The United Kingdom consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This article covers only the UK and doesn't cover the Crown dependencies of Guernsey and Jersey (known as the Channel Islands) and the Isle of Man, all of which are part of the UK's +44 numbering plan despite being outside the UK, or any British overseas territories.
At many large airports, prepaid SIM cards are available from vending machines after passport control in the baggage reclaim hall before customs, and there are also convenience stores such as SPAR and WHSmith as well as manned specialist booths (e.g. SIM Local, WeKnowLondon) selling such SIM cards in their landside arrivals hall after customs; the latter typically charging a slightly higher mark-up price than when purchasing from vending machines or in town centre shops.
Starter packs are available online through the website of the provider to be delivered for free. For this you need to have an UK postal address. In many UK stores like supermarkets (Tesco, ASDA etc), newsagents or independent phone shops starters of major brands are sold for 99p. They don't include any credit and need to be topped up for use. All prepaid SIM cards are anonymous in the UK and don't require registration. That's why they can be sent all over the world by vendors through eBay and other sales channels.
The UK has 4 network operators:
- EE (for Everything Everywhere, by British Telecom)
- Vodafone UK
- Virgin Media O₂ (by Virgin Media and Telefónica)
- 3 (= Three by Hutchison)
About 50 MVNOs operate on all four networks. Each of them cater to niche markets.
EU roaming regulations and the UK
From now on when roaming with an EEA SIM card in the UK or with an UK SIM card in the EEA, check the roaming rates of your provider by carefully reading the roaming price list and look for the country group in which the UK or the EEA country is now categorised.
As a result of the tightening of customs rules and procedures following Brexit, all merchandise leaving or entering the UK from/to continental Europe needs to go through customs inspection from 2021 regardless of its value. This also applies to SIM cards ordered in the UK through platforms like eBay. This leads to more paperwork, additional fees and delays. The customs tariff is based on the value of the product and should be as low as possible. For SIM cards with a high balance already pre-loaded, expect to pay additional fees to UK customs. So it's better to buy the SIM card in the UK or buy a "free SIM" to be topped up later.
|2G GSM||1800 MHz||900 MHz
|2100 MHz||900 MHz
|800 MHz (B20)²
1800 MHz (B3)
2100 MHz (B1)
2600 MHz (B7)⁵
|800 MHz (B20)
900 MHz (B8)
1500 MHz (B32)⁴
1800 MHz (B3)
2100 MHz (B1)
2600 MHz (B7)⁵
2600 MHz (B38)⁵
|800 MHz (B20)
900 MHz (B8)
1800 MHz (B3)
2100 MHz (B1)
2300 MHz (B40)
2600 MHz (B38)⁵
|700 MHz (B28)
800 MHz (B20)³
1500 MHz (B32)⁴
1800 MHz (B3)
2100 MHz (B1)
|5G NR||700 MHz (n28)
3500 MHz (n78)
|3500 MHz (n78)||700 MHz (n28)
3500 MHz (n78)
|3500 MHz (n78)|
Where more than one frequency band is used per technology generation, the predominant frequency band in use is highlighted in bold.
¹ 1800 MHz for 2G is now rarely used by Vodafone & O₂.
² 800 MHz (Band 20) access on EE is available only to customers with a VoLTE-compatible handset or modem.
³ 800 MHz (Band 20) access on 3 is available only with a VoLTE compatible handset or modem.
⁴ 1500 MHz (Band 32) is a supplementary downlink band used for Carrier Aggregation (CA) with compatible handsets and modems, currently with limited coverage.
⁵ 2600 MHz (Bands 7 & 38) is mostly limited in coverage to larger towns and cities.
- 2G/GSM is on 900 and 1800 MHz; EE use 1800 MHz alone while Vodafone & O₂ mostly use 900 MHz (they used to also use 1800 MHz in built-up areas but this is now rarely seen as this frequency is now mostly used for 4G capacity). 3 does not have any 2G network.
- 3G/UMTS is on 900 and 2100 MHz; Vodafone and O₂ have largely moved their main 3G frequency to 900 MHz to free up 2100 MHz spectrum for 4G capacity in (mostly) built up areas, while EE and 3 are 2100 MHz only. 3G is currently being phased out and will be completely switched off starting in 2023 by Vodafone.
- 4G/LTE started in 2013 on all networks and is now on B1 (2100 MHz), B3 (1800 MHz), B7 (2600 MHz), B8 (900 MHz), B20 (800 MHz), B28 (700 MHz), B32 (1500 MHz Suppl. DL), B38 (2600 MHz in TD-LTE) and B40 (2300 MHz in TD-LTE). The three most used bands are in bold, but this varies between providers.
- 5G started in 2019 on 3500 MHz (n78) in major city centres by all four national carriers followed by 700 MHz (n28) by EE and O₂ in limited locations. 5G was to be added by two more networks, Sky Mobile and BT, in 2020. According to OpenSignal 5G availability in 2021 was between 5% and 10% of population on all operators. As of 2022, only Three and Vodafone and some of their sub-brands as well as some O₂ resellers offer 5G to prepaid customers.
Coverage and speed
2G coverage is quite good and 3G covers more than 90% of the population, but there are still black spots without any mobile coverage, particularly in rural and remote areas. So if you go to a remote area in the countryside, it's wise to check coverage beforehand. In some places especially in the London metropolitan area slow speeds caused by network overload may occur.
According to OpenSignal in 2021, EE leads in 4G/LTE coverage at 95% as well as in speed with 39 Mbit/s on average. In terms of coverage, Vodafone and O₂ are on par in second place with 89.5%, followed by Three with 84%. The same picture emerges when only the London metropolitan area is considered.
EE and Three have a joint venture partnership since 2007 called Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL) which allows both operators to share some antennas and network equipment with each other, however, this does not necessarily apply to all areas of the UK with some rural areas as well as the westbound direction of the Channel Tunnel remaining complete black spots for Three.
Vodafone and O₂ have their own separate join venture company called Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure Limited (CTIL) founded in 2012 which allow both operators to share cell sites but not any network equipment installed at such sites. Under the Project Beacon upgrade programme running since 2017, the UK has been split into separate Vodafone and O₂ host areas; with Vodafone managing the western half of England, Wales, a small portion of southwest Scotland and the southern half of Greater London (below the Thames), while O₂ manages the eastern half of England, most of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the northern half of Greater London (above the Thames). While CTIL and Project Beacon have helped massively improve Vodafone and O₂ coverage in recent years, there are still reports of mobile data congestion and/or random black spots when e.g. using a Vodafone (+ MVNOs and Voxi) SIM in some O₂ host areas (and vice versa).
2G and 3G shutdown
In mid-2021, EE and Vodafone announced plans to switch off their 3G networks by the end of 2023 in order to free up more spectrum for 5G. Later that same year the UK government has agreed with all four network operators to sunset all 2G and 3G services by 2033 at the very latest. In May 2022, Three announced plans to switch off its 3G network by the end of 2024.
There is still no mobile coverage in the train tunnels of the London Underground ("the Tube"), except on the Jubilee Line between Westminster and Canning Town where all four networks provide 4G coverage since March 2020. Just before the London 2012 Olympics, Virgin Media started to build up WiFi coverage in Tube stations. By 2017, 250 Tube stations were covered including their ticket halls, escalators, corridors and platforms. However, depending on the capabilities of your device, don't expect immediate coverage on the train as it arrives at a station at which you are not alighting, because by the time it connects to the WiFi network, the train's doors will have closed and the train would be moving again. You usually have to manually force your device to connect if you want to do so during a short stop at a station. Coverage is yet to be provided in several stations and coverage is not planned in four stations, most notably Heathrow T5. In December 2021, EE and Three announced a deal to cover the entire underground network of London by 2024. Further coverage information is available from Transport for London and Virgin Media.
Previously customers, including prepaid, of all four UK network operators could use this WiFi for free, until Vodafone quietly dropped its support in 2021. EE customers need to have topped up at least £5 in the last 30 days, O₂ customers need to have topped up their phone at least once in the last 30 days; and Three customers need to have done any activity within the last 30 days. MVNOs are mostly unsupported. Giffgaff recently announced a beta launch, but it's not yet reliable. Virgin Media sells standalone passes for its WiFi (1 day = £3, 1 week = £5 or 1 month = £15), but it's generally cheaper to meet the minimum requirements of network providers. After logging in for the first time, the system indefinitely remembers your device's MAC address for future usage and you will not need to log in again. Then at the beginning of your journey, you need to load any website in your web browser, which redirects to a splash page, and you should not need to do so again during the rest of your journey. Sometimes you might have to reload the splash page on longer journeys, and some Tube stations, e.g. Waterloo, randomly suffer authentication problems whereby you have to log in all over again, but waiting until the next station can avoid having to do so.
In the Channel Tunnel (also known as Eurotunnel) between UK and France there is no WiFi, but mobile coverage 45 metres below the sea bed (up to 100 metres below sea level) in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE. Coming from France to the UK, coverage is provided by all four French networks Orange, SFR, Bouygues and Free. In the opposite direction of travel, coverage is provided by the UK networks EE, Vodafone, O₂, but not Three.
No registration, PAYG
Prepaid SIM cards are anonymous in the UK and by default unregistered, although some providers may encourage you to register with them. But this is only for identification when accessing your account online or with a call centre.
Prepaid is usually called "pay-as-you-go" (in short "PAYG") in the UK, although there is usually a distinction between true PAYG incremental charges (now extremely rare in the UK as in other countries) and prepaid monthly packages such as giffgaff's goodybags. This guide starts with all 4 physical network providers followed by their most significant resellers or MVNOs in the market.
Prepaid SIM cards in the UK are delivered with a so-called "Content Lock" in place. This is to protect minors from accessing adult content. The problem is that a white-listing approach is used for this, meaning that everything that has not been actively approved as non-adult will be treated as "adult".
This can seriously interfere with your internet accessibility, e.g. some users could not use their instant messaging services. Even emails and all "unguided" forums like Facebook or Twitter can be affected. However this can be bypassed using a VPN or proxy app/software to conceal your identity
The usual way to disable the content lock is to enter credit card data to prove your age; but this often only works with UK-issued credit cards, not any debit cards and some cards from abroad may be declined. Therefore when you buy a new SIM card in store, insist that the lock will be removed right away (which takes one minute). For this you may need to provide some form of ID (such as a passport) to prove your age if you look young.
Topping-up your UK SIM can be done in three different ways, but only one of them remains accessible to most visitors. Top-ups are nearly always possible only in increments of £5 or £10, depending on the provider and top-up channel.
Topping up via an ATM (often known generically in the UK by Lloyds Bank's "Cashpoint" trademark) is widely accepted, but you need to have an UK-issued credit or debit card for that. Foreign cards are usually not accepted. This applies to Three UK in particular and O₂, not so much for EE, Vodafone and many resellers that have begun to accept foreign credit cards.
Unfortunately, the same is true to online top-ups on some websites of the providers. Only debit and credit cards issued in the UK are allowed for recharges; all others are declined. This very restrictive policy is supposedly to avoid fraud, but shuts out many customers. As long as you are in the country, you can always buy scratch cards or top-up vouchers from vendors that are widely available in shops throughout the UK. These shops are marked by a green top-up sign and normally sell credit for all providers. The minimum top-up amount is usually £5, with a few providers £10.
This leaves visitors with a tricky task - how to refill from abroad while not having this domestic option or a UK-based bank card, in order to keep a SIM card alive or just to add some credit. There are few private online service providers like ding.com, uksims.eu, kwikpay.com, recharge.com and swiftrecharge.com which accept various payment methods such as credit cards, paypal and bitcoin, or with Bitcoins Bitrefill that accept international cards for a 10-15% surcharge. As all these procedures are troublesome, think them over before you leave the UK. Recently, PayPal has started Xoom to top-up most UK providers from your PayPal account and Amazon has launched a similar service for its customers.
SIM card validity
The four major network operators (EE, Vodafone, O₂ and 3) and most of their MVNOs have an expiry policy of 6 months (or 180 days) since the last balance increase or decrease. It's usually sufficient to receive a call every 6 months, because this generates revenue, albeit small, for the network, but you can't rely on this as it's not official policy with most networks. Most networks also operate a grace period after expiry, during which they will reinstate an expired SIM card including credit if you contact them; Vodafone openly states that its grace period is 3 months.
The expiry policy is shorter with some MVNOs, but similarly any balance increase or decrease suffices. For example, Lycamobile is 90 days; Lebara is 84 days; Vectone and Delight are 120 days,
If you want to keep your SIM alive for a future visit, remember that you may face problems topping up from abroad; compare validity periods in this guide. Also, for SIM cards that continue to offer surcharge-free roaming, you might face surcharges if you use the SIM outside the UK more than in the UK during a given time period.
It's still tricky to get an eSIM for PAYG plans in the UK. EE issues eSIMs to prepaid customers, but they might have to be specially requested from customer services. EE charges £1.50 for sending a physical SIM or eSIM by mail. With Vodafone it's not possible to order an eSIM online, once a physical SIM card is received, it can be immediately swapped online to an eSIM without charge. O₂ has been stating since February 2020 that "it won’t be long before we can offer eSIMs to all our customers with compatible phones", but eSIMs for O₂'s prepaid customers remain unavailable almost two years later in December 2021. Three launched eSIM in September 2020, but quickly restricted availability to a small number of its shops in northern England, presumably because there were technical problems with the launch. Three then completely ceased issuing eSIM on 5th November 2020 when all non-essential shops were required to close due to COVID-19 pandemic and crisis. Even by 2021, Three has not yet restarted issuing eSIMs.
EE (formerly Orange and T-Mobile)
EE (originally called Everything Everywhere) was created in 2010 by the merger of T-Mobile UK and Orange UK to become the then-largest operator in the UK in terms of subscribers (until the Virgin Media-O2 merger in 2021) under the joint ownership of Deutsche Telekom and Orange (formerly France Télécom). BT Group plc (formerly British Telecom) acquired EE in 2015/6, after having no UK network of its own since it sold O₂ (formerly BT Cellnet) to Telefónica in 2006. Some old devices and SIM cards still show EE's network as T-Mobile, whose MNCs (mobile network codes), particularly 234-30, survived the 2010 merger, unlike Orange's MNCs which were dropped.
EE's 2G is on 1800 MHz, 3G/UMTS on 2100 MHz with the highest coverage in the UK at 98%. They were the first to start 4G/LTE which is now broadcast on B1 (2100 MHz), B3 (1800 MHz), B7 (2600 MHz) and B20 (800 MHz) EE coverage map with B3 as main frequency. In 2020 Ofcom certified EE a 99% population coverage by 4G which amounts to roughly 85% of land area. This is the widest 4G coverage of any UK network. 5G has started in towns and cities and has reached 160 centres in 2021 on n78, but is not available for prepaid yet.
Most reviews agree that EE has the best network with the widest coverage and highest speeds in the country. In benchmark tests EE is frequently the top scorer in the UK. This therefore comes at the highest prices on the market.
EE sells triple-size SIM cards with 4G/LTE included. They call them pack and they are sold for 99p in EE stores and outlets: (Store locator) or online for free to be sent to an UK postal address for free. They don't have any credit, but you can get starters with a first pack included for the price of the pack.
EE issues eSIMs to prepaid customers, but they might have to be specially requested from customer services. EE charges £1.50 for sending a physical SIM or eSIM by post, and it is unclear whether this charge applies also to an eSIM supplied electronically.
You may need an UK-issued credit card to top-up online. Alternative approaches for non-UK credit cards include:
- Buy a top-up voucher in-person, available all over the country. You'll get a receipt with a voucher code. To add the credit to your account, send a text to 150 containing the letters VO, followed by a space, and then the voucher PIN code.
- Top-up using the automated phone system (dial 150), which accepts some non-UK cards (verified with a US-issued Visa card as of 9/2019).
- Use one of the online services mentioned in the introduction when your non-UK credit/debit card is declined.
Be aware that EE is the only mainline provider in the UK (+ Voxi) that requires activation of its SIM card on the home network within the UK. Any activation through a foreign roaming network may fail. So it's not a good idea to try to activate an EE SIM card abroad.
To check your balance, dial 150 or text BA or AL to 150.
If you don’t call, text or top-up for 180 days, you will be disconnected and you’ll lose any credit on your account.
Combo feature packs
Their packs for voice, text and data SIMs all come with a combo of roll-over data, unlimited voice (500 mins in £10 pack) and text included for a 30 days at max. speed:
|Price||Voice||SMS||Data||EU cap||available Add-ons|
|£5||250 mins||500||250 MB||100 MB, 250 MB, 1 GB|
|£10||500 mins||unlimited||5 GB*||300 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB, unlimited|
|£15||unlimited||unlimited||15 GB*||2 GB, 3 GB, 10 GB, unlimited|
|£20||unlimited||unlimited||30 GB*||25 GB||3 GB, 12 GB, unlimited|
|£30||unlimited||unlimited||100 GB||25 GB||3 GB, 12 GB, 50 GB, unlimited|
(*): As an ongoing promotion they give double data for new customers to their £10-£20 packs.
To activate, stop or change packs, go online on your EE account. All packs auto-renew after 30 days. Text 'STOP PACK' and 'YES' to 150 to disable auto-renew.
If you have not used all of the data allowance in your pack when the pack ends, unused data (except bonuses) will be added to the next pack that you buy (which may be of different size). You must buy a new pack within 7 days of the expiry of the original pack with unused data to qualify for data rollover. Rollover data lasts for the duration of the validity period of the new pack and will not roll over a second time, if you still don't use it up.
If you have used up any of your allowances, you can start a new pack early. Check if you have enough credit and then text 'NOW' to 150. They'll remove your current pack and replace it with a new one. Yet it might be a better idea to add extra data online as an add-on:
|100 MB||7 days||£2||£5|
|2 GB||£8||£10, £15|
|3 GB||£10||£15, £20, £30|
|12 GB||30 days||£20||£20, £30|
|unlimited*||£40||£10, £15, £20, £30|
(*) = domestic FUP of 600 GB per billing cycle
For activation text code to 150 or online.
For data use only and SMS EE sells their '4GEE WiFi SIMs' as prepaid/PAYG offer too. It's a mobile broadband SIM without voice capability, that can be used for tethering, hence the name 'WiFi SIM', not a WiFi pass. These starters are sold online or in their stores with preloaded data:
|200 MB||30 days||£1|
|6 GB||90 days||£30|
The full price for all of the validity must be paid in advance. For more data or months, one of these data add-ons can be activated online:
|for 30 days||for 90 days|
EE adopts "roam like at home" rules to all their pay-as-you-go allowances for EU roaming at domestic rates without restrictions. The Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Switzerland belong to their roaming zone without surcharges. EE states a FUP cap of max. 25 GB per month to be used in EU roaming.
EE has announced surcharges for roaming in all EU/EEA countries (except Ireland) effective 1/JAN/2022 for all new and upgrading customers signing up to EE from 7/JUL/2021. This doesn't refer to prepaid plans shown above, only to new pay-monthly (= bill pay/postpaid) costumers.
- Tethering and VoIP are allowed; peer-to-peer is not
- APN: everywhere
- Website: http://ee.co.uk/
Vodafone Group plc is a British-based global telecommunications company, which owns and operates networks in 22 countries. It's the only UK network to have never been owned by a non-UK company. The UK is therefore Vodafone's domestic home market.
Vodafone in the UK has a good coverage on its self-hosted 2G (900 and 1800 MHz) and 3G (900 and 2100 MHz) nationwide networks and has rolled out 4G/LTE on B1 (2100 MHz), B3 (1800 MHz), B7 (2600 MHz), B8 (900 MHz), B20 (800 MHz), B32 (1500 MHz Suppl. DL) and B38 (2600 MHz in TD-LTE) with B20 as main frequency: Vodafone coverage map. Also has mast sharing since 2012 with O2 under CTIL and Project Beacon.
In 2018 Vodafone offers 99% population coverage across the UK. This includes 96% coverage on 3G and 4G each. It has also started with 5G on 3600 MHz (n78) in major cities so far. Vodafone was the first UK operator to open up 5G for prepaid customers, through its youth brand Voxi (see below) and now some of its own bundles. Vodafone's 3G network is currently being phased out and refarmed to 5G with a scheduled complete switch off by 2023.
Vodafone is the first UK operator to reintroduce surcharges for roaming in the EU/EEA on all its prepaid options in 2022.
Order a free SIM card online to be sent to an UK postal address or from any Vodafone store for free. Although it is not possible to order an eSIM online, once a physical SIM card is received, it can be immediately swapped online to an eSIM without charge. Otherwise, they are sold for 99p in many supermarkets and news agents.
Recharge starting at £5 in their stores or many other kiosks or convenience stores throughout the country.
Vodafone accepts PayPal for online top-ups. That's how you can bypass the UK bank card scheme, but a bad FX rate is given by PayPal if you don't opt out of PayPal's FX conversion and let your card issuer do the FX. Some international credit/debit cards also work for top-ups.
To check balance, enter *#1345# or dial 2345.
Vodafone is degrading its pricing and conditions with effect from January 2021, for new and existing customers on both its older Simply plan and its newer Pay as you go 1 plan. Freebie Data still applies to these old plans, but is not mentioned here anymore as all new customers need to buy a Big Bundle.
Vodafone's SIM cards are valid for 180 days after you "carry out any chargeable outbound activity such as making an outbound call (excluding calls to 191), sending an SMS, using data or topping up your account". You will receive warnings by SMS after 90 days and a further 45 days before your line is disconnected after a total of 180 days.
Vodafone started supporting wifi calling for prepaid customers in January 2021.
Big Value Bundles
These combo plans are offered with unlimited calls and SMS for 30 days:
(*) = capped at 25 GB in EU roaming.
For purchase or renewal of bundles you can use their app, online account or text the code to 49501.
Unused data (not the bonus data, only regular data) rolls-over to the next month (except on the £40 plan), when it needs to be consumed.
If you exceed your data allowance you'll be charged £2 per day for the first 50 MB you use outside of your bundle, and 10p per MB after that. If you need extra data, two add-on packages can be added to the Big Value Bundles which can also be renewed ahead of time when used up:
- 500 MB extra for £5 by calling 34441
- 2 GB extra for £10 by calling 46205
EU roaming (surcharged)
Vodafone adopted Roam like at home and most allowances can be used without surcharges for roaming in the EU/EEA in 2017. Some additional countries have been included to their surcharge-free "Europe Zone", including the Faroe Islands, the Isle of Man and Switzerland. There is a general FUP cap of max. 25 GB per month to be used in EU roaming. A full list of roaming countries to be used without surcharges (until Dec 2021) is available.
After Brexit Vodafone has announced surcharges for roaming in all EU/EEA countries (except Ireland) effective 1/JAN/2022 for all new and upgrading pay monthly customers signing up to Vodafone from 11/AUG/2021. For all pay-as-you-go customers surcharges apply from 8/JUN/2022. In 2022 Vodafone is the first UK provider that surcharges EU roaming on prepaid/PAYG with the exception of Ireland and the Isle of Man. For roaming in the EU/EEA you'll need to buy extra roaming passes to use your domestic allowance of your UK plan abroad (except in Ireland). Passes are given out per day at and the roaming data cap of Vodafone of 25 GB additionally applies.
Vodafone started in 2017 with an own youth oriented brand. Originally aimed at customers who are under 30 years of age, the network offers 30-day rolling plans with "endless" social data. Since 2019 age is not verified anymore and anyone can use Voxi.
These plans are offered with unlimited calls and texts plus unlimited social media, 5G is now available on all plans:
- 15 GB data: £10
- 30 GB data + Video Pass: £15
- 60 GB data + Video Pass: £20 (roaming cap: 20 GB)
- unlimited data: £35 (roaming cap: 20 GB)
Unlimited use of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest), chat apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Viber) and in some packages video apps (YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, My5, TVPlayer and UKTV) are included for free (but not when assessed via Internet browser). Data volumes are valid in the EU/EEA too, but not the zero-rated plans or passes. You can add Music Pass for unlimited audio streaming (on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, Soundcloud, Amazon Prime Music and Napster) for £5. If you run out of data, you buy additional 1 GB for £3.
To join Voxi you can buy a discounted starter pack. Otherwise you can migrate any usual Vodafone PAYG SIM card to Voxi through the Voxi website. An age restriction which was loosely enforced but not controlled, has been scrapped in 2019 and you don't need to specify your age anymore. A Voxi SIM needs to be activated on the Vodafone UK network, not from abroad.
Voxi is hybrid prepaid. This means that the monthly plan is charged on a credit card (out-of UK cards accepted) or a PayPal account, but can be stopped anytime through your online account called dashboard. For all additional consumption you need to top up. If you run out of data, you can restart any plan anytime.
Note that Voxi has recently introduced some restrictions to curb excessive roaming: a general FUP cap of max. 20 GB of data per month to be consumed in the EU/EEA, the mandatory activation on the Vodafone UK network of the SIM card and the cancelling of all zero-rating offers for video streaming when roaming outside the UK. From 27 May 2022, roaming in the EU/EEA will be surcharged, To use your domestic allowance, you need to buy roaming passes at a rate of £1 per day.
- APN: pp.vodafone.co.uk
- Website for Vodafone: http://www.vodafone.co.uk/
- Website for Voxi: https://www.voxi.co.uk/
O₂ (by Virgin Media O₂)
Virgin Media O₂ is jointly owned by Spanish Telefónica and Liberty Global, after O₂ UK merged in 2021 with the UK's leading fibre broadband provider Virgin Media to jointly form the new company, which has now the most mobile subscribers in the country. It has good own coverage nationwide using 2G on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 900 and 2100 MHz and has started 4G/LTE on 800 MHz (B20) only. This was added by B1 (2100 MHz), B3 (1800 MHz) and on TD-LTE B40 (2300 MHz) staying with B20 as main frequency: O₂ coverage map. Also has mast sharing with Vodafone since 2012 under CTIL and Project Beacon.
In 2019, O₂ offered 99% population coverage (including 98% coverage on 3G and 97% coverage on 4G). As it originally employed the 800 MHz band (B20) only, it has focused rather on wide coverage than on high speeds. So it gives a rather mixed picture, its 2G for voice and 3G for casual browsing is generally decent, while its 4G is known to be slow. In 2018 it acquired new spectrum on band 40 (2300 MHz in TD-LTE) that it began to use in 2018 to boost coverage and speed in metro areas. Additionally, in October 2020 it purchased band 38 (2600 MHz in TD-LTE) spectrum that was previously held by EE and it's expected to be brought into service in parts of the country during 2021. This band might not be compatible with all 4G devices on the market. Like EE, O₂ has yet to open 5G access for its PAYG packages.
The SIM cards are for free ordered online to be sent to an UK postal address or bought at their stores and outlets all over the UK for 99p or the package price. Standard, micro SIMs and nano SIMs are all available online via the O₂ website.
It is still possible to find old O₂ SIM cards, on the discontinued Classic Pay As You Go tariff of 1p/MB, 2p/text and 3p/min, on sale in Co-op supermarkets for under £1. These SIM cards have an expiry date by which time they must be activated. When activated, these SIM cards are on the Classic Pay As You Go tariff.
Cashcards for top-ups can be found all over the country in any O₂ shop or anywhere where you see the green top-up logo. Then call 4444 free from your mobile, enter the number on your receipt and follow the instructions. Top-ups are between £10 and £50. To check balance press *#10#.
A top-up voucher expires after 12 months. Validity of the SIM is 180 days from date of last activity.
O₂ has been stating since 2nd February 2020 that "it won’t be long before we can offer eSIMs to all our customers with compatible phones", but eSIMs for O₂'s prepaid customers remain unavailable almost two years later in December 2021.
They offer two prepaid product lines with voice, text and data:
Classic Pay as you go, Big Bundles and International. Take care that plans come with an horrendous default rate of £3 per MB, but shut-off having reached £2 (or 660 KB) per day. You can't switch between these lines. Better buy bundles or bolt-ons from the start. Their Classic Pay as you go plan was withdrawn from the market in 2019, but can be still found occasionally and activated if the starter pack has not expired yet (check sleeve). The same applies to the International starter pack. All new starters are on Big Bundles.
O₂ Big Bundles
You need to top-up and choose one of the combo bundles (shown below) for 30 days as base plan. This can be added by Bolt-ons for extra data. All plans include unlimited calls & SMS
- £10: 10 GB
- £15: 20 GB
- £20: 30 GB (EU roaming cap: 25 GB)
- £30: 100 GB (EU roaming cap: 25 GB)
Activation is online on your account or by calling 2202. All packages now include data roll-over to the next month, when it need to be consumed. Take care that you surf outside of these bundles at an excessive default rate of £3 per MB, capped at £2 per day. New customers can claim £10 free credit when buying any O₂ Big Bundle. To claim credit, text FREE10 to 21500 within 28 days of activating the SIM. There is also a £5 credit for new customers when using the O₂ app.
These data add-ons for extra data can be added for extra data:
- 50 MB for the rest of the day: £1, activation: WEBDAILY
- 500 MB for 30 days: £5, activation: SNACK500 (once-off) or ROUND (recurring)
- 3 GB for 30 days: £12, activation: ULTIMATE (recurring)
Activation is online on your account, by calling 2202 for free or texting the code to 21300.
Data-only SIM (also called Tablet plans, iPad plans)
O₂ sells prepaid data-only SIMs with no voice that are called Tablet plans or iPad plans. They come in all three sizes and in 3 different starter packs:
- 1 GB for 30 days: £10
- 3 GB for 90 days: £16
- 5 GB for 90 days: £25
- 12 GB for 90 days: £40
For topping up these data SIMs the following top-ups are offered:
|300 MB||24 hours||£3|
|300 MB||30 days||£5|
|5 GB||90 days||£25|
|12 GB||12 months||£60|
You are allowed to change plans as often as you like. Data lasts for the period and renews automatically thereafter. You can save 10% on the monthly plans of £10 or more, when you link it to auto top-up. Note that on O₂'s mobile data plans all European roaming is blocked. It works only in the UK.
O₂ has adopted 'roam like at home' to all voice and data PAYG plans with EU/EEA roaming at domestic rates limited to a general cap of 25 GB per month. Unlike other providers that shut off data having exceeded this cap, O₂ has announced that customers will have to pay a surcharge to access more data of £3.50 per GB.
Some destinations like the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Monaco or Switzerland have been excluded from their Europe zone for PAYG and are now only available on Travel Pay As You Go. For £1.99 a day, you'll get 100 MB data there. To activate this pass text 'TRAVELON' to 21300. In 2018 roaming on 4G/LTE networks in many European countries has started. Roaming is generally blocked on data-only plans like the Tablet or iPhone Plans.
- APN : payandgo.o2.co.uk
- User Name: payandgo
- Password : password
- Website: http://www.o2.co.uk/
3 (= Three) UK
3 (Three) owned by the Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa is the runner-up or challenger of the UK providers. While it started as late as 2003 and has the smallest market share, it has gained many customers by the most aggressive pricing. 3 has no 2G transmitters, only 3G, 4G and 5G with very limited voice/text fallback to EE's 2G (at former Orange sites) in some low coverage areas. Three has mast sharing with EE under MBNL in some areas, but not all.
You need to have a 3G phone on 2100 MHz and for 4G a device that can carry at least 800 and 1800 MHz (3, 20) bands. 2G-only phones simply don't work on Three. Coverage can be worse in the countryside compared to the three other UK networks, unless you have a handset that supports Three's VoLTE. Voice coverage in urban areas can be better than prepaid with the other networks, because Three supports WiFi calling on prepaid with many handsets (including iPhones), meaning that you get coverage in London Underground (Tube) stations for example.
Three launched 4G/LTE services in 2013 which are now on B1 (2100 MHz), B3 (1800 MHz), B20 (800 MHz), B32 (1500 MHz Suppl. DL) with B3 and B20 as main frequencies. Though they claim "99.8% outdoor population coverage" in 2020, Three's 4G/LTE coverage doesn't add up to the level of its three rivals so far according to network tests, and especially in cities such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh, Three's 4G speeds can very often slow to a crawl even during high usage times due to its 4G network being massively oversold. Three has therefore started building heavily on 5G as they own 140 MHz of 5G, much more than any other UK network operator. 5G is available for Three's PAYG customers without the need to purchase an add-on or take any action such as replacing their SIM card (customers however will obviously need to provide their own 5G-ready device): Three coverage map.
On the other hand Three offers one of the most extensive coverage for roaming at domestic rates, limited not only to the usual EU/EEA area, but including many other countries too. Its roaming is called 'Go Roam' (previously "Feel at home"); see below.
Three sends out SIM cards for free, either online or in its stores. It stays valid for 6 months since the last activity. Three has different products which shouldn't be confused:
- Pay-as-you-go SIMs for phones as new "supercharged" plans
- Mobile Broadband plans for tablets and modems (some of which support voice and SMS) and free Data Reward optionsd
Purchase for 99p in a store (supermarket, news agent etc.), also available online to be sent to an UK postal address.
Extra credit can be bought from anywhere displaying the green 'top up' logo. Vouchers are available for £10, £15, £20, £25, £30 and £50 and must be activated within 90 days of purchase online or by calling 444. Credit never expires on Three SIMs, but your SIM plan can be terminated when there is no activity for more than 180 days.
Three launched eSIMs on 25th September 2020, but quickly restricted availability to a small number of its shops in northern England, presumably because there were technical problems with the launch. Three then completely ceased issuing eSIMs on 5th November 2020 when all non-essential shops were required to close due to COVID-19. Even by February 2021, Three has not yet restarted issuing eSIMs.
Three supports VoLTE and WiFi calling for all prepaid customers.
It has proven difficult to top-up Three UK SIM cards for non-residents outside the country. In the UK you can buy vouchers in shops, but outside the UK the only option is credit or debit cards. The problem is that Three UK used to limit acceptance to credit/debit cards issued in the UK only. This is checked by the registered UK address of this credit card (as opposed to the BIN which indicates the country of issue). So some cards not registered on an UK address are declined, which makes it very hard to top up. Recently, this policy has been loosened, but some workarounds have been established too:
- Some non-UK American Express credit cards can't be checked properly for their address and might work anyway.
- The Kwikpay service accepts non-UK credit and debit cards and does the recharge on their online page (not through the app) for a £1 fee.
- You can buy a prepaid debit card while you in the UK and use it to top-up Three SIM cards.
- PayPal has introduced Xoom and Amazon an own top-up service that both don't charge fees, but only slightly unfavourable exchange rates
- Swiftrecharge.com accepts all type of bank cards (credit card, debit card and prepaid cards) including non-UK issued cards, alternatively you can pay with Bitcoin, USDT or Ethereum. There is additional 6%-10% convenience fee.
- As a last resort, there are some third party agencies like mobiletopup.uk and myphonecard.co.uk that will do the top-up for a high surcharge of 10%-20%, but should only be used as a last resort.
Data Reward SIM
Three introduced its new "Data Reward SIM" originally in 2016 to match the offer of FreedomPop at that time. Despite its name, it's a full-service SIM with voice, SMS and data, which is still charged at the favourable 3p/min, 2p/SMS and 1p/MB of the previous voice SIMs, and 200MB every 30 days completely free which can be used also in Three's "Go Roam" countries. Although the 200MB is advertised as per month, in practice it renews slightly more favourably every 30 days, meaning that the renewal date becomes gradually earlier each month.
With the demise of Three's 3p/2p/1p pricing on its PAYG flagship voice SIMs in February 2021, the "Data Reward SIM" is now Three's most cost-effective PAYG product for anyone using less than 700 MB (or £5) per month.
It can be ordered online for free, or is available in Three stores for a charge including one month's data, and on eBay for 99p without credit (labelled as 'internet with legs'). You can register a maximum of 5 "Data Reward SIM" cards in the same name. Unlike Three's other prepaid SIMs, the minimum top-up on a Data Reward SIM is only £2.
To get the free 200 MB per 30 days free data, you first have to register for the offer, which is a separate procedure from registering at My3. While on mobile data (not WiFi), need to open Three.co.uk/freedata, which redirects to http://devicereg.three.hostedservice.net. Often it will tell you to turn off wifi and reload the page via mobile data, even when wifi is switched off and you are accessing the page via mobile data. To solve this, change the APN from the default "three.co.uk" to "3internet" and then try to reload the destination page http://devicereg.three.hostedservice.net. After you have successfully registered for the free data, you need to change the APN back to "three.co.uk" because "3internet" causes excessive battery drain, at least on iPhones.
It's very common to encounter a chicken-and-egg scenario while registering for the free data, whereby you can't load Three.co.uk/freedata because you have no data allowance to load the page, and you can't get a data allowance because you can't load Three.co.uk/freedata. In the event that this happens to you, you should first create a memorable name and place at My3, and then contact Three's live chat support who can resolve it, often by giving you £0.50 free credit and/or some extra free data. Three's product knowledge of this offer is poor and they might tell you incorrectly that you need to top up. Therefore while chatting to Three's live support, you should be very insistent that the Data Reward SIM's packaging states that you are entitled to "200MB free every month" and that a top-up is not a condition of the free data. They might offer to give you a one-off allowance of 200 MB without understanding that the 200 MB is supposed to be a recurring monthly allowance. Others have registered instead at http://devicereg.three.hostedservice.net.
Data allowances don't roll over, but can be used on Three's "Go Roam" (see below) roaming option too. The monthly cycle for the free 200 MB is supposed to start on the day of activation, but usually starts on the day preceding activation. The following slightly more expensive monthly data bundles are available on the "Data Reward SIM":
- 2 GB: £15
- 5 GB: £20
- 10 GB: £25
New Pay As You Go on Three
This product is intended for smartphones only. For tablets and modems, it's better to choose the Mobile Broadband offer instead. Three has discontinued its previous 3p/2p/1p tariff for new customers in early 2020 and increased the prices for existing customers with effect from February 2021. Therefore the previous tariff has no advantages anymore. Anyone who is still on the old Pay As You Go can't change to the new portfolio as it's run on a different platform. You'll need to buy a new starter instead.
The new PAYG on Three is also labelled "Supercharged New Three" and has a default rate of 10p per minute, 10p per SMS and 5p per MB. These monthly plans are sold:
- 6 GB: £10
- 20 GB: £15
- 50 GB: £20
- unlimited: £35
For more data you can add one of these data add-ons to the running base plans. They will run for a calender month (except the one day option which runs for 24 hours), regardless of the base plan, but can only be activated when a base plan is running:
- 1 day of unlimited data: £5
- 1 GB: £5
- 3 GB: £7
- 6 GB: £8
Data volumes are valid in the EU/EEA and all 'Go Roam' countries (see below) up to max. 12 GB per month. There is a 1 TB FUP in the UK only for "unlimited" plans. When data is used up, you are free to buy another pack without waiting until the end of the previously bought add-on pack.
Three's Mobile Broadband prepaid SIM is a data-only SIM with text but no voice calls for tablets, modems or routers. You can use it in smartphones too. They are often sold as ready-to-go kits with data volume pre-loaded:
- SIM card with 1 GB data valid for 1 months: £10
- SIM card with 3 GB data valid for 3 months: £16
- SIM card with 12 GB data valid for 12 months: £40
- SIM card with 24 GB data valid for 24 months: £60
You can top-up online on your My3account with these data packages:
- pay-per-day: 500 MB for up to midnight on the next night: £2.99
- 1 GB for a month: £10
- 3 GB for a month: £15
- 7 GB for a month: £25
Roaming: "Go Roam" (previously called "Feel at Home")
Three's roaming policy dubbed 'Go Roam (formerly 'Feel at Home') applies to 59 countries and territories, which is unchanged since 2017 and still current in 2022: all 30 EU/EEA countries, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Isle of Man, Israel, Jersey, Macau, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, United States (on both AT&T and T-Mobile), Uruguay, US Virgin Islands and Vietnam.
Three misleadingly advertises that Go Roam applies in "71 destinations" because it counts several countries multiple times. For example it counts "Ireland" and "Republic of Ireland" as separate destinations, counts the Åland Islands in addition to Finland, counts two parts of Spain in addition to mainland Spain, counts two parts of Portugal in addition to mainland Portugal, and counts eight parts of France in addition to metropolitan France. Despite this misleading inflation of the the total from 59 to 71 "destinations", Three offers roaming at domestic prices in more countries and territories than any other UK network and nearly any other national network in the world.
Go Roam applies when roaming in any of these countries or territories with a Three UK SIM card and means that data is charged exactly the same as domestic data in the UK without roaming surcharges up to 12 GB per month. Three now offers 4G/LTE roaming in most, but not all destinations. You can easily find out whether is available when you fill in your destination country on this site, and check the map on the following site, if it has a 4G layer. In the USA it's now a good option again as they offer both AT&T and T-Mobile on 4G/LTE. Note that Three UK has announced surcharges for overseas roaming from 2022 to some of of their bill-pay or pay monthly customers (except Ireland and the Isle of Man). This doesn't affect prepaid or PAYG customers.
Tethering aka mobile hotspot use is blocked on PAYG SIMs, not Mobile Broadband plans, overseas outside of Europe. Furthermore, you can't use it for more than 2 to 4 months of continuous roaming outside Europe and only up to 12 GB per month or will be surcharged at 0.4p per MB as long as you still have domestic volume left or 5.4p per MB otherwise.
Mobile hotspot use was a frequent annoyance of Three plans, as they used to ban and block it. After the intervention of UK regulator (Ofcom) Three has changed the rules for tethering on their PAYG plans. Starting from 2018 mobile hotspot use is now available in the UK and roaming all over the EU/EEA. The only exception remain the Go Roam countries overseas like USA or Australia, where you still need to buy an add-on to use your device as a WiFi hotspot on PAYG plans, not Mobile Broadband plans.
Similar to Vodafone's youth brand Voxi, Three started in 2017 an own secondary brand called Smarty aimed (but not restricted) to young people. They only offer monthly plans as hybrid prepaid. This means that it need to be funded through a credit or debit card. Note that some non-UK credit cards may be declined, but PayPal remains a solid option. In 2021 5G and WiFI calling was added to Smarty too.
A Smarty SIM is not available in stores, but widely online through platforms like Amazon.co.uk or ebay.co.uk with international delivery. You can order it on Smarty's website to be delivered to an UK postal address for free. They offer these plans with unlimited voice, text and a data share for 30 days:
- 4 GB: £6
- 8 GB: £7
- 12 GB: £8
- 30 GB*: £10
- 50 GB*: £15
- unlimited data*: £20
For more data you can add 1 GB for £1. (*) = EU roaming cap at 12 GB
Smarty doesn't include Three's extended "Go Roam" zone, but apply a rather standard EU/EEA roaming excluding Switzerland. They also apply a fair usage policy of 12 GB per month for roaming without surcharges in the EU/EEA.
- APN for Three: three.co.uk
- APN for Smarty: mob.asm.net
- Website for Three: http://www.three.co.uk/
- Website for Smarty: https://smarty.co.uk/
Giffgaff is a wholly owned subsidiary of O₂, and operates as MVNO on O₂ UK network. For details check O₂ above. giffgaff is the first prepaid provider that operates on the 5G O₂ network and has opened all its plans for 5G where available in the UK.
In some UK stores like Tesco or Poundland they are sold at the checkout register for 99p. Giffgaff SIM cards can be ordered by mail in different ways. You can officially order the SIM to an UK address with delivery by 1st class mail usually within 2 to 3 days on this site: Order. Giffgaff announced official delivery to non-UK addresses in 2016. According to giffgaff, "your SIM will arrive within in 3-5 business days in Europe or from 5 business days for the rest of the world" through this site Order.
You will receive £5 free credit upon activation, if you are introduced by an existing giffgaff member, and in some cases the introducing member also receives some free credit.
To activate your SIM on their website, you ideally need a credit or debit card, otherwise you can credit your account with a top-up voucher from convenience stores, supermarkets and petrol stations. Since end of 2016, giffgaff has officially supported non-UK credit and debit cards. Giffgaff or original O₂ reload cards both work. As a last resort you can also buy top-up vouchers online at private facilitators like mobiletopup.co.uk for a surcharge.
Check your balance by dialling *100#.
Your SIM card stays valid for 6 months after any of these activities: an outgoing call (including to free 0800 numbers), SMS or MMS, at least 4 incoming calls (of >10 secs), a data connection, a top-up or receiving "payback" in early June or early December for introducing new members or posting in giffgaff's forums.
Data feature packs
Default rate is 10p per MB.
These following bundles called "goodybags" come with unlimited domestic calls and texts and a data volume for 30 days:
(*) = EU/EEA roaming data without surcharges is capped at 20 GB
(#) = first 80 GB each month at high 4G speeds, then throttled to 384 kbps from 8am to midnight.
Check balance in packages by *100*7#. Packages must be activated online through your account.
All minutes and texts roaming in the EU/EEA are without any extra cost. Roaming data without surcharges is capped at 20 GB abroad in the larger plans. Take care that roaming on the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man is now charged at £0.20 per MB. For roaming out of the goodypacks you need to have activated your SIM card in their UK network first and have used it within the last 60 days in the UK. Otherwise, roaming will be charged at the standard UK rate of 10p/MB. Take care, that you can't use giffgaff SIM more than 63 days in 4-month period in roaming, otherwise you'll be charged at 0.36p/MB
- APN: giffgaff.com
- Tethering is allowed
- Username: giffgaff
- Website: http://www.giffgaff.com
Tesco Mobile is the MVNO of UK's leading retail chain operating on the O₂ network. From 2014 Tesco Mobile has allowed all customers on the O₂ 4G/LTE network. They now offer three different plans:
- Triple Credit
- Rocket Packs
Both tariff lines can't be mixed, but switched online on your account or by calling customer support at 282. You will loose all credited allowances when changing plans.
You can top-up with e-top-up cards or by voucher from any Tesco store available from £10 to £50. To top-up by voucher, call 4444 for free. Check balance by calling 282.
You need to use your SIM every 180 days to keep it alive.
Triple Credit plan
On the Triple Credit tariff you get free credit when you top-up. For a £10 top-up you get £30 credit, for £15 get £45 and for £20 get £60 worth of credit. For a £10 top-up you can choose 250 MB data and for a £15 or £20 top-up a 1 GB data pack 'for free'. Default rate is at £0.10 per MB.
There are restrictions for the bonus credit given out for Triple Credit you should be aware of: Only the 1st top-up per month will be awarded triple credit. You can't activate data bundles for this credit. It's only valid for 1 month, while general credit stays valid for 6 months.
Their combo packs have been introduced in 2016. This is a different plan or tariff line that can't be mixed with or switched to Triple Credit. You can activate these combo packages for 30 days:
|£7.50||500 mins||5000 SMS||2 GB||by app|
|£10||5000 mins||10 GB||ROCKET10|
|£12.50||15 GB||by app|
|£15||25 GB||by app|
All call and text allowances are domestic except for the EU roaming promotion (see below). For activation go online or text code to 28948. All packs can be renewed ahead of time. Overuse fee is £0.10 per MB, but no data-only pack can be added. To check balance in packages, text BALANCE to 2112.
Lite is the name of their default plan for light users and data always stays at 10p per MB.
Data and calls and texts while roaming within the EU/EEA will come out of your UK allowances, free credit or bundles without extra cost. Note that Jersey, Monaco, Guernsey, Switzerland and the Isle of Man have been excluded from the zone. Tesco mentions a FUP of using it predominantly at home during a 120 days period, but hasn't set a data volume cap.
- Tethering is allowed
- T&Cs don't allow P2P, VoIP, continous streaming.
- APN: prepay.tesco-mobile.com
- Username: tescowap
- Password: password
- Website: http://www.tescomobile.com/
ASDA Mobile is the MVNO of Tesco's biggest rival supermarket ASDA. It used to operate on the Vodafone network and migrated in 2014 to the EE network with 4G/LTE since 2017. In 2021 it migrated back to the Vodafone network, and all existing customers need to transfer their SIMs to the new network. New rates and 5G is also available as part of the Vodafone network deal. The old SIM cards on the EE network were shut down in 2021. The following segment is about the new ASDA mobile on Vodafone.
ASDA Mobile SIM cards can be bought online on their website or in many ASDA supermarkets and grocery stores throughout the UK: store locator for 50p. They stock hybrid mini/micro and nano sizes. All new SIMs come with free 10 minutes, 10 SMS and 10 MB data.
You can top up at any ASDA store or anywhere you see their logo with a top-up voucher. To check your balance, text 'BAL' to 2732.
ASDA Mobile has the longest validity period of any MVNO in Britain. You will need to use it within 270 days, but it can be revived by a top-up for up to a year.
Data feature packs
Default data rate out of bundles is 4p per MB. These standard combo bundles can be added:
|Price||Calls & Texts||Data||5G||Activation (SMS to 2732)|
ASDA Mobile also introduces special fully unlimited plans with speed caps (5G available):
|Activation (SMS to 2732)|
To stop recurring plan, text STOPAUTO to 2732.
For data-only you can add one of these bundles. They can also be added for more data to combo bundles:
- £2: 1 GB
- £5: 2 GB
- £7: 6 GB
- £10: 12 GB
All packages are valid for one month and don't auto-renew. To activate, use your online account.
On the 1 GB, 3 GB, 10 GB and 18 GB bundles, you can use the full bundle allowance as you would do at home, as long as you're in one of the EU/EEA countries including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. On the 30 GB and 50 GB bundles and on all unlimited plans, EU/EEA roaming is capped at a maximum of 25 GB per month.
- Tethering is allowed
- APN: everywhere
- Website: http://mobile.asda.com
Lebara (previously called Lebara mobile) is one of UK's leading ethno market providers operating on the Vodafone network (see above) on 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE and even 5G on all of their plans. For details about the network, check Vodafone above.
They give 50% free credit with your first top-up. Online you may use PayPal for top-ups starting at £5. Offline you can buy scratch cards. To top-up by voucher, enter *#1345*<voucher code>#. To check your balance, type *#1345#.
Lebara has very rigid deactivation rules. Without having used it for 84 days, it will be switched off and both your credit and number will be lost.
Data feature packages
9p per MB is charged, if no data bundle is booked or all data are used up.
These "all in one" combo packages contain an UK allowance, capped EU data, voice and IDD minutes and SMS:
|Price||Data||EU cap||Voice/SMS||IDD Voice||Activation|
|£5||2 GB||1 GB||3.2 GB||1000||100 mins||R1|
|£10||6 GB||3 GB||6.3 GB||unlimted||500 mins||R2|
|£10||10 GB||5 GB||100 mins||R3|
|£15||15 GB||7 GB||9.4 GB||1000 mins||R4|
|£20||20 GB||10 GB||12.5 GB||unlimited||R5|
|£25||unlimited||15.7 GB||100 mins||R7|
For activation text code to 38885. For using more, you can buy data bolt-on. To stop renewal, send SMS with STOP and activation code to 38885.
If you don’t have sufficient credit, Lebara will try to auto-renew for seven days or until you cancel auto-renewal. To cancel auto-renew text WEB<size>*STOP to 38885 or opt out via your MyLebara account.
Lebara offers a so-called "bolt on" for extra data when the original package is used up: 1 GB for £3. For activation text '1GB' to 38885. Be aware, that a bolt-on is only valid for the rest of running time of the original package.
EU & International roaming
You can use your mobile in the EU/EEA as if you were in the UK at no extra cost up to the specified cap. Packages can also be used in India up to 10 GB, thereafter 5p/MB.
- Tethering is banned
- APN: uk.lebara.mobi
- Username and password: wap
- Website: http://www.lebara.co.uk/
Lycamobile or rather Lyca Mobile after the rebrand, is the main competitor of Lebara in the ethno market. In the UK it's a MVNO on the O₂ UK network in 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE and 5G. For details about the network refer to O₂ above.
There and in many other stores, you'll find their top-up vouchers. To top-up by voucher, enter *131*<voucher PIN>#. Check balance by *131#. Credit expires after 90 days and your SIM card will be suspended after 120 days only without a recharge.
12p per MB is charged, if no data bundle is activated or is used up
Data feature packs 
These data packages are all valid for 30 days in the UK and EU/EEA:
- 500 MB: £5, activation:*139*5001#
- 1 GB: £7.50, activation: *139*7001#
- 2 GB: £10, activation: *139*1001#
- 3 GB: £12.50, activation: *139*1201#
There are these combo packages with data, voice, SMS and IDD mins valid for 30 days.
|UK Plan||Data||Voice||SMS||IDD mins||Price||Activation|
|Smart||2 GB||1 GB||1000||1000||100||£5||*139*5555#|
|National Plus||10 GB||5 GB||unlimited||£10*||*139*21544#|
|Daily Saver||30 GB (1 GB per day)||£12||*139*3301#|
|National Extra||20 GB + 5 GB#||*139*112#|
|Super Extra||30 GB + 5 GB#||£15||*139*115#|
|Mega Plus||100 GB||£25*||*139*2055#|
|Go Unlimited Plus||unlimited||unlimited||£35*||*139*4055#|
On their Data Saver plan, when you exceed the daily 1 GB cap, your internet will be blocked up to next day.
(*) - These packages are discounted up to 50% when you purchase them for the first time with a new SIM card.
(#) - Bonus if your package successfully renewed.
Lyca Mobile will automatically renew your bundle once it expires. Charge for the bundle will be deducted from your main balance at the time of auto-renewal of the bundle. To cancel the auto renewal dial *190# before the expiry date and follow the instructions or call customer service for free on 353 before the expiry date.
For your plan, you can buy data bolt-ons, valid to the end of your package:
Lyca Mobile in UK applies "roam like at home" to all plans without surcharges up to 20 GB. The same default rate of 12p per MB applies in the EU for overuse.
- Tethering / mobile hotspot use is banned and blocked
- APN: data.lycamobile.co.uk
- Username: lmuk (that's lowcase L, not capital I)
- Password: plus
- Website: http://www.lycamobile.co.uk/
Vectone Mobile is a MVNO using the EE network on 2G and 3G and now on 4G/LTE too (for details see EE above).
Their SIM can be purchased online or in many supermarkets, petrol stations and kiosks throughout the UK. Mini and micro SIMs are free or 99p, but nano SIMs need to be ordered online for £1.
Top-ups are in shops like Tesco and Sainsbury's, petrol stations like Esso and BP, post offices, Payzone and Epay using multifunction voucher. Topping up online, you can use Paysafecards that are sold in many countries. Only online you get data bonuses for recharges: top-up £5 - 1 GB for 7 days, top-up £10 - 3 GB for 15 days and top-up £20 - 10 GB for 30 days.
Check balance by *102#. Credit stays valid for 90 days and the SIM card will be suspended after not having used it for 120 days.
Default rate is 9p per MB. A minimum balance of 50p is required to use data.
Data feature packs
Vectone Mobile offers these data and combo packages that exclude EU/EEA roaming and are valid only in the UK:
- UK Plans:
|£3||500 MB||100 mins||100 SMS||n/a||*2357#|
|£4||1 GB||300 mins||300 SMS||*1006#|
|£6||2 GB||500 mins||500 SMS||*1208#|
|£7.50||1 GB||150 mins||150 SMS||100||*1705#|
(*) - On these plan, you can rollover your data, up to 2x of your data.
- All-in-one bundles
|£5||1 GB||150 SMS||150 mins||150||*1044#|
- Data plans
- 10 GB (4 GB)*: £7.50, activation: *500#
- 20 GB (7 GB)*: £10, activation: *750#
(*) - The higher data volume is given only when you purchase the bundle online through credit/debit card or PayPal and enable auto-renew.
All plans are valid 30 days. Data pack will be auto-renewed once the validity expires. To opt out, call customer service enter *1122#. Overuse is charged by the default rate. Check allowances in packages by *1252#. Only one package can be activated. Tethering aka mobile hotspot use is not allowed. All these packages are auto-renewable. To stop renewal, dial *1160#. To check data remaining, dial *1260#.
Vectone Mobile don't allow to use packages in EU/EEA zone for prepaid users. There are valid domestic only. You can stay on default rate 9p per MB or buy 2 GB for £10 (activation: *2348#) valid for 30 days and with auto-renew.
- Tethering is included in all plans, but is limited to 10 GB in general (in some plans is lower).
- APN: webuk.mundio.com
- Data can't be used on BlackBerry phones.
- Note that there are lot of complaints on the internet about Vectone's poor customer service
- Website: http://www.vectonemobile.co.uk/
iD Mobile is a MVNO using the Three network in 3G and 4G/LTE (for specifics see Three above). It's owned by Carphone Warehouse and was launched in 2015. First, they only sold contracts, but in 2016 PAYG was added and their SIM cards finally offered in Carphone Warehouse branches. Their rates are very similar to Three's.
An iD Mobile PAYG SIM can be bought through their website or over the phone using a UK-issued debit or credit card or you can go to any Carphone Warehouse store in the UK (locator). Their SIM is free for the price of the first included package. If you don't select a bundle, you'll need to top-up at least £5 for a start.
Top-ups can be made online on your account using a UK credit/debit card. If you don't have one, you need to top-up at any Carphone Warehouse branch starting from £5. This seems to be a major disadvantage to Three which has many more top-up locations in the country. Furthermore, iD mobile's top-ups are only valid for 90 days and the SIM card will be discountinued after 365 days of inactivity.
Their data PAYG rate outside of packages is a low 1p per MB.
For bundles iD mobile offers 5 combo plans with data, unlimited minutes and SMS for a month:
- £6: 1 GB
- £8: 4 GB
- £2.56 per GB: 6 GB
- £15: 20 GB
- £20: unlimited data
For overuse, their default rate applies. You can make the bundles once-off or recurring in your account.
EU roaming 
The minutes, texts and data you use for roaming in the EU/EEA come out of your monthly allowances mentioned above at domestic rates. They also include Azerbaijan, Belarus, North Macedonia and Kazakhstan in inclusive roaming zone. Free data is capped at a rate of £2.56 per GB, e.g. giving only less than 4 GB in roaming for the £10 plan.
- Tethering / mobile hotspot use is banned
- APN: id
- Website: http://www.idmobile.co.uk/
Anywhere is one of UK's multi-network operator. It operates on the networks of Three, O₂, EE and Vodafone (depending on the plan).
You will pay much more for having the combined coverage of all four UK networks at a very limited validity of your credit. Their SIM card line is called Pure
The SIM card can be bought online to be send to an UK postal address, from argos.co.uk, from Sainsbury's and some other shops. Starter pack includes the sales price as credit. Pure SIM cards range from £10 for one month to £60 for a year. You will need to enter an UK address for activation.
Top-ups can be made online via credit card or by calling 333. Better check before, if your non-UK credit card is accepted. You wont find any option to buy reload vouchers locally. Be also aware of their limited validity. There are top-ups from £10 credit for one month to £60 for one year. To check balance, dial 222.
The Pure plan operates on EE, Three, O₂ and Vodafone's 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE network. It hasn't any data plans, but charges at a flat 10p rate per MB (equal to 1 GB = £102).
Data, calls and texts while roaming within the EU/EEA will come out of your UK monthly allowances, credit or bundles without extra cost.
- Tethering is allowed
- APN for Pure plan: mobiledata
- APN for Plus+ plan: Anywhere
- MMS doesn't work!
- Website: https://anywheresim.com/
CTExcel is the brand name used by China Telecom for its MVNOs operating outside China. Unlike Chinese SIM cards, there is no censorship on this SIM. While they target Chinese in particular, anyone can sign up for a CTExcel SIM. In the UK, they use the EE network since 2012 in 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE. For details check EE network above.
Their primary way of distributing SIMs is by mail; they can be ordered online to be sent to any UK postal address with an initial top-up required. If you choose to purchase a SIM in this manner, you will receive an e-mailed activation code that you must type into the CTExcel website to activate the SIM once it has arrived.
They also have a network of sales partners that sell their SIMs (list of outlets). They are primarily Chinese supermarkets and travel agencies, with the exception of SIMLocal at Heathrow Terminal 3 Arrivals. It's called 英伦酷玩系列 or British Cool Play SIM card.
Top-ups can be done at any PayPoint or Payzone-supporting merchant while in the UK, as well as online with any international (not only UK-issued) Visa/Mastercard or PayPal from inside or outside of the UK.
CTExcel operates a 90-day expiry policy. If you don't use your SIM (topping up the SIM doesn't count) for 90 days, it will expire. As it roams in most countries, a roaming SMS at least every 90 days is recommended to keep it active. Alternatively, they offer a keep alive service at £1 per month
They will charge a one-time £2 fee for an LTE-capable SIM, or to upgrade a previous 3G SIM to an LTE SIM. All bundles ordered on that SIM will have LTE as long as the SIM remains valid. The free SIM option does not include LTE.
Data feature packages
Default data rate is 5p per MB. All stand-alone bundles are valid for 30 days, while add-ons are valid until the end of the base bundle.
|Price||Data||EU cap||Minutes||Minutes to China||SMS||Activation|
|£4.90||1.5 GB||500 mins||n/a||500||UN49|
|£9.90||9 GB||6 GB||unlimited||UN99|
|£11.90||14 GB||10 GB||1000 mins||UN119|
|£14.90||25 GB||15 GB||UN149|
|£19.90||100 GB||40 GB||unlimited||UN199|
|£29.90||150 GB||50 GB||UN299|
These add-ons can be applied to an existing bundle for extra data; they can't be purchased on their own:
- £5: 500 MB data, text AO5 to 888 to activate (only letter O)
- £8: 1024 MB data text AO10 to 888 to activate (first letter O, then number 0)
CTExcel allows "roam like home" in Switzerland, Monaco, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man as well as the EU/EEA, debiting all usage from domestic allowances including packages up to the specified limit.
- APN: tslpaygnet
- Website (partly in English): https://www.ctexcel.com/indextemp.jsp (mostly in Mandarin Chinese, click on the top right to change the language to English)
Mobile by Sainsbury's
The supermarket chain Sainsbury's suspended the Mobile by Sainsbury's service in January 2016.
Post Office Mobile
The UK Post Office closed down a shortlived attempt to build a UK mobile phone network service as its offering was unable to compete in the crowded British mobile telecoms market.
This Vodafone MVNO closed down at the end of August 2017.
Parent company Mundio closed its brand Delight Mobile in 2018 and moved all its customers to its sister brand Vectone Mobile.
Virgin Mobile (PAYG)
Virgin Mobile PAYG is no longer available to new customers. In August 2019, Virgin Mobile stopped selling prepaid SIM cards to new customers. Existing customers had grandfathering and can stay on the plans. In summer 2021 they announced to shut down the remaining prepaid customers and advised them to join the new Virgin Media O₂ network.