Free Pay As You Go SIM Cards: Listed, Reviewed & Networks Compared
April 14th, 2015
How to get a free SIM card for your phone: Pay As You Go offerings compared from 16 UK mobile 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 calling rates which can often rival those on a Pay Monthly tariff. If you’d like 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 payments. There’s also no need to set up a direct debit for the account: simply top-up your SIM card when you need extra credit.
In the table below, we’ve reviewed free SIM card offers from 16 of the UK’s most popular mobile phone networks. We’ve included mainstream players, low-cost providers and also specialist Pay As You Go providers for calling abroad. We’ve also compared the cost of each network to help you with getting the best value for your 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 type of SIM Card. When ordering your SIM card, you might be asked which size 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. Ask your old mobile network to give you a PAC Code and pass this code 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
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. They’re also the most popular network amongst readers of our website.
Top Choice: 31% of our readers choose to join giffgaff*
giffgaff is currently the most popular Pay As You Go offering amongst readers of our website. The giffgaff network is fully-owned by O2: customers will 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. 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. The £10/month goodybag gives you 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of internet. For lighter users, the £7.50 goodybag can offer even bigger savings (you’ll get 250 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of internet). Finally, heavy smartphone users can get 4GB of data for only £15/month. Members on giffgaff can call and text each other totally free of charge (all you need to do is to top up once every 3 months).
Access to 4G on giffgaff is provided to all members at no extra charge. giffgaff also provides discounted rates for calling another country.
Other major Pay As You Go providers include:
16% of our readers choose to join EE*
For light and occasional users, you can instead buy a £1 weekly bundle. The £1/week EE Talk & Text Pack will get you 25 minutes and 50 text messages. Meanwhile, anyone with a smartphone can buy the £1/week EE Data Pack. This includes 100MB of high-speed 4G internet. Our review of EE Pay As You Go has more information regarding the bundles available on EE.
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.
12% 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 data. You’ll 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 (the £15 bundle comes with 750 minutes, 2000 texts and 1GB of 4G data).
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 allows you to call abroad from only 1p/minute. Information about the three tariffs can be found here on O2’s website.
At present, O2 is offering £10 of free credit when you activate your SIM card and top-up by £10 or more.
Tip: For £10/month, giffgaff offers twice as many minutes, unlimited texts and double the 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.
11% 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, data charges will add up to around 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 (this is worth £68 in total). For unlimited 4G data, you can choose the £20 monthly bundle. You’ll get 300 minutes, 3000 texts and all-you-can-eat 4G data with no limits on downloading.
Customers also 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).
6% of our readers choose to join Vodafone*
Vodafone offers 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 3G internet. 4G internet starts from £20/month and 4G Entertainment from £30/month (this gives you a free subscription to either NOW TV, Spotify Premium or Sky Sports Mobile TV).
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:
7% 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.
Customers with a smartphone can buy a bundle for better value usage. The £10/month bundle gives you 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of 3G internet. ASDA Mobile uses the 2G and 3G networks provided by EE.
2% 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 starting 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 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 offer 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of internet for £10/month. Heavy internet users should instead choose the £15 goodybag with 1000 minutes, unlimited texts and 4GB of data. 4G internet is provided on giffgaff at no extra charge. For further details, 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 19p/minute for calling in the UK and 19p per message when texting a UK number. This makes it relatively expensive for domestic usage within the UK. Networks such as giffgaff can give you low-cost international calling whilst also providing low UK rates. You can see a side-by-side comparison of international calling rates here.
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 15p each. Domestic calls to a UK mobile are 15p/minute and texts to a UK mobile are 15p each. You can read our full review of the network here.
|Mobile By Sainsbury’s
3% 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 with a rolling monthly bundle: £10/month will give you 500 minutes, 5000 texts and 1GB of 3G internet. Customers buying a bundle will receive double Nectar points on all their shopping at Sainsbury’s (equivalent to 50p extra in Nectar points for every £100 you spend on your shopping at Sainsbury’s).
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.
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 review of Tesco Mobile.
|The People’s Operator
1% 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 5p/minute, 3p/text and 1p/MB. Alternatively, you can buy a bundle from £10/month. The £10 Power Bundle includes 500 minutes, 500 texts and 500MB of internet.
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.
1% of our readers choose to join Vectone Mobile*
Vectone Mobile is a specialist international calling provider. See our international calls price comparison table to see how Vectone compares to rival networks including giffgaff, Lycamobile and Lebara.
3% 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 lasting for a month when you top-up by £10. 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 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 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 between the 1st January 2015 and the 14th April 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+.