When you travel, you most probably want to get away from the office and all its politics, but you may want to stay in touch with friends and family back home. Also, there might be the odd occasion when the office really has to get your yea or nay on an issue.
If your cell phone is on full roaming one might get back to a horrific account, therefore we are all looking for the cheapest way to communicate while we travel in Africa. A friend of mine got a nasty account of close to R20 000 after a three week trip through Namibia and Botswana.
Buy a local sim card
On a recent trip through Namibia, Zambia and Malawi I found that the cheapest (and a very convenient way I must say) to stay in touch is to buy a local sim card with prepaid airtime every time that you arrive in a new country. Once you start roaming outside the area of the local network, you pay ghastly rates.
Cell phones do better than Coca Cola
Somebody once commented on the anomaly of Africa; in places where people are starving you will get Coca Cola. That was in the nineties. Nowadays it is amazing to see Coke signs being replaced by those of cell phone network providers. Malawi, for instance, is a very poor country that relies heavily on US Aid, but in spite of that everybody has a cell phone and you get network coverage everywhere.
Nowadays the shops in the villages of Africa are painted bright yellow, red, green or blue (depending on the networks of the specific country) and every second shop sells sim cards and airtime. It almost looks as if though the cell phone companies sponsored repainting the whole of Zambia and Malawi! Even street vendors sell airtime. The fact of the matter is that you will be connected everywhere you go.
Network providers in Namibia, Zambia and Malawi
In Namibia the main cell phone networks are MTC and TN Mobile (it used to be Leo). I used MTC and found their service and coverage very good. In Zambia I used MTN but you also have a choice of Zamtel and Airtel. If you buy a MTN sim card you have to register it with your passport if you are a foreigner whereas you don’t need to register for Zamtel or Airtel. We asked around and the local people were of the opinion that MTN offers the best coverage in Zambia. In Malawi you can choose between TNM and Airtel. I used the latter and was very happy with the coverage and service.
In my opinion Whatsapp is an amazing communication tool. You can communicate for a fraction of the cost of a sms or phone call if you use Whatsapp. When you insert a new sim card your Whatsapp chat messages stay intact and Whatsapp recognises your profile on your phone.
On my recent trip I did not only communicate via Whatsapp with contacts in South Africa but also with my daughter who was in Phuket at the time.
During our five week trip I swopped sim cards six times going through Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and back to South Africa and my prepaid airtime cost me a full R160. Because I used the local sim cards the costs were a fraction of what roaming charges would have been if I were to use my own service provider in South Africa.
Facebook eats your data
I did not only use my airtime for Whatsapp but also to sms. When I connected to Facebook roughly every third day, I just uploaded a photo and comment on the Tracks4Africa page without browsing. I spent as little time as possibleon Facebook because it uses much more data than Whatsapp.
(by Karin Theron)