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.
Whether 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
Top Choice: 50% of our readers choose to join giffgaff*
giffgaff 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.
Other major Pay As You Go providers include:
14% of our readers choose to join O2*
O2 offers a number of Pay As You Go plans.
The 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.
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.
2% of our readers choose to join Orange*
Orange 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.
9% of our readers choose to join Three*
In 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.
3% of our readers choose to join T-Mobile*
T-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.
6% of our readers choose to join Vodafone*
Vodafone 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.
The following virtual network operators also provide a Pay As You Go service:
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.
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.
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.
|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 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.
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.
Lycamobile is another specialist provider of international calling. They offer international calls from 1p/minute and international text messages for 12p each.
|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 200 minutes, 5000 texts and 250MB of internet. Bundle customers receive extra Nectar points when shopping at Sainsbury’s.
Talkmobile is the own-brand mobile service run by the Carphone Warehouse. It runs on top of the Vodafone network.
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.
|The People’s Operator
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.
Vectone Mobile is a specialist international calling provider.
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.
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.
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+.