Phil Wilkinson-Jones | March 24th, 2023

How to switch your mobile phone provider

There’s a few reasons why you may want to switch mobile phone providers and with so much competition in the UK market, there’s loads of choice. But how exactly does the switching process work? And what should you be looking for when choosing a new deal?

Man on mobile phone

In this guide we’ll take you through everything you need to know about switching mobile phone providers including when to do it, how to do it and how to keep your number.

Why switch mobile phone provider?

There’s a number of reasons why you may be thinking about switching to a new mobile phone provider but we reckon most of them will fit into one of two categories – either your current provider has done something to make you want to leave, or another provider has done something to make you want to join. These are the main reasons to switch providers.

Get a better signal

If you’re frequently struggling to get a good signal on your phone then it certainly makes sense to think about switching to another network. Make sure that before signing up for a deal, you use the signal checkers on at least a couple of providers’ websites to ensure you’re not going to have the same problem once you’ve switched.

Something to bear in mind is that a lot of mobile phone providers are MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators), which means they use another provider’s network to use their services. There are four mobile networks in the UK, operated by EE, O2, Three and Vodafone. If you’re with EE and are struggling to get a good signal at home, it’s unlikely to be improved by switching to another provider that uses the same network, such as Virgin Mobile or BT Mobile.

Customer service

It may be the case that you’ve experienced some poor customer service from a mobile phone provider and just want to get out. In order to check out the relative customer service levels of the bigger providers, you can check out Ofcom’s latest report.

Deals, perks and extras

Providers will often offer reduced prices, extra data or any number of extra in order to entice you to take a particular deal. Some have perks for being a customer, such as O2’s Priority for advanced gig tickets and the like, which last beyond the lifetime of a single contract.

New tech

We all love a bit of new tech and switching provider can give you the chance to get not only a new handset but, depending on the deal, a new tablet, laptop, smart watch or games console as well.

How to switch provider

Anyone can switch mobile phone provider but it is a heck of a lot more difficult if you’re still under contract with your current provider. If you’re unsure whether you’re under contract or not, now’s the time to find out. If you can sign in to the ‘my account’ section of your provider’s website (you may even have an app) then this should tell you how long you have left on your contract. If it’s telling you it’s time for an upgrade, this tends to mean you’re at or near the end of your contract. Failing this, you can always call your provider and ask them.

Switching mobile phone providers if you’re out of contract

If you’re out of contract, there is nothing to stop you signing up to a new deal with another provider. You don’t even need to speak to your old provider if you don’t want to. If you want to keep the same phone number (most people do) then you’ll need a porting authorisation code (PAC).

You can still get a PAC number by phoning up your current provider and asking them to send it to you. But you can also get a code simply by texting the word ‘PAC’ to 65075. The ‘text to switch’ process was introduced in July 2019 and according to Ofcom there’s been an increase in the number of people switching mobile phone provider since. Once you have your PAC, you’ll need to give it to your new provider (they’ll often ask for it as part of the sign-up process).

If you’d rather get a new phone number when you switch, the process is just as simple. Text STAC to 75075 and you’ll be sent a service termination authorisation code. You then need to give this to your new provider in the same way you would a PAC.

As you’re doing all this out of contract, there shouldn’t be any cancellation fees involved, but if there are then they will be outlined in the PAC or STAC message you get from your provider.

Switching mobile phone providers if you’re in contract

Things are a little trickier when it comes to switching if you’re under contract. If you walk away with a year left on your contract, you are going to owe your provider 12 monthly payments. And because you’re leaving, your provider will want those payments as one big lump sum. There may even be an additional early cancellation fee to pay, depending on your provider’s terms and conditions.

There are certain circumstances in which you can leave a mobile phone contract early without having to pay an exit fee. It’s standard practice for mobile phone providers to raise prices in line with the rate inflation, but if you experience a price rise above inflation then you can walk away penalty-free. Providers are obliged to give you written notice of any price changes, so if you want to get out, make sure you do it within 30 days of receiving the letter or email.

If you have other reasons for wanting to leave mid-contract, such as financial hardship or because of particularly poor service, then it may be worth talking to your provider. It’s not always easy to get through to providers on the phone but be persistent as you may find they are willing to either haggle with you or to do something to help.

Choosing a mobile phone deal

As you’ll know if you’ve ever looked for a mobile phone deal, there’s a lot of choice out there. These are some of the things we think it’s important to consider when finding a new deal.

  • Type of deal – First you need to decide whether you want a new handset as part of a deal or whether you’d rather stick with what you’ve got and get either a SIM-only contract or a pay as you go deal
  • Coverage – There are four mobile networks in the UK (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) and all offer pretty comprehensive coverage, but it’s worth checking on each provider’s website to make sure you’ll get a signal where you live and work
  • Handset – If you want a new handset then it’s time to think about your requirements. Is it the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy you’re after, or are you looking for a more budget-friendly phone?
  • Data allowance – Pretty much all mobile phones deals come with unlimited texts and UK calls now, so the question is how much data do you need? If you stream a lot of TV and films using 4G then it’s worth looking at a 100GB or unlimited data deal. For those who are connected to wifi most of the time, a much more modest data allowance will suffice
  • Freebies and tech deals – Some mobile phone deals come with freebies such as extra data or a subscription to a streaming service. Others are available with tech such as a tablet, smart watch or smart speaker included. These aren’t free as you pay for the device over the lifetime of the contract, but this can be a cost-effective way of buying tech
  • Benefits – Beyond introductory offers, certain providers offer benefits that last for the entire time you’re with them. These include, but are by no means limited to, O2’s Priority membership, free social media data on Virgin Media and data rollover with Sky Mobile, iD Mobile and others
  • International calls – UK landline calls and calls to other UK mobile tend to be included in mobile packages, but if you call abroad regularly then it’s worth adding international calls to your deal. Some MVNOs such as Lebara Mobile specialise in international calls and will give you deals on calls to particular countries

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Frequently asked questions

Can I switch from contract to pay as you go?

Yes, if your mobile contract is up, you can walk away without signing up to another contract. There aren’t too many pay as you go deals around but Asda Mobile is worth a look. There are a number of providers offering 30-day SIM contracts which you may also want to check out.

When does my phone contract end?

You can log in to your provider’s website or app to find out when your contract ends. Or you can give your provider a ring and ask them.

How long will I be without service?

Your new provider and your old one will talk to each other to make the switch as smooth as possible. You should be without service for less than a day.

How do I text to switch?

To use the Ofcom text to switch service and to keep your mobile phone number, text PAC to 65075 and you’ll be sent your port authorisation code, which you must give to your new provider (they’ll ask for it at some point during the sign-up process). If you’d rather have a new number, text STAC to 75075.

How do I keep my number when switching?

You need a PAC (port authorisation code) from your old provider. Give this to your new provider during set up and your number will be transferred over. You can get a PAC code by texting PAC to 65075 or by calling up your old provider and asking them for one.