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UK Sim Cards & Mobile Phones

Thanks to modern technology, getting UK sim cards for your mobile phone and staying in touch whilst overseas has never been easier or more affordable.

I'm not sure whether this is a good or bad thing yet, as it does seem to remove a bit of the excitement of being so far away from family and friends. However it certainly eases the worry of concerned parents to know you're only ever a phone call away.

As a bonus, the United Kingdom offers pretty good sms/text and calling rates both domestically and to other countries. However if you plan to spend a while on the phone to friends and family back home then it's a good idea to get yourself  international calling cards instead.

More than likely you'll be bringing a mobile phone with you. If it's locked to your old provider it will cost you around £15 - £25 to have it unlocked in the UK (depending on phone) Then all you need is a UK sim card. If you don't bring a phone with you, you can purchase cheaper older models as well as second hand phones from mobile dealers and re-sellers all over the UK.

In my opinion the best mobile phone provider / retailer is O2. You can buy a UK sim card starter kit for a fiver and they come with £5 credit. You also get a 'top up' card (magnetic strip card) which allows you to credit/recharge your phone pretty much anywhere, (supermakets, service stations, corner shops etc) you can top up via your debit card by calling the top up number too as well as from most ATMs – which is handy for topping up a friend or partners phone.

There are plenty of mobile providers operating across the UK, but I reckon O2 offers the best service and prices. It has the options of buying (amongst others) an international text 'bolt-on' for £5 which allows you to text anywhere in the world for just 10p which is pretty cheap. Plus if you top up by £15 or £30 a month you get heaps of free calls and text etc…

Something else I find handy is that my O2 UK sim card has never expired even when I haven't used it for 6months, this means I have had the same mobile number for 4 years. Every time I return to the United Kingdom I pop my UK sim card in to my phone call the top-up line and credit my phone via my debit card, all before I've gone through customs. How easy is that?

O2 Shop

"The telephone is a good way to talk to people without having to offer them a drink"

Fran Lebowitz



Oh I almost forgot to mention their coverage. It's not something I think about often because I can't recall ever having a problem. What I can say is that my O2 UK sim card has worked in every other country I have been to, plus it always gives a 'credit remaining' reminder after every call or text, which really helps for those on a budget.

Of course if you plan on signing up to a 12 or 24 month contract then I can't really offer any advice on which provider to use. Personally I don't like the idea of getting a whopping big bill for which you have to find money. It's just not worth the hassle. Also as a new arrival, you're unlikely to qualify for a phone on contract as your credit rating will be non-existent (which is actually worse than having a bad credit rating) It may be possible to get around this by offering a large deposit as a guarantee, but that's not something I would recommend.

Something I found whilst working in the UK is that most people couldn't care less what phone they had so long as it was affordable and it worked. So many of my friends have lost their phones (sometimes 3 or 4 times!) or damaged them in some way that it's just not worth spending a heap of money on one. I'm prepaid all the way.

On the other hand you may want a nice new shiny phone with all the bells and whistles which you can only get (or afford) on a contract… it's up to you. For me that will only happen the day a phone can make me a decent coffee.

Mobile WiFi

Now that mobile phones have finally been programmed with the ability to use real internet - wifi is even more useful. Many common places in the UK and Europe are now wifi hotspots. Places including Starbucks, Macdonalds, Airports, and many pubs have free wifi available to their customers. If your phone has wifi, it's another great way to stay in contact with friends and save money whilst abroad.

Information on O2 UK sim cards and mobile phones (O2 home page)

Aside from O2 the other main mobile phone providers in the UK are

and 3 Mobile

Some of these providers may be familiar to you so check out their call rates and come to your own decision.

-note- Don't make up your mind based on the websites alone. They're all pretty confusing and many plans won't apply to overseas visitors, so a better idea is to go in to the retail phone outlets once you arrive in the UK and see if they can do a special deal for you.

-tip- I have a UK sim card as well as others from countries all over Europe, I keep them all in my wallet so I can't lose them. A better idea may be to keep them in your travel pouch. Or you can try something different; drill a small hole in the corner of each card, loop them on a thin chain and voila!, a geeky yet handy accessory.

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