Free Pay As You Go SIM Cards: Listed, Reviewed & Networks Compared
June 11th, 2014
How to get a free mobile SIM card: Pay As You Go offerings compared from 17 UK mobile networks.
Whether you’re a smartphone fanatic or someone who only uses their phone for emergencies, there’s some great deals to be had on Pay As You Go.
The best Pay As You Go tariffs offer super-low calling rates even rivalling those on a Pay Monthly tariff. To take advantage of the offers currently available, simply order a free SIM card below and slot it in the back of your existing mobile phone. There are no credit checks and no need to set up a direct debit: simply top-up your phone when you need extra money.
In the table below, we review the free SIM card offers from 17 of the UK’s most popular mobile networks. We’ve included mainstream players, low-cost providers and specialist Pay As You Go providers for calling abroad. We’ve also compared the cost of each network to help you with getting the most bang for your buck.
- Changing mobile network? If you’re switching network, it might be necessary to unlock your phone. We’ve got a step-by-step guide on unlocking an iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy device or a BlackBerry device.
- Coverage is identical on many mobile networks. Many mobile networks share the same coverage provider: you’ll get identical levels of coverage on each of the networks. To give an example, customers on giffgaff get the same coverage as customers on O2.
- Choosing the right type of SIM Card. When ordering your SIM card, you might be asked about which size you require. There are three types of SIM card currently available: Standard SIM, Micro SIM and Nano SIM. Find out which one is required for your phone.
- Keeping your mobile number. If you’re changing network, it’s super easy to keep your existing number. Ask your old provider to give you a PAC Code and then provide this to your new mobile network. The transfer process will normally happen in less than a day with minimal loss of service during the transfer. For full details, see our guide on how to transfer your mobile number.
Free Pay As You Go SIM Card Offers
Our top pick amongst the UK’s Pay As You Go offerings is giffgaff. They have consistently proven to be the best value Pay As You Go network and have also been the most popular network amongst readers of our site.
Top Choice: 40% of our readers choose to join giffgaff*
giffgaff is currently the most popular Pay As You Go offering amongst readers of our site. The giffgaff network is fully-owned by O2: customers receive the same level of coverage as they would on the parent brand.
Costs are the main difference between giffgaff and O2: phone calls are 70% cheaper when made on giffgaff rather than O2. giffgaff also have much better data packages for people using a smartphone. You’ll get twice the amount of data for £10/month and a huge 3GB allowance for only £12/month.
Most giffgaff members choose to buy a goodybag bundle. The £10/month goodybag gives you 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of internet. For light users, the £7.50 goodybag can offer even bigger savings with 200 minutes, unlimited texts and 250MB of internet. Finally, heavy smartphone users get 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 3GB of internet for £12/month. giffgaff members can also call and text each other totally free of charge.
Other major Pay As You Go providers include:
3% of our readers choose to join EE*
For light and occasional users, it’s instead possible to pay on a per-week basis. £1/week gets you either 25 minutes and 50 text messages (EE Talk & Text Pack) or 100MB of 4G data (EE Data Pack). If you don’t have a bundle on your account, calls will cost 30p/minute and texts will cost 12p each. Internet access is only available when you buy a bundle from EE.
Customers on EE can get 2-for-1 cinema tickets every Wednesday through the EE Wednesdays promotion.
6% of our readers choose to join O2*
O2 offers a number of Pay As You Go plans.
The most popular option is the Big Bundles tariff: for £10/month you’ll get 100 minutes, 1000 text messages and 500MB of data. You also get additional benefits of being on O2 such as discounts and offers through the Priority Moments service. 4G is available on Big Bundles from £15/month (for £15/month you’ll get 200 minutes, 2000 texts and 1GB of 4G data).
As well as Big Bundles, O2 also offers a range of other Pay As You Go plans. Some users could be better off on the O2 Unlimited or O2 International tariffs. Information on the tariffs can be found via the O2 website.
Tip: For £10/month, giffgaff offers 5x as many minutes, unlimited texts and twice the amount of data. giffgaff is owned by O2 and uses the O2 mobile network. Coverage is identical on both giffgaff and O2. Find out more about giffgaff.
5% of our readers choose to join Orange*
Orange offers a choice of 4 Pay As You Go “Animal” plans. The most popular plan is Dolphin: customers receive 1GB of free internet (“shed loads of data“) and 400 text messages when they top up by £10/month. The remaining £10 credit will allow you to make 33 minutes of calls.
Other Pay As You Go plans include Canary (free evening & weekend calls), Racoon (a flat rate of 14p/minute and 14p/text) and Camel (cheaper international calling).
Customers on Orange Pay As You Go can also benefit from the Orange Wednesday offer. You’ll get 2-for-1 tickets at participating cinemas every Wednesday.
9% of our readers choose to join Three*
In the UK, Three offers the lowest calling rates on any Pay As You Go network. On the 321 Tariff, you’ll pay super-low rates of 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB. For a typical smartphone user, data charges will add up to around 10p/day.
Heavy users can save money by opting in to an All In One Plan. For £10/month, you’ll get 100 minutes, 3000 texts and 500MB of internet. For unlimited data, choose the £15/month plan. You’ll get 300 minutes, 3000 texts and all-you-can-eat data. Customers will receive 150MB of free data whenever they top up. The free allowance will last for up to 30 days and you’ll need a 3G handset in order to join the network.
2% of our readers choose to join T-Mobile*
T-Mobile has a range of Smart Packs on Pay As You Go. For £10/month, you’ll get 100 minutes, 400 texts and 1GB of internet.
For light users, the Text plan could offer better value. You’ll get unlimited free texts when you top-up by £10/month and an extra 500MB of data when you top-up by £15/month.
4% of our readers choose to join Vodafone*
Vodafone offers a range of Pay As You Go plans. The Freedom plan gives you 150 minutes, unlimited texts and 250MB of data for £10/month. Alternatively, the Freebee Minutes & Freebee Data plans allow you to keep the credit you’ve topped up by. With every £10 top-up, you’ll either get 150 minutes for free or 500MB of data for free.
The following virtual network operators also provide a Pay As You Go service:
9% of our readers choose to join ASDA Mobile*
For calling and texting, ASDA Mobile has some of the lowest rates available in the UK. They charge 8p/minute and 4p/text. Internet access is charged at 5p/MB with the average smartphone user needing to spend about 50p/day. The only network offering cheaper rates is Three who charge 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB. ASDA Mobile uses the 2G and 3G networks provided by EE.
giffgaff is a low-cost mobile service using the O2 network. They offer 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of internet for £10/month. Heavy internet users should choose the £12/month goodybag with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 3GB of data. For full details, please refer to the giffgaff website.
|IKEA Family Mobile
3% of our readers choose to join IKEA Family Mobile*
IKEA Family Mobile is a low cost virtual network operator. You can have one centralised login to manage all of your family’s separate mobile accounts. Another unique selling point is you’re able to choose your own mobile number. This is not possible on other mobile networks.
2% of our readers choose to join Lebara Mobile*
Lebara Mobile is a specialist provider of international calling. You can call abroad for as little as 1p/minute and within the UK for 15p/minute. Text messages cost 15p each (either to the UK or to an international number).
3% of our readers choose to join Lycamobile*
Lycamobile is another specialist provider of international calling. They offer international calls from 1p/minute and international text messages for 12p each.
|Mobile By Sainsbury’s
5% of our readers choose to join Mobile By Sainsbury’s*
Mobile By Sainsbury’s is a low-cost offering running on the Vodafone network. Calls cost 8p/minute and texts cost 4p each. Frequent users can save money by buying a monthly bundle: £10/month will give you 300 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of internet. Bundle customers also receive extra Nectar points when shopping at Sainsbury’s.
2% of our readers choose to join Talkmobile*
Talkmobile is the own-brand mobile service run by the Carphone Warehouse. It runs on top of the Vodafone network.
2% of our readers choose to join Tesco Mobile*
Tesco Mobile runs a “Triple Your Credit” promotion on their Pay As You Go tariff. If you top up by £10, you’ll receive an extra £20 of free credit which lasts for a month. Any unused bonus credit which remains after a month will expire and will not carry over.
|The People’s Operator
1% of our readers choose to join The People’s Operator*
The People’s Operator is an “ethical” mobile network designed to support charities and good causes. 10% of your bill is allocated towards a charity you’d like to support. The £10 Power Bundle comes with 500 minutes, 500 texts and 500MB of internet.
1% of our readers choose to join Vectone Mobile*
Vectone Mobile is a specialist international calling provider.
4% of our readers choose to join Virgin Mobile*
Virgin offers a choice of two Pay As You Go tariffs. The “Big Data & Texts” tariff will give you 3000 free texts and 1GB of free internet when you top-up by £10/month. The “Big Talk” tariff gives you 120 mobile minutes and unlimited free landline calls for the next 30 days.
For more information on any of the tariffs, please click through to the mobile network’s website. Our recommended deal is currently to order a free SIM card from giffgaff.
The “£10 top-up buys” calculation is based on a user who tops up by £10 each month. If you top up less regularly, your allowances may run out before the next top-up.
* Statistics on mobile network chosen by readers of this article. Based on the number of Free SIM click throughs between the 1st January 2014 and the 10th June 2014.
** Mobile internet charges. For networks that charge on a per-megabyte basis, we have given the average daily data cost for a smartphone user consuming 10MB of data. If you would like to create a custom comparison using a different estimate, you can enter your own estimated data figure on our interactive Pay As You Go price comparison table.
I'm a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005 with the aim of demystifying mobile technology for the rest of us.
Before writing about mobile technology, my background was in space & atmospheric physics. I have also worked in software development. Nowadays, I help companies to explain mobile technology to their customers. Please check out my portfolio or get in touch for more information. I'm also on Google+.