If you’re a light mobile user, it’s best to choose a low-cost Pay As You Go tariff with no monthly subscription or credit expiry.

If you only use your mobile phone from time to time (e.g. for trips away or emergencies), it’s normally best to choose a fairly cheap Pay As You Go SIM card with no regular monthly charges. When choosing a network, it’s also important to look at a number of other factors including the minimum usage requirement, coverage and how you can top-up your SIM card.

In this article, we’ll discuss our top things to look out for when choosing a Pay As You Go SIM card as a light mobile phone user. We’ll also review a selection of recommended networks that we think are particularly well suited for light mobile users in the UK.

Choosing a Mobile Network For Light Usage

As a light mobile user looking for a Pay As You Go SIM card, we think there are six really important things you need to look out for in your mobile network:

No Regular Monthly Charges

As a light mobile user, it’s highly likely you’ll want to stay away from SIM cards that have a regular monthly charge. This includes any Pay As You Go tariff that requires you to top-up every month.

Because of this, Pay Monthly SIM cards and Pay As You Go bundles should normally be ruled out from your search (we’d only really consider them if your typical mobile phone bill exceeds £5/month). It’ll be better to instead choose a “traditional Pay As You Go tariff” where there are no regular monthly charges and where you only pay for what you actually use (so you’ll pay nothing in the months when you don’t use your handset).

Credit That Doesn’t Expire

When it comes to topping up your account, it’s important to choose a mobile network where your credit doesn’t expire. It’s also worth looking at the minimum top-up amount and at the methods that are available to you for topping up.

On the best Pay As You Go mobile networks, your credit will never expire and you can top-up from as little as £5 each time (many other mobile networks require a minimum top-up of at least £10). You should ideally look for a range of available top-up methods, both in-store and online. The ability to top-up your account automatically when the balance drops below a certain amount can also be useful.

Typically, on most of the larger Pay As You Go networks, your credit doesn’t expire providing your SIM card remains active. However, on some smaller networks, top-ups are sold with only a 90-day validity period. On these networks, if you don’t use your credit within 90 days of topping up, it will expire and will be removed from your account.

Minimum Usage Requirements

The issue of minimum usage requirements is also something that’s worth investigating very closely.

In the UK, all Pay As You Go networks have a minimum usage requirement for keeping your SIM card active. On the best mobile networks, you’ll only need to use your SIM card for a chargeable call or text message once every 270 days. However, on some other mobile networks, this can be as short as 84 days.

On SIM cards with a very short inactivity period, it’s possible for your SIM card to get inadvertently disconnected (this is particularly easy to happen if you only use your phone from time to time). Upon disconnection from the network, you’ll normally lose your phone number and any remaining credit on your account.

Where possible, we recommend choosing a mobile network that only requires you to use your phone every 270 days. For a wider selection of mobile networks, you can also consider mobile networks that require you to use your phone every 180 days.

Reliable Coverage

The level of coverage you can get on your phone is another important consideration. You’ll want to make sure your mobile phone is actually available for you to use during trips away from home and during those “emergency situations”. The availability of all three types of coverage can therefore be beneficial (2G, 3G and 4G coverage).

In the UK, there are only four network coverage providers: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. All other companies offering a mobile service are known as virtual network operators (MVNOs for short). Virtual network operators piggyback on one of the four coverage providers, so you’ll get the same underlying coverage as when using the host mobile network directly (e.g. customers on ASDA Mobile get the same coverage as customers on EE).

Customer Support

Networks like giffgaff offer online-only support.

The availability of customer support can be another important thing to consider when choosing a Pay As You Go network.

Most mobile networks offer telephone support, whereas others emphasise online-only support (e.g. via an online forum, e-mail or web chat). For instance, if you’d like the ability to pick up the phone to talk to customer support, you should avoid mobile networks like giffgaff that have purely online support.

Low Prices & Availability of Bundles

Finally, and probably slightly less important than the other five factors, it’s worth looking at the exact per-minute, per-text and per-megabyte rates. Generally, it’s worth choosing a well-priced mobile network but this shouldn’t dominate your decision, especially when compared to the other factors listed above. The reason for this is if you’re only spending £1 or £2 on your phone bill each month, the actual savings from choosing a slightly cheaper mobile network will be small and measured in pennies. You should expect to pay in the region of 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB.

As well as having access to low Pay As You Go rates, it’s also worth choosing a mobile network where you have the option to buy a bundle when you need one. This can be useful in situations where you need to use your handset a lot (for instance, if you wanted to make a long phone call or if you wanted to use the internet more extensively during a trip away from home).

Recommended Networks

At present, we’d recommend the following SIM cards for a light mobile user:

ASDA Mobile

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. With the option to buy a bundle from £5/month.
  • Top-up from £1 each time, no expiry. Available in-store (from £5) or by phone (from £1). Top-ups don’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 270 days (restricted usage after 180 days).
  • Uses EE coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (dial 2732 from your ASDA handset).
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB.

ASDA Mobile is our recommended network for the majority of light mobile users. With a free SIM card from ASDA Mobile, you can use your mobile phone with no regular monthly charges. The only requirement is you must use your phone at least once every 270 days (although outgoing calls will be suspended when you reach 180 days of inactivity, with you then needing to follow a short process to re-activate a full service).

On ASDA Mobile, you can top-up from £1 each time (£5 if you’re topping up in-store with a voucher). Optionally, you can also decide to set up an automatic top-up for when your Pay As You Go balance drops below a certain amount.

On a SIM card from ASDA Mobile, you’ll get 99% population coverage from EE, including on 2G, 3G and 4G. Bundles are available to buy from £5/month, and as long as you keep your SIM card active, your top-ups will never expire.

Order ASDA Mobile SIM card (Free) →

giffgaff

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. With the option to buy a bundle from £5/month.
  • Top-up from £10, no expiry. Available in-store & online. Top-ups don’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 180 days.
  • Uses O2 coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Online only (via community forum or web form).
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 15p/minute, 5p/text and 5p/MB.

giffgaff is another popular option for light mobile users, offering coverage from O2 rather than EE. On giffgaff, it’s possible to use your phone with no regular monthly charges – you’ll just need to use your phone at least once every 180 days.

The minimum top-up on giffgaff is £10 each time and will also give you free calls and texts to other giffgaff members for 3 months after top-up. Regular Pay As You Go rates are 15p/minute, 5p/text and 5p/MB, with the option to buy a goodybag bundle when you need one from £5/month.

Order giffgaff SIM card (Free) →

1pMobile

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. No bundles but data boosts are available.
  • Top-up from £10. Available online only. Top-ups don’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Requires at least a £10 top-up every 120 days.
  • Uses EE coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (03333 442278) or online.
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 1p/minute, 1p/text and 1p/MB.

1pMobile has the lowest headline rates for any Pay As You Go service in the UK, charging just 1p/minute, 1p/text and 1p/MB. An important requirement, however, is their minimum top-up requirement of at least £10 every 120 days. This equates to a minimum spend of about £2.50/month on average (while it’s possible to use less than this, non-refundable credit would simply accumulate over time on your account).

1pMobile offers coverage from the EE network. Alongside their traditional Pay As You Go tariff of 1p/minute, 1p/text and 1p/MB, data boosts are also available to buy (e.g. giving you a discount of 40% when you use 1GB of data per month). It isn’t possible to buy an all-inclusive bundle on 1pMobile.

Order 1pMobile SIM card (Free) →

Vodafone Pay As You Go 1

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. No bundles available, unless switching to Big Value Bundles tariff.
  • Top-up from £5. Available in-store & online. Top-ups don’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 270 days.
  • Uses Vodafone coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (191) or online.
  • Pay As You Go Rates: £1/day for unlimited minutes, unlimited texts & 500MB data.

If you only use your mobile phone from time to time, but tend to use it quite a lot on the days when you do, Vodafone’s Pay As You Go 1 is worth considering.

On the tariff, you’ll pay 20p/minute, 20p/text and 20p per 5MB of data. The maximum charge, however, is capped at £1 per day for unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and up to 500MB of data. What this means is you can batch up a number of long phone calls (e.g. when catching up with friends and family) in order to save money on them.

Vodafone offers 99% population coverage on their 2G, 3G and 4G network. You can top-up from £5 each time and your credit will never expire providing your SIM card remains active (you’ll need to use it for a chargeable activity at least once every 270 days). Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to buy a one-month bundle unless you switch to Vodafone’s Big Value Bundles tariff.

Order Vodafone SIM card (Free) →

O2 Classic Pay As You Go

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. No bundles available, unless switching to Big Bundles tariff.
  • Top-up from £10. Available in-store & online. Top-ups don’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 180 days.
  • Uses O2 coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (4445) or online.
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB.

If you’re looking for low rates on one of the four big providers, O2 offers a Classic Pay As You Go SIM card. You’ll pay 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB when using the service. Top-ups are available from £10 each time and you’ll need to use your phone at least once every 180 days to keep the SIM card active. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to buy a one-month bundle unless you switch to the Big Bundles tariff.

Order O2 SIM card (Free) →

Three also offers the same rates on their 321 tariff, but with 3G and 4G network coverage only. For this reason, we’d typically recommend the Classic Pay As You Go plan from O2 over the similar plan from Three.

For information on how other mobile networks compare to this, please see our in-depth guides to topping up, the minimum usage requirements you need to comply with, mobile network coverage, accessing customer support and Pay As You Go rates.

More Information

For more information about Pay As You Go deals, you can read our other in-depth guides around this topic. In particular, it’s worth seeing our overview of the best Pay As You Go SIM cards and our comparison of traditional Pay As You Go deals.

Your Comments 77 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 77 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Hi Ken,
    Thanks for a well-structured and informative site!
    Most helpful.
    Based on your information we were ready to get two ASDA SIMs, but did a scan of ASDA mobile reviews online first – which were a shock to us.
    eg: TrustPilot https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/mobile.asda.com

    TrustPilotr reviews of ASDA mobile are 47% good, 44% bad and the remainder in the middle.
    Bit of a ‘Marmite’ result, that.

    On the same site, 1P mobile are rated 83% excellent.

    I understand how the statistical validity of online reviews can be suspect, but other review sites in our trawl do confirm the trend.

    Most of the ASDA criticism detail points to a user-hostile attitude by ASDA, is this a recent thing, or is it a customer service reflection of endless finger trouble with the average user, in your opinion? Your detailed information on how their system works is far better than the untidy ASDA site.

    Thanks again for all your hard work, Ben (retired silicon chip engineer)

    • Hi Ben,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s actually a bit of a surprise to me to see the negative reviews of ASDA Mobile. For instance, I believe they recently won some awards from Which?, based on positive customer feedback. However, I must say I haven’t used the service myself in the past few months so it’s possible they might be going through some customer service problems.
      Ken

  • Hi Ken,
    The Asda SIM cards for a light mobile user, Top-up from £1 each time, no expiry.
    The usage within the 270 days, does the usage have to be incoming or can it be outgoing calls or messages.
    Thanks

    • Hi Tricia,
      It needs to be a chargeable activity so you’ll need to make an outgoing call or text message for it to be counted.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • Brilliant info. Was looking for the best deal just to keep my number alive as moving abroad and will get a local phone there but still need to keep my UK number even though will not be using it for a year or two. The information here is clear and exactly what I needed. Thanks!

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