Preparing your phone for Sierra Leone

Most foreign sim cards are useless in Sierra Leone. In order to stay in touch it is recommended to get a local sim card. Handy for reaching the home front, but also to facilitate your stay in Sierra Leone. A lot of social and business interaction goes by phone and it is customary to confirm your appointment two hours in advance by making a quick call. Fortunately, getting a local sim card is an easy and cheap process that does not take long at all and can be done at the airport.

Africell versus Orange

Africell and Orange are the two companies that dominate the market and are in fierce competition with each other. Both companies offer about the same rates for browsing, calling and texting. In general, Africell has better reach in remote areas and has the fastest internet service. However, both companies have frequent communication blackouts, especially with heavy rain and storms. In the end it does not matter that much which of the two you chose; but if those in your network all use the same network, it would be best to stick to that one. This is because calling within the network is way cheaper than crossing networks. Reason why
many people have both an Africell and an Orange sim that they use simultaneously, a good option to consider if you’re here for a longer period.

How to get a sim

You can buy a sim card on almost every street corner for 2000le. Simply approach one of the agents and tell them that you want a sim card. You can recognize them by the branded parasols and colourful booths, or ask anyone on the street where to buy a sim. They can adjust the size of the sim card to fit your phone and do tell them if you want to use your phone for browsing, as they might need to change some settings.

Top up through agents and mobile money

There are two ways to buy credit; through agents on the street and through mobile money.
Agents, as stated above, can be found at their booths or walk around town with a megaphone that blasts the best known phrase in the entire Sierra Leone:

“Top up top up you don buy Africell Orange voucher top up nar top up.”

You can pay cash and buy top up from 1000le and up. Do wait for the confirmation text that you have received your top up, as sometimes agents accidentally ‘forget’ to follow the procedure after you give them your money and you walk or drive away.

Secondly, you can top up from mobile money. This is a service provided by both companies that allows you to store money on your phone and transfer it to another account or to your credit balance. More on that in the next section.

Mobile money

Mobile money is a popular and trustworthy way of transferring funds. It can be used to buy NPA/EDSA (electricity for homes and offices), to pay bills and to send money to someone. It can also come in handy when you run out of credit but are unable to go out and top up yourself.

Africell money

To set up your Africell money account you need to visit one of the agents (or go to headquarters). They will give you a unique pin that you will need any time you transfer funds. The entire service is free, only cashing out comes with a commission fee starting from le500.

Orange money

Almost exactly the same as Africell money, Orange money allows you to pay bills, top up and transfer funds. You can set up Orange money yourself by dialing *500# or go to one of the agents.

Data browsing and rates

To browse the internet you buy MB’s through dialing *111# for Africell and *800# for Orange (see box for all codes). You will find a menu that gives you rates and options to buy. You will soon find out that data disappears within hours, sometimes even minutes, when browsing websites. If you want to save on data you can buy a bundle that allows you to use Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter unlimited for a daily rate of le1500.

Confused? The table below gives you all the codes that you need to start using your Sierra Leonean sim card like a pro.

Code forOrangeAfricell
General informationx*111#
Check your balance*137#*111# > other
Buy data*800#*111#
Whatsapp, Facebook & Twitter package*425#*950#
Top up from Orange/Africell money*500#*161#
Borrow credit*154#send blank text to 7007
Borrow data*160#x
Credit transferuse your personal pin, ask agenttext amount to 121/ call 141
Pay for EDSA through Orange/Africell money*500#*161#

Important addresses:

Orange headquarters: 25 Regent rd, Hill Station, Freetown
Africell headquarters: Wilberforce village (off Motor rd), Freetown

About the author

Esther Kamara is a Dutch-Sierra Leonean that was born and raised in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam she moved to Freetown, where she now works as a freelance writer and artist manager. Her brainchildren are otherworldly short stories and peculiar drawings of non-existing characters. Her contributions to the blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Visit Sierra Leone. Although she tried to be as accurate as possible, these observations are always momentarily and therefore subject to change.

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