Phone and internet
What to expect
There’s no easy way to put it: The Gambia has some way to go in terms of communications infrastructure. As the country recovers from years of dictatorship and mismanagement, it is playing catchup; having said that, it doesn’t mean you will be stuck in the dark ages, simply that speeds may not be what you are used to back home.
Mobile phone coverage
Cellphone coverage in The Gambia is pretty widespread; around the coast you can expect a fairly continuous signal, although 3G coverage can be patchy and unreliable in some areas. Inland, expect signal to drop out in more remote locations, but as a general rule you will have signal throughout most parts of the country you are likely to visit.
The Gambia tends not to be included in most cheap roaming arrangements, and although it is likely your home sim card will work, you can expect to pay dearly for calls and texts. Data is another story altogether, and is normally extortionate; check with your provider before travel, but mostly be sure to turn off data roaming before leaving home.
The good news, however, is that it’s cheap and easy to pick up a local sim card, and worth doing for as little as a week’s stay.
The country code for The Gambia is +220.
Internet and wifi
As 3G internet is expensive and patchy, and 4G non-existent, it’s as well that most tourist hotels are equipped with wifi.
Don’t expect lightning speeds, however – the Gambian network just isn’t up to it. This means no streaming, video chatting or large data files – but speeds are more than adequate for general browsing and social media.
Note that some budget hotels, especially up-country, may not have wifi or may have intermittent electricity which means wifi is only available at certain hours. Check in advance if this is important to you.
Gambia cellphone networks
The mobile phone networks available in The Gambia are Africell, Qcell, Gamcel and Comium. Of these, the most prevalent seems to be Africell.
Getting your hands on a Gambian sim card is relatively straightforward. Be sure to check that your handset is unlocked (not tied to a specific network) before leaving home.
Getting a Gambian sim card
Signing up to a Gambian mobile network is reasonably straightforward. Cards can be bought at Banjul airport, or at many locations across the country; check for the omnipresent network logos.
To get a sim card, you are officially required to present your passport, although in practice this isn’t always enforced. Expect to pay a small amount (around 50 dalasis) for the sim card itself, which the vendor will register and place in your handset. Make sure you have somewhere safe to put your home sim card while it is out of your phone.
Once you have your sim card, you will need to add credit. This can be done at locations showing the network logo, and also at many mini-markets. The vendor will apply the credit to your account, usually by telephone; it is immediately available to use.
If you want mobile data, the most cost-effective way is to add a data bundle to your account. Dial *120# (Africell; the number may differ for other providers) and you will receive a network message showing the options available.
A super easy way to manage your account is to download the free Africell app. If possible, try to do this before you leave home so it is ready and waiting when you arrive!