The United Kingdom consists of England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The top SIM cards in the UK are available as low as 0.99 GBP, or approximately 1.35 USD. There are four major operators in the UK and several MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators). Local SIM cards are readily available in the official carrier stores, markets and electronics stores, independent retailers, airports, and more. If you are a tourist, you need to note that only GSM SIM phones work in the UK. Thus, if you have a phone that uses CDMA SIM, you’ll need a new device.
A rudimentary way to check is to see if it has a SIM card slot you can open. If it does, and nearly all today’s phones do, it’s GSM compatible. Also, Internet data is quite cheap in the UK. The average price of 1 GB of data in the country is just 1.42 USD, which is below the European standard of 2.50 USD and the world average of 4.07 USD. Moreover, the country offers a good mobile downloading speed of around 81 Mbps on average. For more details, let’s look at the best SIM cards in the UK.
Everything Everywhere, commonly known by its abbreviation EE, is the largest wireless carrier in the United Kingdom. The company was a joint venture between T-Mobile UK and Orange UK but is now owned by BT Group. The masses consider EE the best operator in the country, largely because it offers the fastest 4G/LTE speed. EE operates on 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE, and 5G frequencies, but 5G is not available to its prepaid SIM customers yet. It has the best coverage in the UK as it covers 99% of its population. Moreover, it lets users freely use the data rollover feature for a new billing cycle.
2. O2 UK
O2 is the second-largest telecom company in the UK. It is owned by Téléfonica Spain. It offers 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE, and 5G connectivity to its users but 5G is not available to prepaid users yet. Perhaps more importantly, O2 has extensive coverage throughout the country. O2 SIM cards get deactivated automatically after 180 of no activity and no top-up. It offers regular SIMs as well as data-only SIMs. O2 UK offers free-roaming across the EU, unlike many other UK carriers.
3. Vodafone UK
Vodafone UK or just Vodafone is the third largest and the oldest telecom company in the United Kingdom. It offers 2G, 3G, 4G/LTE, and 5G connectivity to both its prepaid and postpaid users. The company has comprehensive coverage throughout the nation. The Vodafone UK customers, like those of EE, enjoy the data rollover feature for one billing cycle, i.e., 30 days. It offers data-only SIM cards as well as regular SIM cards. Vodafone has announced the reintroduction of EU international roaming tariffs in 2022 alongside other operators, too. Luckily, this doesn’t apply to its prepaid and PAYG (pay as you go) customers.
Whether you call it Three or Three UK, it doesn’t matter. It’s the smallest mobile operator in the country, yet the operator with the fastest 5G speeds. Best of all, such connectivity is available to postpaid, prepaid, and PAYG customers. Unfortunately, Three has the worst network penetration among all four major carriers. This mobile network provider is also well-known for offering free international roaming. Not only in the EU, mind you, but worldwide. To clarify, its Go Roam feature permits free roaming in 76 countries. Within the EU, you can use up to 12 GB of data and send and receive unlimited voice calls and SMS.
5. ASDA Mobile
ASDA Mobile is an MVNO of Vodafone UK but until September 2021, it was an EE MVNO. It uses Vodafone UK towers because MVNOs don’t own mobile network infrastructure. Unlike other operators, whose SIM cards are sold for 0.99 GBP, the ASDA Mobile SIM card is available for just 0.50 GBP in ASDA stores. Its SIM cards get deactivated after 360 days of no activity and no refills. Outgoing calls will stop after 180 days of inactivity but you can still receive calls. After 270 days of inactivity, all services will be barred and your credit will be lost. It offers free-roaming within the EU.
GiffGaff is an MVNO of O2 UK and is even wholly owned by the carrier. Unsurprisingly, its network coverage and connectivity are identical to O2’s. It offers free-roaming within the EU and won’t charge roaming within the EU anytime soon. GiffGaff has two data-oriented plans, i.e., Golden Goodybags, and More Goodybags. Both plans offer data, minutes, and SMS, the last two oftentimes being unlimited. Furthermore, you can check your balance, recharge your plans, and more on the GiffGaff app, available on iOS and Android.
7. iD Mobile
iD Mobile is an MVNO of Three UK, which, again, means it uses Three’s network as it doesn’t possess a mobile infrastructure. iD Mobile is a brand of Carphone Warehouse and its SIM cards are available in Carphone Warehouse stores or Curry’s stores starting from 6 GBP. Its SIM cards remain active for 365 days without activity or credit top-ups. It has two data featured plans: Value Bundles (combo plans with data, voice minutes, and SMS) and Add-ons (data add-ons that can’t be bought as standalone plans). Finally, this telecommunications provider offers free roaming within the EU.
Lebara UK or just Lebara is an MVNO of Vodafone UK. The brand is popular for offering low tariffs for international calls. It is active in various other countries in Europe. Its SIM card is available for 0.99 GBP at various convenience and electronics stores as well as supermarkets. The SIM card gets deactivated completely after 114 days of no activity and no credit refills.
After 84 days of inactivity, you must contact the carrier’s Customer Support team to reactivate your Lebara SIM card. To check balance and top-up, you can use the MyLebara app available on Android and iOS. Like others above, Lebara offers free roaming in the EU, but its free roaming applies to India as well. You can also use 200 minutes, 200 SMSes, and up to 10 GB of data in India.
Lycamobile is an MVNO of O2 UK, which means it operates on its frequencies and utilizes its network. Like Lebara UK, this mobile brand is renowned for offering cheap international calling rates. The carrier operates in several other European countries as well. Moreover, the Lycamobile SIM card and its top-up vouchers are available for only 0.99 GBP at various locations, including the likes of grocery, electronics, and convenience stores.
This mobile network provider has a dedicated mobile app for recharging, balance checks, and other user-related purposes. Unfortunately, Lycamobile subscribers don’t have access to O2’s 5G NR frequencies. It also offers free EU international roaming. However, remember that in some cases, the EU roaming allowance is lower than the local/domestic allowance.
Last but not the least, Voxi is a popular brand Vodafone UK offers in the country. It was a youth-centric brand, where you could get its SIM card only if you were 30 years old or younger. However, this rule was nullified in the year 2019 and now anybody can be a Voxi subscriber. Voxi is an MVNO of Vodafone UK, as it doesn’t have its mobile infrastructure.
Voxi users have access to Vodafone UK’s 5G network as well. You can get a Voxi SIM card online for free, but they ship the SIM cards only to UK addresses, and that too within 5 business days. Voxi neither has a dedicated app yet nor does it sell its top-up vouchers offline. For top-ups and balance checks, you can use its online portal.