Let’s dive into the best prepaid SIM card in the UK for tourists, which plans are available and how to get your hands on one.
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Planning to visit London for a short week or a couple of months? Getting Prepaid SIM cards in the UK for tourists can be total lifesavers.
Let’s paint a picture: So, you’ve booked your flight, packed your bags and built the perfect London itinerary for a whirlwind adventure.
Shortly after landing you find that you have no idea how to find your way around. The tube map is complicated (to say the least), and you don’t have data to contact that friend from university who promised to pick you up from the airport. What do you do?
Picking up an England SIM card for tourists can save you a lot of hassle and make your trip efficient – leaving you more time to explore all of the unusual things to do in London.
Let’s dive into the best UK SIM cards for tourists, which plans are available and how to get your hands on one.
Many people think that because London has decent WiFi, they don’t need to invest in a SIM card as a tourist. And perhaps you don’t.
Here are a few benefits offered by a prepaid UK tourist SIM card:
- A prepaid card means that you can pick and choose how much data to load without tying you into a long-term contract
- Local rates apply, which means you avoid paying exorbitant international roaming fees
- SIM cards are affordable, thereby providing inexpensive data 24/7
- There’s an opportunity to make and receive local calls at an affordable rate – this can come in handy when making a reservation at highly-acclaimed London bottomless brunch spots.
- You’ll have access to the internet out of WiFi zones – which helps with navigating, searching and communicating while on the road
These are just a few of the many benefits to enjoy if you buy a UK SIM card. Now, let’s dive into the various network coverage providers and SIM packages.
Several providers offer 4G networks to users across the UK. Here’s an overview of all of them, demonstrating their pros and cons.
Boasting the widest 4G coverage of all the providers, EE UK is the largest operator. Their signal extends to the underground, so keep this in mind if you plan on spending a lot of time on the tube.
Vodafone is known around the world and has earned a reliable reputation. In the UK, it comes in at a close second to EE and has recently deployed 4G LTE carrier aggregation technology.
For those who aren’t tech-experts, this means that it has helped improve speeds and reliability of connection across the UK.
O2 UK is known mainly for its SIM deals as they don’t offer home broadband. Their coverage is relatively decent in London and other major cities.
However, the connection gets noticeably weaker in smaller towns.
Although one of the leading mobile internet operators in the UK, Three has the least coverage across the country.
However, it does feature some of the most affordable packages. So if you’re planning to stay in one of the large cities, then Three could be a great option.
Just as there are different types of UK SIM card companies, there’s also a choice of SIM cards for tourists to choose from. This UK prepaid SIM cards comparison should help make your decision easier.
Here are a few of the most popular UK prepaid SIM cards for tourists options and the different packages that they have available.
Operating off of 02’s network, Giffgaff offers options ranging from 2G to 5G coverage. One of the biggest perks of choosing Giffgaff is that they allow you to top up easily without a UK credit card.
Giffgaff offers the lowest fees of all UK telecommunication providers. Some of their packages are called ‘GoodyBags’.
These packages last 30 days – perfect for a whirlwind trip through the UK.
Giffgaff’s one-month 3GB deal is arguably one of their most cost-effective packages.
- £8 per month
- 3GB of data
- Unlimited minutes
- Unlimited texts
If you fall in love with London and choose to stay longer than a month, you may decide to top up your Giffgaff account. To do so, you can purchase a voucher from any kiosk or cell provider.
Alternatively, you can call 43430, select option 2 and top up using a debit card or credit card – but this will need to be a UK card.
O2 offers five different options of prepaid SIM cards to choose from, ranging from £10 to £30. They run these bundles using their own network coverage.
The brand is reliable but not necessarily the most affordable.
O2 UK offers pay-as-you-go bundles for up to £36, which includes unlimited data. But unless you’re streaming YouTube videos instead of ticking off your London bucket list, this package may be overkill. With this in mind, I’d recommend the entry-level deal.
- £18 per month
- 3GB of data
- Unlimited minutes
- Unlimited texts
It’s rather easy to top up your O2 travel SIM, with different convenient options to choose from.
You can either call 4444, top-up online or use an E-Top Up card after you buy a voucher from anywhere that has the green top-up logo.
Once again, you may need a UK card (so make a British friend and repay them with a pint).
Three UK offers four different Pay As You Go prepaid SIM packages . These 5G ready packages include unlimited texts and calls.
Of the various options available, the most cost-effective package is the unlimited package for £35. However, the 8 GB package at £10 should give you enough data for a single trip as a tourist.
What really sells the package is the ‘Go Roam’ feature. This feature allows you to use your phone outside of the UK. This makes it one of the best SIM cards for travelling Europe and the UK.
- Unlimited data
- Unlimited minutes (within Europe)
- Unlimited texts (within Europe)
Just like the other SIM cards, you can easily top-up your Three SIM. The UK has convenience stores on practically every street that will happily help you buy a voucher to do so.
You can also top up online from their website by entering your phone number and paying with your international MasterCard.
You can’t go wrong with EE SIM cards in the UK. As the packages are on the EE network, you can be confident that you’ll have consistent signal across the city – including underground.
There are two packages within the same price bracket that can be customised to your needs.
For example, you can either receive less data but more minutes. Or you can receive more data and fewer minutes.
If you’re looking for reliable connectivity but are on a tighter budget, then you may find EE’s affordable packages to be limited. However, if you have a few extra pounds to spend, then you can have an easy, hassle-free experience.
Regardless, I’d still recommend the entry-level package.
- 200GB of data
- Unlimited minutes
- Unlimited texts
To top-up your EE prepaid contract, you can buy and redeem an e-voucher from a convenience store. You can also top up online, call or text 150 from your EE phone.
Vodafone likes to keep business sweet and simple with four distinctive packages to choose from. In addition, they like to sweeten the deal by throwing in regular promotions.
Vodafone runs off its own network, which offers excellent coverage around the UK.
Vodafone has a very affordable entry-level package that costs very little, but you get what you pay for, and the chances are that it won’t be enough to keep you going.
With this in mind, the best Vodafone UK tourist SIM deal is as follows:
- 7GB Data
- Unlimited minutes
- Unlimited texts
Vodafone sells top-up vouchers through their My Vodafone app, which can be activated when needed.
You can text 2345 with the words ‘TOPUP’ and the amount you want to top up with. Another option is to call 2345 free from your Vodafone Pay-as-You-Go phone. This could be tricky if you don’t have access to a UK credit card.
In their own words, VOXI SIM card packages offer you “endless possibilities”. They offer rolling 30-day SIM card deals with complete flexibility to cancel at any time. VOXI has two main contract types: Endless Social Media and Endless Data.
Seeing as data includes access to social media, I’d recommend the VOXI Endless Data package. It is considerably pricier than the Endless Social Media plan but offers fantastic perks.
The plan also has EU roaming which you can access at no extra cost.
- Unlimited data – for everything
- Unlimited minutes
- Unlimited texts
VOXI works differently from other providers because it uses a prepaid contract method. You can opt-out of this to use their pay-as-you-go, but this restricts data access. With this in mind, you’ll need to cancel your “contract” before the end of your 30-day rolling period.
These are just a few of the recommended prepaid SIM providers in the UK. Here are a few others that you may have heard of:
- Virgin Mobile SIM – on the EE network offering 4G services, but their packages are more long-term focused
- Lycamobile SIM card – on the 02 network offering 4G services at a slightly higher price
- SMARTY SIM card – on the Three UK network offering 3G and 4G services at an affordable rate
If you’re looking for where to buy a UK sim card for visitors, then you won’t have to look very far. In fact, you can organise a SIM card before you even leave the airport.
Heathrow Terminals 2, 3 and 5 all have stores that sell SIM cards at the usual rate. You can also find local SIM cards for sale in the underground (Terminal 2). The opening hours are very convenient, allowing you to purchase from as early as 6 am right until 10 pm.
Overall, it’s very easy to get a prepaid London sim card for tourists in Heathrow.
Gatwick’s options are slightly more limited because there are no mobile internet operator shops on site.
However, there are vending machines that sell prepaid SIM cards in the UK. You can also head on over to a WH Smith store as they also stock SIM cards.
The vending machines sell SIM cards with data packages already activated. The WH Smith stores sell SIM cards with credit that can be used to buy a data package.
If you’re desperate to drop your bags at your London accommodation, you can skip the SIM cards at the airport and make your purchase at a later stage.
After taking a shower and putting on a fresh set of clothes, you’ll most likely ask yourself, “Where can I get a prepaid data SIM in central London?”.
Prepaid SIM cards are accessible throughout the city. There are dedicated mobile stores on the high streets and countless tiny convenience stores that offer the same service. These stores will be able to sell you a SIM card and help you top-up when needed.
Two stores that are certain to stock internet SIM cards are Asda and Tesco supermarkets – and you won’t have to look that hard to find them.
If you’re a planner like me, then you like to have your ducks in a row before embarking on an adventure. The good news is that you can order a prepaid tourist SIM card for the UK before you even leave the comfort of your home.
There are options to buy an international SIM card and have it delivered wherever you are in the world. There are various packages available and no surprise hidden costs.
By doing your research in advance, you’re sure to find a few of the best UK sim cards to buy online.
Here’s how to order a Europe SIM card online:
- Look at the various choices available on SimOptions
- Compare options of providers, packages and prices
- Add your package of choice to your cart
- Make payment and wait for your delivery
Handy tip: The delivery time is an estimated 1 – 3 days for central European countries and up to 5 days for North America. Make sure that you allocate enough time for delivery before your trip.
The answer to this question depends entirely on your data-using habits and how long you plan to spend in the UK.
If your idea of killing time on the tube is streaming YouTube videos, you may run out of data before uploading that amazing Instagram shot. Even worse, you could lose your way and get stuck in the rain without direction.
As a guideline, you can consider how much data you use in a week at home and estimate a little bit more than that amount.
The good news is that most UK SIM cards with prepaid data allow you to top up rather easily. This is usually done by heading over to a convenience store where you can purchase a voucher.
Alternatively, you can head on over to Mobiletopup.co.uk which allows you to top-up your account as needed.
Keep in mind that most restaurants, hotels and public areas offer free WiFi. I’d recommend switching over to WiFi access whenever possible.
Once again, this will depend largely on your data requirements. If you use a lot of data then it’s best to invest in a slightly pricier package so that you can use your phone without concern.
If the purpose of your phone is to take photographs (and maybe upload them to social media) and navigate your way through the city, then you can opt for the budget package.
Generally, a SIM card and data package will cost approximately £10 for the entry-level option, and go up to £35 for the pricier alternative.
Getting a SIM card in London is as easy as pie. In most instances, you don’t need to show your passport or any other form of identification. All that you need are the funds to make the exchange.
The one part of the process that you should check in advance is whether or not your phone is compatible with a UK SIM card.
UK mobiles use the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). GSM mobile phones are widely used across Europe and the rest of the world.
If you arrive from one of these destinations, then all that you need is a SIM card.
However, a few international phones won’t work in the UK without being unlocked.
If you travel frequently, then you may find that buying a new tourist SIM card in each country can become tiresome.
A great solution for travel junkies is a portable WiFi device for travelling . With a portable WiFi device, you have access to a 4G mobile hotspot wherever you are in the world.
This way, you can stay connected in various instances, such as travelling the Ocho Rios beaches of Jamaica one day and landing in London the next.
There are several benefits to purchasing a portable mobile device, namely:
- Full access to internet on-the-go
- The small and slight size makes it easy to move around
- It can save you money in the long run
- Removes the hassle of finding a network provider and SIM in each new country
Also known as travel SIM cards, an international SIM card can also save you a fair amount of money in the long run.
You can enjoy the same benefits of a local SIM, such as free incoming calls and local data rates. Some UK international SIM cards allow you to make cheap international calls from inside the UK too.
You can buy these SIM cards in most countries at cell-store providers.
One of the unexpected benefits of many internet providers is Europe’s ban on roaming costs. This means that you can use the data (and make calls) on your UK SIM card in at least 30 other countries across Europe.
This makes a European trip a lot more convenient when it comes to connectivity and communications.
As a guideline, SIM cards from outside the EU will be subject to roaming charges and it’s best to invest in a UK SIM card. However, you may still be able to benefit from a European SIM card.
There are concerns that Brexit’s impact on roaming fees won’t be positive. While some networks might charge a bit more for roaming charges, there are a few networks that promise not to (for now).
In fact, some providers are reassuring customers about their consistent services. Certain providers have the following to say about their services in relation to Brexit:
“We currently have no plans to change our roaming services across Europe. We will be working closely with the UK government and other European mobile operators to try to maintain the current EU ‘Roam like at home’ arrangements once the UK leaves the EU.” – O2
UK prepaid SIM cards for tourists are readily available and affordable. Choosing from the best prepaid SIM cards for travelling to London will depend largely on your needs.
Ultimately, you can buy a really affordable Three UK package or opt for EE if your priority is reliable coverage.
Whether you’re finding your way from one of the free things to do in London to another or wanting to connect to the internet to answer a few urgent emails, a data package is a great way to stay online.