Free Pay As You Go SIM Cards: Listed, Reviewed & Networks Compared
November 18th, 2014
How to get a free SIM card for your phone: Pay As You Go offerings compared from 18 UK mobile networks.
Whether you’re a smartphone fanatic or someone who only uses their phone on a very occasional basis, 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 often rivalling 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 into the back of your existing mobile phone. There are no credit checks and there’s no need to set up a direct debit: simply top-up your phone when you need extra credit.
In the table below, we review free SIM card offers from 18 of the UK’s most popular mobile phone 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 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.
- 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 code to your new mobile network. The number transfer process will normally happen in less than one day with minimal loss of service during the transfer. For full details, 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 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 website. 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. giffgaff also have better value bundles for anyone with a smartphone. For £10/month, you’ll get twice the amount of data and five times as many minutes as you would on O2. Heavy internet users can get a massive 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 call and text each other totally free of charge (all you need to do is to top up once every 3 months).
4G goodybags are available on giffgaff from £12/month.
Other major Pay As You Go providers include:
5% of our readers choose to join 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.
5% 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 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 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 every time 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 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 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.
9% 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 opting in to an All In One Plan. For £10/month, you’ll get 100 minutes, 3000 texts and 500MB of 4G internet (worth a total of £68). For unlimited 4G data, choose the £15/month plan. You’ll get 300 minutes, 3000 texts and all-you-can-eat data with no download limits. Customers will 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 in order to join the network.
3% 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 Freedom Freebees: 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 free Spotify Premium or Sky Sports Mobile TV).
Some occasional users might be better off on the Freebee Minutes, Freebee Texts, Freebee Data or International Freebee tariffs. The four alternative Freebees allow you to keep the credit you’ve topped up by. With every £10 top-up, you’ll get either 150 free UK minutes, 1000 free UK texts, 500MB of free UK data or 60 minutes of free international calling.
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. 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.
Like ASDA, the Co-operative Mobile also charges 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB when you’re browsing the internet (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 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. Last year, the dividend payment was equal to 2.5% of your VAT-exclusive spend (equivalent to a £2.50 dividend if you were to spend £10 every month).
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 instead choose the £12/month goodybag with 500 minutes, unlimited texts and 3GB of data. Both 3G and 4G goodybags are available on giffgaff. For further 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 phone numbers. A unique selling point of the network is you’re able to choose your own custom phone number. This normally isn’t possible on other mobile networks.
2% of our readers choose to join Lebara Mobile*
Lebara Mobile is a specialist provider of international calling. Using a Lebara SIM card, you’ll be able to call abroad from as little as 1p/minute. Do be warned however: it’s 19p/minute for calling in the UK and 19p when sending a text message to another UK number. This makes it relatively expensive for domestic usage within the UK. Networks such as giffgaff will give you low-cost international calling whilst also providing low UK rates.
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 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
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 3G internet. Bundle customers receive double Nectar points on all their 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 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. Whenever you top up by £10, you’ll receive an extra £20 of free credit which lasts for a month. Any bonus credit which remains unused after a month will automatically 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 excluding VAT is automatically allocated towards a charity of your choice. The £10 Power Bundle comes with 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 (similar to the Smart Packs previously offered on T-Mobile).
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.
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 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 2014 and the 17th November 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’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+.