Often, I am asked: “What has been the most difficult part of your transition?” and without any hesitation I can honestly answer that it is cell phone service.
Before we arrived we were warned that it was best to bring an unlocked phone from the States over because unlocked phones here can be very expensive. My US cellphone provider was Verizon Wireless and they told me that my current Samsung cellphone was not globally compatible, so basically it couldn’t be unlocked to work over here. With limited options and time, I went to the iStore and purchased my very first iPhone. I really didn’t like my iPhone at first but I will admit that it is growing on me. I especially like the new updates because it makes the phone more Android-esque and feels more comfortable for me. Anyways, this is not a tech-review blog- so I digress….
To get cellular service here you need to have an ID and proof of residence. Armed with my new iPhone, my relocation consultant took me to help me set up initial cell service in South Africa. There are several companies to choose from, and my consultant recommended a company called Cell C because they have good service and cheap rates. Unfortunately for me, the Cell C store did not have the micro-SIM card required for my iPhone and did not want to cut the SIM card to make it fit- so I was sent to a company called MTN a few stores down. They actually did cut my SIM card and all was well. I left with a new number that was easy to memorize and I felt connected to the world again.
I quickly learned that cell phone service here is very different than in the States. You can either get top-up service (where you buy an airtime voucher and load minutes onto your phone) or you can get a plan. I did not qualify for a plan because you have to have a South African bank account that has been active for 3 months so I got top-up service. To me, this has been so frustrating, especially during the house hunting process. I would be on the phone with an agent or a service provider and all of a sudden a voice would come on the line and say “You have 1 minute of time remaining” and then the call would be disconnected. What was even more frustrating is that with MTN I could not load airtime onto my phone right then and there (apparently there is a way but when I tried it would not recognize my account- which I assume means that it needs a local bank card number). I could also not load airtime from the internet with MTN, so I would have to stop whatever I was doing and run out to either the grocery store or gas station to purchase more minutes. I think they really need to give you a 10 minute warning- I mean how helpful is a 1 minute warning? Additionally, I learned that the plan service is very different than what we would call a plan in America (where you can get basically unlimited talk, text, and data for around $80). Here plans are billed like land-line phone service- still per minute of talk time- they just don’t cut you off when you run out of minutes). Depending on the company, service can be very expensive. On MTN I went through about $40 in 2 days, but I was on the phone a lot looking for a house (I learned I was on a $0.24/ minute top-up plan- and there are cheaper ones ($0.14/ minute) .
Once we got into our house though, I also learned that MTN did not have very good reception and I wasn’t getting any calls. So I decided two Thursdays ago that I was going to port my number to Cell C ($0.09/min) and say goodbye to MTN forever.
I went and got a package to switch my number (again no micro-SIM but I’d made friends with a guy that owns a store that has a SIM cutter and he cut my card for me). Porting your number is supposed to take 24 hours, but by Saturday morning it still was not working. I went in to see what the problem was and they couldn’t figure it out and suggested waiting another 24 hours and it would 100% work by then. In the meantime my MTN service had stopped working since I ported my number and I had no way to contact anyone (which is kind of scary in a new country- what if I get lost? or in a wreck?). The man at the store let me have one of his personal Cell C SIM cards cut to fit in my phone and use in the interim (people really are nice and helpful here). Sunday my card still didn’t work (and of course the store was closed) so I spent all day on the phone with customer service trying to figure it out. They said he had to be a bad SIM card and I should do a SIM swap on Monday. I went back to the store on Monday and the guy puts my card in a different phone and it works fine. We were stumped, but decided to try the SIM swap anyways. Tuesday it still didn’t work in my phone but worked in 2 other phones. They thought maybe my phone was broken (even though it was working with the borrowed cut SIM card). So I had to go to the iPhone store here and they were stumped as well and suggested I go to a store that specifically had the micro-SIM cards for my phone. Finally, that did the trick and balance was restored in my world (although the owner of the borrowed SIM card called my friend Tyann freaking out looking for me but that has been settled amicably as well. Turns out, his colleague told me he would update him that my phone still didn’t work but forgot).
I hadn’t planned on explaining what happened in that much detail, and I can imagine my mother reading this and saying that I am talking in a foreign language. Interestingly enough, my power is also a top-up service and I am fine with that. There is a meter in the garage and I can see it every day and know when I am running low and I will have time to go to the grocery store or the gas station to buy a voucher to load electricity onto the meter. With the phone, you can check your balance, but it is harder because I don’t check before every call, but I should probably try and check every other day or so to ensure I have plenty. I should also add that we are still very new here and maybe there are ways to get around the issues I was having and I just didn’t know how to/ had trouble finding solutions. I don’t want to bash any particular company because what works for some may not work for others.
Last week, technology stress was further amplified because about 3 streets (including ours) didn’t have power pretty much for 3 days. It came back on on Friday and fortunately has stayed on over the weekend, but the big hole they were digging to fix whatever the problem was has not been filled in, so I am curious if they will be back on Monday. Brant and I have been discussing the expense of a heater for the pool vs a small generator. I’ll let you know what wins out 🙂 Haha
In other news, we decided not to have a birthday party for the kids. Now that it is almost November (and the birthdays were in September), it just feels late. We have several family members that sent money along for the kids to enjoy a birthday gift. We decided to pool all of the money together and get them a trampoline! They love it and THANK YOU to those who helped make this happen for them ❤
I am throwing in some pictures for your viewing pleasure 🙂
We recently tried Zebra for the first time. A friend went hunting and brought back all the meat. I thought it tasted like a sirloin steak. I also finally put my Hot and Dangerous sticker on my car from my best friends back home! Miss you ladies!!! xoxoxo!
Love from South Africa!