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How to set up a local SIM card in the United Kingdom

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Buy a local SIM card to reduce your roaming rates.

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. England’s capital city, London, is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, and other parts of the British Isles are extremely popular with international travelers. Using your phone there can be expensive, so to keep costs down, why not switch to a local SIM card so you can take advantage of better plans, deals and tariffs? The UK has prepaid SIM cards available for tourists, offering rates as low as £9.90 (US$12.40) per GB. So, whether you’re planning a quick break, an extended trip or a country hop, check out the best SIM card offers on finder.com.

Travel Sim Card

Travel Sim Card from SimCorner

SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards let you enjoy local call, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world.

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Details Features
Flexiroam Sim Card
Flexiroam Sim Card
If you're planning a trip that includes multiple countries, a Flexiroam X sim card can be much cheaper than roaming with your existing mobile number.
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SimCorner Travel Sim Card
SimCorner Travel Sim Card
Enjoy local calls, text and data rates in dozens of countries around the world with SimCorner's prepaid SIM cards.
  • Available in most major tourist destinations
  • 4GB data speeds
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Prices last updated 12 Sep 2017
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Telco providers in the UK

There are four main phone operators in the UK: EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three. All four operators have been tried and tested by both locals and international visitors, and all of them can be trusted. According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, the UK has a good signal throughout the British Isles. Some areas can suffer in the Scottish highlands and the Snowdonia mountain range in Wales, but overall the network coverage is one of the best in the world.

About the UK’s operators

All four operators offer prepaid SIM cards, and you can buy them from stores, supermarkets, kiosks, drug stores and official outlets, as well as all international airports. 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services are available on all networks for unlocked GSM phones. You can purchase a SIM card without having to show your passport, and your telephone number is already active when you buy it. To add credit, there are several prepaid card machines in corner stores around most towns and cities, and vouchers are also stocked in stores and supermarkets. UK is also part of the EU roaming pact, which means European data roaming rates can be used while traveling with a UK SIM card.

Below, we have broken down each telco provider and highlighted what they can offer you while traveling around the UK.

EE

EE is the UK’s largest operator and has the most customers on its 4G platform. It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services, and Internet speeds are fast. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved resellers, plus SIM card vending machines, corner stores and supermarkets. Credit can also be purchased from those same retailers, or you can upload top-ups by using your credit card online. SIM cards can be picked up for free, but credit or plans must be added in order to use them. The best option is to purchase a credit voucher and upload it onto your phone by texting “ETU” followed by the PIN code to 150. Dial 150 or text BA to 150 to check your balance.

The following combo packs can be added to prepaid SIM cards, and each is valid for 30 days:

PackageDataVoiceSMSPriceActivation
£1 Data Pack (week)100MB10 minutes10 SMS£1DP1
£10 Everything Pack500MB150 minutesUnlimited£10EP10
£10 Data Pack1GB100 minutes1,000 SMS£10DP10
£12.50 Everything Pack1GB300 minutesUnlimited£12.50EP12
£15 Everything Pack2GB500 minutesUnlimited£15EP15
£15 Data Pack*4GB250 minutesUnlimited£15DP15
£20 Everything Pack3GB750 minutesUnlimited£20EP20
£25 Everything Pack4GB1,000 minutesUnlimited£25EP25

Text the relevant activation code in the right-hand column to 150 to purchase your preferred plan.

The following data bundles can also be added:

100MB7 days£1
500MB7 days£3
500MB30 days£5
1GB30 days£7.50
3GB30 days£15

EE also offers a data-only SIM card. The following packages are available for tablets, modems and routers:

DataValid forPrice
2GB1 month£15
5GB£25
2GB
per month
3 months£30
6 months£50
12 months£90

The following can be added to the data-only SIM card:

  • 100MB: £2
  • 300MB: £5
  • 1GB: £10
  • 2GB: £15
  • 4GB (on LTE+): £20
  • 10GB (on LTE+): £30

EE’s APN: everywhere, and website: http://ee.co.uk/

Vodafone

Vodafone is the UK’s second-largest provider and is probably the best known. It has some great voice and data packages, and is popular with consumers. Vodafone offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services, and both network coverage and Internet speeds are good. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores, approved resellers, SIM card vending machines, corner stores and supermarkets. Credit can also be bought from the same retailers or online by using a credit card or PayPal. Credit can be purchased from £5 upwards in most retailers. SIM cards can be picked up for free, but credit or plans will have to be added in order to use them. SIM cards have to be activated before they can be used, so dial 4354 to activate. Dial *#1345# or 2345 to check your balance.

The following combo packs can be added to prepaid SIM cards, and each is valid for 30 days:

PriceDataCallsSMS
£5100MB100 minutes250
£101GB200 minutesUnlimited
£206GB1,000 minutesUnlimited
£3020GB2,000 minutesUnlimited

Vodafone also offers a reward system where you will receive bonus credit for certain amounts of credit uploaded. £10 top-ups will give you the same amount of credit and 500MB of data as a reward. A £20 top-up will give you the same amount of credit plus 1GB of data as a reward.

Vodafone’s APN: internet, and website: http://www.vodafone.co.uk/

O2

O2 is the third-largest operator in the United Kingdom, but in the past, it was one of the most problematic networks in the British Isles. Services at the time of writing in September 2017 are now much better, and O2 offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved resellers, and credit can be bought from the same retailers, most corner stores, supermarkets and gas stations.

Top-ups can be found in the form of Cashcards, which can be purchased from most retailers in the UK. Dial 4444 and enter the Cashcard number to add credit. Top-ups are sold for £10-£50. Dial *#10# to check your balance.

The following combo packages can be added to all prepaid SIM cards, and each is valid for 30 days.

PriceCallsSMSData
£10250 minutes1,000 SMS500MB
£10100 minutes100 SMS1GB
£15750 minutes2,000 SMS2GB
£201,500 minutes4,000 SMS3GB
£253,000 minutes4,000 SMS5GB
£303,000 minutes4,000 SMS20GB
(10 GB EU roaming)

Dial 2202 and select the relevant plan to activate.

The following data packages can also be added:

100MB£3
500MB£6
1GB£10
2GB£13

In addition, there is a data-only SIM card available:

  • 3GB valid for 30 days: £16
  • 5GB valid for 90 days: £25
  • 12GB valid for 90 days: £48

Data SIM cards can be topped up with the following add-ons:

DataTimePrice
300MB24 hours£3
300MB30 days£5
1GB30 days£10
3GB30 days£16
5GB30 days£20
8GB30 days£25
5GB90 days£25
12GB12 months£60
20GB12 months£75

O2’s APN : payandgo.o2.co.uk, and website: http://www.o2.co.uk/

Three

Three (3) is the smallest provider in the UK, but one that is gaining a lot of ground on the others. It offers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services and some of the best price plans and packages. Prepaid SIM cards can be picked up for free from official stores or approved resellers, and credit can be purchased from the same retailers, most corner stores, supermarkets and gas stations. Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) and data-only SIM cards are available.

The following packs are available on PAYG SIM cards:

  • Internet daily pass: 120MB for 24 hours, £0.50
  • Mobile Internet pass: 500MB for 30 days, £5
  • All-in-one-10: 1GB for 30 days, £10 (with 3,000 local minutes and 3,000 local texts)
  • All-in-one-15: 5GB for 30 days, £15 (with 3,000 local minutes and 3,000 local texts)
  • All-in-one-20: 12GB (9GB in EU roaming) for 30 days, £20 (with 3,000 local minutes and 3,000 local texts)
  • All-in-one-25: 30GB (9GB in EU roaming) for 30 days: GBP25 (with 3,000 local mins and 3,000 local texts)
  • All-in-one-35: All-you-can-use data (1TB cap applies in the UK, 9GB in EU roaming) for 30 days, £35 (with 3,000 local minutes and 3,000 local texts)

Credit can be purchased in the following denominations: £10, £15, £20, £25, £30 and £50. Dial 444 to upload credit.

There’s also a “Mobile Broadband” data-only SIM card available. The following two packs can be purchased:

  • 3GB data valid for 3 months: £16
  • 12GB data valid for 12 months: £30

In addition, the following data add-ons are available:

500MB1 day£2.99
1GB1 month£10
3GB1 month£15
7GB1 month£25

Three’s APN: three.co.uk, and website: http://www.three.co.uk/

Some top tips from finder.com staff:

  • Locals call a SIM card a “chip” or “SIM”.
  • English is the main language.
  • Ask the retailers to help set up the SIM card for you. They are official sellers and will be very happy to help.
  • Get to the stores early to receive the best help.

TripAdvisor tips for the best SIM cards and where to buy them

TripAdvisor reviews can help guide you through what SIM cards have been tried and tested in the United Kingdom.

Here are some top tips from TripAdvisor users:

Poundland stocks them as well, also potentially 99p stores but have a look in WH Smiths because they are possibly quoting a better value unlimited data and text plan along with good minutes.

You can get a Three SIM card online if you are in the UK and have a UK credit card. If you aren’t and don’t have a UK credit card and want it before you arrive in the UK you can order one on ebay.”

SIM cards come in different sizes. You’ll be able to get a SIM in whatever size your phone requires. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you travel.

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Pros and cons of the United Kingdom’s telco providers

You will need a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible international phone. To double check you have this option, or whether it’s possible to unlock your device, contact your provider before you set off on your travels.

Pros:

  • Prepaid credit when required
  • No in-store contract needed
  • Could be compatible with your current phone

Cons:

  • Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
  • Shop around for good data deals, because they can be expensive

More questions about finding the best SIM?

Q: What about other providers in the United Kingdom?

A: There are several MVNOs, including GiffGaff, Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, ASDA Mobile, Lebara mobile and many others that offer good deals. Check all options and the best deal before purchasing your SIM card.

Switch to a cell phone plan with international calling

Details Features
SIMPLE Mobile
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FreedomPop
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  • Plans: Individual, Family, Business
  • From: $0/month
  • Min. contract: None
  • The Basic 500 Plan gives you
    200 minutes, 500 texts and 500MB data for $0/month
  • Offers a Free talk, text & data plan
  • Data can rollover month to month
  • Call other FreedomPop users for free
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NET10 Wireless
NET10 Wireless
  • Plans: Data, Pay-As-You-Go, Home, Business, International
  • From: $20/month
  • Min. contract: None if you choose a Pay-As-You-Go
  • The Mega Data User Plan gives you
    Unlimited nationwide talk and text plus 10GB high-speed data for $60/mo
  • Nationwide coverage with flexible prepaid plans for talk, text & data.
  • Unlimited international talk for $65 a month.
  • No credit checks, no activation fees.
    Go to site More info
    Straight Talk Wireless
    Straight Talk Wireless
    • Plans: Individual, Family, Business & International
    • From: $30/month
    • Min. contract: None - Pay as you go
    • The Unlimited 5G Plan gives you
      Unlimited Talk, Text and Data for just $45/month
    • No contract option for nationwide coverage.
    • Unlimited international plan for $60 a month.
    • Bring your own phone.
      Go to site More info
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      10 Responses

      1. Default Gravatar
        KeithSeptember 28, 2018

        Good day,
        Traveling from South Africa I will buy a sim card in the UK, Will I be able to access my personal email, WhatsApp and facebook apps to send photo’s on the UK sim card?
        Regards
        Keith

        • finder Customer Care
          joelmarceloSeptember 28, 2018Staff

          Hi Keith,

          Thanks for leaving a question on finder.

          Definitely! Overall the network coverage in the UK is one of the best in the world. You can simply turn on your mobile data and you can access all your apps like you are in home. Apps will always depend on your mobile data or wifi, it doesn’t matter which country you access it from.

          Please send me a message if you need anything else. :)

          Cheers,
          Joel

      2. Default Gravatar
        SamsonSeptember 10, 2018

        Can you use a pre paid sim from the UK for roaming to the EU?

        • finder Customer Care
          AshSeptember 11, 2018Staff

          Hi Samson,

          Thank you for contacting finder.

          Yes, you may use the Prepaid SIM Card that you will buy in the United Kingdom to other member countries of the European Union (EU). Since there is a deal called “Roam Like At Home”, the rates should be the same for all Member States but you need to reach out to your provider first to ensure that this is activated on your SIM Card. You may check this page to know more about the rates within the European Union.

          I hope this helps. Please do not hesitate to contact us again.

          Let us know if you have additional question/s that we may assist you with.

          Cheers,
          Ash

      3. Default Gravatar
        SteveJune 23, 2018

        My wife and I are taking a British Isles Ocean Cruise. We arrive in London, from the USA, on 08/23/2018. We tour all of the islands and end up in Bergen, Norway on 09/08/2018.

        We have an iPhone 8 that is unlocked. We currently carry a cellphone plan with 2Gb of monthly data. Can you point me in the right direction to find a local SIM card that would carry about the same amount of service at a reasonable price?

        • finder Customer Care
          nikkiangcoJune 24, 2018Staff

          Hi Steve,

          Thanks for your inquiry.

          The page you’re in shows a list of carriers that provide the same 2GB of monthly data you need. You may also check this page for more options for your travel to London and end in Norway.

          Hope this was helpful. Don’t hesitate to message us back if you have more questions.

          Regards,
          Nikki

      4. Default Gravatar
        AneeshaJune 23, 2018

        Hey!
        I will be travelling to London from India. I’ll be staying in London for 3 weeks.I need advice on the best cellular carriers which provide international roaming plans at the best price.

        • finder Customer Care
          nikkiangcoJune 24, 2018Staff

          Hi Aneesha,

          Thanks for contacting finder.

          While we provide you with general information, please know that we’re a product comparison website hence we can’t provide any recommendation of a product or service.

          You may view this page to check on GLOBAL ROAMING.
          Just hover around the map and it will pop up mobile providers for each country.

          Hope this helps!

          Cheers,
          Nikki

      5. Default Gravatar
        MichaelApril 23, 2018

        We will be arriving in London from the USA. I have an iPhone with ATT. After five days in London, we will be in France and Spain for 10 days. If I buy, say, a Vodaphone 20 GBP SIM card, what else must I add to have it work seamlessly in France and Spain? Will any unused minutes still be available for my next trip to Europe?

        • finder Customer Care
          JoshuaApril 23, 2018Staff

          Hi Michael,

          Thanks for getting in touch with finder.

          If you want to save on your data, call, and text usage, it is good that you are considering to switch to a local telco provider. However, the Telcos in London, France, and Spain are different. Vodafone is available in Spain and London but not in France. You may still be able to use Vodaphone in France, but with a higher rate.

          Depending on your needs and preference, you might want to consider as well switching to a local SIM while you are in France and Spain. If this works for you, please go to this page for France and this page for Spain to know the telcos in those countries.

          I hope this helps. Should you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach us out again.

          Have a wonderful day!

          Cheers,
          Joshua

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