Whenever you purchase a SIM card or get one for free, the mobile network provider reminds you to keep topping it up if you want it to remain active. This has nothing to do with the way the SIM card was made. It partially has to do with the limitations of the provider’s database and network crowding. The biggest reason they discontinue phone numbers is their desire to maximize the number of active users, and increase profits. Additionally, the period is usually at the carrier’s discretion, and users must comply. To make sure yours hasn’t expired, let’s dive into how to check SIM card validity.
Types of SIM card validity in use
Before we get into the practical application, you must understand what to expect. Obviously, every mobile network provider has its own limits, so we’ll speak in general terms. The following are the most common SIM card validity types:
1. No contract
Also known as pay-as-you-go SIM cards, no-contract SIM cards usually have the shortest validity period, around 28 days to a month. They are based on purchasing short-term credit, then using it directly (for calls, mobile data, or SMS/MMS), or activating add-ons or data packs. The carriers decide to keep the period low because such SIM cards are highly sought after and have a short turnaround. Unsurprisingly, they would rather assign a phone number to a new paying customer.
Contract SIM cards, also known as postpaid SIM cards, usually have a long validity period of the SIM card, but obviously not longer than “perpetual” SIM cards. Unless explicitly specified, the service validity is identical to the time your contract with the mobile carrier expires, typically ranging from 1 to 3 years. Unless you renew a contract, e.g., sign a new one, feel free to destroy the SIM card.
3. Prepaid SIM card
Although prepaid SIM cards resemble pay-as-you-go SIM cards in the sense you’re purchasing credit, then using it for calling, texting, and mobile data or add-ons, they don’t expire as quickly. Carriers focus on keeping their customers long-term by offering incentives such as 3-month or 6-month add-ons. As a result, prepaid SIM card validity is typically between 30 and 180 days after the last supported activity. That activity usually falls into two categories:
1. Top-up and chargeable activity
The vast majority of carriers use this model. In short, if you’re out of credit, you cannot do anything with the SIM card. Therefore, purchasing creds e.g., topping up your account resets the validity time. For others, you must also perform a chargeable activity such as using mobile data, calling, or sending an SMS or MMS.
2. Top-up and/or non-chargeable activity
Only some carriers allow this type, and an example is Giffgaff, a UK carrier. Their users must only perform a top-up every 6 months, then performs any activity, even if it’s non-chargeable. Some such activities include video streaming or social media apps used with a dedicated data add-on, calling toll-free numbers, or visiting a website Giffgaff doesn’t bill the data for.
The perpetual or forever active SIM cards are the rarest form and permit users to never check SIM card validity again. One example is Netzclub, a German-based online-only carrier. As long as you continue receiving occasional ads and marketing SMS, your SIM card remains active.
This is a feature of some of the types above. Many carriers, to provide better Customer Service and retain customers, offer a grace period. They’ll keep your SIM card valid free of charge, usually 15 to 90 days after it expires.
A feature that some carriers use, especially in United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Mauritius, lets users purchase a cheap add-on that extends the validity for a certain period. This is ideal for travelers or those who work abroad.
Ways to check SIM card validity
Now have an idea of what awaits you based on the type of your SIM card and your carrier. Let’s now showcase a few ways to get an accurate SIM card validity number:
1. SIM card package
The obvious place to look is the SIM package your carrier sent. This is the primary method for postpaid SIM cards since your copy of the contract must list terms of service, including SIM card expiration. However, your prepaid or no-contract SIM might have arrived with a leaflet or short user manual. Additionally, it might be printed on the full-size SIM card itself, under “Activate by:” or “Used before:”
Your carrier’s website will either provide the direct answer about how long your SIM card is valid, or tell you where to look. Start by checking the FAQ or Support sections. If that produces no results, sign in with your user account and check the Dashboard. Alternatively, if your carrier supports Live Chat or Support Tickets, or has links to social media accounts or contact e-mail address, consider asking Customer Support that question.
Does your carrier offer a mobile app for Android or iOS? If so, your service validity might be visible on the home screen after you download, install, run it, and log in. This was the case when we reviewed Vodafone Idea SIM cards.
4. USSD Code
The vast majority of carriers utilize USSD codes to display useful information to users. Some create a dedicated USSD code, such as in the case of Digicel, where you can dial *124# to check SIM card expiration details. Others, such as Vodafone Idea, offer it as one of many options within a menu after you dial *199#.
Another method of verifying the validity of your mobile service is sending an SMS. An example of this is BSNL, which also supports application, USSD, and website methods. The carrier requires you to send an SMS containing “BAL” to 121. You’ll get a message back with account information shortly.
6. Call center
If we can use voice assistants at home, it’s no surprise that some carriers set up a voice machine that answers frequently asked questions. What’s more, if the answer fails to satisfy you, you’ll get redirected to a live Customer Service representative.