Does Airtime Have VAT in South Africa?

When you purchase airtime or data bundles from your mobile network provider in South Africa, you may have noticed that VAT (Value Added Tax) is included in the total cost. This has led many mobile users to ask: does airtime have VAT in South Africa?

The short answer is yes, VAT is charged on airtime and data purchases from mobile networks in South Africa. However, understanding the full context requires looking at how VAT works, the tax laws around airtime, and the reasoning behind charging VAT on mobile services.

Tax Legislation on Airtime

Airtime specifically is subject to 15% VAT in South Africa according to the Value Added Tax Act of 1991. The Act categorizes “electronic communication services” together under Telecommunication Services, which are listed as standard-rated supplies.

Therefore legally in the tax code, VAT must be charged on any airtime or mobile data bundles purchased. Mobile networks like Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C collect and pay this over per the legislation.

Why Charge VAT on Airtime?

There are a few reasons why airtime is subject to standard-rated VAT:

Airtime is Seen as a Service, Not Basic Good

Some goods like basic food items are exempt from VAT because they are seen as essential goods. On the other hand, airtime enables access to mobile services which is considered a value-adding service rather than an essential basic good. Therefore VAT can be charged.

Mobile Services Utilize Infrastructure

The mobile networks utilize physical infrastructure like towers and cables to deliver their services. The maintenance and building of this infrastructure are taxed, so the cost is passed on through VAT on airtime and data.

Generates Tax Revenue

Given the ubiquitous use of mobile phones and the purchasing of airtime in South Africa, charging 15% VAT generates significant tax revenues. With many users buying airtime each month the tax income accumulated is substantial.

So in short, VAT legislation lists telecommunication services as standard-rated, airtime enables a mobile carrier service, and taxing airtime usage generates considerable revenues. Given these reasons, VAT is chargeable on airtime spent.

Impact on Consumers

The 15% VAT rate does add to the cost borne by mobile users in South Africa. Those buying pre-paid airtime or data bundles ultimately absorb this cost. The tax on services therefore makes mobile usage slightly less affordable.

However, the VAT is only charged upon the purchase of new airtime or data bundles. There is no additional recurring VAT applied when actual minutes, SMSs, or data are consumed from a user’s available credit.

Also, consumers do benefit from tax funds generated being used for national development. So while airtime VAT impacts spending power, citizens also gain from taxes through economic progress.

Zero-Rated Bundles

There are a few scenarios where VAT is not applicable on airtime and data purchases in South Africa:

International Bundles

When buying bundles specifically for international calls/SMSs or roaming data, the VAT charge does not apply. This airtime is treated differently in tax legislation.

Pre-Paid Vouchers

If one has a pre-paid airtime voucher, let’s say from a retail store promotion, redeeming this voucher does not trigger a VAT payment. Only purchasing vouchers would have had VAT, not using them.

So in a few cases, VAT is not charged on mobile bundle usage, though the standard 15% rate still widely applies on regular airtime and data buys.

VAT Registered Companies

For companies that are registered VAT companies in South Africa, they can claim input VAT credits on expenses like airtime and data bundle purchases for employees. This helps reduce the tax cost impact for corporations and businesses buying mobile services.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is VAT charged on airtime but not food?

Food is considered an essential basic good while airtime enables access to telecommunication services. The VAT Act exempts basic foods but standard-rates services, so airtime gets VAT but not bread or milk.

Can prepaid users claim back VAT on airtime?

Unfortunately not! Only registered VAT vendors can claim back input VAT, individual consumers cannot reclaim VAT paid. So prepaid users must absorb the 15% VAT cost.

What is the VAT if I buy R100 airtime?

With the 15% VAT rate, R100 airtime purchases will include R15 VAT. So the total deducted from your bank account will be R115 – the base R100 airtime plus R15 in VAT.

Is VAT charged every time I use data from my bundle?

No, VAT is only charged when you purchase a data bundle initially, not for actual usage. If you buy a 1GB bundle with VAT, using that 1GB is not further taxed.

Is VAT charged on monthly contract airtime? 

Yes, 15% VAT is charged even on contract airtime or data bundles. It may be built into your total monthly bill rather than visible upfront, but VAT still applies.

What if I get a promotional airtime voucher?

Pre-paid vouchers already had VAT charged when originally purchased, so redeeming a voucher does not trigger any new VAT. Only buying the voucher itself was taxed.


Standard-rated 15% VAT is charged on most airtime and mobile data purchases from networks like Vodacom and MTN in South Africa. This VAT rate applies per South African tax legislation which deems telecommunication services as taxable. Charging VAT on airtime generates substantial tax revenue due to the high usage of mobile phones.

While the VAT increases costs for consumers, they also benefit from taxes through economic development spending. Corporations can lessen the impact by claiming input VAT credits on airtime expenses. So the next time you purchase airtime or data, understand that the extra 15% charge is VAT as mandated per tax laws!

Moreover, if you want to calculate VAT use our VAT calculator and get estimates to know your tax!

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