Pay as you go SIM only deals explained
In this guide
- What is PAYG?
- PAYG SIMs with long expiry
- Why choose a PAYG SIM?
- PAYG providers
- Frequently asked questions
If you’re happy with the phone you have, or can’t afford a new one, and the thought of a SIM only contract lasting 12 months or more fills you with dread, then a pay as you go SIM deal might be for you.
The flexibility that pay as you go SIMs give you is undeniably their biggest draw, but there is more to these deals than that. Here, we’ll attempt to define what a pay as you go SIM deal is, set out the reasons you might want to get one and look at the mobile providers offering them.
What is a pay as you go SIM deal?
Pay as you go SIM deals come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the thing they all have in common is that they do not come with a long contract. The deals we’re talking about here require you to commit to no more than a month at a time.
Classic pay as you go
This is the most flexible way of using a mobile phone, as there’s no contract involved at all. You simply top up your account and are charged a pre-set amount for every text you send, every minute of calls you make and every megabyte (MB) of data you use.
If you don’t use your phone all that often and even a modest 30-day data package seems like it’d be too much for you to get through in a month, a classic pay as you go set-up is probably for you. Be warned though, that even with this type of deal credit rarely lasts forever – check with your provider but at the very least you’ll need to use your phone every six months or so to keep your account active.
Pay as you go bundles
The next step up, commitment-wise, from a classic pay as you go deal is a pay as you go bundle. These can be bought using your credit and give you an allowance of data, minutes and texts. Buying a bundle is generally better value for money than standard pay as you go, but you need to be sure you’ll use the data as bundles only last a month.
Some pay as you go bundles renew automatically at the end of the month, making them a bit like a 30-day SIM deal. Some providers even offer features like data rollover, where you get to keep your unused data to use the following month. But you can cancel whenever you like, and with most providers if you don’t have enough credit in your account to pay for you bundle there’s no punishment, you just don’t get the bundle that month.
30-day SIM deals
These are SIM only contracts that you sign up to and pay for monthly via direct debit, but you’re only ever tied in for a month, so you can cancel whenever you like. These deals tend to be pretty good value for money, although if it’s simply the most bang for your buck you’re after then you may want to consider a 12-month SIM deal.
30-day SIM deals often come with unlimited texts and minutes plus a decent data allowance. There are also data SIMs available if you’re looking for something to pop into your tablet.
Pay as you go SIMs with long expiry
For those of you who really do not use your phone all that often, what you’re looking for isn’t just a pay as you go deal, but one that you don’t have to top up very often – one you can rely on being ready to use even if it’s been in a drawer for months (although you might want to give it a charge, first).
Thankfully, such pay as you go deals do exist. The first thing to say is if the situation above sounds like you, don’t get sucked into buying a pay as you go bundle – they may offer better value for money but they all expire after a month. Here are just a few of the pay as you go tariffs with long or no expiry dates.
O2 – Classic pay as you go
O2’s classic pay as you go requires a minimum top-up of £10 and you then pay 3p a minute for calls, 2p per text and 1p per MB of data you use. Crucially, there is no expiry date on your credit, as long as you use your phone at least once every six months.
Vodafone – Pay as you go 1
Vodafone’s Pay as you go 1 tariff is designed for people who use their phone on some days but not at all on others. Once you’ve topped up, you pay 20p a minute, 20p a text and 20p for every 5MB of data, but only up to a maximum of £1 per day. If you reach £1, you automatically unlock unlimited free minutes and texts, plus 500MB of data to use until midnight. If you don’t use your phone, you don’t pay anything – you just need to keep your phone active by using it at least once every 180 days.
Asda Mobile – Pay as you go
Asda Mobile lets you top up the following amounts in-store by buying an eVoucher or using your top-up card: £5, £10, £15, £20, £25, £30, £40 and £50. Alternatively, you can top up using a debit or credit card multiples of £1 up to £30.
Asda charges 8p per minute, 4p per text and 5p per MB of data. Your top-up won’t expire as long as you use your phone to make a call, send a text or use some data at least once every 180 days.
Why choose a pay as you go SIM deal?
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of getting a pay as you go SIM deal.
- Flexibility – Whether you go for a pay as you go bundle or a 30-day SIM plan, you’ll never be tied down for longer than a month. And there’s nothing to stop you getting a different bundle or SIM deal each month, so you always stay in control.
- Price – Pay as you go SIM deals are great for those on a budget or who simply don’t use their phone that much, as you’re not spending money on data you’re not going to use and there’s no pressure to spend anything in a month if you don’t want to.
- Credit checks – Pay as you go SIM deals aren’t generally subject to credit checks, so if you have a poor credit rating then they can be a good way to keep using your phone.
- Data – The great thing with 30-day SIM plans is that there’s just as wide a range of data plans available as with 12-month deals. Data allowances range from a very modest 250MB to a huge 60GB. There are even a couple of providers offering 30-day SIMs with unlimited data.
- Roaming – If you have a bundle or a 30-day SIM deal then you’ll be able to use your allowance in EU countries as you would at home. Some providers also offer this service in additional destinations. If you’re on a standard pay as you go plan then it may cost more to send a text, make a call or get online than it does in the UK, so check with your provider before travelling.
What providers offer pay as you go SIM deals?
- Asda Mobile – Asda Mobile, which uses the EE network, offers a standard pay as you go tariff and also has a range of 30-day bundles that don’t renew automatically unless you want them to. It’s a fairly no-frills service but its bundles do feature inclusive roaming in 50 European destinations.
- iD Mobile – iD Mobile requires you to top up at least £10 every two months on pay as you go and there are pay as you go bundles available. All of its SIM only deals come with 30-day contracts and include data rollover, bill capping and inclusive roaming in 50 European destinations. iD runs on the Three network.
- giffgaff – All of giffgaff’s plans are 30-day bundles, including its ‘always on’ plan that contains unlimited data (although you’ll get significantly slower speeds after you’ve used 20GB). giffgaff uses the O2 network and offers inclusive roaming in 37 European destinations.
- SMARTY – SMARTY offers 30-day SIM plans with money off the following month for any data you don’t use, and the option to add extra data for the same cost-per-GB. SMARTY, which runs on the Three network, offers a truly unlimited data SIM plan and inclusive roaming in 32 destinations.
- Tesco Mobile – Tesco Mobile, which runs on the O2 network, has 30-day SIM deals available as well as pay as you go bundles it calls Rocket Packs. Both allow you to use your allowance in 48 European destinations and collect Clubcard points.
- Plusnet – Plusnet offers 30-day SIM deals often available with extra data or at a reduced price if you’re already a Plusnet broadband customer. Plusnet uses the EE network and allows you to roam like at home in 40 European destinations.
- EE – EE has a range of 30-day SIM plans but they’re not cheap. It also offers pay as you go with bundles that include data rollover and free data boosts for every three consecutive months that you buy one. Your EE allowance can be used in 48 Europen destinations at no extra cost.
- Vodafone – Vodafone offers 30-day SIM deals and two types of pay as you go plans. The first is Pay as you go 1, which is for those who don’t use their phone often and guarantees you won’t spend more than £1 a day on busier days. There are also 30-day bundles that rollover your minutes, texts and data. Bundles and SIM deals feature inclusive roaming in 48 destinations.
- Three – Three has a handful of one-month SIM deals, most of which include Go Binge. It also has a classic pay as you go SIM and pay as you go bundles which offer pay as you go reward points. Three’s SIM deals and pay as you go bundles both include unlimited data options and the provider offers roam like at home in 70 destinations.
- O2 – O2 offers classic pay as you go and also has a range of pay as you go bundles that can be bought with your credit and include data rollover. It also offers 30-day SIM plans that include membership of O2 Priority. O2’s inclusive roaming zone contains 49 European destinations.
Frequently asked questions
How much data do I need?
If you only use your phone occasionally and your internet use is limited to checking your emails and the odd bit of browsing, then you’re not going to need a lot of data to get you through the month. Those who stream a lot of videos, play games and/or rarely connect to wifi will need bigger data packages.
That said, the beauty of the short-term deals we’re looking at here means you can test the water with a low-data package and move up if it’s not enough, or vice versa.
What SIM card do I need?
There are three sizes of SIM card so it’s going to be either a standard, micro or nano SIM that you need. Most SIMs either come in the form of a triple SIM or are available with any one of the three.
How can I tell if my phone is unlocked?
If you’re not sure whether your phone is unlocked or not, you can test by removing your SIM and putting one in from another network (you could borrow a friend’s if you don’t have another around). If your phone accepts the SIM and you’ve got a signal, your phone is unlocked and you can go and order a new one from any network you like.
If you don’t get a signal that means your phone is locked to your network so you’ll need to ask them to unlock it for you. Providers will do this, but may charge a fee. There more information in our guide to unlocking your mobile phone.
Can I keep my number when I switch?
In most cases, providers will let you keep your number when you switch. You’ll need to ask your current provider for a PAC number and then have it ready when you ask your new provider to switch your number onto their network. This process usually takes a couple of days.
How reliable are the smaller, less well-known networks?
If there’s a mobile provider listed on Cable.co.uk that you haven’t heard of, the chances are it’s an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator). All this means is that the provider doesn’t own its own mobile network but runs its services using the infrastructure of one of the UK’s four mobile network operators – EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three.
MVNOs, which include the likes of Tesco Mobile, SMARTY and iD Mobile, often manage to undercut the big providers when it comes to price and as they are looking after fewer customers, can sometimes provide better customer service.
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