Free Pay As You Go SIM Cards: Listed, Reviewed & Networks Compared

November 13th, 2013

How to get a free mobile SIM card: Pay As You Go offerings compared from 17 UK mobile networks.

Pay As You Go SIM CardWhether you’re a smartphone fanatic or someone who only uses their phone for emergencies, there are some great mobile 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 insert a new SIM card into your existing mobile phone. There are no credit checks and no need to set up a direct debit: simply top-up your phone whenever 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 services for calling abroad. We’ve also compared the cost of each network to help you with getting the most bang for your buck.

  1. 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.
  2. 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, giffgaff and Tesco Mobile offer the same coverage as O2.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 provide this to your new mobile network. The transfer process should take up to 24 hours. 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.

giffgaff
Top Choice: 50% of our readers choose to join giffgaff*

  • £10 top-up buys: 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB internet.
  • Rates: 10p/minute, 6p/text and 20p/day for mobile internet (up to 20MB).
    giffgaff-to-giffgaff calls, texts and video calls are free.
  • Uses the O2 network. 99% coverage, check coverage here.

Giffgaff Goodybagsgiffgaff 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 approximately 60% cheaper when made on giffgaff. giffgaff also have much better data packages for people using a smartphone. You’ll get 4 times as much data for £10/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 can get unlimited internet from £12/month. giffgaff members can also call and text each other free of charge.

Order giffgaff SIM card (Free) »

Other major Pay As You Go providers include:

O2
14% of our readers choose to join O2*

  • £10 top-up buys: 75 minutes, 500 texts and 250MB internet (Pay & Go Go Go).
  • Rates: 35p/minute, 12p/text and £1/day for mobile internet (up to 50MB).
  • Coverage: 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

O2 offers a number of Pay As You Go plans.

O2 Pay And Go Go GoThe most popular is Pay & Go Go Go: for £10/month you’ll get 75 minutes, 500 text messages and 250MB of data. After topping up every month for a period of three months, allowances will double to 150 minutes, 1000 text messages and 500MB of data. You’ll also get the benefits of being on O2 such as discounts and offers through the Priority Moments service.

O2 offers a range of alternative Pay As You Go plans. Some users could be better off on the O2 Unlimited or O2 International tariffs. There is also a 4G-ready tariff. Information about the tariffs can be found on the O2 website.

Order O2 SIM card (Free) »

Tip: For £10/month, giffgaff offers 6x as many minutes, unlimited texts and 4x the amount of mobile data. giffgaff is owned by O2 and uses the O2 mobile network. Priority Moments is only available to customers on O2. Find out more about giffgaff.

Orange
2% of our readers choose to join Orange*

  • £10 top-up buys: £10 credit (equiv. 33 minutes), 400 texts and 1GB internet (Dolphin).
  • Rates: 30p/minute, 12p/text and 65p/MB internet (avg. £6.50/day).
  • Coverage: 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

Orange DolphinOrange 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.

Order Orange SIM card (Free with £10 top-up) »

Three
9% of our readers choose to join Three*

  • £10 top-up buys: 100 minutes, 3000 texts and 500MB internet.
  • Rates: 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB internet (avg. 10p/day, first 150MB free).
  • Coverage: 98% population coverage, check coverage here.

Three: 321 PlanIn 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 their phone. The free allowance will last for up to 30 days. You’ll need a 3G handset in order to join Three.

Order Three SIM card (Free with £10 top-up) »

T-Mobile
3% of our readers choose to join T-Mobile*

  • £10 top-up buys: 100 minutes, 400 texts and 1GB internet.
  • Rates: 35p/minute, 14p/text and £1/day for mobile internet (up to 500MB/month).
  • Coverage: 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

T-Mobile Smart PacksT-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.

Order T-Mobile SIM card (Free) »

Vodafone
6% of our readers choose to join Vodafone*

  • £10 top-up buys: 150 minutes, unlimited texts and 250MB internet (Freedom)
    or £10 credit (equiv. 40 minutes), 300 texts and 500MB internet (Text & Web).
  • Rates: 25p/minute, 12p/text and £1/day for mobile internet (up to 25MB).
  • Coverage: 98% population coverage, check coverage here.

Vodafone FreedomVodafone 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 Text & Web plan allows you to keep the credit you’ve topped up by. You’ll get 300 free texts and 500MB of free internet with every £10 top-up.

Order Vodafone SIM card (Free) »

The following virtual network operators also provide a Pay As You Go service:

ASDA Mobile

  • £10 top-up buys: 250 minutes, 2000 texts and 250MB internet.
  • Rates: 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB internet (avg. 50p/day).
  • Uses the EE network. 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

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.

Order ASDA Mobile SIM card (Free) »

EE

  • £10 top-up buys: 1GB of mobile internet.
  • Rates: 30p/minute and 12p/text. Bundle required to access the internet.
  • Uses the EE 4G network. 60% 4G coverage, 99% mobile coverage. Check coverage here.

EE has launched the UK’s first 4G-enabled Pay As You Go tariff. Data bundles are available from £3/month for 100MB of data at 4G download speeds. Most users will choose the £10/month package which gives you 1GB of data at 4G speeds. Calls will cost 30p/minute and text messages will cost 12p each.

Order EE SIM card (Free) »

giffgaff

  • £10 top-up buys: 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB internet.
  • Rates: 10p/minute, 6p/text and 20p/day for mobile internet (up to 20MB).
    giffgaff-to-giffgaff calls, texts and video calls are free.
  • Uses the O2 network. 99% coverage, check coverage here.

giffgaff is a low-cost mobile service using the O2 network. They offer 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of internet for £10/month. For full details, please refer to the giffgaff website.

Order giffgaff SIM card (Free) »

IKEA Family Mobile

  • £10 top-up buys: Equivalent of 125 minutes or 166 texts.
  • Rates: 8p/minute, 6p/text and 5p/MB internet (avg. 50p/day).
  • Uses the EE network. 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

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.

Order IKEA Family Mobile SIM card (Free) »

Lebara Mobile

  • £10 top-up buys: Equivalent of 100 minutes or 83 texts.
  • Rates: 10p/minute, 12p/text and 15p/MB internet (avg. £1.50/day).
  • Uses the Vodafone network. 98% coverage, check coverage here.

Lebara Mobile is a specialist provider of international calling. You can call abroad for as little as 1p/minute and within the UK for 10p/minute. Text messages cost 12p each when sent to both UK and international numbers.

Order Lebara Mobile SIM card (Free) »

Lycamobile

  • £10 top-up buys: Equivalent of 100 minutes or 83 texts.
  • Rates: 10p/minute, 10p/text and 9p/MB internet (avg. 90p/day).
  • Uses the O2 network. 99% coverage, check coverage here.

Lycamobile is another specialist provider of international calling. They offer international calls from 1p/minute and international text messages for 12p each.

Order Lycamobile SIM card (Free) »

Mobile By Sainsbury’s

  • £10 top-up buys: 200 minutes, 5000 texts and 250MB internet.
  • Rates: 8p/minute, 4p/text and 50p/day for mobile internet (up to 25MB).
  • Uses the Vodafone network. 98% coverage, check coverage here.

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 200 minutes, 5000 texts and 250MB of internet. Bundle customers receive extra Nectar points when shopping at Sainsbury’s.

Order Mobile By Sainsbury’s SIM card (Free) »

Talkmobile

  • £10 top-up buys: Equivalent of 125 minutes or 250 texts.
  • Rates: 8p/minute, 4p/text and 25p/day for mobile internet (up to 25MB).
  • Uses the Vodafone network. 98% coverage, check coverage here.

Talkmobile is the own-brand mobile service run by the Carphone Warehouse. It runs on top of the Vodafone network.

Order Talkmobile SIM card (Free with £10 top-up) »

Tesco Mobile

  • £10 top-up buys: Equivalent of 120 minutes or 300 texts.
  • Rates: 25p/minute, 10p/text and 10p/MB internet (avg. £1/day).
  • Uses the O2 network. 99% coverage, check coverage here.

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.

Order Tesco Mobile SIM card (Free) »

The People’s Operator

  • £10 top-up buys: Equivalent of 80 minutes or 133 texts.
  • Rates: 12.5p/minute, 7.5p/text and 6p/MB internet (avg. 60p/day).
  • Uses the EE network. 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

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.

Order The People’s Operator SIM card (Free) »

Vectone Mobile

  • £10 top-up buys: Equivalent of 100 minutes or 100 texts.
  • Rates: 10p/minute, 10p/text and 9p/MB internet (avg. 90p/day).
  • Uses the EE network. 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

Vectone Mobile is a specialist international calling provider.

Order Vectone Mobile SIM card (Free) »

Virgin Mobile

  • £10 top-up buys: £10 airtime (equiv. 28 minutes), 300 texts and unlimited internet (Big Data & Texts)
    or 120 minutes, unlimited landline calls and £10 airtime (equiv. 83 texts) (Big Talk)
  • Rates: 35p/minute, 12p/text and £1/day internet (up to 100MB).
  • Uses the EE network. 99% population coverage, check coverage here.

Virgin offers a choice of two Pay As You Go tariffs. The “Big Data & Texts” tariff will give you 300 free texts and unlimited 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.

Order Virgin Mobile SIM card (Free) »

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 Ken’s Tech Tips readers. Based on the number of SIM card orders between January 1st 2012 and 28th November 2012. We were unable to obtain reliable figures for Orange and Three so have used estimates based on the number of clickthroughs.

** 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.

    

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About Ken

Ken Lo

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+.

Your Comments

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 25 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  1. Phillip Dudd said:

    Hello Ken
    Thankyou in advance for your support, indeed for all your work on this informative site.
    My question is with regards to 0845 0870 numbers. etc…
    i was caught out a while ago when i used all my top up for a bundle and found that i needed separate credit for these type of numbers.
    specifically my question is with regards to:
    three 321 tariff, and orange (any animal pack)
    do you know how they stand with these numbers.
    To date i’ve only found vodafone support these unlimited for an extra payment of around
    £2-3/month
    thankyou

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Phil,

      Thanks for your comment!

      With regards to Three, you can check their special call prices via this link. For 0845 and 0870 numbers, it’s a rather hefty 35p/minute :(

      For Orange, the Pay As You Go price guide can be found via this link. On page 16, you’ll see it costs 12p/minute to call 0845 and 0870 numbers.

      With regards to cutting costs, it’s definitely good to find a non-geographic number (e.g. your bank might list a number you’re able to use when calling from outside the UK – you can often use this number within the UK too). There’s also websites such as SayNoTo0870. Finally, most government departs have switched to using 0345 – using the new number should save a ton in calling costs.

      Hope this helps!

      Ken

  2. Fiona said:

    Hi, I’m looking for a payg that offers a family subscription. I know Vodafone do but I’m not happy with the intermittent coverage where I live, it’s very rural. We do get Orange though. Do they do a family subscription? Thanks in advance.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Fiona,
      Thanks for your comment. By a family subscription, do you mean that everyone can call & text each other for no extra charge? One possible option could be to join giffgaff – whenever you top-up you’ll get free calls & texts to other giffgaff members for a period of three months. They’re using O2′s network so you’ll need to have O2 coverage where you live.
      T-Mobile could be another option: take a look at their £5/month Family Booster option (the person setting up the group will need to be on Pay Monthly).
      Ken

  3. Wallace said:

    Hi Ken, very useful info, thanks for the view.

    I am planning to visit UK for 2 weeks. Since my tablet do not support SIM card, are there any pay-as-you-go SIM which also include tethering? If not, is there any other alternatives?
    Thank you.

    Wallace

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Wallace,
      My recommendation is to get the giffgaff SIM card: you’ll get 1GB of internet on their £7.50 gigabag (fully tetherable). Alternatively, go for the £10 goodybag: 1GB of internet (tetherable) as well as 500 minutes and unlimited UK texts.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  4. Shun said:

    Hi Ken, thank you for the info on your site.
    I am going to visit the UK for about 2 weeks and would like to go for a pay-as-you-go SIM, with about 10-20 MB data per day. I also will make quite a bit of international calls too. But then, I cannot order a free SIM now, as I do not have a UK address. Please advice. Thank you.

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Shun,
      If you aren’t able to get a SIM card sent in advance, my recommendation would be to get a SIM card on arrival. Look out for Lycamobile and Lebara Mobile: their SIM cards can often be found in the high street: both networks offer low cost international calling and they have some decent deals for smartphone data. As well as the high street, you can also find their SIM cards at major airports (I remember seeing a large store at Heathrow Terminal 1).
      If you’re able to get a SIM card in advance, my recommendation would be to order one from giffgaff. They’re pretty good for low data users: 20p/day for up to 20MB. Over a fortnight, you’ll only spend about £2.80 on data. International calls are also fairly cheap – you can see their rates here.
      Hope this helps!
      Ken

  5. Robin said:

    Great site I have been using Tesco pay as you go for some time and swapping between Triple credit and Lite as a low user means one month free when you top up and then on Lite at the low rate of 8p for calls 4p for text means incredibly low payments overall.
    However ’321′ have knocked this into the park and no need for all that swapping around.

  6. Alex HUTCHINSON said:

    Hello Ken, great site. My typical week is 3 working days in UK and rest of the week in Switzerland, where I live. I already have an Orange subscription in Switzerland (which includes unlimited calls to Europe & USA), so I need a pay as you go in UK. My UK customers will always call the UK number even when I am in Switzerland. Could you please advise the best UK sim and deal to buy a new 5S iPhone. Appreciated Alex

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment. Within Europe, you’ll pay up to 7p/minute to receive calls on your UK phone number (this has been capped by the EU). As Switzerland isn’t technically part the EU, mobile networks could differ in the charges they offer for customers in Switzerland. Assuming you receive 100 minutes of phone calls to your UK number whilst living in Switzerland, this might add an extra £7 to your monthly mobile bill.

      Something worth looking at would be EE’s roaming inclusive plans. You can make and receive calls using your UK allowance whilst being in Switzerland. Another possible deal could be Vodafone PAYG with the Passport add-on. It’s 75p to receive a call on your UK number whilst living in Switzerland (call can be up to 60 minutes).

      You can also look at getting a Skype Number (£3.35 per month, see my review for more info). You can set up a geographical number in the UK (e.g. 020) from which you can receive phone calls on a Skype-enabled smartphone.

      Ken

  7. Gazza said:

    How about the ovivo pay-as-you-go sims ?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Gazza,

      Thanks for getting in touch! You can order a SIM card from Ovivo here. I didn’t include them in the guide above as Ovivo charges £20 for the SIM card. You’ll get £15 of credit on activation however which reduces the effective cost of the SIM card to only £5.

      Ken

  8. Bill Van L said:

    I have for years been on T mobile pay as you go with very low use and no time limit on my credit. They now want to charge me £10 every month for the privilege of being on their network. Where should I move to in order to find a tariff with no time limit?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Bill,

      As far as I know, T-Mobile shouldn't be charging you to be on their network. I suspect you have probably subscribed to something like the £10 Smart Pack? This will automatically charge £10 to your account each month (in return you'll get an allowance of calls, texts and internet). You can disable this on your account by following the instructions here:
      http://cow.neondragon.net/index.php/t-mobile-launch-smart-packs-pay-as-you-go-airtime-bundles-from-10month

      Hope this helps,

      Ken

  9. RikTrik said:

    If you can handle giffgaff's appalling customer services dept.

  10. Manix said:

    I hardly ever use my mobile and I thought I was already on the cheapest rate, at £10.50, with 02 unlimited. I phoned them and was never told about 02 simplicity.

    Whether I am a customer of 02 unlimited or 02 simplicity I am assuming I will still get same price reduction on 02 internet.

  11. Guest said:

    Is there a provider offering free PAYG calls to same provider mobile without having to top up each month?

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Hi Guest,

      As far as I'm aware, most of them require you to top-up at some point otherwise the business would be unsustainable. Giffgaff only require one top-up every 3 months so that may be a good option for you!

      Ken

  12. speedbird foxbat said:

    you have not added now mobile

  13. damien said:

    Hi Ken!

    Thanks for this interesting post!
    Just to let you know, a new operator arrived in the market, GTmobile, seems to be quit interesting for internationnal call!

    Damien

  14. Spike said:

    Thank you Ken for this review.

    I found looking at some of the indvidual service provider websites quite confusing and were pushing pseudo-contracts a bit too hard.

    As a light user I chose Asda because of their clear and concise tarrif details (plus no hidden charges) and the ability to add cheap talk minutes as and when I need them.
    Other points I like about Asda are that they use Vodafone for their network and the call centre staff are really pleasant and super helpful.

    Spike

  15. alson said:

    are those information updated. like 3 pay as you go offers. would it last for 90 days with those amazing credits

  16. hnghntrg said:

    what bout blyk

    1. Ken Lo
      Ken replied:

      Unfortunately Blyk closed last June in the UK. See my article on Orange taking over Blyk’s technology.

      Ken

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