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Buying a SIM Card or eSIM in Rwanda

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Many people associate travel in Africa with danger and difficulty, but that couldn’t be further from the truth in Rwanda. It’s the ninth-safest country in the world, and the first to ban plastic bags. The capital city of Kigali is the cleanest in all of Africa.

On top of that, it’s a great destination for those on a budget (as long as you avoid the mountain gorillas, where you’ll pay a remarkable $1,500 to spend an hour with them). If you’re traveling on the cheap, you’ll be happy with the prices in the country.

I paid $35 for a double room in a well-rated guesthouse and $5-10 for most of my meals. A 30-minute moto-taxi ride across the city cost all of one dollar. I averaged $45/day for my stay in the country.

Picking up a SIM card was easy, but you’ll need to remember to bring your ID with you, and be sure to devote plenty of time to the process. It’s not hard, but it is time-consuming.

If you don’t have time to wait around for SIM registration, you can use a travel eSIM instead and be connected as soon as you arrive. I’ve used them all over the world, but they’re not as good in Rwanda, since they’re much more expensive than local SIMs for all but the smallest data packs.

However you choose to do, here’s how to stay connected in Rwanda.

Companies

  • I recommend MTN for most travelers who want a physical SIM
  • An eSIM from aloSIM is a good way of getting connected immediately on short trips

There are two main mobile companies in Rwanda, MTN and Airtel Rwanda, plus a bunch of resellers offering data-only SIMs on the unified LTE network that’s available to all providers and run by the government.

Foreigners are only allowed to buy from MTN or Airtel, but that’s really not much of a limitation. Because all companies are using the same network (which covers almost the entire country), you can expect coverage to be the same with any of them.

I used MTN during my stay: pricing was basically the same as Airtel, and it was the first store I came across when I went looking for a SIM.

I had service almost everywhere I went, with good speeds in the major cities of Kigali and Gisenyi, and usable internet anywhere else I had signal.

Travel eSIM for Rwanda

Like I mentioned earlier, travel eSIMs are expensive in Rwanda: you’ll pay quite a lot for a small amount of data, especially compared to using one of the local companies. aloSIM is the cheapest I’ve found, but that’s not saying much.

Still, they’re an option for small amounts of data, short trips, or to tide you over until you can find somewhere (and spare the time) to buy a physical SIM. Just remember that like most travel eSIMs, they’re data-only: you don’t get a local number.

I use apps for everything from communication to transport these days, so the lack of a local number very rarely matters to me, but you might have different needs.

If you’re new to eSIMs, they offer big benefits to travelers in terms of how quickly, easily, and (often) cheaply you can get connected when you arrive in a new country. Most recent phones support them.

There’s a pricing table below that I update every week, with details of all of the plans from the companies I recommend.

How to Buy a Prepaid SIM Card in Rwanda

According to online reports, there’s supposed to be an MTN store at Kigali Airport. I didn’t notice one at arrivals, so bought my SIM card once I was in the city instead.

Fortunately this was easy to do, as there are literally hundreds of stalls and stores across the city that sell them. Just look for the MTN branding while you’re out and about.

It’s mandatory for all network providers in Rwanda to collect your personal information, so make sure you bring your passport and hotel address with you. I’ll be honest: it’s a tedious process that seems to follow little logic.

At the store I visited, the staff member painstakingly entered every detail of my passport into his computer. He then handed me a blank form for me to write every detail of my passport onto, and then sent me to a print shop to get a photocopy of my passport.

I don’t know why they needed three different versions of my information, and needless to say, it took a very long time to get it all done.

Give yourself at least half an hour to get your SIM card, and don’t start the process if you’re in a rush. It took 25 minutes for me to get mine. Note also that unless you’re traveling with children, tourists are only permitted to register one SIM card (per provider) to each passport.

Prepaid SIM and eSIM Costs

MTN

Physical SIM cards and data are very cheap in Rwanda. I paid 8500 RWF (~$7) in total: 500 RWF for the SIM card, and 3000 RWF for 1GB of data each day for a month and 200 local texts.

I also added an extra 5000 RWF of credit, as I knew I’d need to make a few quick calls while traveling in the Democratic Republic of the Congo later in my trip. Without that, it would have cost me a grand total of 3500 RWF (~$3) to stay connected!

aloSIM

Like I said, aloSIM (and other travel eSIM companies) are a convenient way of getting connected straight away, but for most people they’ll be a lot more expensive than local SIMs in Rwanda.

I’d only use them for short trips where I didn’t need much data: the smallest packs are a similar price to what you’ll pay for a local SIM, so if you’re only in the country for a week or less and don’t think you’ll use more than 1GB of data while you’re there, you’ll save a lot of time getting setup.

The prices and options below were last updated on 20 May 2024.

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 3 GB

Price (USD)

  • $7.50

  • $24

Validity Period

  • 7 days

  • 15 days

  • 30 days

  • 30 days

Data Amount

  • 1 GB

  • 2 GB

  • 3 GB

  • 5 GB

Price (USD)

  • $8

  • $15

  • $21.50

  • $33

Topping Up

MTN

Topping up is super easy. You’ll see network provider stalls scattered across all major cities and towns, as well as small villages, where you can buy credit for your phone.

MTN customer service suggests you can also top-up online with the MyMTN app, although I didn’t need to use it.

aloSIM

Topping up with aloSIM (or any of the other travel eSIM companies) is done by logging into the website or app. You just select your Rwanda eSIM, hit the top-up button, and buy the same package again.

The top-up packs have exactly the same pricing and duration as the original eSIMs: there’s little difference between topping up your current eSIM and buying a new one, other than not having to activate it.

Coverage and Data Speeds

With MTN, I had good coverage in Kigali and Gisenyi, and some service almost everywhere else. Outside of the major cities, my speeds would sometimes drop, but it was rare for me to be without a connection at all.

During my trip in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I was happy to discover I had data service from a Rwandan MTN cell tower for my climb up and down Mount Nyiragongo beside the border.

International calls and texts worked perfectly while I was outside of Rwanda, and didn’t require me to do anything in advance to get them set up.


This post was written by my partner, Lauren, after her trip to Rwanda and the DRC.

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