Prepaid data plans and SIMs for travel to the UK

For anyone lucky enough to live and travel solely within the EU, roaming charges are falling. Fast. But if you are visiting the UK with a smartphone from outside the EU—from North America, Asia, Australasia, the Middle East or elsewhere—you need a local SIM with a prepaid data plan.

Getting the SIM is fairly easy. But which has the best data offering?Smart Phone Traveler's Guide to the UK

All plans I recommend below are good with nano, micro- and regular SIMs. And, of course, you will need an unlocked, 3G-compatible smartphone to access them.

 

O2

O2′s best prepay plan for visitors is called Pay & Go Go Go. The prepaid bundles depends on how much you top up. Add £10 credit for 75 UK talk minutes (to UK cellphones and fixed lines), 500 texts, and 250 MB of data, valid for a month. Top up with £20 and receive 250 minutes, 2500 texts, and 500 MB of data, valid for a month. For more data, add a Web Bolt-On: add 500 MB to any tariff at a cost of £6, or add 1 GB for £10. Both also include free Wi-Fi access at the countrywide BT Wi-Fi network.

 

T-Mobile

T-Mobile’s prepaid data add-ons are known as Smart Packs. These are prepaid usage bundles that come in three grades—choose the one you think most likely corresponds to your usage. The cheapest costs £10, is valid for 30 days and includes 1 GB of data, 100 minutes of domestic calls, and 400 domestic texts. For £15, the inclusive bundle offers 2 GB, 200 minutes and 600 texts. At £25, it’s 3 GB, 500 minutes and unlimited texts. To activate a Smart Pack from a T-Mobile SIM simply text SMART10, SMART15 or SMART25 to 441.

 

Orange

Orange has a bewildering array of prepaid plans, all named after animals. (“Sorry, I have no idea why,” is the answer to that question already forming in your head.) The key offering for data-hungry visitors to the UK is Dolphin. Top up £10 and—in addition to your credit—you’ll receive 400 free UK texts plus 1 GB of data. Top up £15 and that bonus rises to 600 texts and 2 GB. Top up £20 and it’s unlimited texts and 3 GB. Text DOLPHIN to 450 to join this plan.

 

Three

Three’s plan setup is very simple. Get a PAYG SIM (they’re free) and top-up £10 to get started: Three charges just 1p per MB for pay-as-you-go data. You can prepay for more data (and some calls) with an All-in-One add-on. All-in-One 10 includes 500 MB of data plus 100 minutes and 3000 texts, valid for a month, for £10. All-in-One 15 includes unlimited data, 300 minutes and 3000 texts for £15.

 

Vodafone

All Vodafone prepay users can choose a Freebee which gets added, alongside their credit, each time they top up. It is basically a bonus that users receive on top of the airtime. You can register for the Freebee of your choice when you buy a SIM, or add it later. However, remember to register before you top up. The best for browsers is probably Text & Web: top up £10 and get an extra 300 texts and 500 MB of Internet on top of your £10 credit. Top up £15 and that rises to 500 texts and 500 MB. To register for Text & Web Freebees, call 4350. An alternative for anyone who plans to do some talking too is the Freedom Freebee. These are prepaid plans rather than bonuses: £15 buys you 200 minutes, 600 texts and 100 MB; £20 is better value, buying 300 minutes, 3000 texts and 500 MB. Note: until July 31, 2013, Freedom Freebees come with unlimited Internet.

Freebees are valid for 30 days.

 

For a lot more information on scoring cheap prepaid phone deals in the UK, including:

  • how to get prepaid tariffs for calling home very cheap;
  • what to do if you don’t have an unlocked phone;
  • how to access 4G speeds from your smartphone;

and much, much more, I have written a Kindle eBook, The Smart Phone Traveler’s Guide to the UK. Buy it for just $2.99 here.

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19 Comments

  1. j September 7, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    when did u write this?

  2. j September 7, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    ah, july 1st.. my bad. thx

  3. Jack October 10, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Great info. For foreigners coming in its surprising how cheap calls are back to the U.S. Those costs would be great info to include in your roundup. Thanks for the well executed run down.

  4. Nick October 30, 2013 at 7:58 am #

    Thanks for this – really handy :)

  5. Adele October 31, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    I am assuming that when you say to text the particular carrier to get started that you need to have that carriers sim already installed? Is there a way to obtain the sim prior to arriving in the UK? I am from the US.

  6. Andy December 17, 2013 at 5:45 am #

    I want my SIM delivered to me in Australia before I fly to the UK. Overseas delivery is rarely mentioned by any forum or blog. UK providers mostly say they deliver only to UK addresses, the rest seem to imply it.
    So far I have found two outfits who will send me the SIM:
    http://www.visitbritainshop.com/world/travel-essentials/mobile-phone-products.html
    http://travelersmobile.com/

  7. Bogdan January 20, 2014 at 10:24 pm #

    I’m in the UK, just got a pay as you go Orange SIM, added £10 to my account and chose the Dolphin plan, only to get an SMS saying that my free texts and megabytes are going to be available starting next month, unless I pay another £10, in which case they’ll be kind enough to add them in the next 48 hours … This is BY FAR the worst fucking service I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. Of course, on the main page of the Dolpin option, it doesn’t say anything about that crap. I’m done with the fucking Orange rednecks for life.

  8. francois January 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Hello

    Where can I get a simcard with databundle of 60 Gb or more for the UK? How much would it cost?
    Francoistravel@yahoo.com
    Thanks in advance.

  9. Bogdan January 21, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Right. So, my Dolphin plan _was_ activated about 8 hours after the top-up, so apologies for the tone of my previous message are in order. I maintain though that they should have NOT sent me that message, because that’s simply misleading and if you followed it you could actually loose money. Other than that, the service seems to be fine, except that I’m unable to register my SIM with EE for my on-line account. But I’m guessing that’s probably going to be fixed soon.

  10. Donald Strachan January 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

    Hi Bogdan
    Good news… I was about to offer to help if I can, because it sounded like there was some kind of glitch. Glad it is now sorted.

  11. Hasan February 20, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    I have two T-Mobile ( US) phones which are not unlocked. Wondering if I buy the T-Mobile SIM , do I still need to get the phones unlocked ?

  12. Hannah February 21, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    Thanks for all the great tips – very useful for anyone visiting the UK.

    I’ve seen a lot of replies asking about getting sims posted abroad so that you have them before arrival in the UK.
    Although most sim providers don’t offer this service, I just wanted to let you know that you can order a giffgaff sim here > http://giffgaffgsimabroad.wufoo.com/forms/get-a-free-giffgaff-sim-abroad/ (from a member)

    Giffgaff is another UK mobile with fantastic prices and it’s easy to set up. If you have any other questions about giffgaff please feel free to email me hannahjane6299@aol.com . I use giffgaff myself so know a bit about them!

  13. Donald Strachan February 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Yes you do. It’s a different network.

  14. Grant February 25, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Hi, does anyone know of a pre-paid (PAYG) mobile sim for UK with Data, voice, SMS, and allows you to tether an iPad or similar device. (my iPad is wifi only & want to turn my phone into hotspot)

    Thanks!!!!

  15. Donald Strachan February 25, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    EE and Vodafone both allow tethering with their PAYG/prepaid plans. Just walk into a shop and sign up.

  16. Fenny March 4, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    OVIVO (http://www.ovivomobile.com/) now do some fantastic offers on SIM only deals, both for phones and tablets. The SIM costs £20, which breaks down as £5 admin and £15 credit. By far the best deal for low users, especially travelers who need to keep in touch with each other in country, is the Freedom 0 tariff. For the princely sum of absolutely nothing at all, apart from the initial £20, you get 300 minutes, 300 texts and 500Mb of data per month. The Freedom 0 Data sim gives a gig of data per month. If you want more, use the credit on your account to upgrade to Freedom 5 or Freedom 10 packages (£5 and £10 respectively). The credit is also used for any off plan calls – eg to overseas or premium rate numbers.

    Customers who recommend a friend get £5 credit added to their account when the second card is activated online. So if you’re going to buy more than 1 card, activate the first, then use that as the recommender’s number when activating the second to get more credit.

    I bought a Freedom 0 phone SIM as a backup in my spare phone and ended up giving it to my Dad, who had lost his phone. When I got a second spare for me, I gave him the extra credit.

    Not sure if these can be sent overseas, but if you know the address of where you’ll be on the first night, have it sent to your hotel/address.

  17. Adam Wells May 26, 2014 at 2:05 am #

    Hi there. Travelling to UK in 10 days. Wondering if you could recommend the best prepaid (and easy to get) sim that will give me at least 2gB data, and allows tethering to my laptop. Thanks!!! Adam

  18. jason June 8, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    Hi, any of the providers have service in Ireland? If not, any recommendations for Ireland SIM cards?

  19. Andrea J June 9, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

    Travelling to UK from Australia. Will the UK prepaid sim cards send photographs to friends in Australia? How much would it cost / who has the best plan to send photos and also retrieve emails? Any help will be much appreciated. Thanks, AJ

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