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5 August 2020
Whether you're a talker, texter or always online, we've handpicked the best Sim-only deals starting at £4/month – plus we've lots of tips including how to unlock your phone and keep your number. Millions of mobile users are out of contract and overpaying, yet it's simple to ditch pricey providers, so check how much you could save.
A Sim is the little chip that slots into your 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.
Most deals are for new customers and providers carry out a credit check when you sign up, so if you struggle getting credit, you may want to check your credit score before applying. Although you're not paying for a phone, you'll still have to sign up to a contract – typically they're on a 12-month (remember to check the price when it ends) or a rolling 30-day basis.
Switching to a cheaper deal with another network is really easy. Under rules from regulator Ofcom, which came into effect on 1 July 2019, you no longer have to call your current provider to ditch it, so you avoid the hard sell of it trying to make you stay. Here's how to switch providers and keep your number:
What's more, if you're out of your minimum contract period, mobile providers are now banned from charging you for the remainder of your notice period after you've switched (which is typically 30 days), putting an end to paying for your old and new contract at the same time.
If you're still in contract you could be charged early termination fees for leaving – check how much you'd be charged by sending a text with the word 'INFO' to 85075.
Though the process varies by provider and you may be able to do it on the phone, once you've got your new (temporary) number from your new network, you'll usually then need to fill in an online form. If you're switching from another provider, the links below tell you each network's process for porting.
If you're switching to a new tariff on the same network, for example if you're on pay-as-you-go and upgrading to a contract, you shouldn't need to carry out this process – just call your mobile provider's customer service helpline and they should be able to sort it.
Don't be sold on overly generous allowances you'll never use. Do you really need unlimited minutes or 20GB of data? Most don't use anywhere near that – so check your actual past usage with an online tool.
Billmonitor* is a tool that is accredited by Ofcom that will analyse your bills from the last three months to determine your average usage and suggest deals based on this.
HandsetExpert provides a quick and easy way to give you a rough idea on your monthly data usage.
It works for customers of EE, O2, Tesco Mobile, Three and Vodafone. It's not the most user-friendly site, but it gives a detailed bill analysis.
If you bought your phone on a traditional contract, it may be locked to the network that sold it to you (to check, pop in another network's Sim and see if it works). If you find it's locked, you'll usually need to unlock it so your new provider's Sim will work.
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 £15 to unlock it – see our Mobile Unlocking guide for a full list of providers' unlocking policies and how to do it.
You can get an idea of signal strength in a particular area with Ofcom's Telecoms Coverage Checker. This will show you results for four main networks – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone – but 'piggyback' networks use their signal too, 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.
Haggling on monthly mobile phone contracts can slash the price. If you have a contract deal and you're nearing the end of your fixed term, the network will be frantic to keep you, so it's the best time to haggle. Long-term customers have a better chance at success here.
Our poll showed the best mobile providers to haggle with are EE and Vodafone – see our Mobile Phone Haggling guide for help with getting a better deal. Bear in mind though it's usually harder to haggle on a contract for a new phone, particularly if you're after the latest model.
Mobile networks are permitted to increase your monthly tariff price up to inflation each year, but only if their T&Cs state so before you sign up. And all the major networks have such terms, including EE, O2, Three, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone.
Changes are usually made in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI, a measure of inflation) between February and April each year. Occasionally some firms will choose not to exercise this right, but this year we've so far seen price rise announcements from all of the biggies including EE, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile, O2 and Three.
If a provider hikes your monthly bill by more than RPI – or hikes it and its T&Cs don't allow this – then you can leave your contract penalty-free.
It's possible to nab extra savings through cashback on some deals. There are three types of cashback available, and they all work differently:
For us, at this data level, our MSE Blagged deal for a Lebara Sim with 2GB of data, unlimited minutes and texts for £5/mth stands out. In our most recent poll, 56% told us they use 2GB of data or less each month, so it's enough data for most.
Lebara uses Vodafone's network, so if that isn't suitable for you, or you want a bit more data, iD Mobile, which runs off the Three network, offers 3GB of data with unlimited minutes and texts for £7/mth. It's also a one-month rolling contract so you can cancel at anytime.
Rarely use your mobile? A pay-as-you-go Sim might be more suitable – see our Pay-as-you-go guide for more.
|Lebara* (Vodafone)||£3.99/mth||One month||500MB||200||Unltd|
|Lebara* (Vodafone) – top pick
MSE Blagged, via our link
|TalkMobile* (Vodafone's no-frills provider)||£5/mth||One month||1GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Virgin Mobile* (EE)||£6/mth||12 months||3GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|iD Mobile* (Three)||£6/mth||One month||2.5GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Vodafone Basics* – UK only, no roaming||£6/mth||12 months||2GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|iD Mobile* (Three) – top pick||£7/mth||One month||3GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Note: All data, mins and texts allowances are per month. All deals are for newbies of that provider|
The standout right now is our blagged deal with TalkMobile (Vodafone's no-frills provider) for a 4GB Sim with unlimited minutes and texts. Until Sunday 30 August, you pay £3.75/mth for the first three months, then £7.50/mth for the remaining nine months – equivalent to £6.57/mth over the 12-month contract.
If you need more data, or don't want to lock into a 12-month contract, then there's this 8GB Sim from Lebara. It also piggybacks off the Vodafone network and is £7.99/mth on a one-month rolling contract so you can cancel at any time.
|TalkMobile* (Vodafone's no-frills provider) – top pick
MSE Blagged, via our link
|Equiv £6.57/mth – £3.75/mth for three months, £7.50/mth for nine months (2)||12 months||4GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Smarty* (Three's no-frills provider)||£7/mth||One Month||6GB (3)||Unltd||Unltd|
MSE Blagged, via our link
MSE Blagged, via our link – top pick
|Vodafone Basics* (UK only, no roaming)||£8/mth||12 months||9GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Virgin Mobile* (EE)||£8/mth||12 months||8GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|iD Mobile* (Three)||£10/mth||One month||8GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Voxi* (Vodafone)||£10/mth||One month||6GB (4)||Unltd||Unltd|
|Note: All data, mins and texts allowances are per month. All deals are for newbies of that provider. (1) With an equivalent price, we add up all fixed costs, deduct any promotional cash or vouchers, then average it over the contract length to help you compare. (2) Available until 11.59pm on Sun 30 Aug. (3) You usually get 2GB/mth data but until 11.59pm Tue 25 Aug, you get 6GB/mth for up to 12mths. (4) With Voxi, you also get unlimited data to use on social media apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook.|
Right now there's a bevy of top Sims for data gobblers. Smarty (Three's no-frills provder) is offering 30GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts for just £10/mth on a one-month contract, so you can cancel at anytime.
If you don't want to worry about scoffing your whole allowance, you'll want an unlimited data Sim. With Three, it's £18/mth over the 12-month contract and Three won't limit download speeds, unlike some other networks with unlimited data plans (we don't include those here), so it's good for tethering.
|iD Mobile* (Three)||£8/mth||One month||10GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Smarty* (Three's no-frills provider)
|Virgin Media* (EE)||£10/mth||12 months||10GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Vodafone Basics* (UK only, no roaming)||£10/mth||12 months||10GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Virgin Media* (EE)||£13/mth||12 months||36GB||Unltd||Unltd|
|Three* – top pick
|Superdrug Mobile* (Three)||£20/mth (1)||One month||Unltd||Unltd||Unltd|
|Note: All data, mins and texts allowances are per month. All deals are for newbies of that provider. (1) £20 in Health and Beautycard points applied within five working days once you start using your Sim. It's a one month rolling contract so you can cancel anytime and still keep the £20 worth of points.|
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