some of the countries you are planning to visit due to the requirement for registration of the card, the level of detail required for this, and the length of the queues. (I suspect the requirement was forced on us by international pressure).

As you would expect this has spawned a new industry: if you are unemployed across much of Southern Africa it is possible to make profitable use of your time standing in line. You can register multiple SIM cards to yourself at minimal expense. These can be onsold to others at a profit.
So if you arrive in (say) Zambia on a public holiday or in the weekend, or if the queues at the MTN shop are stretching way down the street, the nearest taxi driver will know where to go to find a pre-registered SIM card. I've had to use this route to a SIM card in Zambia myself.

Some in-country travel agencies provide SIM cards (already registered to their company) to their clients. If your journey is being organised by one make sure you ask them. This service is not usually advertised, but of course they need you to be connected so they can keep in touch with you on your travels if there are any road closures, floods etc.

And of course the various network providers in each country provide vastly different levels of coverage in rural areas. Before the pandemic I used to keep a stack of SIM cards for use in some of the neighbouring countries and the networks were chosen on the basis of breadth of coverage. The networks of choice were as follows:

Mozambique Vodacom
Swaziland MTN
Zambia MTN
Namibia TN Mobile

Here in Botswana BTC definitely provides the best rural coverage: Mascom and Orange are a waste of time if you are camping.

A pocket modem (bought in Swaziland) has worked quite well for many years, but if you are hiring a car the rental company might offer you a modem with external antennae and this will definitely give you better internet connectivity. You can't expect gigabit per second internet speeds here - 1 megabit per second is a luxury even in a town unless you get up before dawn.

Hope this helps, Graeme

5. Posted by tfreese1 (Budding Member 6 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Thanks so much for the detailed reply...very helpful and explains why I am having issues finding a good solution. It may happen that I am just out of service for a few days at a time if it is too difficult to get a SIM (registered SIM) in certain locations.

I have the backup of being able to pay $10 a day for my AT&T for international access but not sure how good that will be here, and its expensive for a 2 month trip!

Appreciate your response.


6. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 1627 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

If you're in the United States get a subscription to Google Fi, which provides cellular access in 200+ countries and territories. No contract is needed and it works best with most Android phones. You have to use it primarily in the United States (at least 60 percent of the year). Exceed that amount and overseas data service is suspended until you automatically reactivate the account by using it again in the U.S. However, phone and messages continue to work overseas. I use Google Fi while traveling and haven't had any problems connecting to cellular service around the globe, except in countries and regions where the government is the sole provider of telecommunications. The price is reasonable. There are several plans. As a traveler who visits multiple countries on a single trip, Google Fi works for me. There's no need to buy and activate SIM cards. In the U.S. Google Fi uses the networks of T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular.

[ Edit: Edited on 23 Jan 2023, 23:25 GMT by berner256 ]

7. Posted by tfreese1 (Budding Member 6 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Thanks for that. Unfortunately I use AT&T with iphone. So probably won't work for me. Definitely this will be a consideration if and when I update phone/plan!

8. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 1627 posts) 1y Star this if you like it!

Consider buying an inexpensive Android phone and subscribing to Google Fi for a month or two, then canceling. When traveling overseas again use the same setup. Google Fi also works with iPhones but not as well as with Android ones. Since the service is only available to U.S. residents, Google Fi enables you to access certain Web sites, such as Facebook, in China, where it is banned. I've uploaded photos to Facebook in China, including Tibet, while using Google Fi there. Several inexpensive Android phones, preinstalled with Google Fi service, currently are offered on its Web site. For example, a Samsung AO3s sells for US$9.99 and a Moto g power (2022) sells for $49.99. Google Fi has three plans. The cheapest costs $17 per month, excluding taxes and fees, with $10 for each gigabyte of data. You can cancel at any time since there are no contracts. In my view, it is now essential more than ever to travel with a mobile phone with data access. The need for information is greater. For example, airlines now more frequently change or cancel flights. Free Wi-Fi isn't available everywhere. Consider communications, like visas and travel insurance, part of the necessary costs of travel.

[ Edit: Edited on 24 Jan 2023, 12:00 GMT by berner256 ]