If you don’t use your mobile phone very often, it’s best to choose a low-cost Pay As You Go tariff with no regular monthly subscription.

If you only use your mobile phone from time to time (e.g. for trips 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 important to look at a number of factors including minimum usage requirements, 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.

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 tariffs that have a regular monthly charge. This includes any Pay As You Go tariff that requires you to top-up every month (otherwise, you’ll be paying for airtime that you never actually use).

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 where you don’t use your handset).

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 a lot shorter: it can even be as little 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 so if you only use your phone from time to time). Upon disconnection, you’ll normally also 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 your trips away from home or during those “emergency situations”. The availability of all three types of coverage is beneficial (2G, 3G and 4G coverage).

In the UK, there are only four network coverage providers: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. The four network coverage providers each license some spectrum from the Government and maintain their own network of phone masts.

All other companies offering a mobile service are known as virtual network operators (MVNOs for short) – they piggyback on one of the four network coverage providers. When using a virtual network operator, you’ll receive the same underlying coverage as you’d get when using the host mobile network directly (e.g. customers on ASDA Mobile get the exact same coverage as customers on EE).

Topping Up & Top-Up Expiry

With regards to topping up and adding money to your account, it’s worth considering minimum top-up amounts, the available methods for topping up your SIM card and how long your top-ups will last for.

On the best mobile networks, it’ll be possible to top-up from as little as £5 each time (some other mobile networks will require a minimum top-up of £10 each time). You should look for a range of available top-up methods, ideally allowing you to top-up both in-store and remotely (e.g. online, by text message or by phone call).

Typically, on most major networks, your Pay As You Go top-up 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 those networks, if you don’t use your credit during the 90-day period, it will expire and will be removed from your account.

Customer Support

Networks like giffgaff offer online-only support.

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

Most mobile networks will offer telephone support, whereas others will emphasise online-only support (e.g. community forums, e-mail or web chat). For instance, if you’d like the ability to pick up the phone and talk to customer support, you should avoid 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 reasonably 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 minor 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 the situations where you need to use your handset a lot (for instance, if you need to make a long phone call or if you need to use the mobile internet extensively during a trip away).

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.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 270 days (restricted usage after 180 days).
  • Uses EE coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Top-up from £1. Available in-store (from £5) & by phone (from £1). Top-up credit doesn’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (dial 2732 from your ASDA handset).
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB.

At present, 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 use your phone at least once every 270 days (although outgoing calls will be suspended when you reach 180 days of inactivity, allowing you to follow a short process to re-activate full service).

On a SIM card from ASDA Mobile, you’ll get 99% population coverage from EE, including on 2G, 3G and 4G. The minimum top-up is just £1 each time (or £5 if you’re topping up in-store with a voucher). Usage costs just 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB. Bundles are available to buy from £5/month, and as long as you keep your SIM card active, your top-up 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.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 180 days.
  • Uses O2 coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Top-up from £10. Available in-store & online. Top-up credit doesn’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Customer Support: Online only (community forums 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 instead of 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 it from £5/month.

Order giffgaff SIM card (Free) →

1pMobile

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. No bundles but data boosts are available.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Requires at least a £10 top-up every 120 days.
  • Uses EE coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Top-up from £10. Available online only. Top-up credit doesn’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • 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. A unique and 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 the traditional Pay As You Go tariff of 1p/minute, 1p/text and 1p/MB, data boosts are available to buy (e.g. giving you a discount of 40% when you use 1GB 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.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 270 days.
  • Uses Vodafone coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Top-up from £5. Available in-store & online. Top-up credit doesn’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • 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 phone from time to time but tend to use it quite a lot 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. However, the maximum charge is capped at £1 per day (for unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and up to 500MB data). What this means is you can decide to 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 when required unless you switch to Vodafone’s Big Value Bundles tariff instead.

Order Vodafone SIM card (Free) →

For information on how other mobile networks compare to this, please see our in-depth guides to minimum usage requirements, network coverage, topping up, 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 guide to the best Pay As You Go SIM cards and our comparison of traditional Pay As You Go deals.

Your Comments 11 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 11 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Peter Creswell said:

    Ken
    I use GiffGaff and they are fine on the monthly £5 bundle, but there is a catch. I spend a lot of time in Spain and giffgaff restrict free roaming to 90 days in four months. So if I go for three months to Spain, I will end up being charged for any calls that start from outside the UK. I have already had one warning this year and just got back to the uk in time, but I presume when I return to Spain in a week or so they will start to aggregate my total time abroad and force me to buy airtime as well. I need another sim but not sure where to go. Very small user apart from occasional outburst using waze or google maps!

    • Hi Peter,
      Thanks for the information and feedback on this! On a related note, if you’re interested in finding out more about EU roaming limits, you can have a read of my in-depth guide here. I believe most networks have a similar policy requiring you to spend the majority of your time in the UK (otherwise, roaming will start to be chargeable).
      Ken

  • Matthew Joyce said:

    Hi Ken – really useful website, thank you. Just one point re ASDA mobile, you can top up by just £1 with a credit card, the minimum is not £5 as stated above unless you use eVouchers when the minimum is £5.

    From ASDA mobile website: If you’re topping up using a debit or credit card, you can top-up by any amount between £1 and £30 in full pounds only.

    I’ve done this with a new SIM. I also got a 10 minute, 10 text and 10MB bundle to use for the first month free. So it’s ideal for really light users who don’t even want to top up £5 – I use it as a second SIM in a dual SIM phone.

    • Hi Matthew,
      Thanks a lot for bringing this to my attention, and fantastic news that ASDA Mobile allows top-ups from just £1. Anyone else wanting to see this in the ASDA Mobile FAQs can find it within “Topping Up Questions” and then “How much can I top up on Asda Mobile?”.
      I’ve just updated the article above to reflect this information.
      Thanks again!
      Ken

  • Hi Ken
    For light users the best options are 1) O2 payg 3/2/1 2) 3Uk payg 3/2/1 and 3)1p mobile 1/1/1

    Keep up the good work with the site

    Miles

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