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 from home or as a backup for emergencies), it’s normally best to choose a fairly cheap Pay As You Go SIM card without any regular monthly charges.

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

In this article, we’ll discuss the top things to look out for when choosing a Pay As You Go SIM card if you’re a light mobile user. We’ll also review a selection of mobile 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 important things to look out for in your mobile network:

No Regular Monthly Charges

As a light mobile user, you’ll normally want to stay away from SIM cards that have a regular monthly charge. This is because you’ll need to pay a fixed amount every month, regardless of whether you actually use your SIM card.

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

Instead, you’re better off choosing 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 (so you’ll pay 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 normally be possible to top-up from as little as £5 each time. Other mobile networks have 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 a useful feature.

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 as little as 90 days of validity. 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 closely before you choose a mobile network.

In the UK, all Pay As You Go networks will 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 activity once every 180 days. However, on some smaller mobile networks, this can sometimes 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 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 lose your phone number and any credit remaining on your account.

Where possible, we’d recommend choosing a mobile network that only requires you to use your phone every 180 days.

Reliable Coverage

The coverage you’re able to 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 those trips away and during those “emergency situations”. The availability of 2G, 3G and 4G coverage is therefore very important.

In the UK, there are only four network coverage providers: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. All other networks are known as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and piggyback on coverage from one of the big four. 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 consideration 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 live 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, 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. However, this shouldn’t be the overriding factor, especially when compared to the other factors above. The reason for this is that you might only be spending a few pounds on your phone bill each month. The savings from choosing a slightly cheaper network will therefore 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 required. This can be useful in situations where you need to use your mobile phone a lot in a short amount of time (for instance, if you wanted to make a long phone call or if you were taking a long 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 after the first year.
  • 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.

You can order a SIM card from 1pMobile with £30 of credit and no need to top-up for one year. After the first year, there’s a minimum top-up of £10 required every 120 days to keep your SIM card active (equivalent to £2.50 per month). Although there’s no obligation to actually spend this credit, a non-refundable balance would 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 (1p/minute, 1p/text and 1p/MB), data boosts are available from £6/month.

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: 25p/minute, 10p/text and 10p/MB.

giffgaff is a 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 to keep the SIM card active.

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 on a different network, it’s 25p/minute and 10p/text. Accessing mobile data costs 10p/MB with the option of buying a goodybag bundle from £6/month.

Order giffgaff SIM card (Free) →

Vodafone Pay As You Go 1

  • 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 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 & 50MB 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 £1/day for unlimited UK minutes, unlimited UK texts and up to 50MB of mobile data. You’re only charged on the days that you actually use your mobile phone. You can save a lot of money on Pay As You Go 1 by batching up your usage together on one day (e.g. making lots of phone calls 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 180 days). If you like, you can also buy a one-month Big Value Bundle from £10.

Order Vodafone SIM card (Free) →

ASDA Mobile

  • Traditional Pay As You Go. With the option to buy a bundle from £4/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 Vodafone coverage (2G, 3G & 4G). 99% coverage, check coverage here.
  • Customer Support: Available by phone (2732) or online.
  • Pay As You Go Rates: 4p/minute, 4p/text and 4p/MB.

On ASDA Mobile, you can use your mobile phone for 4p/minute, 4p/text and 4p/MB. This is available without the need to top-up every month.

To sign up, you can order an ASDA Mobile SIM card for £4. This gives you unlimited minutes and unlimited texts for the first month. Switch off the auto-renewal feature when you sign up and you’ll move to the traditional Pay As You Go plan after the first month.

For an extra £1, you can also bag yourself 3GB of data to use in your first month on ASDA Mobile.

On ASDA Mobile, you’ll get 4G coverage from the Vodafone network. Your credit won’t expire providing you keep your SIM card active, which means using it for a chargeable call or text message every 180 days.

Order ASDA Mobile SIM card (£4) →

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

More Information

For more information, see our guide to Pay As You Go deals in the UK. In particular, it’s also worth reading our full overview of the best Pay As You Go SIM cards.

Your Comments 445 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 445 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • I would really like to emphasize coverage. Where my cousin lives, one of the four networks has all kinds of excuses as to why coverage is so poor. Yet after moving to another network, I have had excellent coverage. Also take the coverage strength with several grains of salt. I had to hang out the bathroom window with my neck craned to the left, well almost, to get any outdoor coverage. Coverage by all the networks are over estimated, I think.

  • Hi, 3’s Pay as you go data sim is only coming up with “no id specified” when i try to buy it – have they withdrawn it but left it on their site?

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