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Cheap Sim only Deals

Equiv £9/mth for 4GB, unltd mins & texts for BT custs

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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 for low, medium and high data users.

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 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 usually cost more – 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 deals are offered on a 12-month contract, or on a rolling 30-day contract.

    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 two sites accredited by regulator Ofcom to choose from. Both will analyse your bills from the last three months to determine your average usage and suggest deals based on this.

    • Billmonitor* 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.
    • Ctrlio will handily remind you when better deals at your usage become available (monthly or just at the end of your contract), though currently it can only read the bills of Three, EE, O2 and Giffgaff customers.

    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 bought your phone 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 and see if it works). If you find it is locked, you'll usually need to unlock it so 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 a month before your minimum term is up and request your PAC (porting 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 contacted your current network to give notice, you should have been offered something called a "porting authorisation code (PAC)". You'll need this if you want to keep your number when you move to a new network. If you didn't get it then, you should still be able to contact your network and get it, as long as your pre-existing contract hasn't been terminated yet.

    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 (it's a different process if you're swapping within the same provider).

    The number switch usually takes place the next working day after you gave your PAC to the new provider.

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. We've listed our top-pick deals below, sorted by value for money and different types of user – mid-level users, heavy users and low users.

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.

Three

4GB (4G), unltd mins & texts: £9/mth*

Good mid-use deal, 12mth contract

Three offers two different types of Sim-only tariffs – 'Advanced' and 'Essential'. Advanced plans give you free roaming in 60 destinations (some are outside of Europe) and tethering (see below), whereas its stripped-down Essential plans like this one DON'T provide either, but are some of the cheapest around.

This Essential plan* gives unlimited minutes and texts and 4GB of 4G data for £9/mth, though you'll need to commit to a 12-month contract.

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 want a second line.

Need-to-knows
  • 12-month contract.
  • Tethering is permitted within your data allowance.
  • If you're switching from another network, here's how to port your number to Three.
  • If you exceed your allowance, it's £5 to reset your data.
  • Three may increase the price annually in line with inflation.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
The People's Operator

2.5GB (4G), 700 mins, unltd texts: £6.99/mth*

Decent deal for a mid-use Sim

We've blagged this cheap tariff from The People's Operator*, though it's for newbies only. For £6.99/mth you get 700 minutes, unlimited texts and 2.5GB of data.

Launched in 2012, The People's Operator is a piggyback network running off Three's signal. The company has had mixed customer service feedback in the past, but it's taken steps to improve since. It will also give 10% of your monthly spend (pre-VAT) to a charity of your choice – a nice touch.

Need-to-knows
  • 30-day rolling contract; contracts terminate 30 days after the day of the month you join TPO.
  • Runs off the Three network.
  • If you're switching from another network, here's how to port your number to TPO.
  • Calls to UK mobiles and landlines included. Calls to 084/087 numbers extra – see call costs.
  • Use up your allowance and you'll have to pay 3p/MB and 10p/min.
  • TPO may increase the price annually in line with inflation.
  • You won't be credit-checked, though it'll carry out a basic ID check.

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

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

  • Plusnet* (piggybacks on EE): 1,500 mins, unltd texts, 4GB – £9/mth on a 30-day contract.
  • Giffgaff* (piggybacks on O2): 3GB of 4G data, 500 mins, unltd texts – £10/mth on a 30-day contract.
  • Vodafone*: 6GB of 4G data, unltd mins & texts – £16/mth 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 more than 6GB of 4G data each month plus a healthy number of minutes.

Three

12GB (4G), unltd mins, unltd texts: £13/mth*

LOADS OF DATA – PLUS INCLUSIVE ROAMING

This Advanced plan* gives you unltd minutes, unlimited texts and a hefty 12GB of 4G data for £13/mth over 12 months. It's available to new customers, and to existing customers who want a second line.

Three's 'Advanced' (as opposed to 'Essential') plans let you use your data, text and call allowances in 60 destinations at no extra charge, and it lets you tether in the UK. You also get Three’s ‘Go Binge’ which means you can use your Netflix, TVPlayer, Deezer or SoundCloud account on your phone without using up your data.

Need-to-knows
  • 12-month contract.
  • You can use your allowance at no extra charge in 60 destinations via Three's 'Feel At Home'.
  • If you're switching from another network, here's how to port your number to Three.
  • If you exceed your allowance, it's £5 to reset your data and 35p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines.
  • 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 6GB+ data (4G) a month.

  • Tesco Mobile (piggybacks on O2): 8GB of 4G data, 3,000 mins, 5,000 texts – £13.50/mth on a 12-month contract.
  • Vodafone*: 6GB of 4G data, unltd mins & texts – £16/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 may also include 3G-only tariffs, which can be great value if you're not bothered about getting the fastest speeds.

The People's Operator

1.5GB (4G), 750 mins, unltd texts: £4.99/mth*

TOP LOW-USE 4G DEAL, 1MTH CONTRACT

This deal we've blagged from TPO* – which uses Three's signal – is decent for low users. It's good if you don't need masses of data or minutes, and it's 4G. It's available for anyone who doesn't have a TPO contract.

It costs £4.99/mth and comes with 750 minutes, unlimited texts and 1.5GB of 4G data on a one-month contract. The company's had mixed customer service reviews in the past, but we've seen fewer complaints recently. It'll also give 10% of your monthly spend (pre-VAT) to a charity of your choice – a nice touch.

Need-to-knows
  • 30-day rolling contract; contracts terminate 30 days after the day of the month you join TPO.
  • Runs off the Three network.
  • If you're switching from another network, here's how to port (ie, move) your number to TPO.
  • Calls to UK mobiles and landlines included. Calls to 084/087 numbers are extra – see call costs.
  • Use up your allowance and you'll have to pay 3p/MB and 10p/min.
  • TPO may increase the price annually in line with inflation.
  • You won't be credit-checked, though it'll carry out a basic ID check.
Plusnet

1.5GB, 500 mins, 1,000 texts, (4G): £5/mth*

DECENT MID-USE 4G DEAL, 1MTH CONTRACT

One of our top picks is this £5/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 500 minutes, 1,000 texts and 1.5GB of 4G data.

What makes it attractive is it's on a one-month rolling contract, 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.

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): 1GB of 4G data, 250 mins, unltd texts – £7.50/mth on a one-month bundle.
  • Vodafone*: 1GB of 4G data, 1,000 mins, unltd texts – £13.50/month on a 12-month contract. (See our Vodafone warning before taking this one.)

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 Money Tips Email!

For all the latest deals, guides and loopholes - join the 12m who get it. Don't miss out