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A SIM-only deal is something that provides you with just the SIM card of your chosen provider. The deals come without a handset - as you are just paying for the use of data, phone calls and the like. It goes without saying that you need a phone to use a SIM card with, so If you don’t already have a handset that you want to use, then it is likely that you are better off with a pay monthly deal rather than spending money on a new handset up front.
It is very easy to get a SIM card. You can find and purchase your ideal SIM-only deal online. If you’re undecided, all the major providers will send you a SIM (with no plan activated) for free and you can pick a plan to add later. You can also purchase a SIM from supermarkets which usually have pre-set plans that last 30 days.
There are a number of SIM-only deals available from a wide range of suppliers. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different options available to help dispel any confusion:
A pay monthly SIM works similarly to pay monthly phone deals. They are usually cheaper, however, as they don’t come with the added cost of a handset. Most pay monthly SIMs are also eligible for the same perks as pay monthly phone customers. This is worth taking into consideration as these perks are usually enticing, such as bigger data bundles, entertainment packages, free roaming and inclusive minutes.
Pay monthly SIMs will require you to enter into a contract with your provider. These contracts are usually lower than the standard 24-month phone contracts (with handsets). They are usually 12 months or 30 days in length. As with pay monthly phone deals, your fees may be adjusted each year for inflation, so be sure to check this before moving forward.
A pay as you go (PAYG) SIM needs to be topped up with credit. When you purchase one of these SIMs there is usually a denomination of money on there, then you can ‘top up’ in increments:: £10, £20 and so on. You can also add on packs to your PAYG SIM that last around 30 days and give your data an added boost at a discounted cost.
Once you have a topped up PAYG SIM, then you can call, text and browse as much as you like so long as you are within credit, and each of these activities is charged differently. Once you hit £0, you’ll need to top up. Topping up is easily done online through your provider’s website or by purchasing a top up voucher from supermarkets, post offices or corner shops. Some providers will put a time limit on your credit, so it becomes invalid after a set period, whether you’ve used it up or not.
Any SIM card can be an unlimited data SIM. This means there is no limit on your calls, texts and mobile broadband. It’s increasingly common for plans to offer unlimited calls and texts as standard (with the exception of the most affordably priced value plans). So for the most part, unlimited data SIMs will highlight their broadband data. Unlimited SIMs may still use fair use policies and traffic management, so we wouldn’t buy one of these expecting that you can just use your phone solely as a hotspot for home internet use and the like.
Data-only SIMs are for use with tablets, dongles, laptops or MiFi devices which don’t need access to calls and texts, just mobile broadband. Tablets such as iPads usually come in two options: Wi-Fi only and Cellular. Cellular uses a data-only SIM and means that you can stay connected when you're away from a dedicated Wi‑Fi signal - perfect then for train journeys.
Networks generally offer similar figures when it comes to data allowance, so what you ought to look for are the handy extras like free roaming and customer perks that mean you’re getting more value for your money.
UK’s fastest 4G network
Is 5G ready
Unlimited calls and texts on all SIM-only deals
EE’s SIM-only deals may lack in variety compared to other providers, but added extras like data caps that you can control may be useful for your circumstances.
PAYG SIMs from EE can be purchased with a pack. Packs last 30 days and help your money go a little bit further than standard pay as you go. You can also enjoy free data boosts, so if you purchase 3 Packs (30-day subscription) or 12 Packs (seven-day subscription), EE will start rewarding you with extra data. Your pack can be used abroad for no extra cost within selected roaming destinations and any unused data will roll over to your next pack.
Monthly SIM-only deals from EE come in 12-month and 30-day options. Like PAYG, you can enjoy roaming and 4G/5G connectivity. Currently, only one of EE’s SIMs allows you to use a swappable benefit. These are fun extras that let you game or stream as much as you want without losing your data, while they also enable you to access entertainment apps. 30-day SIMs do not include these extras.
EE preloaded data SIMs come as 30-day and 90-day plans, there are currently no unlimited data-only options.
Extensive roaming network
24-month, 12-month and 30-day options
Unlock unlimited daily boosts
With extensive roaming destinations, Vodafone is an ideal choice if you’re a frequent traveller. SIM-only deals are available as PAYG deals and as 24-month, 12-month or 30-day pay monthly SIM contracts. Calls and texts are unlimited on all current Vodafone SIMs. You will also be eligible for VeryMe rewards – customer perks that range from discounted experience days to a free cup of coffee.
Vodafone’s pay as you go options can be purchased as a free SIM or as a bundle. Vodafone is notable for letting you unlock unlimited minutes and texts and 500MB of data on any day where you spend more than £1 of credit (which makes it one of the cheapest SIM-only deals available). Bundles last 30 days and allow for data rollover. Depending on your bundle of choice, you can enjoy 5G and unlimited data. At present, all PAYG SIM bundles come with unlimited texts.
Vodafone offers several pay monthly SIMs that are unlimited in terms of data allowance. 30-day plans don’t come with added extras like entertainment but do provide a trial of Vodafone’s Secure Net and roaming coverage.
The 12-month options include entertainment packs, which provide access to premium apps like Sky Sports, Spotify and Prime Video for the duration of your contract. You can also purchase plans with additional features like international minutes.
Vodafone offers data-only SIMs that include unlimited data options. 5G and 4G options are available and you can take advantage of roaming destinations the same way you would with a regular SIM. Choose from 12-month or 30-day contracts.
18-month, 12-month and 30-day options
O2 Priority rewards
O2 has a range of SIM-only deals that cover a selection of data allowances and lengths. You can take advantage of free O2 Wi-Fi at public hotspots when you’re out and about.
O2 SIM cards are free, so you can order one, top up and go. However, it’s well worth looking into its bundles which come with deals like free credit, amped-up data and unlimited calls and texts over a 30-day period. Even on a 30-day bundle, you can take advantage of O2 priority perks, while international bundles let you call abroad at a discounted cost too.
Pay monthly SIMs from O2 let you enjoy roaming in up to 75 destinations, as well as entertainment access and perks from O2 priority. Almost all its pay monthly SIMs come with unlimited calls and texts, with the exception of the very cheapest options. An unlimited data SIM is available on an 18-month contract.
O2’s mobile broadband SIMs can come in no-contract SIMs that you top up when you like, or in contract form that lasts 90 days or 12 months. Again, you can request a free SIM and decide on which plan you want later.
24-month, 12-month and 1-month options
Included boosts like Go Binge
Three SIM-only deals may come with handy extras like Go Binge that let you stream as much as you like without eating your data, while many are also 5G-ready.
Three SIMs can be requested for free and then simply topped up. Add-ons let you boost your data and a ‘supercharged’ option can unlock unlimited calls and texts for 30 days.
Three’s pay monthly options can last for one, 12 or 24 months. At present, they are all 5G-ready, and all allow free roaming in selected destinations. They also offer unlimited calls and texts, with some plans also offering unlimited data. Go Binge is available on the majority of plans, with the exception of the more affordable plans.
Data-only SIMs from Three are available with a range of data allowances, including ‘all-you-can-eat’ unlimited. You can choose from 1, 12 or 24-month contract lengths. There is also a pay as you go data only option.
Other, smaller networks offer SIM-only deals exclusively, including:
This depends on your motivations for wanting to switch. If you want to make the most of a network’s offerings and your old handset still works fine, you might want to opt for a SIM-only deal. Just make sure your current handset is unlocked first.
So long as your phone is unlocked, you can use any SIM. If you want a total refresh of your phone, you can look into pay monthly phone deals instead. The data plans offered with these options are generally the same as SIM-only, although they will be more expensive as you’re paying for the handset as well.
No, Ofcom has made it easy to switch providers via text, letting you text one number if you want to keep your number, and another if you’re happy to be transferred to a new number. You should check with your new provider if you’re going for a short-lived contract like a 30-day SIM though.
Yes, but only if you’re on pay as you go or recently came to the end of a contract. Then, you can change whenever you like. If you’re in contract with a provider, however, you cannot change SIM until your contract is up, otherwise you will face cancellation fees.
If you’re on a phone contract that includes a handset, you may have the flexibility to change your handset or apply for it to be unlocked ahead of the end of your contract, but you will remain on the same data plan, unable to change SIM for free.
Yes, depending on your provider. You may be able to pay off your handset in full, making your plan SIM-only. However, there may be added fees and restrictions, so be sure to check all this with your provider.
Yes, in theory. Any phone can be made to work with any SIM card, but you may need to go through a few extra steps to get there. If your phone is unlocked, you can simply slip in a new SIM and go, but if it is locked to a certain network, you can only use SIM cards from that provider. It’s easy to apply to have mobiles unlocked. This is often free and takes no more than 10 days.
Last updated: 21 December 2020