Arriving to Zanzibar: Visa, Money, Internet, Local SIM Card

Getting into Zanzibar

Unless you’re taking a ferry from Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, you’ll be flying into the Zanzibar’s Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ).

Despite construction of the new terminal, started in 2011, as of 2017 there is still only one old terminal in operation and it is really small. Quite likely, the first things to do would be getting a visa, money and local SIM Card for the Internet.

Zanzibar Visa

Make sure you check your visa requirements before the trip. You can do it fast and easy using the TravelDoc tool.

In most cases, you’d need to obtain your visa upon arrival. It is also possible to get it beforehand at one of the Tanzania’s embassies, but there is really no reason to do that.

Entering country through the visa on arrival scheme requires filling in a visa application form + a customs declaration form. There are plenty of those forms at the terminal, however bring your own pen. After filling out both forms you’ll need to pay a visa fee, which is $50 if you’re not a US citizen and $100 otherwise. Please make sure that you have both cash and credit card on hand, as often only one of those options works. After the visa is paid for, proceed to the passport control counter. The whole process takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on the number of people in line and your agility.

Money in Zanzibar

Zanzibar’s local currency is Tanzanian Shilling (TZS), however it is possible to pay with USD at most of the places. Still, you get better rate with TZS, so it is wise to always have some on hand. Approximate exchange rate as of June 2017 is 2235 TZS for 1 USD. It makes most sense to bring USD as with other currencies, like Euro, the exchange rate is likely to be worse.

Credit Cards are accepted at most of the hotels and some restaurants, however it is common to impose a 5% surcharge if you’re paying with a Credit Card, so having cash would save you some money.

There are some ATMs in the Stone Town (and nowhere else), but pay attention to the stickers – some only accept local cards. However, if you see only Visa sticker and you have a MasterCard or vice versa, go ahead and try your card, it usually works. Common limit per transaction is 400 000 TZS / ~180 USD.

The exchange bureaus are abundant in Stone Town and touristic villages, like Nungwi. There are some at the airport, however the exchange rate is about 3.5-4% worse. Still, it makes sense to exchange some money right away, as you might want to buy a SIM Card, gasoline or something else before you get to a bureau with a better rate.

Important – you’ll have trouble exchanging or paying with the US Dollars that are older than 2006. It is weird, but make sure that your notes are newer. Bringing notes of $50 and $100 is a best idea.

Internet in Zanzibar / Local SIM card

Internet on the island is bad everywhere. We’ve spent a week moving around different places and I’ve yet to see a wifi that would hold up a Skype call reliably.

Internet you get from a local SIM card is not much better, but at least it gives you connection on the go and in most cases it’s at least not worse than a WiFi.

It is possible to obtain a SIM card right inside the terminal after you pass customs (an x-ray machine, that is) for about $20 with internet activated, but you might save substantially if you buy a SIM card outside.

Closest place to get a Zanzibari SIM card is a barred kiosk at the first intersection after you leave the airport. There are a few carriers to choose from. I went with Zantel, which is a popular choice, and had more or less reliable coverage over the island. Internet was quite slow and sometimes stuck at all, but I suspect other carries aren’t much better. A 10 GB package for 14 days costs 14000 TZS / ~$6.5 including the SIM card and some airtime. However 10 GB proved impossible to use because of speed, so feel free to take smaller package. Another choice you might want to test is Halotel, it had better internet at the eastern coast.

Electric socket types on Zanzibar

The voltage in Zanzibar is 220-240V @ 50Hz, which is the same as in Europe / UK. As for the socket type, it is really strange, but you’d find both British type of plugs and European types at some hotels. So I definitely suggest bringing a travel adapter with you even if you’re from the UK or EU.

Check out the Full Guide to Zanzibar

7 Comment

  1. I’ll be going to Zanzibar in a month, and the info on your blog has been very helpful – thanks!

    1. Thanks Ashley! More posts are coming on Zanzibar and there will be a wrap-up summary and a video next week.

  2. Thank you for your blog post. We’re going next week, so it’s very helpful. Just one question: You’re writing that “Bringing notes of $50 and $100 is a best idea.” Do you mean it’s a good idea or a bad idea with big notes? We actually only got a few 50’s and then we’re bringing 10’s and 20’s as we thought it would be a bad idea with the big notes (?)

    1. Bringing notes of a higher denomination is a good idea, because you are likely to get a better exchange rate on notes like $100 or $50. For $10 or $20 the rate might be lower, although I am talking about maybe 5% lower, not dramatically. You’d generally want to spend Shillings locally and you’ll have them in all kind of nominals, so I wouldn’t worry about not having small notes in USD.

  3. That makes sense, thank you very much!

  4. Hi!
    I was wondering about the use of Visa cards at ATM’s. Will cards be swallowed by the ATM should there be a glitch in connection or some other issue? Do they take visa card payments at the bigger hotels (And with magnetic strip or chip?) Also, do you recommend paying with mostly cash (USD/Shillings) and not card?

    1. Hi Sophie,

      The card shouldn’t be swallowed in case of a glitch, but of course nobody can completely rule out such scenario. Visa cards are generally accepted in the ATMs. There are some rare ATMs that accept only some local kind of cards or just Mastercard or Visa alone.

      I’d use ATMs as a way to obtain Shillings and then pay in cash everywhere. You tend to get a better exchange rate when paying in Shillings.
      Many hotels accept cards, but they would also normally add a surcharge of around 3-5% on top of your payment. They might also try to charge you in an opposite currency, using a bad exchange rate, so they mark up the price two times in that case (CC commission + exchange rate). Always having both USD and Shillings on hand in cash is the best scenario.

      Thanks for reading! Please feel free to follow me on social media & subscribe to the newsletter to see new posts 🙂

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