Getting a SIM Card in Madagascar: Orange, Telma, and Airtel

We bought our Malagasy Orange and Telma SIM cards on the first full day in the country, the 16th of November 2022. The last SIM card in Madagascar, Airtel, was trickier to get in the capital. I’ll explain below why we’re getting multiple SIM cards from different providers. 

TL;DR Which SIM Card in Madagascar Should I Choose?

So far, we think the best SIM card in Madagascar is Orange. It connected well in Antananarivo and worked immediately. Tethering worked perfectly and it works both on iPhone and Android devices. Orange also worked in Ampefy, the first smaller town we visited after the capital.

Buying the SIM card in Antananarivo (see location: Orange HQ Analakely) was easy. It’s just important to bring your passport, patience, and a pen.

The SIM card costs 3.000 Ar and the 30-day 4.5GB bundle of our choice cost 30.000 Ar. You can also buy a bigger 12GB bundle for 75.000 Ar or something for a shorter time period. See detailed information about the Orange SIM card further down in the article.

As you can see, data in Madagascar ain’t cheap. The price per GB also doesn’t go down if you buy a larger package. If it’s important to get data slightly cheaper or if you can’t find a place that sells Orange, get Airtel.

If you’re working remotely in Madagascar as a digital nomad, get Orange, Telma, and Airtel. No, I am not joking. Bringing a smartphone that can fit two SIM cards at once is incredibly helpful. If you’re willing to only buy two SIM cards, get Orange and Telma since they have very popular and useful mobile money services.

But as always, there’s more to getting a SIM card in Madagascar or elsewhere than anticipated, so read the rest of the article for a better understanding.

Our Experience Buying a SIM Card in Madagascar

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Why get SIM cards from multiple providers?

So I know it sounds excessive to get three SIM cards in Madagascar, but bear with me.

Madagascar isn’t known for its fantastic (internet) infrastructure. Of course, the country is developing this and as long as no funny business happens, things will only improve.

In general, the info we found about getting a SIM card in Madagascar seemed very outdated. Some of it dated back to 2018 and seemed untrustworthy. This mainly applied to the prices for data packages, which have seemed to get cheaper in the meantime (though data is still expensive). From what we found, there was no clear winner in terms of prices.

There are three main telecom providers in Madagascar that we considered: Orange, Telma, and Airtel. On paper, Airtel supposedly has the best coverage in Madagascar, whereas Orange and Telma have good reviews from travelers. We foresaw a scenario where we’re in a (part of) town where one provider would have excellent coverage, but another simply has no local representation.

So based on these two factors, we decided to spread the risk and try to get all three SIM cards.

From our centrally-located hotel, we plotted a route past all three telecoms on Google Maps and OSM: Orange, then Airtel, followed by Telma. We knew for sure we’d want to get Orange and Telma today and perhaps we’d get Airtel later. But it would be good to confirm the existence of the Airtel office since we’d pass it en route either way.

Buying the Orange Madagascar SIM card

Buying Orange SIM card in Antananarivo Madagascar

The first stop was Orange. Their office at Anakely was easy to find and only a few streets away. There was a guard at the entrance and a big queue inside. It took a while before we talked to an employee. The first thing he asked for was a passport, which is something we read online we didn’t need to bring. We gave him a passport copy, as we try to not carry valuable stuff outside on day one. That didn’t suffice, so we had to get back to the hotel and pick up our passports. Nice outdated info that was. Jonas was already pretty done by then, but I persisted.

When we returned, things moved quite fast. We received a sheet with the prices for data and minutes. The SIM card arrived very quickly and Jonas just had to sign a form with his personal data dotted down from his passport.

Since data prices are quite expensive, we chose the smallest and cheapest Orange package with 30-day validity. It’s only 4.5GB for 30.000 Ar, but sometimes that’s enough for us as long as the places we stay in have WiFi.

The SIM card itself only cost 3.000 Ar. We gave the guy Jonas’ old iPhone. He set up the SIM card and tested if the mobile internet worked by playing a YouTube video for half a second. We paid and left for the next shop.

Ten days later as happy customers of Orange, we traveled to Ampefy. Though the connection with Orange isn’t always stable, the SIM card allows tethering to bring internet to two computers. This good experience with Orange makes us think to buy a second Orange SIM card.

Airtel shop in Antananarivo? Street vendor instead

Next, we tried to find the Airtel shop as Google Maps marked it. It was only a few blocks away, but we didn’t find it. There are loads of small businesses with Airtel logos all over town, but do they sell SIM cards?

On the next street corner, we came across a lady selling Airtel SIM cards. We thought why not try here?

Instead of giving my passport, I gave my old Dutch ID card. She filled in the form just like at the Orange shop and tried out the SIM card in one of the small brick phones she sold. She had a separate Airtel device to process the setup that could take photos of my expired ID.

It didn’t work.

She tried the same SIM card on all her other mobile phones. Then she tried the other two SIM cards she had for sale in all the other phones. But the setup couldn’t be completed.

“No connection,” she said. Well, that doesn’t sound too promising for Airtel anyway. So we continued the walk to the Telma shop, which was quite uphill.

We repeated this experience with a different vendor near the Super U the following day, except it took three times as long to figure out she couldn’t sell us a working Airtel SIM card. Again, the problem was, as quoted “No connection”. This isn’t looking good for Airtel.

Buying the Telma SIM card

Buying Telma SIM card in Madagascar in Antananarivo

The Telma shop was actually the Telma headquarters. The guard said we couldn’t get a SIM card here and sent us in a different direction further uphill in the Jardin Antaninarenina area. We asked some gainfully employed people in front of banks and casinos where the Telma office was until we got a hit. This is the location of the Telma office where we got the SIM card.

There was only a small queue and we got help almost immediately. We asked for a SIM card, and she asked for my passport. This SIM card we chose to register in my name. She filled in the paperwork and took a photo of me (something we’d read about online). I released my phone from the case to receive the new SIM card and she asked what package we wanted to buy.

We read through the options and Jonas thought it was a good idea to get the 4GB package for 25.000 Ar. The SIM card was only 1.000 Ar. She booked it for us.

Since my phone handles two SIM cards, we had to dick around with the settings to make sure I’m now using Malagasy mobile data. I received a text that presumably said the internet package was booked. Then we were good to go.

All seemed good with Telma until we arrived at the hostel Madagascar Underground to eat lunch. I tried to use mobile data but it didn’t work. If Telma already doesn’t have coverage in the capital city, it might simply be shit. We decided to look at it at home later.

Back at the hotel, Telma still didn’t work for me. So we swapped SIM cards. Orange worked fine with my Android phone as it also did with Jonas’ iPhone. But only Jonas had internet reception with Telma in his iPhone. Huh. So we decided Jonas would keep the Telma SIM card for now.

Ten days later in Ampefy, we also realized that the Telma SIM card doesn’t allow tethering. We didn’t have WiFi in this small town, so we completely rely on tethering to bring internet to our laptops. We swapped the SIM cards again to see if this is an iPhone block (happened before) on tethering or a Telma fuckery, but the SIM card still didn’t work with my Android phone.

Two months later in Ambalavao, Telma was the only SIM card with reception at our accommodation. Jonas looked into the Telma settings again and made it work on my Android by changing the proxy (see below).

Another attempt at getting Airtel

Finally, in the little town of Ampefy, we found a physical Airtel shop where they could give us the SIM card. As usual, they spent a lot of time filling in the little form and putting the SIM card in various mobile phones they had. The specialized Airtel sign-up device came out again. After a lot of dicking around, they told us that the registration of the SIM card worked, but not the registration for Airtel Money.

We could live with that; we already had the money services of the other two (Telma has MVola and Orange has Orange Money).

They gave us the SIM card at 3.000 Ar and I only inserted it into my phone a couple of days later in Antsirabe. In Antsirabe, we went to a little shop to buy a scratch card to put money on the SIM. Communication was friendly but a little hard with this vendor. We asked for “crédit internet” in some made-up French and bought 10.000 Ar of it. At home, we realized we could call and send texts with this balance, but not buy internet packages.

Upon further inspection of the Airtel website, Jonas found out that you can buy internet packages online and directly pay for them with your foreign debit/credit card, effectively bypassing kind vendor ladies on the street who have no idea why you’d need internet.

With this, we finally had the Airtel SIM card fully running and had good reception and tethering for the rest of our trip in Madagascar.

Orange SIM Card in Madagascar

Where to buy an Orange Madagascar SIM card

Orange Madagascar has a handy page on its website where it shows all the official shops with their opening times. It’s in French, but that’s okay. First, you have to click your region before you can find a shop in your city or village. Don’t forget to bring your passport (not a copy).

After you’ve obtained your SIM card, the staff will ask if you want internet or calling credit. Then they will usually book the package for you directly as part of the service.

Topping up your mobile data via Orange Money

A good first data pack to get upon arrival in Madagascar is the 4.5 GB package for 30 days. In 2023 this costs 30.000 Ar. Of course, these prices are subject to change as Madagascar becomes more online each day.

By default, this package auto-renews after 30 days if you have enough balance on your account.

Here’s where the confusing bit starts: you have two accounts. One is your Orange calling/SIM card balance account called compte principal or solde principal like how it works in most of the world. The other is your Orange Money account (more information about Orange Money here). As an Orange Madagascar client, you’re automatically signed up for an Orange Money account. You can use both accounts to book packages.

To top up your balance, go with cash in your hand to a street vendor or shop where you see the Orange logo. They are absolutely everywhere. They get their own phone out, type in a USSD code, then ask for your phone number. It’s handy to have your Malagasy phone number on a piece of paper for this. The vendor does the rest. You’ll receive a text that says you’ve topped up your balance so all you have to do is pay the vendor. They might ask if you want the money on your compte principal or Orange Money. It doesn’t actually matter, but booking the package is slightly easier with compte principal.

There are multiple methods to book packages, but there’s one fool-proof way to book packages:

Booking Orange data packages

Start by activating mobile data (turn off WiFi). Even if you’re out of data, you’re able to visit the website http://123.orange.mg/.

On this free website, you’ll enter a series of menus. Select Achat de Forfait 🠖 Be Connect (Internet) 🠖 scroll through the packages and tap the button Acheter at the package you want 🠖 Pour mon compte 🠖 choose Acheter par solde principal or Acheter par Orange Money depending on which account balance you topped up 🠖 and finally, select Confirmer.

If you are going with Orange Money, you’ll still have to enter your secret code. If you didn’t set up a specific secret code, it’s 0000. After that, you get a confirmation by text that your package has been booked.

Checking your Orange data and balance

The simplest way to do this is by running a USSD code. Simply call #321# for both data and money balance.

Telma SIM Card in Madagascar

Getting the Telma SIM card

Telma has a functioning store locator on its website with both a map and a list of regions with cities popping up. It’s in French, but I believe in you. Don’t forget to bring your passport (not a copy). Once they fill in the form with your details, anticipate that they will want to take a photo of you in the store.

Once you have the SIM card, they will want to sell you a package. The 4GB package for 25.000 Ar is a good start. Make sure to have the employee test the internet, since it didn’t immediately work on my Android phone. Jonas eventually got Telma to work on my Android phone by changing the APN settings and removing the proxy. If you don’t know what this means, follow the information on this link.

The Telma internet worked immediately on iPhone, but tethering is forbidden. That’s why we hated Telma for months at first until it made a comeback in Ambalavao, where it was the only working SIM.

Topping up data

The best way to top up your data is by putting money in your MVola account. With the Telma app (Google Play + App Store), you can select Achat crédit/offre 🡒 Telma Net. The app is half in French, half in English. Select what package you want for how long and pay for it with MVola.

If you get the message that you don’t have enough balance while you’re confident it’s enough, your money is probably already in your calling credits. In that case, just remove the checkbox acheter avec MVola in the last step and it will use up your calling credits to buy internet.

Checking your Telma data and balance (get the app)

Open your MVola app 🠖 click the 👤 icon 🠖 Telma et Moi 🠖 Info conso 🡒 shows you the active internet package. Alternatively, dial the #359# USSD code.

Airtel SIM Card in Madagascar

Where to buy the Airtel SIM card

This is by far the trickiest part of your journey as a potential Airtel Madagascar customer. They seem to have basically got rid of all their actual stores and started a reseller/franchise business with an army of a million street vendors without a connection to complete the process. Yes, we couldn’t find a real Airtel shop in the nation’s capital Antananarivo. We asked hotel staff, tour guides and taxi drivers who all couldn’t help.

If you have the chance, buy your Airtel SIM card at the airport—just the SIM card for 3.000 Ar as the tourist bundles are more pricey than need be.

Airtel Madagascar has a website with a store locator, but it didn’t work when we tried to use it.

The only you can get your hands on a functioning Airtel is by keeping your eyes open for an actual shop. Or get lucky with up-to-date info from a local who knows.

Topping up your mobile data

Despite the dysfunction of its store locator, Airtel Madagascar has a pretty decent website designed in this century and partially in English. This makes topping up nice and straightforward compared to Orange. Just go to the Airtel website heading prepaid recharge.

From prepaid recharge, type in your Airtel phone number and let the page load the internet packages. Scroll down to the internet package called NET MLAY-30000. This package is valid for 30 days and gives you 6.5 GB of data. Click on acheter. The next screen gives you two payment options: DPO (debit/credit card, again only MasterCard) and Airtel Money. Since our Airtel Money was never activated, we can only top it up by credit card, but this is also the simplest option. Type in your credit card number and proceed to checkout. The amount will be charged in US$ at a shitty exchange rate, but the cool thing is that you got fresh internet without leaving the comfort of your home.

You can also top up your balance in the My Airtel app, see below.

Checking your Airtel data and balance (get the app)

The easiest way to check your data and balance for Airtel Madagascar is by downloading the My Airtel app. It’s on the Google Play Store and on the Apple App Store. Once it checks your SIM card you’re automatically logged in with your name (and any typos when signing up) showing with your phone number.

On the home screen, it shows how much data and balance you have left.

The old-school way to check is via USSD codes. To check the amount of data left: call *999*114# and wait till it shows you your data balance and validity.

FAQ SIM Card in Madagascar + Internet Freedom

Should I buy a SIM card in Madagascar at the airport?

In short: no, don’t do it. At the airport in Antananarivo, they have a tourist SIM card package. It’s costly at the airport for little data.

Long answer: if you visit the telecom shop at the airport, ask if it’s possible to only buy the SIM card for 1–3.000 Ar. Then you can top up your balance and book packages as you like without paying the tourist price. All three providers covered in this article have an office at the Ivato International Airport (TNR). Whether they’re open when you arrive is another matter, of course.

Where can I buy a SIM card in Madagascar?

Walking around the center of a village with a telecom tower or a big city in the daytime, it’s impossible not to come across the many vendors. Many of them just have a little makeshift booth outside with an umbrella. But there are two good reasons not to try to buy a SIM card in Madagascar with these vendors:

  1. You’ll need to hand over your passport for an extended period of time in the street with a thousand people walking by
  2. They often can’t complete the task, therefore you’ll likely just wasting your time

Instead, try to find a physical building in town painted in the colors of the provider you want. In bigger cities, this can often be a serious office with a waiting room, a guard, and air conditioning. In small villages, it’s just a building with bars on the window and some competent people behind a desk while you stand outside.

Should I download the apps of Orange, Telma, or Airtel?

Yes, they make your life easier.

Is the internet blocked or monitored in Madagascar?

No, you’re free to surf the web as you please in Madagascar. There’s little to no internet surveillance.

As internet usage will undoubtedly increase in Madagascar over the coming decade, this, of course, might change.

However, when using my Airtel mobile data (both on my phone and tethered computer), I couldn’t access the Orange Madagascar website. With WiFi, it worked fine. Interestingly, using Orange mobile data, visiting the Airtel Madagascar website is not a problem at all.

Should I download a VPN before going to Madagascar?

I think it’s never a bad plan to have a VPN. Sometimes, foreign websites you might commonly use block traffic from certain countries. Madagascar can be one of these countries because web developers don’t often think about the people that live here. Using a VPN might slow down your internet speed a little bit.

We use ExpressVPN and we’re happy with it. If you want to try ExpressVPN for 30 days for free, you can sign up via this link. It’s a referral link, so if you sign up I might, might, receive €8 from ExpressVPN for pointing you in their direction. Of course, this 30-day free trial isn’t long enough if you’re staying in Madagascar for 60 to 90 days as we intend to do.

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4 thoughts on “Getting a SIM Card in Madagascar: Orange, Telma, and Airtel

  1. Hi Iris,

    I had the same issue with tethering on Telma but I decided to keep using Telma over Orange because they offer eSIM and it’s handy. Telma has a good LTE coverage in Fort-Dauphin and I do not travel much outside of town. The following settings should be set in the device in order to enable tethering.

    Mobile data:
    APN: internet
    User: telma
    Password: *BLANK*

    LTE (optional):
    APN: internet
    User: telma
    Password: *BLANK*

    Modem mode:
    APN: internet
    User: telma
    Password: *BLANK*

    Regards,
    Roman

    • Hey again Roman, thank you again for this information! I hope you enjoyed Madagascar

  2. Clear recommendation for Telma.

    In Oct 2023 Telma was nearly everywhere far superior to Orange. Orange didn’t have good coverage along RN2, RN7 and where we had connection it was 3G whereas Telma offered 4G (LTE).

    And Telma was cheaper, we bought both (one Telma SIM and one Orange eSIM) at the airport. Telma with 8 GB for 30 days was cheaper than 5 GB at Orange.

    • Hi Norman,
      Thank you for sharing. That shows how quickly things can change and it’s really good to have multiple SIMs if you’re relying on mobile data.

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