Visiting the UK for more than 30 days for work or study? We’ve rounded up the best UK SIM cards for your medium-term stay. An extended trip to the UK means you’ll want to get the most for your money—not rinsing cash on international rates.
First: Knowing your SIMs
Googling SIM types generally leads you to SIM sizes. The three options are nano, micro or standard—most modern phones use Nono. Fortunately, almost all UK providers use “trio SIMs”, which fit all three fittings. So the days of using converter kids or nervously cutting around the chip are more or less over.
Now, on to the two main SIM plans. These are either data + voice or data-only. As the name suggests, the former lets you make and receive calls, while the latter doesn’t.
Contract-free SIM-only deals in the UK
In the UK, you can only sign up for a long-term contract if you’re a resident—and you’ll usually be subject to a credit check first. So what if you’re staying for a few months or a year, but not making a permanent move? While the UK “big four” (EE, Vodafone, Three, 02) have short-term options, they’re often restricted to 30 days and some require a credit check anyway.
Luckily, there are a number of other providers offering contract-free, month-to-month SIM-only deals, which don’t require credit checks or stacks of paperwork. These provide the benefits and flexibility of prepaid/PAYG plans, with the perks of contracts. Some of the names in this game include giffgaff, VOXI (a great deal), SMARTY and Lebara. Here’s how they currently stack up.
Recommended London Accommodation
Note: All UK SIM cards listed here are data + voice. Calls are, unless otherwise specified, limited to within the UK. This is not an exhaustive list of packages, just an overview.
|Provider||Call minutes/Text||Data||Monthly cost||Link|
|Unlimited/Unlimited||5G ready unlimited||£30.00|
|500 UK+100 international/unlimited||1GB||£5.00||More info|
|Unlimited UK+100 international/Unlimited||6GB||£10.00|
|Unlimited UK+Unlimited international/Unlimited||12GB||£20.00|
Notes on the providers
VOXI: VOXI offers unlimited data for social apps—which goes for FaceBook, Whatsapp, Instagram and a few others. They’re also the first non-contract provider to offer an unlimited 5G ready service.
giffgaff: You can switch, upgrade or take a break from your tariff at any time. There are also cash or credit “payback points” for recommending new members or answering questions in the community forums.
Lebara: This network is popular with international residents thanks to its international call options. Call minutes are split between international and UK, with the ratio and countries depending on the package.
SMARTY: Uses the Three network. You can get some money back if you’re not using all your data, which is great if you don’t know how much you’ll be using.
PAYG UK SIM cards
Option number two is buying a plain-old PAYG (Pay-As-You-Go) SIM. These have changed a lot over the years and often come with minimum top-up fees and add-ons. To be cost-effective, it’s better to opt for a bundle—but most bundles are for 30 days. You’ll see some of the names above popping up in the PAYG market too—the lines between PAYG and contract-free but contract-like are increasingly blurred. Read more about PAYG UK SIM cards.
Whatever option you go for, you’ll want to make your data allowance go as far as possible. A few tips will keep your mobile data usage in check:
1. Turn off apps you don’t need—background applications (especially social media, e-mail, calendar, GPS etc). Turn off your notifications too—do you really need to know where your far-off friends checked-in for a coffee?
2. Only use GPS when you need it, and make sure your GPS data only roams when you do!
3. Install a data-managing app like My Data Manager for Android or Data man for iPhone to keep tabs on your usage.
4. Compress your data with free apps on Google Play or the AppStore.
While we do our best to make sure it is correct, all information is subject to change. Post published in September, 2018. Last updated June 18, 2019.