Best Pay-as-you-go Sim Deals

top and best cheap pay-as-you-go PAYG sim deals from Money Saving Expert, MSE

When you hear 'pay-as-you-go', you might think of the early days of mobiles, when it was common to pay upfront for each pricey call and text. But now it's possible to get great value PAYG 'bundles', giving a better value allowance and tighter control over your bill.

What is a pay-as-you-go deal?

A Sim is the little chip that slots into your phone and gives you a set monthly allowance of minutes, texts and data. A pay-as-you-go (PAYG) deal, as the name suggests, means you pay upfront and are not tied in to any contract or commitment. You'll also have to have your own handset to put the Sim into already, or buy one separately.

There's no credit check, which most of our top pick Sim only deals require, though these often offer better value. 

There are two main types, 'traditional PAYG' where you buy credit and pay for calls, texts and data as you use them and bundled PAYG which gets you an allowance for a set price, which usually lasts a month.   

If that's what you're after – or even if you just want a backup Sim for occasional use – then here you'll find all you need to know about pay-as-you-go, including where to find the best deals and our own top picks.

PAYG need-to-knows

Before you take out a pay-as-you-go deal, here are the key things to consider:

  • While pay upfront mobile deals which don't require a credit check are all generally referred to as pay-as-you-go (PAYG), there are actually two types to choose from:

    • 'Traditional' PAYG – where you really do pay as you go. This is the traditional model where you top up with credit and are then charged for each minute, text and MB as you use it. Though a couple of providers do this cheaply, it's generally worse value so is better for an emergency-use or backup Sim. These are the top providers' rates:

    • 'Traditional' PAYG rates compared

      TABLE_CELL_STYLE CALLS TEXTS DATA
      O2* 3p/min 2p 1p/MB
      Three* 3p/min 2p 1p/MB
      Asda Mobile* 8p/min 4p 5p/MB
      Giffgaff* 15p/min 5p 5p/MB
      Vodafone* 20p/min 20p

      4p1

      EE* 35p/min 15p N/A2
      Prices correct as of 16 Aug 2019. 1. With Vodafone's 'Pay as you go 1' offering, if you spend £1 in a day, you then get unlimited mins, texts and 500MB of data to use until midnight. 2. Cannot pay for data as you go – must buy a 4G data add-on/pack. 
    • PAYG 'bundles' – where you pay before you go, for a bundle. What tends to give better value is buying a bundle of minutes, texts and data with your credit once you've topped up. These bundles nearly always last for a month, after which you'll need to buy another. There are many to choose from (see our top picks below). As a rough guide, here's what a tenner will get you:

  • 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.

    All the networks will now do this for free if your contract's minimum term has expired – however, if it hasn't, or you bought the phone on PAYG, they may charge up to £15. Unlocking usually takes up to 10 days – see the Mobile Unlocking guide for a full list of providers' unlocking policies and how to do it.

  • 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 two sites accredited by regulator Ofcom 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, Three and Vodafone. While it's not super user-friendly, it provides detailed bill analysis.

    • Ctrlio will handily remind you when better deals at your usage become available (either monthly or just at the end of your contract). Currently it reads the bills of EE, Giffgaff, O2, Tesco Mobile, Three, TPO, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone.

    CompareMyMobile* and HandsetExpert are also useful for when you're ready to locate the best deal.

  • You can get an idea of signal strength in a particular area with Ofcom's Telecoms Coverage Checker. This'll show you results for the four main networks – EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. Don't just put your home address in either – check where you work and anywhere else you want to be sure of getting good reception.

    Many other smaller mobile providers 'piggyback' off these networks, using their signal, and they can better offer better value – the signal's the same so you can still check in advance using Ofcom's tool. 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.

  • 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 you want to do before even looking for a new deal is call up, tell 'em you want to leave and request your PAC (porting authorisation code) to keep your number. Then use the 30-day notice period to find yourself a new deal while the clock ticks down.

    If you change your mind within that time 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 (always do your homework before agreeing to anything it offers though).

  • 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 depending on which firm you're moving to, once you've got your new (temporary) number from your new network you'll then need to fill in an online form.

    Follow the links below for info on how to port your number to each network:

    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 – simply call customer services and they should be able to sort it.

Pay-as-you-go top-pick Sims

Below we've listed our top-pick pay-as-you-go deals for different categories – occasional usebest PAYG bundles, and best for roaming. Because for some signal is the overriding factor, we've also listed the top alternatives for each of the other three main networks (or a network that piggybacks on it).

In all but the occasional use category, we've listed PAYG bundles rather than traditional PAYG tariffs, which tend to be more expensive – see Traditional vs bundled PAYG for more. If you can't find one of our top picks that matches your criteria, try using a comparison site such as CompareMyMobile* or HandsetExpert.

Occasional/backup use

It can be useful to keep a spare Sim for emergency use in case you lose your phone, or perhaps for entering competitions or listing adverts where you're not comfortable giving your main number. This is where traditional PAYG deals rather than bundles can win.

'True' pay-as-you-go: 3p/min, 2p/text, 1p/MB

 

The Classic Pay As You Go tariff from O2* does what it says on the tin – it's a simple and cheap tariff, charging on a purely pay-as-you-go basis – it's a good deal for occasional mobile users, though make sure to send at least one text or make a call once every six months to keep it active.

This tariff has the same rates as Three for UK minutes, UK texts and per MB data, however the O2 Sim can also be used in 2G-compatible phones – so the most basic of phones.

Cost: 3p/min, 2p/text, 1p/MB
Minimum top-up?: £10
Bonus features: O2 also gives 5% credit per top-up back for the first three months, increasing to 10% after six months via its Rewards scheme – but you MUST opt in*

  • If you're switching from another network, here's how to move your number to O2*

  • In addition to calls within the UK to landlines and mobiles, calls from the following countries & territories will also cost 3p/min:

    Austria, The Azores, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, French Guiana, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy, Jersey, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madeira, Malta, Martinique, Mayotte, Monaco, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Reunion, Romania, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Vatican City.
     
    So if you're on holiday in Italy and want to phone the restaurant down the road from your hotel, you'll only need to pay 3p/min.
     
    However, be aware that calls from the UK to numbers in these 'Europe Zone' countries will be charged as international calls and will cost you more than 3p/min – see the full list of charges.

     

  • Provided your account remains active, your credit will stay on your account permanently. To do this, you'll need to top up at least once or make a call/ send a text every six months, otherwise you will be disconnected and any remaining credit would be lost.

    If, you're disconnected but you want to continue using O2's pay-as-you-go package, you’ll be given a new number.

  • While there's a standard charge of 2p/text within the UK and O2's 'Europe Zone' countries (see 'Included numbers' above), sending a message to multiple recipients will cost you 45p/text.

If you can't get O2 signal where you live...

These are the best of the rest:

PROVIDER (Network it uses) DATA
MINS
TEXTS
ANYTHING ELSE?
1pMobile (EE) 1p/MB 1p/min 1p You must top up at least £10 every four months or you will be disconnected, so this is only suited if you'll top up by a minimum of £30/year.
Three* 1p/MB 3p/min 2p It'll only work in 3G-compatible or later handsets, so older non-smartphones are a no-no.
Lebara Mobile* (Vodafone) 9p/MB 19p/min 19p  

Best PAYG bundles

These deals still have no contract but come loaded with a bundle of minutes, texts and data with your credit each month. These are our current top picks...

8GB, unlimited mins & texts: £10mth

Until Wed 28 Aug, this pay-upfront deal from Smarty* gives newbies 'double data' for every month you keep the plan for a maximum of 12 months - just activate the Sim by Wed 4 Sep. You can add more if you need it – each extra 1GB costs £1.25/mth.

You're also credited for any of the original 4GB data you don't use, paid at the same rate and used to discount your next month. 

Cost: £10/mth 
Allowance: 8GB data, unlimited mins & texts. Each plan lasts for 30 days
Network: Smarty (owned by and uses the Three network)

  • If you're switching from another network, here's how to port (ie, move) your number to Smarty.

  • There are four plans you can start on which provide more data as standard per month:

    Smarty plans

    Cost per month
    £6.25* £7.50* £10* £15*
    Data 1GB 2GB 4GB 8GB
    Calls Unlimited
    Texts Unlimited

    Though if you want more data, you can buy more online at a cost of £1.25 per GB – the same rate as if you'd have opted for an above bundle.

    No matter your plan, if you don't end up using all the data for that month you'll get the value of it back (1p per 8MB/£1.25 per 1GB) applied as a credit against your next bill. . For example, use no data this month and your next month would cost £5, use 1GB and it's £6.25. 

    Calls to UK mobiles, landlines and 0800/0808 are included – 09 numbers are blocked. You'll need to buy a cash add-on (from £5) for roaming, calling international numbers or those starting 084, 087, 118 and 101.

  • Tethering is permitted.You can use your Smarty plan as normal when you're abroad in most of Europe, including any EU country, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein & Iceland. A full list of included countries & territories in Europe is here. If you're travelling outside Europe you'll need to buy add-ons for data, calls and texts.

  • Your basic monthly price could change each year in line with inflation. You won't be credit-checked.

6GB, unltd mins & texts: £10/mth 

This deal for new customers to Voxi* gives unlimited minutes, texts and 6GB of 'general use' data for £10/mth.

All Voxi plans also offer unlimited data for social and chat apps as standard – so any data used by apps such as Instagram or Facebook won't be taken from your allowance – provided you have 'general use' data left.

Cost: £10/mth 
Allowance: Unlimited mins and texts + 6GB of 'general use' data. All Voxi plans also offer unlimited data for social and chat apps as standard – so any data used by apps such as Instagram or Facebook won't be taken from your allowance. Warning: There is a big catch though – the unlimited data is only available when you have general use data left
Network: Voxi (owned by and uses Vodafone's network)
Who can get it: New customers to Voxi

  • If you're switching from another network, you can 'port' over (transfer) your number to Voxi. First you need to ask your network for a porting authorisation code (or PAC code), which gives Voxi permission to move your number over onto their network.

    Then you need to sign into your online Voxi customer account and go to the 'transfer number' section. You'll then be asked to enter the PAC code and choose a date to move your number over to your new Sim.

  • If you run out of data you can pay £3 for 1GB. You can add on a video pass for an additional £7/mth and/or a music pass for £5/mth. This gives you unlimited data to stream or download using additional apps such as Netflix, Spotify and Apple Music. Full list of included apps  here. Note: Only the data is covered for each app – you still need to pay to access any apps where a subscription is required, i.e Netflix.
     

    Numbers included in calls: Calls to UK mobiles, landlines and 0800/0808 are included – calls to numbers starting 084, 087, 09 or 118 cost extra.

     

  • You can use your Voxi plan in 48 countries in the network's Europe Zone at no extra cost. The full list of destinations is here.

    Tethering is permitted on some devices – full info here.

6GB, unltd mins & texts: £10/mth

A consistently strong performer in our customer service polls, this deal from Giffgaff* offers a decent allowance for the price.

Cost: £10/mth
Allowance: 6GB of data, unlimited mins & texts. Each plan lasts for one month
Network: Giffgaff runs off the O2 network

  • If you're switching from another network, you can 'port' over (transfer) your number to Giffgaff. First you need to ask your network for a porting authorisation code (or PAC code), which gives Giffgaff permission to move your number over onto their network.

    Then you need to sign into your online Giffgaff customer account and use the transfer form. You'll then be asked to enter the PAC code and choose a date to move your number over to your new Sim. 

  • If you run out of data it's 5p/Mb.  Calls to UK mobiles, landlines and 0800/0808 are included though calls to numbers starting 084, 087, 09 or 118 cost extra.

     

  • You can use your Giffgaff plan in 37 countries in the EU and selected destinations at no extra cost – enter your destination here before travelling to see the full costs.

    Also, Giffgaff allows you to tether, so you can connect other devices – such as a laptop or tablet – to use your phone's data.

The best of the rest...

PROVIDER (Network it uses) DATA MINS TEXTS COST ANYTHING ELSE?
Smarty* (Three) 1GB Unltd Unltd £6.25/mth You're credited for any data you don't use, paid at £1.25/GB and used to discount your next month. 
Smarty* (Three) 2GB Unltd Unltd £7.50/mth You're credited for any data you don't use, paid at £1.25/GB and used to discount your next month. 
Giffgaff* (O2) 2GB Unltd Unltd £8/mth  
Asda Mobile* (EE) 4GB 800 Unltd £10/mth  
ChatChit* (EE) 10GB Unltd Unltd '£11.88/mth' You'll pay £10/mth for the first three months, then £12.50/mth. Choose to keep it a year and it's an equiv £11.88/mth. 
Giffgaff* (O2) 10GB Unltd Unltd £12/mth  
Smarty* (Three) Unltd Unltd Unltd £18.75/mth The plan is usually £25/mth but activate your Sim by Tue 3 Sep and you'll receive 25% off your plan for every consecutive month you choose to keep it.

Roaming abroad – incl US, Australia & Europe

Those on a Three contract get to use their allowance for free in 71 countries and territories including the US, Australia and most of Europe. However, pay-as-you-go users can get the same benefit by buying a bundle.

This is the perfect trick for the occasional trip abroad, if you're heading to one of the covered countries. Alternatively, if you go away often enough it might be worth getting a more generous bundle and paying for it every month.

Roam for free in 71 destinations

This PAYG deal from Three*  allows you to use your allowance in 71 global destinations, including Australia and the US.

Start using the Sim by Thu 26 Sep and you'll get 4GB of data for £10/mth. Though if you need more data, it also offers other add-ons, up to unlimited data for £35/mth. All last for 30 days, so you can cancel if you no longer need it.

Cost: £10/mth 
Allowance: 4GB data, unlimited mins & texts for £10/mth, if you use the the add-on before Thu 26 Sep. 

Other roaming Sim deals

It's possible to get Sims with other networks that include roaming allowances, but they're generally not very competitive. 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 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 depending on the firm you're complaining about.

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