Looking for the best eSIM for South Africa in 2024? You’ve come to the right place, because almost every week another new international provider comes to market offering an ever growing number of confusing options. So with that said, I’d like to simplify those options to help make it even easier and quicker to get online in South Africa.

MTN 3G, Marakele National Park
Mobile Internet in South Africa

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Can I get an eSIM with a local number? Does an eSIM roam? Can I send sms/text with an eSIM? These are just some of the many questions I see getting asked in forums and on social media all over the place.

So what is an eSIM? Basically, an eSIM is the credentials of what is usually on a physical SIM card now embedded in your phone. Instead of taking days looking for and physically inserting a SIM, you just download and install the eSIM profile over the internet in a matter of minutes. Just be sure to check if your particular model of phone supports eSIM and whether or not your device is locked to your home network, which consequently restricts you to excessive roaming charges by your home operator.

Afrihost have been around since the year 2000. In partnership with MTN who is the biggest mobile operator in Africa, Afrihost have since grown into one of the best ISP’s in South Africa having won numerous awards to that effect.

The latest offering from Afrihost is their pre-paid eSIM under the AirMobile brand. Complete with local South African mobile number, you can also access 5G where locally available at speeds of up to and often over 500Mbps. Just be aware that no mobile operator in the world can guarantee wireless speeds in any given location due to various environmental conditions beyond their control.

So click on this link and you’ll get an extra 5Gb for free: Get an AirMobile eSIM.

Data top-ups with AirMobile are currently ZAR 150 for 10GB valid up to 60 days. As of February 2024 that is the equivalent of about €7.

Local calls are currently R0,67/minute. See XE for exchange rates.

However, there is a bit of a catch. As with most other countries in the world who sell any kind of SIM card with a local number, you will need to verify your identity. This can also be done while signing up online.

Don’t forget to also install the AirMobile by Afrihost app for easy management of your eSIM. This includes buying extra data or airtime, or even another eSIM for other devices. You can manage up to 6 eSIMs in the same account.

At the time of writing, another catch is AirMobile does not roam outside South Africa. You can of course access the internet at large and make outgoing calls to anywhere in the world, but once you leave South Africa the AirMobile service will no longer work. However, they have indicated this may change at some point in the future.

Sani pass south africa lesotho landrover landy defender
Having a beer in the highest pub. Credit cards welcome.

Now it might seem like a contradiction in terms to see the words ‘internet’ and ‘Africa’ in the same sentence, much like ‘government’ and ‘intelligence’. But while the concept of government intelligence is highly debatable the world over, you can most definitely get online with a mobile internet device in South Africa in more places at much higher speeds and lower prices than you would think possible.

  • South Africa is considered to have the 4th most advanced mobile telecommunications networks worldwide, according to Wikipedia.
  • The first GSM network in Africa was started in South Africa in 1994.
  • 4G / LTE / 5G is available in most urban areas and can deliver download speeds of up to 1Gbps with an appropriate device.
  • About 96% of the 1.2million Sq Km South African landmass is covered by at least 3G which can allow you to check email and use WhatsApp.
  • Almost 100% of the 45+ million strong South African population, including tourists, has access to at least a 3G cellular network signal.
Using Wi-Fi at Antelope Park, Zimbabwe
Using Wi-Fi at Antelope Park, Zimbabwe. Please, step into my ‘office’.

In 1996, South African mobile network Vodacom was the first in the world to introduce pre-paid on an ‘Intelligent Network’ platform. This allows customers accounts to be debited while they speak. In other words, Africa in general is still pioneering a lot of mobile technology used in many other parts of the world.

The exponential growth in solar, cellular and satellite technology has made it much easier and more cost effective to cover large portions of the South African population with reasonably high speed mobile internet access where running cables just isn’t feasible. Prices are dropping and speeds increasing as technology advances.

Mobile data in South Africa allows you to get online and to tweet, or X, a picture of wild lions in a game park, such as The Kruger National Park while still in the actual park itself, or to facebook a photo of you and your friends sipping a beer at the highest pub in Africa.

Using MTN 3G, Marakele National Park
Using MTN 4G at Marakele National Park

Mobile pre-paid internet with eSIM in South Africa

In order to enjoy local cellular data rates on any South African network you will most likely just use your smart phone or any other eSIM enabled device such as a tablet or some Windows laptops, assuming they are not locked to your home network.

The eSIM from AirMobile allows hotspotting.

Physical SIM cards without data or airtime are about ZAR 2.00 or less almost anywhere (except the airport) such as supermarkets, clothing stores, department stores etc. Do not pay more than R 2.00 for a physical SIM card in South Africa. At the time of writing that is the equivalent of about €0.10 PEP Stores is usually where I get extra physical SIMs, if needed.

However, with the rapid rise of eSIM there is no reason to risk getting ripped off by a tourist SIM card shop or to spend time looking for a local SIM somewhere else. Many local cell phone shops may also offer pre-paid eSIM from the big operators such as Vodacom or MTN, but this will still take about as much time to install as a physical. So save yourself the agony and just get your AirMobile eSIM at home. You will still be able to enjoy the same speed on MTN as their own direct customers.

Truth be told, I have noticed that many MVNOs around the world, AirMobile included, are often much easier and cheaper to use instead of going directly to the big networks on which they operate. Go figure.

Free Wi-Fi, Tsitsikama National Park
Free Wi-Fi, Tsitsikama National Park

WiFi in South Africa

Is there Wi-Fi in South Africa? Yes. How fast is the Wi-Fi? That’s anybody’s guess. What’s the password? Ask the manager, if you can find one. Some very common questions asked by tourists the world over.

But it seems things are the other way around now. Mobile cellular internet with eSIM is very quickly becoming more convenient, faster, cheaper and much more reliable than public Wi-Fi.

And even then, sometimes you just have to use the Wi-Fi, in which case you’ll want to protect yourself with a world class VPN.

Failing all that, in the rare event there is no cell signal or Wi-Fi at a particular location and you are in a group, try talking to each other instead, face to face, or if alone, just read a book 😉

Do you choose and rate your holiday destination based on reliable internet connectivity? Any more questions about eSIM in South Africa? Drop a comment below.

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