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

If you only use your mobile phone from time to time (e.g. during trips away or mainly for emergencies), it’s normally best to choose a fairly cheap Pay As You Go SIM card with no regular monthly charges.

When choosing your Pay As You Go SIM card, it’s important to look at a number of factors such as the minimum usage or minimum top-up requirement, the coverage available on the SIM card and how you’re able to top it up.

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 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 is because you’ll need to pay a fixed amount each month, regardless of whether you actually use your SIM card that month.

Because of the regular monthly charge, Pay Monthly SIM cards and Pay As You Go bundles should normally be excluded from your search unless you think your typical mobile phone bill will exceed £5/month.

Instead, it’s possible to choose a “traditional Pay As You Go plan” where there are no regular monthly charges on your SIM. Instead, you’ll only pay for what you actually use (that’s nothing in the months where you don’t actually use your phone).

Credit That Doesn’t Expire

When it comes to topping up your SIM card, it’s important to choose a mobile network where your credit doesn’t expire. It’s also worth having a look 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 it’ll be possible to top-up from as little as £5 each time. Other mobile networks require a minimum top-up of £10. You should ideally also look for a range of available top-up methods, both in-store and online if possible. The ability to top-up your account automatically when the balance drops below a certain amount can also be useful.

Typically, on the larger Pay As You Go networks, your credit won’t expire providing your SIM card remains active. However, on some smaller mobile 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 be removed from your account.

Minimum Usage Requirements

The minimum usage requirement for keeping your account active is worth investigating very closely before you choose a mobile network.

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 180 or 270 days. On some other mobile networks, however, this can be as short as once every 84 days.

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

Where possible, we’d 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 and during those “emergency situations”. The availability of 2G, 3G and 4G coverage is therefore important.

In the UK, there are only four network coverage providers: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. All other mobile networks are known as virtual network operators (MVNOs) and piggyback on one of the four network coverage providers. This means you’ll get the same coverage as on the underlying network (so for instance, customers on 1pMobile will get coverage from EE and customers on giffgaff will get coverage from O2).

Customer 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, but some networks emphasise online-only support (e.g. through an online forum, e-mail or web chat). 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 online-only 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 fairly 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 a few pounds on your phone bill each month, the actual savings from choosing a slightly cheaper mobile network will be small and measured in pennies.

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 needed. This can be useful in situations where you need to use your phone a lot in a short amount of time (for instance, if you wanted to make a long phone call or if you wanted to use data more extensively on a trip away from home).

Recommended Networks

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

1pMobile

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. No bundles but data boosts are available from £6/month.
  • 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 offers a flexible Pay As You Go service, with the lowest headline rates of any Pay As You Go network in the UK. The network charges just 1p/minute, 1p/text and 1p/MB, with no regular monthly charges for keeping your SIM card active.

An important requirement of 1pMobile is their minimum top-up of at least £10 every 120 days. This equates to around £30 of top-ups per year, or approximately £2.50 per month. While there’s no obligation to actually spend this credit, a non-refundable balance would simply accumulate over time if your average usage is less than £2.50/month.

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 (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 with minutes and texts on 1pMobile.

Order 1pMobile SIM card (Free) →

giffgaff

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. With the option to buy a bundle from £6/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 2G, 3G and 4G coverage from O2. On giffgaff, it’s possible to use your mobile 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 you top-up your account, you’ll get free calls and texts to other giffgaff members for the next 3 months. This means you’ll pay absolutely nothing to call friends and family who are also on giffgaff. If you’re calling customers of a different network, it’s 15p/minute and 5p/text. Accessing mobile data costs 5p/MB with the option of buying a goodybag bundle from £6/month.

Order giffgaff SIM card (Free) →

Three Data Reward SIM

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. With the option to buy a data plan, or switch to Pay As You Go.
  • Top-up from £2. Available in-store & online. Top-ups don’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 180 days.
  • Uses Three coverage (3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (333) or online.
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB.

Three offers a traditional Pay As You Go plan called the Data Reward SIM. You’ll get 200MB of free data on the SIM card each month, once you’ve ordered your Data Reward SIM card and activated the free data offer online. Outside of the free 200MB each month, you’ll pay 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB.

On the Data Reward SIM card, you can top-up from just £2 each time (less than the £5 minimum top-up that is required on Three’s normal Pay As You Go service). The downside, however, is you won’t be able to buy one of Three’s 30-day bundles which come with an allowance of minutes, texts and data from £10/month.

You can buy a Data Reward SIM card for £5. This comes with a 1GB data allowance for your first month, followed by 200MB of free data every month that follows (with no need to top-up any further to get this).

Order Three Data Reward SIM card (£5) →

Three Pay As You Go SIM

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. With the option to buy a bundle from £10/month.
  • Top-up from £5. Available in-store & online. Top-ups don’t expire providing account is kept active.
  • Minimum usage requirement: Once every 180 days.
  • Uses Three coverage (3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (333) or online.
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB.

For customers wanting low Pay As You Go rates and the option to buy a 30-day bundle when needed, Three offers their regular Pay As You Go SIM card with 321 rates (3p/minute, 2p/text and 1p/MB).

On Three, your Pay As You Go credit will never expire providing you keep the SIM card active by using it at least once every 180 days. You can top-up from £5 each time and 30-day bundles are available from £10 if you need one.

In addition, you can use your mobile phone abroad in 71 destinations at no extra charge on Three’s Pay As You Go service. Three’s Go Roam offer covers most of Europe, the USA, Australia, Brazil, Singapore and more.

Order Three 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 Pay As You Go 1 plan, you’ll pay 20p/minute, 20p/text and 20p per 5MB of data. The maximum daily charge is capped at £1 per day which gives you unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and up to 500MB of data. What this means is you can save money by batching up a number of long phone calls or by using more data together on one day.

Vodafone offers 99% population coverage on their 2G, 3G and 4G networks. 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) →

For information on how other mobile networks compare, please see the following in-depth guides:

More Information

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

Your Comments 111 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 111 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Hello Ken, many thanks for a clear comparison of UK PAYG options. I thought the giffgaff PAYG terms sounded perfect for my needs but when I click the link it goes straight to the goodybags. Unless I’m missing something I don’t think they offer the same PAYG option you’ve shown so I’ll keep looking.
    John

      • Hi Ken,
        I ordered the SIM and on the activation page the top-up option is right at the bottom of the list of goodybags, not exactly obvious but your assurance that it was there certainly helped. Many thanks again!
        John

  • Mr Alan Rawlins said:

    Hi, I am 84 years old and my family want me to have a mobile phone so they can keep in touch when I am away from my home and my normal landline phone. I have bought a DORO 6030.
    My needs are to be able to send and receive Texts and phone messages as well as sending them. I would like to be able to top it up when and only when I have used up the the money on the phone and don’t want to be disconnected for whatever reason.

    • Hi Alan,
      Thanks for your comment. Firstly, it’s worth knowing that the Doro 6030 is a 2G-only phone. For this reason, it won’t work on the Three network or on any other mobile network that uses coverage from Three. That leaves you with EE, O2 and Vodafone as well as any mobile networks making use from one of the three networks. In my opinion, giffgaff might be a good option as you’ll get coverage from O2. You’ll pay 15p/minute and 5p/text, and you only need to use your phone once every 180 days. Alternatively, consider a SIM card from ASDA Mobile which will give you coverage from EE.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

  • We need to get a data SIM card for my fathers new iPad pro.
    Ideally one where we can just buy a load of date and when he uses it up be buy more. As his data usage will vary dramatically from month to month and some months he won’t use and mobile data at all so we would ideally like one where his data will not run out. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Jeremy,
      Thanks for your comment. Do you know roughly how much data your father is likely is use? One of Three’s Pay As You Go mobile broadband SIM cards might be a good bet. For instance, you can pay £45 for a SIM card with 24GB of data. This is equivalent to 0.19p/MB which is pretty good. It lasts for up to 24 months, so not quite forever, but I think this should probably be fine as long as he uses an average of around 1GB per month or more.
      Ken

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