What is a pay as you go SIM and is it right for you?

Free service

Free service

Pay as you go (PAYG) SIM cards allow you to access a range of mobile phone services without the need to commit to a monthly contract. Available from most mobile phone providers, pay as you go SIMs can be a good option for people who need a temporary number, young people and those who don’t use their phones on a regular basis.
These days, pay as you go SIMs can actually offer pretty good value. A number of providers offer PAYG ‘bundles’ that give users access to a range of special deals when they top up.
Last update: October 2021


This can make a PAYG SIM even more affordable and help you get great value for money from your mobile phone. Rates, offers and affordability can vary significantly between suppliers. This means it’s essential to compare the available SIM only deals before signing on the dotted line. Here, we take a look at typical PAYG rates, the pros and cons of a pay as you go SIM and how to compare deals to find the best package for your needs.

Is pay as you go cheaper than a contract?


A lot of people opt for pay as you go SIM cards because they believe that they’re a cheaper option than pay monthly SIMs. However, this really depends on the deal you go for and how you use your phone.
If you opt for a SIM-only pay monthly contract, you can find deals that offer up to 10GB of data and unlimited calls and texts for less than £10 per month. These deals allow you to stay connected to friends and family, and enjoy a significant amount of mobile data, without breaking the bank.
If you compare PAYG SIM deals to pay monthly contracts that include a handset, PAYG will be cheaper every time. However, as PAYG deals generally don’t include handsets, paying out for a device will add to your mobile phone expenses and make PAYG a less affordable option.
In general, PAYG is the most affordable option for people who don’t use their phone a lot and already have a handset they can use. Topping up your credit on a regular basis will also give you access to the latest deals and help you get more value for money from your pay as you go SIM.

What are the rates of minutes and texts for the typical pay as you go SIM?

If you only use your PAYG SIM as an occasional back up, your cheapest option is probably to buy credit and pay for calls, texts and data usage as and when you need to.
Typical PAYG rates in the UK range from around 1p per minute and text to 25p per minute and 19p per text. Typical rates for data vary from 1p per MB to around 9p per MB.
The table below shows the rates of some of the most popular PAYG networks:


PROVIDER (network it uses) DATA MINS TEXTS Other info
1pMobile (EE)
Top pick
1p/MB 1p/min 1p Top up £10 every four months or you’ll be disconnected.
Asda Mobile (Vodafone) 4p/MB 4p/min 4p Accessing voicemail also costs 4p/min.
Three* 5p/MB 10p/min 10p It’ll only work in 3G-compatible or later handsets.
Lebara Mobile (Vodafone) 9p/MB 25p/min 19p



These days, most pay as you go SIM providers offer PAYG bundles. This means that you get a certain number of minutes, texts and MBs of data included every time you top up. This can be a lot more affordable than paying for each text you send, call you make and MB of data you consume separately.
For example, topping up just £10 per month on some networks can give you unlimited calls and texts and a whopping 10GB of data. Top up £20 and you could get unlimited data, unlimited texts and unlimited minutes.
These bundles are a great way to save money and maximize the value of your PAYG SIM. The table below shows some of the best offers from the UK’s main PAYG networks:

PROVIDER (network it uses) DATA MINS TEXTS COST
Lebara (Vodafone) 3GB Unltd Unltd £2.50/mth for the first four months, then £5/mth 
Asda Mobile (Vodafone) 10GB Unltd Unltd £10/mth
Voxi (Vodafone’s no-frills provider) 6GB Unltd Unltd £10/mth
Giffgaff (O2) 6GB  Unltd Unltd £10/mth
Vodafone* 5GB Unltd Unltd £10/mth
O2 15GB Unltd Unltd £15/mth
Smarty (Three)  Unltd Unltd Unltd £20/mth


Can you get data on pay as you go?

As you can see from the above tables, data is easily available on virtually all pay as you go SIM deals. And while paying for each MB of data you use individually can be expensive, PAYG bundles provide a very affordable way to get online when you’re out and about.
If you only need a PAYG SIM in order to connect to the internet, you may be better off with a data-only SIM. These deals are aimed specifically at people who need access to mobile internet and offer SIMs preloaded with set amounts of data.

What’s the cheapest pay as you go SIM?

If you want to pay for your minutes, texts and data as and when you use them, the cheapest pay as you go SIM available is from 1pMobile. As the company name suggests, 1pMobile charges just 1p per minute, 1p per text and 1p per MB of data used. This makes it a very affordable option for people on PAYG deals.
If you opt for a pay as you go bundle, you’ll need to look around to find the best deals for your SIM. This will depend largely on how much you want to spend on your SIM every month and how many calls, minutes and MBs of data you think you’ll use. Often, it can work out cheaper to buy a larger bundle of calls, texts and data, especially if your unused credit rolls over to the following month.

Pros and cons of PAYG SIMs

If you’re considering a PAYG SIM, weighing up the pros and cons could help you make up your mind.

  • No need to commit to monthly payments
  • An affordable way to access calls, texts and data when you’re out and about
  • Top up whatever you can afford
  • No need to sign up to a 12, 18 or 24-month contract
  • You can use your existing handset as long as it’s unlocked

  • Can be more expensive than other types of mobile phone deals
  • You won’t be able to make calls and texts or use data if your credit runs out or you forget to top up
  • You don’t get a handset as part of the deal
  • Paying for calls, texts and MBs of data as and when you use them can be expensive
  • You’ll need your own unlocked phone


Our broadband experts are here to help

Free service - Available Monday to Friday from 9am until 7pm


Which is the best pay as you go SIM?


When choosing a pay as you go SIM, it’s important to select the network and the deal that’s right for you. Before you start comparing prices and bundles, think about how you’re going to use your PAYG SIM.
Do you need access to large amounts of data when you’re on the move? Do you make a lot of calls and texts? Or do you only need to use your pay as you go SIM as an occasional backup to your main handset?
Once you’ve worked out what your priorities are, it should be easier to narrow down the available options to find the pay as you go SIM that’s best for you.

The best pay as you go SIM for cost

If you want a traditional pay as you go SIM – one that lets you pay for your data, minutes and texts as and when you use them – 1pMobile is probably the best option. Very affordable, it offers cheap PAYG rates to users across the country.

The best pay as you go SIM for flexibility

If you want a deal that’s flexible and that fits around your lifestyle, have a look at the PAYG SIMs available from Vodafone. The provider offers a wide choice of bundles and extras, making it easy to find the package that suits you perfectly.

The best pay as you go SIM for everyday use

Moderate phone users will be well served by the PAYG SIMs on offer from GiffGaff. For around £10 per month, the supplier offers 6GB of data and unlimited calls and texts. This allows you to get online and stay in touch with all your friends and family without breaking the bank.

The best pay as you go SIM for data

As we get used to spending more and more of our time online, access to data becomes more important. If you make most of your calls via online apps like Whatsapp, like to stream TV when you’re on the move or make a lot of video calls, you’ll probably want a PAYG SIM that’s packed full of data.
At the moment, the best pay as you go SIMs for data are available from Three. If you have a Three SIM, you can get unlimited data by topping up just £20 per month. As well as all the GBs of internet you can consume, this will also give you unlimited calls and texts, removing pretty much all restrictions from your PAYG SIM usage.

The best pay as you go SIM for speed

If you want access to the fastest data networks around, opt for a pay as you go SIM from EE. The company has some of the best 5G coverage in the UK and so gives its customers access to superfast internet in a number of locations.

What is the difference between SIM only and pay as you go?

When looking for a new SIM for your handset, you’ll come across two main types of SIM only deal: pay as you go and SIM only.
If you have a pay as you go SIM, you’ll need to top up your credit manually in order to maintain access to calls, texts and data. The amount you top up is completely up to you and can vary from month to month depending on your requirements.
If you have a SIM-only deal, you’ll still have a contract with your network provider. You’ll agree to pay a set amount every month and will receive a certain amount of minutes, texts and data in return.
Like standard phone deals, SIM-only packages are generally paid by direct debit. This means that you’ll need to ensure you have enough money in your account every month in order to pay your bill. If you don’t have enough in your account, your phone may be cut off.
If you take out a SIM-only deal, you’ll probably sign a contract for a set period of time. This can vary from one month to two years. In general, the longer you sign up for, the better value your deal will be.

What to look for in a PAYG SIM card


When selecting a new PAYG SIM, there are certain things you need to watch out for. The most important are:

  • Rate per minute
  • Rate per text
  • Rate per MB data
  • Available bundles
  • Customer service
  • Coverage

For most people, affordability will be the most important consideration when investing in a new PAYG SIM. Finding a good value deal will allow you to make calls, send texts and get online without blowing your budget.

Which networks offer pay as you go SIMs?

There’s a good choice of companies currently offering pay as you go SIMs to UK customers. Some of the most popular are:

  • GiffGaff
  • Vodafone
  • 1pMobile
  • EE
  • O2
  • Three
  • Asda Mobile
  • CMLink
  • iD Mobile
  • Lebara Mobile
  • Lycamobile
  • Tesco Mobile
  • Voxi

It’s worth noting that all of the UK’s pay as you go networks share just four network coverage providers. So no matter which supplier you choose, you’ll either be covered by EE, O2, Three or Vodafone. Finding out which network your supplier uses should give you a better idea of the quality of the coverage you can expect from your PAYG SIM in your region.

How to top up your pay as you go SIM?


Most suppliers offer a number of different ways to top up your pay as you go credit. In general, you’ll be able to top up via your supplier’s app, on their website or by calling a freephone number from your mobile. Some networks also allow customers to top up in person at their local shop or to call a landline when they need to top up their credit.
To find out exactly how to top up your pay as you go SIM, contact your network provider or visit their website.

Do I have to top up every month on pay as you go?

While you don’t have to top up your pay as you go SIM every month to keep it active, adding credit on a regular basis can often allow you to take advantage of special deals and offers. This is especially true if you use ‘bundles’ instead of traditional credit.
When you sign up to a new pay as you go deal, make sure you check your supplier’s policies on topping up. In some cases, your SIM can be deactivated if you fail to add credit for a certain number of months.

How long does pay as you go credit last?

A lot of pay as you go bundles only last for a month. At the end of the 30 days, any remaining credit you have will expire and you’ll need to buy new credit.
Some providers, like Three, offer pay as you go credit that doesn’t expire. This can be a good option if you only use your phone very occasionally and don’t want to see your hard earned money disappear.

Call us to find the best broadband and/or phone provider for free!

0330 054 0020

Available Monday to Friday from 8.30 am until 5.30 pm

FAQ

Can you still get pay as you go SIM cards?

Pay as you go SIM cards are readily available from a number of UK mobile phone networks. Some of the most popular networks are Vodafone, Three, O2, EE and 1pMobile.

How to get your phone unlocked?

If you have a handset that’s been locked to a specific network, you can get it unlocked at a number of high street stores. Most phone shops will be able to unlock your phone in just a few minutes and many will do the work for less than £10. Once unlocked, your phone will work on any network. This leaves you free to choose the PAYG SIM that’s right for you.

Are pay as you go SIM cards free?

A lot of network providers supply PAYG SIMs free of charge. However, you won’t be able to use your PAYG SIM until you top up your credit and there won’t be any calls, texts or data available for free.

What's the difference between PAYG SIMs and traditional pay as you go?

PAYG is exactly the same as pay as you go. If you get a PAYG SIM, you’ll need to buy credit before you can start making calls, sending texts and looking at content online.

Updated on 5 Aug, 2021

redaction Who are we?
Redactor

Chérie

Junior Copywriting Specialist in Broadband

Redactor

william

UK Content Manager