Beach in Liberia

Buying a SIM Card in Liberia

By Alex Caro Get Connected1 Comment


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For many, hearing the name Liberia brings one of three things to mind: the American Colonization Society’s largely quixotic attempt to repatriate freed slaves back to Africa in the early 1800s, the country’s brutal civil wars in the 1990s, and the devastating Ebola crisis in the 2010s.

Despite these negative associations, the West African nation of Liberia was once a relatively-thriving country. The Ducor Hotel in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, was one of the first five-star hotels in the entire continent.

The country’s airport had the longest runway in Africa for many years, and Liberia’s international airport, managed by PanAm, was one of the primary African hubs.

At times, Liberia has even been among the fastest-growing economies in the world. With roughly 350 miles of beautiful coastline, it’s not hard to see why the Land of Liberty was so attractive for foreigners visiting the region.

Due to the civil wars and Ebola, the country has been struggling to get back on its feet, but it has been making headway nonetheless. One area where this progress can be seen is in telecommunications.

In the last few years, SIM cards that once cost upwards of $50 can now be bought for a dollar.

Conveniently for international travelers, the US dollar is widely used in Liberia, and ATMs dispense both US dollars and Liberian dollars, colloquially referred to as “Liberty.” Prices in this article are listed in USD.

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Companies


  • We recommend Lonestar if you’ll mostly stay in Monrovia
  • Consider Orange if you’ll regularly spend time outside the capital

Before getting a SIM card, you’ll first need to decide which cell provider you prefer, but it’s not a big decision. There are only two options in Liberia, Orange and LoneStar, but fast and relatively high-quality data access can still be had in the country.

Lonestar

For most expats and travelers based largely in Monrovia, I recommend going with LoneStar. The company’s coverage is decent throughout Liberia and is especially strong, as one might expect, in the capital. Furthermore, it is easy to find places to top-up all around the country.

Most expats won’t have broadband Internet at home, so ensuring you have enough data and good-enough speeds for video calling or tethering a laptop for work may be the most important consideration. For this reason, LoneStar is my recommended provider.

Orange

For those who often travel around Liberia and make frequent voice calls, I recommend Orange instead. Their network has the edge over LoneStar’s in terms of coverage, but not speeds. If you need at least some sort of service around the country, though, Orange will be the one to go for.

Whichever company you choose, keep in mind that if you’ll be making calls quite frequently to other local numbers, most bundles include far more “on-net” minutes than “off-net.” As a result, a dual-SIM phone can allow you to call anyone in Liberia virtually for free.

A common practice among locals is to either have a dual-SIM Techno brand phone or simply to have two cheap cell phones, one with a LoneStar SIM and another with an Orange SIM.

Both providers also have mobile money services, although it is unlikely you will need to use them if you are in Liberia as an expat or traveler. Locals and repatriates may find these tools more relevant to their needs.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Liberia


The official and best way to purchase a SIM card is at an official Orange or LoneStar store.

Orange building

To do this, you will need to bring a form of identification (i.e., your passport) to register the SIM in your name. Unofficially you can purchase pre-registered SIM cards on the street, but this isn’t ideal and such cards risk deactivation.

In addition, you can simply obtain a SIM card upon arrival in Liberia. The country has only one international airport, the Roberts International Airport near the town of Harbel. Depending on traffic and weather conditions, it is about an hour out of Monrovia.

Immediately upon exiting the airport, you can find both LoneStar and Orange booths. Simply present your passport and you will receive a free SIM card. If you don’t purchase your SIM at the airport, you will have to buy one for a dollar elsewhere.

Once you have your SIM card and are registered with the provider, you can then purchase some scratch cards from the booths. Enter the codes from the cards into your phone to activate the desired package.

Prepaid SIM Costs


If you go with Lonestar, the most useful package is likely to be the monthly $39 Kool4U bundle. This provides 12GB of data, 400 minutes of calls to other Lonestar numbers, 100 minutes to Orange numbers, and 1000 texts.

International calling add-ons are also available, typically in the form of a few minutes per day to a given destination for a dollar or two. If your data speeds are reasonable, though, you’re probably better off with a Google Voice number.

This will allow you to make and receive unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada free of charge, and call most other destinations for a few cents a minute, among other handy features.

You can find the latest Lonestar packages and pricing here.

If you decide to go with Orange, check out the MyWay Flex $29 bundle. This provides fully-flexible usage of data, plus domestic and international calls and texts. You’ll get up to 10GB of data per month, although the more calls and texts you use, the more that limit drops.

Other Orange packages and pricing are here.

Topping Up


The best way to top-up is by buying scratch cards from street vendors. You can readily find these vendors on the side of the road throughout the country, or at least in the parts where cell signal is available.

Outdoor booths

If you have trouble finding one, just ask any local. Liberians are generally very kind people and will help you out with this if you struggle, although you should not have much trouble locating a street vendor on your own.

Once you have the scratch cards, turn off your cellular data temporarily. This will prevent your phone from draining any of the data as you add credit to get up to the amount required for the package you intend to buy.

Topup card

Enter the USSD code *243# to purchase a LoneStar Kool4U pack, or *888# to buy Orange’s Infinity Pack.

Coverage and Data Speeds


While data speeds on Lonestar’s network are quite good, the same cannot be said of coverage. Travel outside Monrovia often entails spotty signal, but you can still get decent service in the smaller cities.

In Robertsport, which is a popular weekend getaway destination, I had HSPA+ coverage with LoneStar. Likewise, in Gbanga, my connection was strong.

When traveling between cities, however, my connection was limited or nonexistent. If you are planning to stay in a rural area for any significant duration, plan ahead and be aware your internet connectivity may be significantly curtailed.

Lonestar HSPA+ speeds in Liberia
Lonestar 3G/HSPA+ speeds in Liberia

Check out our guides to buying SIM cards in many other countries here.

About the Author
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Alex Caro

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Alex Caro is a Massachusetts native and a recent graduate of the University of Oxford, where he received a Masters of Science in Education and Technology. He has lived throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa and seeks to utilize technology to advance learning opportunities for the disadvantaged.   Currently, he is an IT consultant based in Monrovia, Liberia and works for organizations around the globe.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for posting this information as it is very helpful for me while ill be traveling there this coming May 2019.

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