Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Africa & the Middle East (
-   -   Cell phones in Tanzania & Kenya? (

SDtravelers May 28th, 2008 01:12 PM

Cell phones in Tanzania & Kenya?
We are trying to decide what to do regarding a cell phone on our safari. A good friend that travels all over the world purchased a National Geographic cell phone a few years ago he is very pleased with it.

Has anyone used this phone, what do you use when traveling?


Patty May 28th, 2008 01:38 PM

We have GSM phones so use the same phones we do at home either on international roaming through our US cell provider or with a local SIM card (phone must be unlocked) and purchase prepaid airtime as needed depending on where we're traveling and how long we'll be there.

I've never heard of a National Geographic cell phone.

What provider and phone model do you currently have?

SDtravelers May 28th, 2008 01:44 PM

Patty - we now have AT&T. I supposidly can use but have to pay high roaming charges.

Patty May 28th, 2008 02:01 PM

Yes, AT&T's roaming charges are high. $3.99/min in Kenya and $4.99/min in Tanzania.

If your current phone has GSM 900/1800 MHz frequencies and is unlocked or you get it unlocked, you can purchase a SIM to use in your phone on arrival in Kenya or Tanzania at the airport or elsewhere. You'll have a Kenyan or Tanzanian number though so it depends on whether it's important to you to keep your US number.

I googled the National Geographic phone and it looks like a quad band GSM rental phone that comes with a UK SIM. The per min charges are lower than AT&T's roaming rates but higher than using a local SIM plus you'd need to pay for the phone.

LynnieD May 28th, 2008 02:18 PM

You can buy an unlocked quad band phone very cheaply on ebay and simply get a sim card when you get there with prepaid minutes. No surprises that way.

SDtravelers May 28th, 2008 04:01 PM

Thanks for your help, I didn't quite understand about the SIM card. So if I buy the SIM card in Tanzania, I would get the phone# there. So would have to call home and let people know the new #? How much $$ for the SIM card? I think I just might want to get the SIM here so as to not have to mess with it all. We decided to rent it instead, just to see how much we need it. We won't be travelling abroad again until 2010. Seems a waste to buy and not use....

Thanks, SD

Patty May 28th, 2008 04:24 PM

I don't know the exact cost of a SIM in Tanzania but it should be very cheap, no more than the equivalent of a few dollars. You can buy airtime in various amounts depending on what you think you'll need. You can also buy additional airtime later as needed.

One way around not knowing your phone number until you get there is to have your tour operator purchase a SIM and airtime in advance for you and email you the phone number. That way you can give it out before you leave.

Patty May 28th, 2008 04:35 PM

And remember anyone calling you will be paying long distance rates to Tanzania since you'll have a Tanzanian number, but that's also true if, for example, you go with a rental phone with a UK SIM (you'll have a UK number).

Overall, I think the cost of renting a phone will be higher than using your own phone (unlocked) or buying a cheap unlocked phone on ebay and using a local SIM as the SIM that comes with the rental phone usually has a higher per min cost.

hlg22 May 28th, 2008 07:31 PM

Depending on what you're planning to use the phone for, you may want to consider text messaging. I have AT&T, and text messages are only 50 cents each to send, and receiving them is free (or however much they are under your regular plan at home).

HariS May 29th, 2008 06:07 AM

Hi! Did anyone get a chance to watch "Larry King Live" on CNN earlier this week? The entire episode was about new research about the health related issues with cell phones.

In summary of the show it was always recommended to use a ear piece. Carrying case that you can buy for your specific phone.

So, at times when on safari and you don't need it - put it away in your duffel! You will be minimizing the usage of the phone. I do understand that in day to day life when at home it is almost always used these days.

SDtravelers May 29th, 2008 08:38 AM

Thank you all for your great ideas. We probably won't be using it that much other than emergencies, that is our main concern. We have a small business and will be away for three weeks. We will certainly check into the TM feature.

Patty - a wonderful idea to contact our operator in Tz he can purchase a SIM card for us ahead of time!!


kimburu May 29th, 2008 07:18 PM

FWIW, when I go away I buy a local SIM but leave my home SIM with roaming in the phone. I just put the local SIM in if I need to make a call. Tell the people who would need to get in touch over "emergencies" (in my case this is my wife, brother or staff and it's usually not an emergency) to SMS you and you'll call back ASAP. You don't need to worry about taking expensive calls then, or be horribly embarrassed by having to take a call at an inopportune time. Leave the thing on silent - it should flash a bit to let you know there is an SMS waiting to be read. It has the extra advantage of making people think twice about calling in the first place - but maybe not everyone sees that as an advantage?

dssxxxx May 30th, 2008 05:14 AM

Unlocked Quad Band Phone eBay = $50.00

TZ SIM Card - $2.25

50,000 TZ Schillings phone time = $40.00

Getting back to the states after calling home everyday with 15,000 TZ Schillings left = priceless.

Since we knew we would not be traveling much internationally over the next few years, I sold this phone to a member of this forum for $50.00 (I think).

JaneB May 30th, 2008 05:21 AM

My husband and I have used both T Mobile and ATA&T quad band phones in Asia, Africa, and Europe. It is expensive but we don't talk a lot. We usually just text message to the US and to each other--35 cents per message sending and 15 cents per message receiving. It used to be 15 cents both ways.

luangwablondes May 30th, 2008 07:35 AM

You might look into getting a sim card from Celtel.

lbodem May 30th, 2008 07:54 AM

I assume the phones mainly work in the cities. Is there coverage all over? That would be a mixed blessing. On one hand I would want to be able to use my phone in an emergency but on the other I don't want to hear people yapping on their phones at dinner or on a game drive. I am there to get away and have new experiences.

dssxxxx May 30th, 2008 11:02 AM

I had service in most of Tz.

I remember, that I had to stand in one place at Kirawira to get reception.

Just ask at the lodge/camp where the reception in the best. All the help uses SIM's to make their calls.

SDtravelers May 30th, 2008 12:06 PM

Thanks all so much for your input. I am glad I thought to post here before making a decision on rent/purchase of the phone.
I did email our Tz operator he is willing to buy a phone for us for $50 and buy a local SIM card for $3 and we can recharge as much as we need. We are not big phone talkers and do plan to not have it on during the drives. After all it is a 12 hr diff in time, if we need to make a call home we will call in the eve. Will certainly check out the Celtel website.

dssxxxx - great commercial thought :) - priceless!


mrcamp May 30th, 2008 03:33 PM

If you have service with tmobile or AT&T and your phone has the 900/1800 bands used there it will work there. Just get it unlocked. They both do it for free if your account is in good standing and you have been a customer for more than 90 days. If you do not have any of those carriers, then ebay may not be a bad idea. Tmobile also has a Moto V195 quadband phone for $39. You will need to unlock it though.

The phone you guide get you will likely not work here unless it's a triband or quadband phone.

As already mentione, Sim cards can be got for next to nothing and you just topup as needed. Incoming calls will be free, however people that call you will pay a premium for calling a mobile.

doohickey May 31st, 2008 09:32 AM


It sounds like you will definitely need a phone given your business ownership. My observation while on safari in March is that when the locals use their cell phones it is done very quietly and unobtrusively. And they always had the rings on silent.

This is in direct opposition to some loud and brusque Americans who shout on their phones as if to make themselves heard across a loud and crowded room. No matter that while on safari you are in VERY quiet surroundings where some sounds carry for miles. In my experience, very little is more rude or offensive to others - both other safari-goers and locals - while on safari.

Best wishes to you for a wonderful safari!


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 03:36 AM.