Your browser isn't supported
It looks like you're using an old web browser. To get the most out of the site and to ensure guides display correctly, we suggest upgrading your browser now. Download the latest:

The MoneySaving Forum: join to chat & swap tips with other MoneySavers. Learn how in the Forum Introduction Guide

Cheap Sim-only Deals

£8/mth for 3GB, 500 mins if a BT b'band cust + £40 vch

Get Our Free Weekly Email!

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

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 1-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.

BT Mobile

500 mins, unltd texts, 3GB (4G) + £40 vch*

£8/mth for BT custs, £13/mth for non-BT custs

Until 11.59pm on Thu 19 Jan, we've blagged an extra 1GB on BT Mobile's mid-range plan. This means you'll get 3GB of 4G data, 500 minutes and unlimited texts for £8/mth* if you're a BT broadband customer (£13/mth* if not), plus a £40 iTunes/Amazon voucher.

If you're already with BT Mobile you can take out the deal as an additional line, but won't be able to port (ie, move) your number over to it.

You must claim the iTunes/Amazon voucher – but you'll need to wait until two weeks after activation to do so and BT WON'T remind you, so bookmark the link now. You have three months to claim. Once you've claimed, the voucher will arrive within 45 days.

All BT's plans come with 4G data and access to more than five million BT Wi-Fi hotspots. If the above deal doesn't suit, it has two other 12-month offers...

  • £5/mth* for BT b'band custs (£10/mth* otherwise) for 200 mins, unltd texts, 500MB data, plus a £20 iTunes/Amazon voucher.

  • £16/mth* for BT b'band custs (£21/mth* otherwise) for unlimited mins and texts, 15GB data, plus an £80 iTunes/Amazon voucher.

If you stop being a BT broadband customer at any point during your mobile contract your monthly mobile costs will jump by £5.

Need-to-knows
  • 12-month contract.
  • Runs off the EE network.
  • Calls and texts to UK mobiles and landlines included; 084/087 numbers cost extra.
  • Monthly spending can be capped, from a starting point of £5 over your tariff.
  • Use up your allowance and you'll have to pay 35p/min and 10p/MB. Full costs here.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
Three

Unltd mins, 4GB (4G): £10/mth*

VIRTUALLY ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT

Three offers two different types of Sim-only tariffs – 'Advanced' and 'Essential'. Advanced plans give you free roaming in 42 countries and tethering (see below), whereas its stripped-down Essential plans like this one DON'T provide either, but are some of the cheapest around.

Until Tue 31 Jan, this Essential plan gives unlimited minutes and texts and 4GB of 4G data for £10/mth over 12 months. Choose from a nano*, micro* or standard* Sim depending on what handset you have.

This is a decent almost 'all-you-can-eat' deal from one of the major networks, given for the vast majority 4GB is plenty. It's available to new customers, and existing Three customers who are out of contract.

Need-to-knows
  • 12-month contract.
  • If your minute allowance runs out you'll be charged 35p/min.
  • No free roaming ('Feel at Home') or tethering on these plans. See Advanced plans if this is what you need.
  • Three may increase the price annually in line with inflation.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
Candy Telecom

Untld mins, 2GB (4G): £6/mth*

SUPER-CHEAP 4G DEAL – BUT WITH LITTLE FEEDBACK

Newbie Candy Telecom is offering this stonking deal via Broadband Choices*, with unlimited minutes and texts and 2GB of 4G data for £6/month on a 30-day contract.

It runs off Vodafone's signal, but having launched in early 2016 it's a relatively new network and we have little feedback on it, so bear this in mind before signing up. Notably they don't provide phone support. If you're concerned, it might be worth giving them a test drive before switching your main number over.

Candy Telecom says the price won't change for as long as you stay on the plan. Out-of-bundle charges are particularly high though, so watch out if you're making non-inclusive calls.

If you've any experience with this network, please provide feedback in the forum.

Need-to-knows

  • 30-day contract.
  • Runs off the Vodafone network.
  • Tethering is permitted on all plans.
  • Calls to UK mobiles & landlines are included. Calls to 084/087 numbers cost extra.
  • Use up your data allowance and you'll have to pay 5p/MB.
  • You won't be credit-checked, though it'll carry out a basic ID check.

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

This is our top pick for a Sim running off O2's signal, with at least 2GB of 4G data and 500 minutes a month.

  • Tesco Mobile* (piggybacks on O2): 1,000 mins, 5,000 texts, 3GB, £12.50/mth on a 12-month contract.

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.

Three

600 mins, 8GB (4G): £13/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 decent 8GB of 4G data. It's £13/mth for 12 months. It's available to new customers, and to existing customers who are out of contract or want a second line.

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...

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

  • BT Mobile* (piggybacks on EE): Unltd mins/texts, 15GB, £21/mth (£16/mth if you're a BT b'band customer) on a 12-month contract, plus an £80 Amazon/iTunes vch.
  • Tesco Mobile* (piggybacks on O2): 3,000 mins, 5,000 texts, 6GB, £15/mth on a 12-month contract.
  • Vodafone*: Unltd mins, unltd texts, 5GB, £8.50/mth for six months, then £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 too. 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 3G data. It's a one-month 'ShockProof' contract, meaning you can limit your bill to no more than £5 over the tariff price.

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

250 mins, 500 texts, 1GB (4G): £5/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.

Until Wed 25 Jan, our low-use top pick costs £5/mth and comes with 250 minutes, 500 texts and 1GB 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 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, 1GB of 4G data, £10/mth on a 1-month bundle.
  • Candy Telecom* (piggybacks on Vodafone): unltd mins, unltd texts, 2GB of 4G data, £6/mth on a 30-day contract. (Warning – we have limited feedback on this company.)

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): £13/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 £13/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 it 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