Beginners Guide to SIM Card While Travelling To The UK

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about getting a SIM card when you travel to the UK so that when you visit it, you can enjoy it to the fullest. We have developed an extensive tourist guide to help you prepare for your vacation in the country. You can find a list of different plans and deals for your needs, covering three of the top mobile network providers in the UK; EE, O2, and Three. Additionally, we also discuss what MVNOs are in the UK and what advantages they have to offer.

We know that sometimes it is complicated to organize and prepare a trip, so we aim to help you make these preparations as efficiently as possible. Your vacation in the UK needs to be unique and rewarding.

The UK has a two-tier system for international travel regarding Covid: a “red list” of countries and territories and a list of the “rest of the world”. What you need to do depends on whether you have vaccinated yourself under the rules for traveling to the UK.

There are varying rules if you have been to a red list country or territory within ten days of your arrival in the UK. The red list rules apply regardless of whether or not you are fully vaccinated.

Welcome To the UK – You Have Landed Safely

From Friday 7th January, the rules regarding required tests and border restrictions have changed for fully vaccinated travelers and those under 18 arriving in the UK.

These people no longer require testing before traveling and do not have to self-isolate upon arrival, although post-arrival testing is needed. Starting 9th January, fully vaccinated travelers and eligible travelers five years and older can choose to have a PCR test or a lateral flow test within two days of arrival. If you take a lateral flow test and test positive, you will need to self-isolate and take a free PCR test.

Get Off The Plane/Bus/Train

You will have to go through the Covid testing procedures as soon as you arrive. It would be best to make your way out of the station/airport using any number of taxis standing outside. You might be expecting something different, but London cabs are mostly old-fashioned, classic cars whose drivers take a lot of pride in owning one.

Go Through Immigration/Customs

If you do not speak English, this part might be a bit of a hassle for you. It is advisable to learn a few essential words and phrases before you reach the UK, so you’re not troubled looking for directions to where you need to go.

The customs officer will have some questions regarding your trip; how long you intend to stay, the hotels you’ll be staying at, and where you can be found, especially after Covid regulations.

Get A Local Currency

You will also need to exchange your currency for Great Britain pound sterling, which you can use as a small change. Most terminals and stores nowadays process cards, but there will always be a point where you need cash. It is advisable to have enough local currency in your pocket at all times to avoid unsavoury situations.

Get A Local SIM Card

It’s easier and cheaper to buy a prepaid SIM card in the UK and put whatever credit you need on it. This SIM will allow you to use local mobile phone networks, although you can only do this if your phone is not limited to a single phone network.

In that case, you could buy a new phone with a prepaid card. Make sure that the mobile you buy can receive calls from abroad. Check that your insurance policy has the necessary coverage if your mobile is stolen and have your provider’s helpline number handy in case of an emergency.

Head To Your Hotel/Place

Your cab driver will take you where you need to go (hopefully not that much!). If you book a hotel, the management will likely ask for your credit card to keep on file, as well as your passport for identification when you’re checking in.

Once you’ve settled down in your room, it is time to explore.

What Is A SIM Card?

The SIM card or Subscriber Identity Module is a small plastic card that has a chip attached to it and that you have to insert into your mobile phone or smartphone. This chip safely stores your telephone number and the access codes of a specific user in a telephone operator.

Thanks to these cards, the operator networks can identify each user and access their telephone number and all the services they have contracted. These cards also keep the ICC ID (International Circuit Card), a unique 19-digit number for each SIM card that identifies them worldwide.

Why Do I Need One?

SIM card is responsible for storing a lot of data that help your wireless service provider distinguish your phone from other phones and devices on your network. Authorization keys of your phone are stored in the SIM card to access data services, text messages and calls to your cell phone plan entitles. Your phone number also exists on the SIM card.

Essentially, the SIM card allows your phone to access and work on the network of your wireless service provider.

Connecting your phone to the network of your wireless service provider is not the only reason why phones have SIM cards yet. SIM cards make transferring your phone number from one phone to another incredibly easy.

Therefore, if it is part of an upgrade program, it’s effortless to take the SIM card from your old phone and insert it into the new one!

Mobile Networks in the UK

Great Britain operates on the GSM network, so if you’re European, your mobile phone is likely to work in the UK, either roaming or with a UK SIM card. If you’re coming from North America or Asia, you probably have a CDMA phone, which won’t work. To use a GSM phone with a Swiss SIM card, you must check that your phone is unlocked since some phones have direct links to the operator you have contracted (for example, Orange). If you jailbroke your phone, you need a new SIM card.

EE

EE is one of the largest mobile network providers in the UK. They have various plans for you to buy according to your needs. You can either top-up your account or purchase a Pay-As-You-Go SIM.

O2

O2 is Telefonica’s UK branch, one of the largest telco companies in the world. They offer six different SIM cards for people visiting the UK, with varying minutes, texts, and data.

Three

As evidenced by the name, this company was the first to offer a 3G connection in the UK. They also have several different options for UK tourists, depending on the data, minutes, and SMS that you need.

MVNOs in the UK

Virtual networks, sometimes called MVNOs or leased networks, offer you the same coverage as a well-known, expensive network for a fraction of those prices.

Here, we explain what an MVNO in the UK is and discuss its advantages and disadvantages. These are essentially third-party companies that lease telephone and data spectrum from the leading operators.

In other words, the likes of Tesco Mobile, Talk Home Mobile, Now Mobile, and Giffgaff piggyback off of the spectrum they’ve bought from Vodafone, EE, O2, and Three.

If you sign up for one of the MVNOs, you’ll get the same coverage as you would from one of the parent networks. And for that reason, it is advisable to know which MVNO uses these networks.

Here’s a list of the major ones in the UK.

MVNO

Which network does it use?

1p Mobile

EE

Age UK My Phone

Vodafone

Airwave Smart Mobile

EE

Asda Mobile

EE

Axis Telecom

EE

BT Mobile

EE

CT ExcelBiz

EE

Delight Mobile

EE

Dialog Viz

Vodafone

Digital Phone

EE

Econet Mobile

EE

Family Mobile

EE

Go Mobile

EE

Giffgaff

O2

iD Mobile

Three

Lebara Mobile

Vodafone

Lomo Mobile

EE

Lyca Mobile

O2

Matrix Cellular

EE

Natterbox

EE

Plusnet Mobile

EE

Simple Call Mobile

EE

Shebang

Three

Sky

O2

Talk Home Mobile

EE

Talkmobile

Vodafone

TalkTalk Mobile

Vodafone

Tesco Mobile

O2

The People’s Operator

Three

The Phone Co-Op

EE

Truphone

Vodafone

Telecom Plus

EE

Vectone Mobile

EE

Virgin Mobile

EE

 

giffgaff

giffgaff is the company used by the majority of UK expatriates and students.

The coverage and the network are good because they use the O2 company, and the prices are lower.

You will be able to communicate with other countries at low prices. And you will even benefit from the advantages that the company offers when using European roaming. 

Pros: It has ‘ goody bags ‘ and offers packages that adapt to your needs. The goody bags are only monthly bonuses that include calls, SMS, and internet. Its difference with a contract is that you pay it in advance,

Cons: goody bags can not be recharged directly with a ‘ Voucher ‘. To do this, you must first top up your card balance,

Talk Home Mobile

Best suited for ex-pats, families, and students looking for an international and national calling.

Talk Home Mobile is an MVNO that runs on one of the UK’s best networks, EE. Talk Home is flexible for users with no obligations or contracts and doesn’t require credit checks or a minimum sign up period when you join the network.

Pros: Talk Home runs on EE, one of the UK’s top networks.

No contracts, Flexibility: You have complete freedom when you join Talk Home. Users aren’t obligated to fulfill a contract and can use the service when and as they wish.

High-Quality Call: A massive bonus for Talk Home users is international calling. International plans are great, featuring low rates for multiple destinations.

Cons: No Mobile Handset: Talk Home Mobile offers SIM-only plans with no option of getting a mobile handset on contract.

Tesco Mobile

Tesco Mobile has also won many awards from us over the years, including Best Network Coverage, Best Customer Service Support, and Best Value for Money for both pay-monthly and pay-as-you-go.

Much cheaper? As you’d expect, the answer’s a yes. Expect to save about £5 per month on more affordable phones for your contract. Or about £120 in total.

Pros: Whether you’re topping up or racking up a monthly bill, you earn Tesco Clubcard points for every £1 you spend.

Cons: It doesn’t offer unlimited data packages on any SIM-only contracts, so you will always have a limit when it comes to how much streaming, browsing, and emailing you can do.

TalkTalk Mobile

When we checked, we assessed savings of up to £50 for the contract on some high-end smartphones. Much cheaper? Again, it’s a yes.

You can also pick up SIM cards extremely cheaply. For a little under £4, a month (for the first year) gets you unlimited texts, 300 minutes, and 250MB of data, which is very impressive. In comparison, the cheapest Vodafone SIM-only 300-day rolling contract is £11.50 per month.

Pros: You’ll get free access to their MobileSafe app, which gives your Android mobile phone a unique range of security features.

Cons: You’ll already have to be a loyal TalkTalk customer, so if you don’t have your broadband with them, jog on.

Now Mobile

Now Mobile is an MVNO that runs on the EE network, a subsidiary of the calling card business Nowell. It targets the ethnic market in the UK currently occupied by other companies such as Lebara Mobile and LycaMobile and started on 26th July 2010. It is a budget brand that “offers competitive rates with no hidden charges and a straightforward, high-quality network”.

Pros: The PAYG tariff on Now Mobile is surprisingly good value. Any network mobile calls cost just 10p/minute while UK landlines are a mere 5p/minute. Now Mobile has one fantastic bundle deal, which is for unlimited texts. This plan costs only £5/month

Cons: the customer service is not always fully helpful, and it’s still worth shopping around as there are still other networks that may be able to beat them both on service and price.

What Are You Looking For In A New SIM?

Prepaid SIMs are very easy to obtain. There are phone stores all over the city, and they all sell prepaid cards (Pay As You Go SIM card). Which one will be most useful to you will depend on how long you will be in the UK and what kind of use you will have. It is usually best to go to a Phones4U store or Carphone Warehouse because they work with several companies. And depending on what you need it for (data, calls, texts), they will sell you the most suitable one.

It is easy to get a prepaid SIM card from companies. Like Lebara or Lyca Mobile, whose SIM cards are also free and have relatively reasonable rates if you want to call home from time to time (international calls). If you’re going to use data (internet), they usually sell packages

If you use it for calls or messages to numbers in the United Kingdom itself, a specific plan from any company may be more convenient for you.

Types of SIM Cards

EE, O2, and Three, the UK’s leading mobile network operators, offer different SIM cards that you can buy. You can compare and choose to see which suits your need the best.

Prepaid SIM cards

 

Provider

Price

Data

Minutes

Texts

Advantages

EE

30

100 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

20

60 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

15

30 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

10

10 GB

500

Unlimited

 

O2

30

100 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

Includes 500 international minutes

 

20

30 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

15

20 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

10

10 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

Three

35

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited data

 

20

50 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

15

25 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

10

10 GB

Unlimited

Unlimited

 

 

Data Only SIMs

Provider

Price

Data

Validity length

EE

1

200 MB

30 days

 

8

2 GB

30 days

 

30

6 GB

90 days

 

40

10 GB

90 days

 

60

20 GB

90 days

O2

34

Unlimited

30 days

 

30

50 GB

30 days

 

22

20 GB

30 days

 

15

5 GB

30 days

 

10

2 GB

30 days

Three

60

24 GB

PAYG validity 2 years

 

40

12 GB

PAYG validity 1 year

 

26

Unlimited

30 days

 

24

100 GB

30 days

 

24

Unlimited

12-month contract

 

24

100 GB

30 days

 

23

40 GB

30 days

 

22

Unlimited

24-month contract

 

22

20 GB

30 days

 

21

100 GB

PAYG validity 1 year

 

20

40 GB

12-month contract

 

19

100 GB

PAYG validity 2 years

 

18

40 GB

PAYG validity

 

16

3 GB

PAYG validity 3 months

 

10

1 GB

PAYG validity 30 days

SIM-only deals

Deals for light users

EE

The 250Mb Data plan offered by EE mobile network starts at £12 per month.  The plan provides Superfast 5G, Unlimited minutes and texts to keep you connected at all times.

O2

The O2 plan for light users is an affordable package as it offers 4 GB of data and unlimited calls and texts across the UK. The plan starts at only £6 per month and is the favorite of millions of customers.

Three  

One of the big four – Three – offers its users 200 local minutes, 200 texts, 2Gb data, and 200 international mins, for £7 per month. This MVNO offers robust connectivity and reliable service, but the price is high compared to others.

DEALS FOR MODERATE USERS

EE

The 100Gb Data plan offered by EE mobile network starts at £29 per month.  The plan provides Superfast 5G, Unlimited texts and minutes to keep you connected with your loved ones even if your data runs out.

O2

The O2 plan for moderate users is an affordable package at it offers 25Gb data and Unlimited Texts and Calls across the UK. The plan starts at only £10 per month and chooses millions of customers.

Three

One of the big four – Three – offers its user 30Gb data, unlimited international mins, unlimited texts, and unlimited local minutes for £15 per month. This MVNO offers robust connectivity and reliable service, but the price is high compared to an MVNO.

DEALS FOR HEAVY USERS

EE

The Unlimited data plan offered by EE mobile network starts at £37 per month.  The plan provides Superfast 5G, Unlimited minutes and texts to keep you connected with your loved ones even if your data runs out.

O2

The O2 plan for heavy users is an affordable package as it offers 150Gb data and Unlimited Texts and Calls across the UK. The program starts at only £20 per month and chooses millions of customers.

Three

One of the big four – Three network – offers its users Unlimited Data, International mins, Unlimited local minutes, and Unlimited texts for £20 per month. This MNO offers robust connectivity and reliable service, but the price is high compared to an MVNO.

SIM Activation Process

The SIM card is activated automatically if it is a new registration or portability. Suppose it is a duplicate; you will need to activate the SIM card. You can activate the SIM from the web or the app of each operator or by calling the number provided.

The PIN, the PUK, and the ICC come from the card containing the SIM. It would be best if you kept it for possible future needs. You will need to insert the SIM card into your phone correctly. Consult the mobile terminal’s instruction manual if you don’t know how to do it.

A Thought About Roaming Charges In EU

In January 2021, the UK was no longer subject to EU mobile roaming rules, leaving the European Union. And that’s not great news for those who want to keep using their phones abroad.

Since 15th June 2017, both the United Kingdom and 27 other countries have had no surcharge on roaming in the European Union.

In other words, if you were thinking of traveling to England, you were in luck. The calls you made and the mobile data you spent were charged based on your current local rate.

As a result of Brexit, UK operators no longer have any agreement with the EU and can charge EU operators for their users’ Roaming costs (and vice versa).

Some operators have promised not to introduce the roaming surcharge, but others such as EE or Vodafone have already introduced changes to their rates.

In any case, it is best to check with your operator before traveling to the UK to check if they continue to maintain the same conditions or have introduced any charges.

Conclusion

Whatever your needs, you will likely find your choice of plan for the duration of your stay, whether you go for one of the big three or you decide to go with an MVNO. To make your trip stress-free and hassle-free, however, you must buy a local SIM so that you’re never at a disadvantage.

Use Google Maps and Wifi calling apps seamlessly while you visit the UK by purchasing a local SIM.

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