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 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 up the SIM card.

In this article, we’ll discuss our 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 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 every 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 your typical mobile phone bill will exceed £5/month.

Instead, you’ll be 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 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 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 very closely before choosing 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 days or 270 days. However, on some smaller mobile networks, this can be as often as 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 credit remaining on your 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 from home 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 four providers. This means you’ll get the same coverage as on the underlying network (so for instance, customers on 1pMobile and ASDA Mobile 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. However, 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 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 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 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 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 another year. After the first year, there’s a minimum required top-up of £10 every 120 days to keep your SIM card active (equivalent to £2.50 per month). While 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 (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) →

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 offers a Pay As You Go service with coverage from EE. Using an ASDA Mobile SIM card, it’s possible to use your mobile phone with no regular monthly charges. The only requirement is you’ll need to use your SIM card for a chargeable activity at least once every 270 days (although outgoing phone calls will be suspended after 180 days of inactivity, with you then needing to follow a short process to reactivate a complete service).

The minimum top-up on ASDA Mobile is just £1 if you’re topping up by phone, or £5 if you’re topping up in store with a voucher. You can optionally decide to set up automatic top-ups for when your Pay As You Go balance drops below a certain amount.

When using a SIM card from ASDA Mobile, you’ll get 99% population coverage from EE, including on 2G, 3G and 4G. You’ll pay 8p/minute, 4p/text and 5p/MB. Alternatively, bundles are available to buy from £5/month. Your top-ups on ASDA Mobile will never expire providing your SIM card remains active.

Order ASDA Mobile 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 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 25p/minute and 10p/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 200MB monthly free data allowance, 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’s required on Three’s normal Pay As You Go service). The downside is you won’t be able to buy one of Three’s 30-day bundles with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and a data allowance from £10/month.

You can buy a Data Reward SIM card for £10. 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 your SIM card any further to get this).

Order Three Data Reward SIM card (£10) →

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: 10p/minute, 10p/text and 5p/MB.

Customers joining Three on their regular Pay As You Go service have the option of buying a monthly bundle from £10/month. Without a monthly bundle, you’ll pay 10p/minute, 10p/text and 5p/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.

A key benefit of joining Three’s Pay As You Go service is that you’re able to use your mobile phone abroad in 71 destinations at no extra charge. Three’s Go Roam offer covers most of Europe along with 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 lots of your usage 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:

  • Minimum usage requirements & credit expiry: Find out how often you’ll need to use your SIM card in order to keep it active and to stop it from expiring.
  • Topping up your phone: Information on how to top-up your SIM card and how much credit you can add to it.
  • Mobile network coverage: Find out how coverage compares across different UK mobile networks, and the coverage provider used by each network.
  • Pay As You Go rates: Compare the per-minute, per-text and per-megabyte rates for every Pay As You Go mobile network in the UK.

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. We’ve also got an in-depth comparison of traditional Pay As You Go deals.

Your Comments 241 so far

We'd love to hear your thoughts and any questions you may have. So far, we've received 241 comments from readers. You can add your own comment here.

  • Hi Ken,
    I’ve been in touch with 3 quite alot of times because I am unable to activate my voice mail on my three data reward sim. They keep telling me to try after 4 or 2 hours and then dial 123, and 1212 as the pin. Unfortunately when ever i dial the 1212 the operator doesn’t recognise that pin and says try again. I would greatly appreciate if you could help me with this issue.
    Cheers

  • An extremely useful page. I’m looking for a PAYG SIM to be used with a cheap 2nd hand mobile for my elderly mother to use for video calls (whatsapp or iphone’s imessage) with children/grandchildren. She’ll be using WIFI exclusively for the calls and only needs the SIM to allow whatsapp, for example, to be set up as it requires a phone number (such a pain). This makes this page invaluable. I can’t think of a better solution but open to suggestions from anyone.

    • Hi Andrew,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, WhatsApp does require a phone number for the setup. There’s no obligation to leave that SIM card inside the phone, however, so you can always take the SIM card and use it yourself. Alternatively, she could also borrow someone else’s SIM card for the purposes of setting up WhatsApp, albeit, it will be linked to that phone number going forward.
      Ken

      • Andrew Scott replied:

        Hadn’t thought of your first suggestion. Yes, that does mean I could use it in MY backup phone but, fingers crossed, I’d not need it. Decided on Asda as, IMHO, it offered the cheapest “sleeper” SIM. I note your advice to use it with 180 days to avoid issues.

        By the way, I looked back through your replies to others and they are both numerous and very timely. Also courteous and helpful. We’ll done, Sir!

    • Hi Norman,
      Thanks for your comment. On some mobile networks and plans, your credit or allowances may automatically expire after a certain amount of time (e.g. after one month on a Pay As You Go bundle). With 1pMobile, the credit you add to your account will never expire. However, there’s an obligation to keep your account active which involves topping up by £10 every 120 days. As long as you do this, your credit won’t expire and will still be there for you to use as you please.
      Hope this helps,
      Ken

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