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Cheap Sim-only Deals

£10/mth, 4GB, unltd mins & texts

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Nick and Weleid | Edited by Steve N

Updated Weekly

sim onlySwanky smartphones can be painfully expensive – but that doesn't mean your monthly bill has to be. Save yourself a packet separating the cost of your handset from your service with a cheap Sim-only deal.

This guide lists everything you need to know when looking for a new Sim-only plan, where to find the best deals and our own top picks.

Is Sim-only right for you? Before you read this guide...

  • Are you happy with your current phone or able to buy a new one upfront? Sim-only's probably a good bet. Read on...
  • Concerned about a credit check or want a tighter control over your bill? Pay-as-you-go may be a better option.
  • Want a new phone but can't afford to buy it upfront? Traditional mobile contracts are usually more expensive – for other options, see Buying a new mobile.

Sim-only need-to-knows

Here are the key points to understand when looking for a Sim-only contract.

  • Sim-only is usually cheaper than a traditional mobile contract as it doesn't include the phone

    A Sim-only deal covers just the mobile service, ie, it gives you a set monthly allowance of minutes, texts and data.

    It's normally much cheaper than a traditional mobile contract, as Sim-only deals don't bundle in the cost of the phone itself. You'll have to have your own handset to put the Sim into already, or buy one separately.

    Although you're not paying for a phone, you'll still have to sign up to a contract to get a Sim-only deal – typically on a 12-month or rolling one-month basis.

    Things to watch out for

    You'll probably be credit-checked

    Prices can rise with inflation each year

    Some deals are for new customers only

    Check promo period end-dates

    You can save more with cashback – though be warned...

  • Choose a Sim with the allowance YOU need

    allowance

    Don't be sold on overly generous allowances that you'll never use. Do you really need unlimited minutes or 6GB of data? Most don't use anywhere near that – check your actual past usage with an online tool.

    There are three Ofcom-accredited sites to choose from. Each will analyse your bills from the last three months to determine your average usage and suggest deals based on this.

    • Billmonitor* works with customers of EE, O2, Tesco Mobile, Three and Vodafone. It's not quite as user-friendly as MobilePhoneChecker (below), though it gives a more detailed bill analysis.
    • MobilePhoneChecker*, though not as thorough as Billmonitor, works with more networks – the big four (bar Vodafone), plus BT Mobile, Giffgaff, iD Mobile, TalkMobile, Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile.
    • Ctrlio will handily remind you when better deals at your usage become available (either monthly or just at the end of your contract), though currently it can only read the bills of Three, EE, O2 and Giffgaff.

    MobilePhoneChecker and Ctrlio are also useful for when you're ready to locate the best deal.

  • You'll need to have an unlocked phone – it's usually free to get it done

    If you have an existing handset which you originally bought on a traditional contract it may be locked to the network that sold it to you (to check, just pop in another network's Sim). If so, you'll need to get it unlocked in order to make sure your new provider's Sim will work in it.

    If you're out of contract your network must do this for free. If still in contract or you bought it on pay-as-you-go, you may be charged up to £20 to unlock it – see the Mobile Unlocking guide for a full list of providers' unlocking policies and how to do it.

  • Check signal strength where you live/work

    signal simonly

    You can get an idea of signal strength in a particular area with Ofcom's Telecoms Coverage Checker.

    This'll show you results for one of the four main networks – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – but 'piggyback' networks use their signal and generally offer far better value, so don't think your options are limited to one of the biggies. See a full list of which provider is on which network in our Mobile Piggybacking guide.

    For a more accurate indication than Ofcom's checker can give you, it may be worth picking up a free pay-as-you-go Sim from the network you're considering, topping it up with a bit of credit and putting it to the test before committing.

  • Switching from a contract? Serve your notice to leave ASAP

    Most contracts require at least 30 days' notice to cancel, meaning as a minimum you'll have to pay for this many days once you tell your provider you're leaving. Plans roll over at the same price, and if yours came with a handset this could be £50+/month – so you don't want to be paying for it any longer than necessary.

    The first thing to do before even looking for a new deal is to call up a month before your minimum term is up and request your PAC (port authorisation code) to keep your number. Use those 30 days to find yourself a new deal while running down the clock.

    If you change your mind you can always tell your network that you've decided to stay – plus it's more likely to get in touch with a better deal once it thinks you're serious about leaving.

  • You can keep your number – here's how

    pac

    When you called up to hand in your notice, you should have been offered your PAC, which you'll need to keep your number when you move to a new network. But if you didn't get it then, you should still be able to call up and get it as long as your pre-existing contract hasn't been terminated yet.

    Though the process varies by provider, once you've got your new (temporary) number from your new network you'll then need to fill in an online form.

    The switch usually takes place the next working day after submitting your PAC.

    If you're switching to a new tariff on the same network, you shouldn't need to carry out this process – call customer services and they should be able to sort it.

Sim-only top picks

Once you know which network(s) you're happy to go with and what allowance you need, find the best deal you can that fits with this. Below we've listed out our top pick deals, sorted by different types of user – mid-level users, heavy users, low users and those who need a Sim for roaming.

In each category we've listed the best deal or deals we could find, but because for some signal is crucial, we've also listed the top alternatives for each of the other networks (or a network that piggybacks on it). All deals come with 4G data unless otherwise stated.

Can't find one that fits your criteria? Use a comparison site to see what else is out there – the most comprehensive and our favourite is MobilePhoneChecker*, or try newbie Ctrlio.

Mid-level users

Here are top picks for mid-level users, with at least 2GB of 4G data and 500 minutes a month.

Plusnet

Unltd mins, unltd texts, 4GB (4G): £10/mth*

TOP MID-USE 4G DEAL, 1MTH CONTRACT

We've blagged this £10/mth deal from Plusnet*, which runs off EE's network. Its range of Sim-only 4G plans is pretty competitive, particularly this top deal, which comes with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 4GB of 4G data.

What makes it attractive is it's on a one-month rolling contract, which is unusual for such a cheap deal, so you're not tied in for long. You can also set up a smart cap meaning you can limit your additional usage to an agreed limit.

If this doesn't suit you, Plusnet Mobile has some other plans below, though they aren't quite as good value.

Need-to-knows
  • One-month contract.
  • Runs off the EE network.
  • If you exceed your allowance, it's £1.50/day for data, 40p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines and 15p per text.
  • Tethering is allowed with this network.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.

If you can't get EE signal where you live...

These are our top pick Sims running off Three, O2 and Vodafone's signal, with at least 2GB of 4G data and 500 minutes a month.

  • TPO* (piggybacks on Three): 600 mins, unltd texts, 2GB, £6.99/mth on a 30-day contract.
  • Giffgaff* (piggybacks on O2): 500 mins, unltd texts, 2GB, £10/mth on a 30-day contract.
  • Vodafone*: Unltd mins, unltd texts, 8GB £17/month on a 12mth contract. (See our Vodafone warning before taking this one.)

Heavy users

For the data fiends out there, these are our top picks with 5GB+ of 4G data each month plus a healthy number of minutes.

Plusnet

2,500 mins, unltd texts, 6GB (4G): £12/mth*

TOP HEAVY-USE 4G DEAL, 1MTH CONTRACT

This is a great deal from Virgin Media*, which runs off EE's network. Its Sim-only 4G plans are currently very competitive, in particular this £12/mth top pick, which comes with 2,500 minutes, unlimited texts and 6GB of 4G data (it's usually 2GB but the triple data promotion boosts it to 6GB). The 'Add the promotion' box should be ticked, then click on 'Continue to basket' to see the offer.

It's on a one-month rolling contract, so you're not locked in for a long period. If this doesn't suit you, Virgin Media has some other plans below – they're also very good value. These promotions won't be around forever though.

Need-to-knows
  • One-month contract.
  • Runs off the EE network.
  • If you exceed your allowance, it's £2/day for data, 45p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines and 15p per text.
  • Tethering is not allowed with this network.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.

If you can't get EE signal where you live...

These are the best of the rest with 5GB+ data (4G) a month.

  • Three*: 600 mins, unltd texts, 8GB, £15/mth.
  • Tesco Mobile* (piggybacks on O2): 3,000 mins, 5,000 texts, 6GB, £18/mth on a 12-month contract.
  • Vodafone*: Unltd mins, unltd texts, 8GB, £17/month on a 12-month contract. (See our Vodafone warning before taking this one.)

Low users

These are our top picks with 1GB+ data a month – in this category we also include 3G-only tariffs, which can be great value if you're not bothered about getting the fastest speeds.

iD Mobile

250 mins, 1GB (4G): £5/mth*

TOP LOW-USE 4G DEAL, 1MTH CONTRACT

Using Three's signal, iD Mobile* comes top for low-users. This is a good deal if you don't need masses of data or minutes and it's 4G.

This one costs £5/mth and comes with 250 minutes, 5,000 texts and 1.5GB of 4G data. It's a one-month 'ShockProof' contract, meaning you can limit your bill to no more than £5 over the tariff price. If you choose a 'GoTo' contract it'll let you rollover any unused data to next month.

Need-to-knows
  • One-month contract.
  • Runs off the Three network.
  • If you exceed your allowance, it's 10.24p/MB for data, 40p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines and 14p per text.
  • Tethering isn't allowed with this network.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
iD Mobile

1,000 mins, unltd texts, 2GB (4G): £7.50/mth*

TOP ALL-ROUND 4G DEAL, 1MTH CONTRACT

Plusnet* recently took over virtual mobile network Life Mobile, which ran off EE's network. It's introductory range of Sim-only 4G plans are very competitive.

Our low-use top pick costs £7.50/mth and comes with 1,000 minutes, unltd texts and 2GB of 4G data. It's a one-month rolling contract. You can also set up a smart cap meaning you can limit your additional usage to an agreed limit.

Here are a couple of Plusnet Mobile's other plans:

Need-to-knows
  • One-month contract.
  • Runs off the EE network.
  • If you exceed your allowance, it's £1.50/day for data, 40p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines and 15p per text.
  • Tethering is allowed with this network.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.

If you can't get Three or EE signal where you live...

These are some other cheap lower use tariffs on other networks:

  • Giffgaff* (piggybacks on O2): 500 mins, unltd texts, 2GB of 4G data, £10/mth on a one-month bundle.
  • Vodafone*: 1,000 mins, unltd texts, 1GB, £15/month on a 12-month contract. (See our Vodafone warning before taking this one.)

For roaming abroad

If you travel regularly and like to use your phone a lot while you're away, it's worth considering a plan that includes an allowance than can be used when roaming abroad.

Three

600 mins, 8GB (4G): £15/mth*

INCLUSIVE ROAMING ON 'ADVANCED' PLANS

Three's 'Advanced' (as opposed to 'Essential') plans let you use your data, text and call allowances in 42 countries and territories at no extra charge, and also let you tether (though only in the UK).

This Advanced plan* gives you 600 minutes and unlimited texts and a chunky 8GB of 4G data for £15/mth over 12 months. It's available to new customers, and to existing customers who are out of contract or want a second line.

Know someone already with Three? Get them to refer you and you'll both get a £25 Amazon voucher. See Refer a friend for details.

Need-to-knows
  • 12-month contract.
  • If your minute allowance runs out you'll be charged 35p/min.
  • You can use your allowance at no extra charge in 42 destinations via Three's 'Feel at Home.
  • Three may increase the price annually in line with inflation.
  • Tethering is permitted within your data allowance on Advanced plans (up to a max 30GB/mth).
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.

If you can't get Three signal where you live...

It is possible to get plans with other networks than including roaming allowances, but they're generally not very competitive.

If you can't get signal with it at home or don't want a contract with Three, we suggest you pick up one of its pay-as-you-go Sims and buy an Add-on for the trip if you're travelling to one of its inclusive roaming countries. For more tips on how to cut the cost of using your mobile abroad, see our Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide.

How to complain about your network

The mobile industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include limited network coverage, slow data speeds, unexpected charges and more. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…

Free tool if you're having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will escalate it to the free Ombudsman Services (or CISAS if you're complaining about EE or Virgin Mobile).

Important: if your issue is about a voucher or incentive that was part of an MSE Blagged deal, then just let us know by emailing voucherhelp@moneysavingexpert.com as that's usually quicker.

Get Our Free Weekly Email!

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes - join the 10m who get it. Don't miss out