Saturday, 27 June 2009

Are you coming to the FIFA World Cup 2010?: How to get connected while you are in South Africa

The FIFA Confederations Cup is almost over (Good luck to USA and Brazil in the final game).
If you are one of the lucky football fans who will be coming to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup Soccer tournament, then you will need to get your mobile phone connected to the Internet while you are here.

HandyTechTipper (HTT) has travelled to foreign countries and it is most frustrating when arriving and not being able to connect to the Internet for Instant Messaging and VOIP services on my cell phone (like Fring, or NimBuzz or Skype, or GMail) and laptop (VOIP buster).
So, here are some considerations and steps to get your phone configured when you arrive in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup Soccer tournament.

Use a local cellular provider:
although South African cellular networks have roaming agreements with most other countries, it will be much cheaper to purchase a South African PrePaid SIM card and use that in your cell phone. {A SIM card is a thumbnail sized microchip that snaps into the back of your cellular phone and activates service on a specific local network.}

In South Africa there are 4 cellular networks (
Vodacom, MTN and CellC, Virgin Mobile) and all are able to provide voice and data connections (GPRS, Edge, 3G, 3.5G (HSPA)).

Most International Mobile phones work in South Africa (make sure that the phone is not SIM-locked and is GSM 900 compatible) - just insert a local South African SIM Card - they are available at all supermarkets for
less than R5.00 (although some web sites say that it's as much as $30).
Don't forget to purchase some airtime as well (R50 should be fine to get you started - the cost per MB is about R2.00)

The SIM card will give you: a local cell phone number in South Africa, and free incoming calls, and free Voicemail, access to send and receive SMS (text messaging), with no yearly contract, no monthly charges nor credit checks.

Mobile phones can be hired at airports or cellular shops at approximately R12/day, but
I would suggest bringing a spare phone with you: 1 for your foreign SIM card, and the other for the local SIM card (for connecting to the South African cellular network for local calls and Internet access).

If you have a laptop, then
remember to bring your phone's cables so that you can use it as a modem and connect your laptop to the mobile phone and so to the Internet. See here for more info.

Don't forget your phone's charger and headset either!

Why is it cheaper to use a South African SIM card instead of your foreign SIM card?

It's obviously more convenient to "roam" with your foreign GSM phone (and use the same foreign number), but there are plenty of problems with this approach:

Your GSM phone might not work in South Africa;

It will be expensive for you. You'll be paying anywhere from $1 to $6 per minute for every phone call you make or receive.

Although it will be convenient for friends and associates back home (and in South Africa) to call you – they simply dial the number they already have –
but this means you'll be paying for all these non-essential calls, also at the same $6 per minute rates.
Note: You will be paying for the calls that your friends make. They pay for the local leg of the call, and you pay for the long distance (expensive) leg of the call. However, when you call your South African friends, then you pay local call rates (same rate as if you were calling a mobile number in your home country.)

It will not be convenient for anyone in South Africa to call you. Even though you might be in the next hotel room, they will have to call your foreign number to speak to you – making it an expensive international call for them as well as you.

If you use the South African SIM card then SMS your new number to your friends at home and in South Africa (SMS for free) - then they can call you and they pay for the calls... and you pay local rates for Internet access and to call your South Africa friends.

Use your foreign cell phone and SIM card for emergencies only.

The SIM card (and monetary credit) stays active for 12 months, so if you're visiting South Africa again, you don't need to buy a new SIM for each visit.

Some people store their contact numbers on their SIM card - that mean that when the SIM card is removed, then all the numbers are "lost" - so remember to copy your numbers onto the phone - or sync them to your PC then print them out for easy reference while travelling.

So, you've purchased your SIM card and airtime - here's what to do next:

Setting up voice calls:

Turn your cell phone off and insert the SIM card.

Turn the cell phone on and enter the PIN if it asks for one (should be in the SIM card's packaging, usually 00000 {5 zeros}).

Load the prepaid airtime into the cell phone - explanation should be on the transaction slip.

Customer service for your Pay as you Go prepaid SIM card is available 24 hours a day by dialing (Vodacom: 111; MTN: 173; CellC: 140) at any time from your South Africa cellular phone. You can also dial (Vodacom: 082 111; MTN: 083 173; CellC: 084 140) from any phone other than your South Africa cell phone.

For emergencies while using your local South African GSM SIM card in South Africa: dial 112 from your cell phone.

*You will need to snap out the thumbnail sized South Africa SIM card along the perforated edge of its holder and then insert the SIM card into your cell phone with the gold contacts of the SIM card facing the metal contacts of your cellular phone.

^The PUK is only required to unblock your phone if you enter a PIN code incorrectly 3 times. Follow your cell phone manual instructions to correctly use the PUK to unblock your phone.

**When calling overseas from the United States to your South Africa cell phone, callers will need to dial 011 followed by country code 27 and your South Africa cell phone number, omitting the first 0 (zero). To call abroad from your South Africa cell phone simply dial 00 followed by the country code and phone number.

Setting up for data connectivity:

See this post for
setting up your phone to connect to South African Data connection
Note: for high data usage - you can purchase data bundles which will reduce the cost from R2 per MB.

Dial *111#, free from your Vodacom cellphone for self-help activities such as checking your balance, buying Data or SMS Bundles, downloading cellphone settings or transfer airtime.
See here for more info.
See here for Vodacom bundle rates:
Data bundle costs (Vodacom)

Good luck! and enjoy the soccer 2010!

1 more tip: Beware of Hotel Phones:

There are lots of horror stories about huge hotel phone bills. You can find yourself paying up to $10/minute just to call back to the US if you use the phone in your hotel room. Even calls across town can sometimes cost $1/minute. So, rather use your cell phone (loaded with the local SIM card) or use a public phone.


  1. how will the new law (RICA) that requires sim cards to be registered affects cverseas visitors?

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    As far as I know non-residents will not be allowed to purchase South African SIM cards due to the RICA law.
    This means that tourists will need to borrow or hire SIM cards from their friends or hotels or just use their foreign SIM cards and pay, pay, pay :( :(


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Copyright © 2008 HandyTechTipper. All articles are released under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 South Africa license, unless where otherwise stated.