Free Pay As You Go SIM Cards: Listed, Reviewed & Networks Compared
December 29th, 2015
How to get a free SIM card for your mobile phone: Pay As You Go offerings compared from 17 UK networks.
Whether you’re a smartphone fanatic or someone who only uses their phone on an occasional basis, there are some great deals to be had when you order a Pay As You Go SIM card in the UK.
The best Pay As You Go SIM cards offer super-low rates: they can even rival a Pay Monthly SIM card in terms of value for money. To take advantage of the best offers currently available, simply order a free SIM card below and slot it inside your existing mobile phone. There are no credit checks or upfront fees. There’s also no need to set up a direct debit: simply top-up your SIM card when you need extra credit to pay for your airtime.
In the table below, we’ve reviewed free SIM card offers from 17 of the UK’s most popular Pay As You Go networks. We’ve included mainstream providers as well as low-cost alternatives and specialist Pay As You Go networks for calling another country. We’ve also compared the cost of each network to help you with getting the best value for money.
- Changing mobile network? If you’re keeping the same phone but changing to another network, it might be necessary to first unlock your handset. We’ve got a step-by-step guide on unlocking an iPhone and unlocking a Samsung Galaxy handset.
- Coverage is identical on many mobile networks. Many networks share the same coverage provider: you’ll get identical levels of coverage when using any of these networks. To give an example, customers on giffgaff get the exact same coverage as customers on O2.
- Choose the right size of SIM Card. When ordering your SIM card, you’ll sometimes be asked which size of SIM card you require. There are three types of SIM card currently available: Standard SIM, Micro SIM and Nano SIM. Find out which size is required for your phone.
- Keeping your mobile number. If you’re changing mobile networks, it’s super easy to keep your current number. Just ask your old network to give you a PAC Code and pass this on to your new mobile network. The number transfer process normally takes one working day with minimal loss of service during the transfer. For more information, see our guide on how to transfer your mobile phone number.
Free Pay As You Go SIM Card Offers
At present, our top pick amongst the UK’s Pay As You Go offerings is ASDA Mobile. They offer super-low rates and coverage from EE.
ASDA Mobile is currently our recommended network for anyone who is looking for a free Pay As You Go SIM card. ASDA has 99% population coverage (they have 2G and 3G coverage from the EE network).
For light users, ASDA Mobile charges 8p/minute and 4p/text. There are no regular monthly charges and your Pay As You Go credit won’t expire (you just need to use your phone at least once every 180 days).
For regular users, ASDA Mobile currently has a rollback on their bundles. For only £10/month, you’ll get 1000 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB of internet. This is more than six times as many minutes as you’ll get on EE and four times as much data to use every month. To take advantage of the offer, you should order a free SIM card from ASDA Mobile before the 31st March 2016.
giffgaff is another popular choice amongst readers of our website. They have 3G and 4G coverage from the O2 network.
Most Popular: 35% of our readers choose to join giffgaff*
giffgaff is typically the most popular Pay As You Go offering amongst readers of our website. They’re a fully-owned subsidiary of O2 (customers on giffgaff will get the exact same coverage as customers on O2).
Costs are the main difference between giffgaff and O2: for instance, phone calls are 70% cheaper when made on giffgaff. giffgaff also has better value bundles for anyone with a smartphone. For £10/month, you’ll get twice as much data and twice as many minutes as you would on O2.
Most giffgaff members choose to buy a goodybag bundle. On the £10/month goodybag, you’ll get 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of 4G internet. For lighter users, the £7.50 goodybag gives you even bigger savings (you get 250 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of 4G internet). Finally, there’s a selection of goodybags with even more data (e.g. 4GB of data for £15/month). Members on giffgaff can call and text each other totally free of charge (all you need to do is to top-up your phone at least once every 3 months).
On giffgaff, 4G internet is provided to all members at no extra charge. giffgaff also has discounted rates for calling another country.
Other major Pay As You Go providers include:
13% of our readers choose to join EE*
For light and occasional users, you can instead buy a £1 weekly bundle. The £1/week Talk & Text Pack will get you 25 minutes and 50 text messages. Meanwhile, the £1/week Data Pack gives you 100MB of high-speed 4G internet. For more information on the bundles, please read our full review of EE Pay As You Go.
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.
Tip: For £10/month, ASDA Mobile gives you 1000 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB of data. This is more than 6x as many minutes and 4x as much data compared to going directly with EE. The coverage on ASDA Mobile is provided by EE. Find out more about ASDA Mobile.
6% of our readers choose to join O2*
O2 currently offers a choice of three tariffs on Pay As You Go.
The most popular option is the Big Bundles tariff. For £10/month, you’ll get 250 minutes, 1000 text messages and 500MB of 4G data. You’ll also get additional benefits of being on O2 such as discounts and offers through the Priority Moments app.
As well as offering the Big Bundles tariff, O2 also offers the Big Talker and International SIM cards. Big Talker gives you 3,000 O2-to-O2 minutes when you top up your phone by £15 or more. Meanwhile, the International SIM card will allow you to call abroad from only 1p/minute. Information about the three tariffs can be found here on O2’s website. You can also read our review of the Big Bundles tariff.
Tip: For £10/month, giffgaff offers twice as many minutes, unlimited texts and twice as much data. giffgaff is owned by O2 and uses the O2 network. The coverage is identical on both giffgaff and O2. Find out more about giffgaff.
12% of our readers choose to join Three*
In the UK, Three offers the lowest calling rates of 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, the data charges will add up to about 10p/day.
Heavy users can save money by choosing an ‘All In One’ bundle. For £10/month, you’ll get 100 minutes, 3000 texts and 500MB of 4G internet. For unlimited 4G internet, you can choose the £20/month bundle. With this, you’ll get 300 minutes, 3000 texts and all-you-can-eat 4G data with no limits on how much you can download.
Customers receive 150MB of free data whenever they top up. The free allowance will last for up to 30 days. You’ll need either a 3G or 4G handset to join Three (it’s not possible to use a 2G-only handset).
5% of our readers choose to join Vodafone*
Vodafone has a choice of five tariffs on Pay As You Go.
The most popular option is known as Big Value Bundles: for £10/month you’ll get 150 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of 4G internet. You’ll get 10% of your top-up back as Vodafone Rewards (this can be exchanged for gifts like a free selfie stick).
Occasional users will likely be better off choosing a different tariff. Vodafone also offers the Freebie Minutes, Freebie Texts, Freebie Data and Freebie International Minutes tariffs. The four alternative tariffs allow you to keep the credit you’ve topped up by. With each £10 top-up, you’ll get a free allowance of either 150 UK minutes, 1000 UK texts, 500MB of UK data or 60 international minutes.
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. Mobile internet is charged at 5p/MB.
Regular users can buy a bundle for better value usage. For £10/month, you’ll get 1000 minutes, unlimited texts and 2GB of mobile internet (this is probably the best value bundle currently available on the market). ASDA Mobile uses the 2G and 3G networks provided by EE.
3% of our readers choose to join Co-operative Mobile*
Like ASDA, the Co-operative Mobile also charges 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB when you’re browsing the internet (this works out to be around 50p/day for the average smartphone user).
For regular users, it’s possible to buy an all-inclusive bundle from £5/month. The most popular bundle from Co-op costs £10/month and gives you 250 minutes, 3000 texts and 500MB of 3G internet.
As the Co-operative Mobile is owned by its members, customers will receive an annual dividend payment. In the last financial year (2013-2014), the dividend payment was equal to 1.5% of your VAT-exclusive spend (equivalent to a £1.50 dividend if you were to spend £10 every month). In previous years, members earned a dividend of 2.5% (2012-2013) and 2.0% (2011-2012).
giffgaff is a low-cost mobile service running on the O2 network. They currently offer 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of 4G internet for only £10/month. Heavy users can get 1000 minutes, unlimited texts and 4GB of 4G data for £15/month. 4G is provided on giffgaff at no extra charge. For more information, please refer to the giffgaff website.
1% of our readers choose to join Lebara Mobile*
Lebara Mobile is a specialist provider of international calling. Using a Lebara SIM card, you can call abroad from as little as 1p/minute. Do be warned however: it’s 15p/minute when calling in the UK and 19p per message when texting a UK number. This makes Lebara Mobile relatively expensive for domestic usage in the UK. Other mobile networks, including giffgaff, can give you low-cost international calling whilst also providing low UK rates. For more information, see our side-by-side comparison of international calling rates.
1% 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 19p each. Domestic calls to a UK mobile are 19p/minute and texts to a UK mobile are 19p each. You can read our full review of the network here.
As of February 2015, it’s no longer possible to order a SIM card from Orange. Customers are instead advised to join EE Pay As You Go. EE has 4G connectivity and allows you to browse the internet from only £1/week.
|Post Office Mobile
4% of our readers choose to join Post Office Mobile*
The Post Office Mobile is a fairly new network making use of 3G coverage from EE. They charge 8p/minute, 10p/text and 10p/MB for internet. For heavier users, a £10/month bundle is available with 500 minutes, 3000 texts and 1GB of 3G internet.
Talkmobile has a Happy Hour SIM card where there’s a 10p connection charge for every outgoing phone call. There are no per-minute charges for the first 60 minutes, then it’s 8p/minute after the first hour. Text messages cost 4p each and mobile internet costs 2p/MB.
2% of our readers choose to join Tesco Mobile*
Tesco Mobile runs a ‘Triple Your Credit’ promotion on their Pay As You Go tariff. Whenever you top up by £10, you’ll receive an extra £20 of free credit which lasts for a month. The bonus free credit can be used for calling, texting and browsing the internet when you’re in the UK. For more information, see our full review of Tesco Mobile.
|The People’s Operator
7% of our readers choose to join The People’s Operator*
The People’s Operator brands itself as an ethical mobile network. Every month, 10% of your bill excluding VAT is automatically allocated towards a charity of your choice.
You can Pay As You Go for 4p/minute, 3p/text and 2p/MB. Alternatively, you can buy a bundle from £10/month. The £10 Wonder Bundle comes with 600 minutes, 1000 texts and 1GB of 3G internet.
In Q1 2016, The People’s Operator will change their network coverage provider from EE to Three. When this happens, you’ll lose access to the EE network and you’ll need to get a replacement SIM card for the new service.
As of February 2015, it’s no longer possible to order a T-Mobile SIM card. Customers wanting to join T-Mobile are instead advised to join EE. EE has 4G connectivity and offers Everything Pack bundles that are similar to the old Smart Packs offered by T-Mobile.
Customers already on T-Mobile can stay on their existing plan for as long as they like.
0.4% of our readers choose to join Vectone Mobile*
Vectone Mobile is a specialist provider of international calling. See our international calls price comparison table to see how Vectone compares to rival networks including giffgaff, Lebara Mobile and Lycamobile.
2% of our readers choose to join Virgin Mobile*
Virgin Mobile offers a choice of two Pay As You Go tariffs. The ‘Big Data & Texts’ tariff will give you 3000 texts and 1GB of internet lasting for a month when you top-up by £10. You’ll also be able to keep your £10 of credit. The ‘Big Talk’ tariff gives you 120 mobile minutes and unlimited landline calls for the next 30 days.
For more information about any of the tariffs listed on this page, please click through to the mobile network’s website. Our recommended deals are currently to order a free SIM card from ASDA Mobile or to order a free SIM card from giffgaff.
The “£10 top-up buys” calculation is based on a user who tops up by £10 every month. If you top up less regularly than once every month, 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 from the 1st October 2015 to the 28th December 2015.
** 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’d 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+.