Free Pay As You Go SIM Cards: Listed, Reviewed & Networks Compared
October 4th, 2016
Get a free SIM card for your mobile phone: Pay As You Go offerings compared from 16 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 free 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 Pay Monthly SIM cards 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 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 airtime.
In the table below, we’ve reviewed free SIM card offers from 16 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 mobile 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, ASDA Mobile uses coverage from EE and giffgaff uses coverage from O2.
- Keeping your mobile number. If you’re changing mobile networks, it’s super easy to keep your current phone number. Once you’ve ordered your new SIM card, contact your old network and ask for a PAC Code. You can then pass this on to your new mobile network and your phone number will be moved over. For more information, see our guide on transferring your mobile phone number.
Free Pay As You Go SIM Card Offers
At present, ASDA Mobile is our top pick amongst the UK’s Pay As You Go offerings. They offer super-low rates and 99% coverage from the EE network.
Most Popular: 57% of our readers choose to join ASDA Mobile*
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 customers who order a SIM card before the 31st December 2016, ASDA is currently offering a £10 Mega Christmas Bundle. For a £10 top-up, you’ll get unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and a massive 20GB of internet.
Alternatively, if you’re a light user, you can use ASDA Mobile with no regular monthly charges. You can pay just pay 8p/minute and 4p/text, and your Pay As You Go credit won’t expire (you just need to use your phone at least once every 180 days).
You should order a free SIM card before the 31st December 2016 to take advantage of the Christmas Bundle offer.
Normally, ASDA Mobile offers a £10/month bundle with 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1.5GB of internet. This would still be our “best buy” purchase: you’ll get four times as many minutes as you’ll get directly on EE and you’ll get three times as much data to use every month.
giffgaff is another popular choice amongst readers of our website. They offer 3G and 4G coverage from the O2 network.
12% of our readers choose to join giffgaff*
Most giffgaff members choose to buy a goodybag bundle. For instance, on the £10/month goodybag, you’ll get 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of 4G internet. This is twice as many minutes and twice as much data as you’d get for the same price on O2 Pay As You Go.
For lighter users, the £7.50 goodybag can give you even bigger savings (you’ll get 250 minutes, unlimited texts and 500MB of 4G internet). Alternatively, there’s a selection of goodybags with even more data (e.g. 4GB of data for £15/month).
Members of 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). giffgaff also has discounted rates for international calling.
Other major Pay As You Go providers include:
6% of our readers choose to join EE*
For light users not buying a pack, calls will cost 30p/minute and texts will cost 12p each. Internet access is only available when you buy a bundle from EE. The cheapest available bundle is currently the £1/week Data Pack which gives you 100MB of internet to use on your phone (100MB = 0.1GB). For more information, please see our full review of EE Pay As You Go.
Tip: For £10/month, ASDA Mobile gives you 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1.5GB of data. This is 4x as many minutes and 3x as much data as going directly to EE. The coverage on ASDA Mobile is provided by EE. Find out more about ASDA Mobile.
3% 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 their 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 Classic Pay As You Go and International SIM cards. On Classic Pay As You Go, you’ll pay 5p/minute, 5p/text and 5p/MB. 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. You can also read our review of O2 Pay As You Go.
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 for coverage. Find out more about giffgaff.
8% of our readers choose to join Three*
Three currently offers the lowest UK calling rates of any Pay As You Go network. On their 321 tariff, you’ll pay super-low rates of 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB. You’ll also get 150MB of free data lasting for up to 30 days when you top-up your phone.
Regular users can save money by buying an ‘All In One’ bundle. For £10/month, you’ll get 100 minutes, 3000 texts and 1GB of 4G internet. For a larger data allowance, you can choose the £20/month bundle with 300 minutes, 3000 texts and 12GB of 4G internet.
Importantly, it’s not possible to use a 2G-only handset on Three. This is because Three doesn’t provide any 2G coverage: your handset must instead support either 3G or 4G.
4% of our readers choose to join Vodafone*
Vodafone currently 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. These 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:
57% 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. There’s no need to top-up every month, and your credit won’t expire providing your account remains active.
Regular users can buy a bundle from ASDA Mobile for better value usage. Until the 31st December 2016, you can get the £10 Mega Christmas Bundle with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 20GB of internet. This is by far the best value bundle from any mainstream mobile network in the UK at present. Typically, you’ll get 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 1.5GB of internet for £10/month.
ASDA Mobile uses the 2G and 3G networks provided by EE. This gives them 99% population coverage.
1% 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 most recent financial year (2014-2015), the dividend payment was equal to 1.5% of your VAT-exclusive spend (this is equivalent to a £1.50 dividend if you were to spend £10 every month). In previous years, members earned a dividend of 1.5% (2013-2014), 2.5% (2012-2013) and 2.0% (2011-2012).
12% of our readers choose to join giffgaff*
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. For more information, please refer to the giffgaff website.
0.6% 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 1p/minute. However, domestic usage within the UK is fairly expensive: it’s 15p/minute when calling a UK number, 19p/message when you text a UK number and 19p/MB when you access the internet.
Other mobile networks such as Tello and giffgaff may give you low-cost international calling whilst also providing lower UK rates. For more information, see our side-by-side comparison of international calling rates.
0.4% 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 Lycamobile 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 £1/week. Alternatively, ASDA Mobile gives you coverage from EE but at a much lower cost (8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB).
2% of our readers choose to join Talkmobile*
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. You can read our full review for more information.
3% of our readers choose to join Tello*
Tello is a low-cost mobile network using coverage from Three. They offer 4G coverage and have a feature where you can build your own bundle from £3/month (you can choose how many minutes, how many texts and how much data you want on your plan).
Tello also has super-competitive Pay As You Go rates both for calling in the UK and for calling abroad. UK calls cost 3p/minute whilst international phone calls start from 1p/minute.
1% of our readers choose to join Tesco Mobile*
For regular users, you can buy a Rocket Pack bundle with calls, texts and internet from £5/month. The most popular Rocket Pack costs £10/month and gives you 500 minutes, 5000 texts and 500MB of 4G internet.
For lighter users not purchasing a Rocket Pack, Tesco Mobile has the Triple Credit tariff. Here, you’ll pay 25p/minute, 10p/text and 10p/MB. When you top-up your phone with £10, you’ll also get £20 of bonus free credit which will last for a month. For more information, please see our full review of Tesco Mobile Pay As You Go.
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 Smart Packs previously offered by T-Mobile.
Customers already on T-Mobile can stay on their existing plan for as long as they like.
0.1% 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 Mobile compares to rival networks.
1% 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.
If you’re asked to specify the size of SIM card required in your phone (e.g. Standard SIM, Micro SIM or Nano SIM), please see our guide to smartphone SIM card sizes.
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 July 2016 to the 30th September 2016.
** 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.
My passion is helping people to get the most out of their mobile phone. I've been blogging at Ken's Tech Tips since 2005.
Aside from writing about mobile technology, my interests are in software development, digital marketing and physics. Outside of the blog, I work with numerous technology companies helping them to explain their product and helping them to market it to consumers. Please get in touch for more information.