The cheapest mobile network for international roaming

South Africans who have travelled internationally will have experienced the bill shock stemming from inadvertently using data while roaming on foreign networks.

While all of South Africa’s major mobile operators offer their subscribers the ability to use other mobile networks while travelling overseas, the prices of data, voice calls, and SMSs while roaming can be very high.

Nevertheless, frequent travellers may find it cumbersome to have to buy a new SIM card for a particular country they are in and to communicate a new phone number to friends, family members, and colleagues.

Therefore, certain mobile phone users would be on the lookout for the best network for roaming internationally.

To compare the international roaming rates of Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, and Cell C is not simple, however, since each of these operators offers their services on numerous different networks in each country.

These differences are not small and could easily have significant discrepancies from network to network.

For example, although Telkom offers data roaming rates of R4.14 per MB on Telstra Corporation in Australia, roaming on Vodafone in the same country will cost R368.30 per MB.

Similarly, an MTN customer calling from Canada to South Africa while roaming on Bell Mobility will be charged R2.50 per minute, but switching over to Rogers Communications will push that rate up to R50 per minute.

In addition, operators at times have to renegotiate roaming agreements which could have an impact on pricing, so these rates are subject to changes.

How we compared

To ompare between the roaming rates of the various operators, MyBroadband analysed the data, voice calls, and SMSs roaming prices from each of the mobile networks in 25 countries.

Six of these are neighbouring countries on the continent and the other 19 are popular destinations frequented by South African tourists.

We included the roaming prices on the cheapest networks available in each country for each particular item – data, calls to South Africa, and sending SMSs.

The table below shows how the cheapest rate for each item on the four networks compare.

Data roaming costs per MB (on cheapest network in given country)
Country Vodacom MTN Telkom Cell C
Argentina R5 R2.50 R11.16 R10
Australia R5 R2.50 R4.14 R10
Belgium R5 R2.50 R1.33 R1
Botswana R5 R2.50 R1 R41
Brazil R5 R2.50 R7.06 R10
Canada R5 R2.50 R1 R10
China R5 R2.50 R1 R10
France R5 R2.50 R1.16 R123
Germany R5 R2.50 R1 R10
Greece R5 R2.50 R1.16 R10
Ireland R5 R2.50 R1.16 R10
India R5 R2.50 R1 R1
Italy R5 R2.50 R1.16 R10
Japan R5 R2.50 R1 R10
Lesotho R5 R2.50 R4.67 R10
Mauritius R5 R2.50 R14.41 R167
Mozambique R5 R2.50 R7.72 R10
Namibia R5 R2.50 R1 R10
New Zealand R17.50 R2.50 R7.06 R10
Russia R5 R2.50 R9.20 R10
South Korea R5 R2.50 R6.66 R10
Swaziland/Eswatini R5 R2.50 R1.56 R10
United Kingdom R5 R2.50 R1.16 R10
United States R5 R2.50 R1 R10
Zimbabwe R17.50 R5 R12.33 R10
Average prices R6 R2.60 R4 R29.32
Calls to South Africa cost per minute (on cheapest network in given country)
Country Vodacom MTN Telkom Cell C
Argentina R23.50 R10 R13.26 R10
Australia R5 R2.50 R13.40 R10
Belgium R5 R5 R13.26 R10
Botswana R6 R2.99 R9.93 R7
Brazil R23.50 R15 R13.26 R10
Canada R23.50 R2.50 R4.05 R10
China R5 R5 R3.11 R10
France R5 R5 R13.26 R34
Germany R5 R5 R7.01 R10
Greece R5 R5 R6.48 R10
Ireland R5 R5 R13.26 R10
India R5 R10 R1 R10
Italy R5 R5 R13.26 R10
Japan R23.50 R15 R3.51 R10
Lesotho R5 R5 R6.85 R10
Mauritius R10 R15 R14.81 R32
Mozambique R5 R3.99 R11.75 R10
Namibia R5 R10 R7.12 R10
New Zealand R2.50 R2.50 R13.40 R10
Russia R23.50 R15 R20.96 R10
South Korea R23.50 R5 R15.98 R10
Swaziland/Eswatini R5 R2.99 R51.20 R10
United Kingdom R5 R2.50 R2.33 R10
United States R5 R2.50 R1.56 R10
Zimbabwe R6 R10 R16.43 R10
Average prices R9.22 R6.70 R11.62 R11.72
Rate per sent SMS (on cheapest network in given country)
Country Vodacom MTN Telkom Cell C
Argentina R2.75 R1.50 R2.44 R3
Australia R1 R2.50 R3.05 R3
Belgium R1 R1.50 R1 R1
Botswana R2.75 R1.20 R2.69 R5
Brazil R2.75 R1.50 R1.88 R3
Canada R2.75 R2.50 R1 R1
China R1 R1.50 R1 R3
France R1 R1.50 R1 R7
Germany R1 R1.50 R1 R1
Greece R1 R2 R1 R2
Ireland R1 R1.25 R1 R3
India R1 R5 R1 R3
Italy R1 R1.50 R1 R3
Japan R2.75 R5 R1.75 R5
Lesotho R1 R2 R2.49 R3
Mauritius R2.75 R5 R2.49 R2
Mozambique R1 R1.20 R3.12 R3
Namibia R1 R1.50 R1 R2
New Zealand R2.75 R1.25 R1.90 R3
Russia R2.75 R1.50 R1.88 R3
South Korea R2.75 R1.25 R2.71 R3
Swaziland/Eswatini R1 R1.20 R7.01 R3
United Kingdom R1 R1.25 R1.16 R1
United States R1 R1.25 R1 R3
Zimbabwe R2.75 R5 R4.67 R3
Average prices R1.70 R2.09 R2.01 R2.88

Data roaming

It should be noted that this comparison is not all-encompassing and is merely intended to give a rough indication of the average prices of the cheapest rates on each network in the 25 countries.

In the vast majority of countries, Vodacom customers are charged R5 per MB for mobile data on the cheapest network in that country, whereas MTN customers get a rate of R2.50.

Cell C most regularly charges R10 per MB on its cheapest roaming partners.

Telkom’s roaming data rates varied greatly between countries, going from as low as R1 per MB in Botswana to R14.41 in Mauritius.

On average, MTN was the most affordable at R2.60 per MB, followed by Telkom at R4, Vodacom at R6, and Cell C at R29.32.

The latter’s substantially more expensive rate was primarily due to outlier countries in which the cheapest data roaming rate was over R100.

It should also be noted that Vodacom offers a Travel Saver package at R30 per day, which reduces the price of your roaming rates for data, calls, and SMSs – often by around 50%.

Calls and SMS

When it came to calls to South Africa, MTN was once again the cheapest at R6.70 per minute on average, followed by Vodacom at R9.22.

Telkom and Cell C had similar average prices – coming in at R11.62 and R11.72, respectively.

With regards to outgoing SMSs, Vodacom was the cheapest, followed by Telkom, MTN, and finally Cell C.

Check specific rates

It is advisable to check the specific rates of each operator for various partner networks in the country you are going to visit before making a decision to use data roaming.

Click on your mobile operator below to check exactly what rate you will be charged:

Now read: Why Cell C is moving its contract customers to Vodacom

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The cheapest mobile network for international roaming