Getting a UK SIM Card or Mobile Phone: Follow our Guide

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Getting a UK SIM card or phone

Whether you’re getting your first mobile phone, signing up to a different provider, you’ve just moved to the UK or planning to travel here, it’s important to be informed before you take the plunge. Let’s take a look at everything involved in getting a UK mobile phone or SIM plan, ordering your SIM and/or mobile handset, and what you’ll need to consider before you get behind one provider or another.

Getting a UK SIM card

If you’re looking for a SIM card you have a few different factors to consider. If you’re currently outside of the UK but you’ll be headed here soon, it's important to note that only some providers allow you to order your SIM card to your international address.

Your child’s first phone - advice for parentsIf you’re thinking about buying a UK mobile or sim for your child and you want to keep them safe online, then it’s worth considering a provider that offers parental controls. Tesco mobile sells Monqui smartphones that have a paired app for parents to control usage and block particular apps or sites. These phones also have a safe search browser that prevents your child from stumbling across the wrong content. Tesco isn’t the only provider that allows for parental control, O2’s mobile app allows you set parental controls from there.

Types of SIM cards

There are three different types of SIM cards to choose from that are categorised by payment plans and contractual obligations, or lack thereof. They are as follows:

  1. PAYG: If you get a Pay As You Go or prepaid SIM card you’ll need to top it up every 30 days (or whenever you run out of credit). You’ll never be charged if you exceed your allowance of calls, texts and data but you might run out of credit.
  2. Pay monthly: If you opt for a pay monthly SIM you’ll select a contract plan with a base monthly charge. Some providers will let you change your plan and the amount you pay mid-contract. However, it’s important to keep in mind that if you exceed your monthly allowance of data, calls and texts, you will receive a higher bill.
  3. SIM only: When you’re purchasing a UK sim card you may see the term SIM only deal thrown around. This refers to the fact that you are purchasing a sim and not mobile device from the provider. Needless to say, if you get a SIM only deal you will need to bring your own mobile phone to add the sim card into.

Order a SIM card to an international address

With giffgaff mobile you can order a UK sim card for free anywhere in the world. All you need to do is head to giffgaff’s online sim order page, choose a monthly plan or a PAYG sim, enter your details and press order.

Getting a UK mobile contract

To get a postpaid mobile phone contract you’ll usually need to undergo a UK credit check and you’ll need to prove that you’re 18 years old. Sometimes it can also help to be in the electoral roll at your current address.

If you don’t pass a credit check you may still be eligible for a credit-check-free deal. Providers like giffgaff and Lebara, for example, have been known to offer contracts without credit checks involved. Failing that, you'll have to go for a Pay As You Go sim. If there is no contract involved, you are not locked into anything, which may be a better option depending on your situation.

Major networks like Tesco, EE, O2, Virgin, Vodafone and Sky Mobile all require credit checks, so if you’re hoping to secure a UK phone plan with one of these providers, you’ll need to comply with the necessary requirements.

If you need to pass a credit check, you’ll need to supply the following details:

  1. Your current address and previous addresses from the last few years.
  2. Personal information like your name, date of birth, marital status and so on.
  3. Your credit or debit card details will be required, and sometimes your bank information will be needed too.

Getting a mobile phone in the UK

UK Mobile customer

When you’re looking for a new handset in the UK, you have two options. You can opt for a contract with a provider, in which you pay for your handset in monthly installments that are billed along with the cost of a monthly data, calls and texts allowance.

Alternatively, if you have the funds, you can buy a phone outright in full, either from a mobile provider online or in store, or from the manufacturer. If you are after the latest iPhone for example, you can purchase it from the Apple store and then add a sim card from your preferred provider.

Tips for your new smartphoneHaving a new phone is loads of fun. Here are some useful tips for using your new toy: Customise your home and lock screens; install a phone finder app just in case you lose your phone; connect to free wifi hotspots to save on data; and if you’re learning a new language, why not change the language on your phone to help you learn.

International roaming and charges

If you’re moving to the UK, or you have friends and family abroad, it’s worth taking the international use of your phone into consideration. Under EU law all UK mobile providers are required to offer international roaming within the EU at no extra cost, although this could change after Brexit.

If you are travelling to, or calling outside of the EU, make sure you check your provider’s international data, call and text charges. The last thing you want to bring back from abroad is a nasty bill from using your phone on higher international rates. Some prepaid providers allow you to add on an international bundle.

If you’re travelling outside of the EU you may want to purchase an international sim card in the country you are heading to. If you’d prefer not to get an international sim but want to save on your data plan, make sure you keep an eye out for local wifi hotspots or ask for free wifi in cafes and restaurants.

Choosing a mobile phone provider

Adding a SIM card to your mobile phone

There is a wide range of different mobile providers in the UK and the market is undoubtedly a competitive one. So that you don’t get overwhelmed by the many options, this section of the guide is aimed at aiding you through the decision making process.

The first step in deciding on your provider is to figure out exactly what your needs are. Here at Selectra, we’ve developed a short questionnaire to get the ball rolling on this part of the process.

  1. Will you need to use your phone in remote, regional or very busy areas? - If your answer to this question is yes then you’ll need to think about the level of network coverage you’ll receive from your provider. For more information check out our mobile network coverage guide.
  2. Would you prefer to pay a monthly phone bill or to pay for your credit as you use it? If you’re comfortable with a direct debit bill that comes out of your bank account each month and you don’t want to run out of credit, pay monthly could be the best option for you.
  3. Will you need a handset or do you already have one?Mobile handsets increase the price of phone contracts. The handset you choose will affect the price you pay. If you don’t need a handset you can opt for either a pay as you use SIM or SIM only contract.
  4. What will you use your phone for most: data, calls or texts?Your usage will affect the price you’ll pay and will determine which plan will work best for you. If you have home broadband in your residence, you may not need as much data on your plan, or if you tend to rely more on whatsapp messaging than calling, you’ll need to focus on securing more data. Some providers offer unlimited calls and unlimited data, so make sure you have a rough idea of what you’ll need before you sign up for anything.
  5. Are looking for an online or instore purchase? If a particular mobile phone deal or provider takes your fancy, make sure you will be able to purchase from them in either origin or destination.
  6. Have you checked out the perks? Before you sign on to a particular phone service make sure you can get the most out of them! Some providers like Vodafone and O2 have rewards programmes where you can get exclusive access to certain events. Giffgaff even lets you earn cashback for recommending friends or family. Be sure to check out our provider articles for more details.

Once you’ve clarified these points you can move on to pricing. For instance, if you’re looking for a Pay As You Go SIM you can now compare price points for that specific product across the mobile phone providers.

When deciding on a mobile phone provider we recommend scanning through the relevant provider guide listed below in order to get all the information you need. You can do so by clicking on the providers name below.

Switching Providers but keeping your phone?Happy with your phone but unhappy with your provider? No worries! Thanks to UK regulations you can now switch your provider via text - all you need to do is text PAC to 65075. If you bought your mobile device via your provider, however, you may need to get the device unlocked.

Looking for a SIM-only deal?


The services and products mentioned on this website may only represent a small selection of the options available to you. Selectra encourages you to carry out your own research and seek advice if necessary before making any decisions. We may receive commission from selected partner providers on sales of some products and/or services mentioned within this website. Our website is free to use, and the commission we receive does not affect our opinion or the information we provide.