Buying or Hiring a Cell Phone in South Africa: Leticia’s Question Answered

Leticia posts a comment, asking – What is the most economical way to rent cell phones – here in the States, or there in South Africa (and if there, where)?

Here are some pointers on cell phones and cell phone hire in South Africa:

  • In nearly all cases, it makes more sense to buy a cell phone than rent one in South Africa, and it’s also better than bringing a phone over from the States. Rental costs are geared for the short term, averaging R23/day (excluding calls), and it can be technically troubleseome to get US phones to work here. On the other hand, you can buy a brand-new phone for the cost of a week’s rental, use the “pay as you go” airtime system, and then sell the phone at the end of your stay (to an individual, a cell phone shop, or a pawn shop), recouping some of your costs.



  • The best places to buy cell phones in South Africa are supermarkets (Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Checkers, Clicks) and cell phone kiosks (Vodacom, MTN, Cell C). Prices usually start at around R300, including sim cards and a small amount of airtime.
  • Supermarkets are also the best places to buy sim cards alone (average price: R5), if you have decided to bring your own phone to SA, having made sure that it will work here. (Note: even then, it may not. Those who’ve tried have had the best luck with Cell C sim cards.)
  • Leticia, who is staying at the Riverview Lodge in Observatory, Cape Town, will find the nearest best cell phone deal at the MTN kiosk in St. Peter’s Square mall: +27 (0) 21 447 2798. The kiosk sells an Alcatel phone for R299. (Click here for a street map – the mall is where the map indicates “Peters Cemetery”, which is, I grant, a touch macabre. But rest assured it’s a mall, not a cemetery!) The mall is a 10-15 min walk from the Lodge.
  • If you must hire a cell phone, try Cellucity, which has branches all over Cape Town, and indeed South Africa.