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Buying a SIM Card or eSIM in Tanzania

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The dazzling white-sand beaches of Zanzibar, the snow-capped summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the endless plains of the Serengeti. Tanzania has a wealth of attractions to impress even the most jaded of travelers.

It’s a large country, though, and while you’ll find Wi-Fi in the majority of tourist destinations, it’s never going to set speed records.

Fortunately, getting set up and staying connected within the country with a local SIM card or travel eSIM is easy and inexpensive, and data speeds can be surprisingly fast.

Here’s everything you need to know about staying connected in Tanzania.

Companies

  • I recommend Vodacom for most travelers who want a physical SIM
  • If you’re spending significant time in the Serengeti, consider Airtel instead
  • An eSIM from Airalo is the best option if you only need data

There are five network providers operating in the country. In order of market share, these are Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Zantel, and Halotel.

If you’re going to be traveling across large parts of Tanzania, Vodacom has the greatest coverage and is the best choice. It has widespread LTE coverage around the country, and has started rolling out 5G in a few parts of the capital.

If you’ll be spending the majority of your time in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, however, Airtel has better coverage there, with slightly cheaper prices than Vodacom.

Travel eSIM for Tanzania

If you need lots of data, you’ll likely find physical SIMs cheaper than travel eSIMs in Tanzania. If you just want to be connected with a GB or two of data as soon as you arrive in the country, though, an eSIM from Airalo is a similar price.

It’s typically cheaper in Tanzania than the other eSIM companies I use, for both small data packs (1-3GB) and larger ones. I’ve used Airalo all over the world, and am happy to recommend them for Tanzania as well.

I visited Tanzania before travel eSIMs were really a thing: had I known about them, I’d have used one for sure instead of spending ages wandering around Stone Town getting scammed! More on that below.

Like most travel eSIMs, this one is data-only: you don’t get a local number. I use apps for everything from communication to transport these days, so the lack of a local number very rarely matters to me, but you might have different needs.

If you’re new to eSIMs, they offer big benefits to travelers in terms of how quickly, easily, and (often) cheaply you can get connected when you arrive in a new country. Most recent phones support them, and you can read all about them here.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Tanzania

The easiest way to purchase a SIM card in Tanzania is to do so immediately outside the international terminal at Dar es Salaam airport. Upon exiting the arrivals area, you’ll find yourself face to face with a Vodacom store, and it’ll take just five minutes to get set up with a SIM card.

Around the country, just look for a vendor sitting beneath an umbrella with the provider’s branding on it. Keep in mind that you’ll need your passport for a SIM card purchase from any network, so make sure you’ve got it with you.

Tanzania introduced new SIM card registration requirements in 2019, but in general they have affected local residents more than visitors. For now at least, you should still be able to register your SIM at an official store or registration agent using only your passport.

If you’re flying into Zanzibar, you’ll be able to pick up a Zantel SIM at the airport on the island. You can also get one at Darajani Bazaar outside of the old town in Stone Town. Just look for the group of men under umbrellas.

Be on your guard for scammers: in Stone Town, I was unfortunately scammed by a local on my hunt for a SIM card.

None of the stores in town sell them (that’s why it’s best to get one in Dar es Salaam or at Zanzibar’s airport when you fly in), so you’ll need to head to the outskirts in order to find a vendor.

If any friendly local offers to help you navigate the SIM card buying process, don’t trust them. I was charged 10x the standard price because I believed the guy was trying to help me out, and I hadn’t yet memorized the exchange rate.

Lesson learned.

Prepaid SIM and eSIM Costs

Vodacom

SIM cards and data are inexpensive in Tanzania (providing you don’t get scammed!).

A Vodacom SIM card and package valid for a week costs 11,000 TZS (~$4.50.) This includes 1000 TZS for the SIM card, and 10,000 TZS for 3 GB of data, 400 minutes of domestic calls, and 100 domestic text messages.

For longer stays, 30,000 TZS ($12) gives 10GB of data valid for a month, plus 1200 minutes of calls and 500 texts. Push that up to 50,000 TZS ($20), and you’ll get 20GB of data instead.

Airalo

Like I said, none of the eSIM companies are as cheap as getting a local SIM, but Airalo comes close if you don’t need much data. The smallest pack only costs $4.50, for example, and gives 1 GB of data that lasts 7 days.

These days, when there’s not much difference in price between a physical SIM and a travel eSIM, I usually end up going for the latter. It’s just so much more convenient, especially when I’m tired after a long flight and just want to get to my hotel.

Airalo isn’t the only option, of course. We’ve compared it with many of the other travel eSIM companies in the past, and here’s how the best ones stack up price-wise in Tanzania at the moment.

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

Price (USD)

  • $8

  • $14

  • $20.50

  • $31.50

  • $48.50

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

Price (USD)

  • $4.50

  • $8

  • $11

  • $15.50

  • $26

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

  • 10 GB

Price (USD)

  • $10

  • $17

  • $23

  • $37

Topping Up

Vodacom

To top-up your Vodacom SIM card, simply look for a store with Vodacom advertising outside and ask to buy credit. You’ll be given a scratchcard with a code that you then need to enter into your phone to top-up.

Dial *104*scratchcode# to top up your phone with credit, then *148*00# to select a data bundle.

To top up Zantel SIM cards, the process is similar: pick up a scratchcard at any store with Zantel branding. Once you’ve got your code, enter: *149*scratchcode# to add the credit, and *149*07# to select a data bundle.

Airalo

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Coverage and Data Speeds

Let’s start with Vodacom.

Speeds were very good on the mainland, with fast downloads in Dar es Salaam, and even better speeds in Kilimanjaro. Vodacom has the best coverage of any provider in the country, although you’ll typically only get faster data speeds in the most-visited parts of the country.

And now Zantel. In Zanzibar, which is where it’s based, speeds were fast and coverage was widespread. On the mainland, though, Zantel roams on the Tigo network, and speeds were much slower.

Airalo also uses the Vodacom network, so you can expect the same level of coverage that you’d get with a physical SIM.


Check out our guides to SIM cards and eSIMs in 70+ other countries here.

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2 Comments

  1. I have been told that foreigners are no longer allowed to buy sims in Tanzania. Comments?

    1. I haven’t seen anything to that effect at this stage. New regulations came in earlier this year, but this article suggests foreigners can register a SIM like anyone else as long as they have their passport with a valid visa in it. According to the text of the regulations linked at the bottom of that article you may need a certified copy of your passport, which could make things more difficult. I have no information on whether that aspect is actually a hard and fast requirement, however.

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