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 with the convenience of an international data eSIM from Airalo or Maya Mobile, both of which you can install from anywhere in the world within minutes.

man sitting on chair in campsite using laptop with mobile internet

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Quick answer: Airalo and Maya Mobile offer the best eSIMs for South Africa. They are easy to use and have very competitive price ranges. You only need a few minutes to install an eSIM profile before you leave home and it will be automatically activated upon arrival in South Africa.

What is an eSIM?

Basically, an eSIM is the credentials of what is usually stored on a physical SIM card now embedded in your phone. So instead of taking days looking for and physically inserting a plastic and copper SIM, you just download and install the eSIM profile over the internet using Wi-Fi in a matter of minutes.

This is also much more environmentally friendly in that there is zero plastic waste with an eSIM.

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. This is usually the case if you get a phone on a long term contract from a carrier.

But just to be clear, eSIMs are also increasingly being offered by providers around the world for local resident users, complete with local numbers. In other words, eSIMs are not just for international data only use. They are fast becoming the norm across the board with the iPhone 15 for sale in the USA being eSIM only.

So, it is advisable to check exactly which type of SIM a phone supports when buying a device in a country in which you don’t normally live. The iPhone 15 sold in China does not support eSIM, whereas the iPhone 15 sold in Europe does both.

Another consideration is if your phone can support more than 1 eSIM at the same time. The iPhone 12 mini cannot, meaning you can only use the physical and any 1 of the eSIMs together. So if you want to keep using your home eSIM for text and calls together with a travel eSIM for data, bear that in mind. The same will apply to various models of Android phones.

Now there is absolutely zero difference in the performance capabilities of an eSIM versus a regular SIM. If you think your phone had performance or connection problems because you were using a data only travel eSIM, it was not because of the eSIM itself. Rather, it was a combination of who issued the eSIM, as in some providers of eSIMs don’t include 5G for example and others may throttle your speed, the signal strength of the local network on which it is supposed to operate, or your phone.

Airalo and Maya Mobile both operate on Vodacom in South Africa, and you can take the time to get a local physical SIM together with the required ID registration if you think it will speed things up, but doing so will make no difference, unless you need a local number.

If you need a phone number that will work world wide on any internet connection, even after you leave South Africa, have a look at Skype Numbers. The best option is USA +1 as it is 2-way text/sms enabled, and it does not require ID registration. You will just need to set up a Skype account and payment method, unless you already have such. You can pick and choose from almost any area code in the USA.

So when it comes to eSIM, you can have your Airalo or Maya Mobile eSIM pre-installed before you even leave home and can activate and start using it while the plane is still taxiing to the terminal.

man drinking beer sitting at a bar
Having a beer in the highest pub. Credit cards welcome as they use mobile 4G internet to connect

How good is mobile internet in South Africa?

Very good.

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 and in more places and 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. This is important to know, because even if you got an eSIM from another provider in another country, such an eSIM still relies on the local networks.
  • 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 and plan.
  • 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 from at least 1of the big carriers like Vodacom or MTN.
man sitting under thatch roof using laptop and drinking coffee
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.

man sitting on chair in campsite using laptop with mobile internet
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.

An eSIM from either Maya Mobile or Airalo allows hot-spotting.

For hot-spotting with an unlimited plan from Maya Mobile you will need to buy a higher tier of unlimited plan.

Local physical SIM cards are of course available in South Africa, but it is quite likely you won’t have time to get one, which will require you to show ID in order to register the SIM.

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.

So save yourself the agony and just get your Maya Mobile or Airalo eSIM for South Africa at home. You will still be able to enjoy the same speed on Vodacom as their own direct customers.

woman sitting on chair using wifi on laptop with rocks and sea in background
Free Wi-Fi, Tsitsikama National Park

Wi-Fi 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.

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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