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The dazzling white-sand beaches of Zanzibar, the snow-capped summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the endless plains of the Serengeti. There’s no denying Tanzania has a wealth of attractions to impress even the most jaded of travellers.
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 is easy and inexpensive, and data speeds can be surprisingly fast.
Here’s everything you need to know about buying a SIM card in Tanzania.
There are five network providers operating in the country. In order of market share, these are: Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Zantel, and Halotel. Vodacom has the widest coverage in the country, and Zantel has the best coverage for Zanzibar.
If you’re going to be travelling across large parts of Tanzania, Vodacom has the greatest all-round coverage, and is the best choice.
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.
If you’ll mostly be visiting Zanzibar and spending little time on the mainland, Zantel is the best provider on the island.
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 every SIM card purchase from every network, so make sure you bring yours if you’re not picking up your SIM at the airport.
If you’ll be flying into Zanzibar, you’ll be able to pick up a Zantel SIM card at the airport on the island, or you can 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 SIM card 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 because I hadn’t yet memorised the exchange rate.
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SIM cards and data are inexpensive in Tanzania (providing you don’t get scammed!).
I paid 10,000 TZS ($4.45) for a Vodacom SIM card and package valid for a week. This included 1000 TZS for the SIM card, 4000 TZS to cut it down to nanoSIM size, and 5000 TZS for 1.1 GB of data, 30 minutes of domestic calls, and 1,000 domestic text messages.
Zantel SIM cards are also 1000 TZS, with 1.2 GB of data valid for a week costing another 5000 TZS ($2.23).
To top-up your Vodacom SIM card, simply look out 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.
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Coverage and Data Speeds
Let’s start with Vodacom.
Speeds were very good on the mainland — I got 13Mbps download in Dar es Salaam, and over 16Mbps in Kilimanjaro. Vodacom has the best coverage of any provider in the country, although as you can see from their coverage map, you’ll only get 3G data speeds in the most-visited parts of the country.
And now Zantel.
In Zanzibar, as you would expect, speeds were fast and coverage was fantastic. I averaged around 8Mbps on the island.
On the mainland, Zantel roams on the Tigo network, and speeds were much slower. I was only able to get 1.41Mbps in Dar es Salaam, and 2.86Mbps in Kilimanjaro.