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Best pay as you go SIM deals 2022: The best PAYG and no contract SIM deals for calls, data, texts and roaming

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Browse, stream, text and call with the best PAYG SIMs and bundle deals for September

Not everyone wants to get tied into a long-term phone or SIM-only contract, particularly if your usage tends to wax and wane through certain months or you’re worried about ongoing costs and potential price rises. If you’re looking for something more flexible, PAYG SIM deals could be just the thing. You’re not locked into a contract, you can buy more data if you need it, and you can change or cancel your plan at a moment’s notice without any exit fees or wrangling.

What’s more, old-fashioned PAYG plans are now being added to – or even replaced – by a new breed of flexible, contract-free SIM-only packages. Pioneered by Giffgaff and iD Mobile, these are now being taken up by other providers, and competition in the market means that these can give you better value than some low-cost, pay-monthly contracts. Even those sticking to the traditional PAYG model are throwing in some fantastic packages of data, calls and texts, so it always pays to shop around.

Struggling to choose the right mobile network for you? Check out our annual Mobile Network Awards to find out who the best provider is, as voted by our readers.

Smarty: Bag 50GB of data for an ASTONISHING £10/mth

Here's a delicious Smarty deal: 50GB (was 30GB) of 5G data for a rock-bottom £10/mth, with the ability to cancel at any time. It's a bargain that vastly undercuts its PAYG rivals, but get in there soon because it won't last for long.
Smarty
50GB for £10/mth

Best pay as you go SIM deals: At a glance

  • Best option for light users: iD Mobile
  • Best option for data hungry users: Giffgaff
  • Best network coverage: EE
  • Best for perks and extras: O2

READ NEXT: The best budget smartphones you can buy

The best pay as you go SIM deals in September

1. iD Mobile: The best PAYG SIM for light users

Price: From £6/mth (1GB) to £20/mth (unlimited) | Buy now from iD Mobile

iD Mobile has some of the best PAYG deals for light data users, starting with a £6 monthly bundle with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and 1GB of data, or the same bundle with 4GB of data for just £2 more. Out-of-bundle prices have now risen, so you’re paying 10.24p per MB for data, but you can switch to a new bundle when your old bundle ends or prepay for it beforehand. What’s more iD Mobile still doesn’t charge any extra for EU roaming, where other providers have reintroduced charges.

iD Mobile is a virtual network that runs on top of Three, and while Three’s download speeds fall behind those of EE and Vodafone, they are improving – especially if you live in a 5G area and have a 5G capable phone. Overall, iD Mobile’s packages deliver great value throughout the range, up to and including its £20 unlimited data deal. If you only need a few GB per month, though, it’s in a class of its own.

Key details – iD Mobile

Network providerThreeMandatory top-up period2 months
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call chargeInclusive minutes
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff40p per minute; unlimited texts, 10.4p per MB

Buy now from iD Mobile


2. Tesco Mobile: The best PAYG SIM for moderate users

Price: From £10/mth (10GB) to £30/mth (100GB) | Buy now from Tesco Mobile

While Tesco has some plans for lighter users, it works better as a PAYG option for those wanting a little more data through its well-priced Rocket Packs. The £10 Rocket Pack, for instance, gets you 20GB of data, 5,000 call minutes and 5,000 texts at a price point where most of the competition is giving you 5GB to 8GB. Step up to the £15 Rocket Pack and you’re looking at a respectable 25GB. Tesco offers even cheaper prices to its Clubcard users – although these offers come and go – and you can switch Rocket Packs every thirty days by text or through the Tesco Mobile app. Rocket Packs automatically renew from a recurring payment method or credit on the SIM, and you’re free to cancel out whenever you want.

Tesco Mobile runs on top of O2’s mobile network, which still comes fourth out of the four major networks for speed and coverage, despite significant improvements over the last few years. However, 4G and 5G performance is getting stronger in some areas, while Tesco Mobile has some of the best results for customer service and satisfaction, both in our last Mobile Network Awards Survey and in Ofcom’s 2022 research. We gave it a Highly Commended for Customer Service, while Tesco scored better for overall customer satisfaction than any other provider. If you’re more concerned with overall value than with the fastest speeds, put Tesco Mobile high on your shortlist.

Key details – Tesco Mobile
Network providerO2Mandatory top-up period180 days
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call charge15p per call
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff25p per minute; 10p per text, 10p per MB

Buy now from Tesco Mobile


3. Smarty: The best one-month deals for a lot of low-cost data

Price: From £6/mth (4GB) to £18/mth (unlimited) | Buy now from Smarty

New kid on the block Smarty's 30-day plans are incredibly good value – and you’re free to cancel anytime. The current entry-level plan, with 4GB of data and unlimited calls and texts for just £6, is hard to beat, but Smarty goes on to do just that with its 12GB for £8, 50GB for £10 and unlimited data for £20 bundles. There are no speed caps or restrictions on tethering, and EU roaming comes free, although with a 12GB fair use restriction to stop you streaming Netflix on the beach. If you need a SIM for a laptop or tablet, Smarty also does cheaper data-only plans, plus slightly more expensive data discount plans that give you up to £3 of the monthly fee back if you don’t use your whole data allowance.

Smarty is owned and operated by Three’s parent company on Three’s own network, so you can expect decent speeds and coverage, although EE and Vodafone win on reach and performance. 5G support comes bundled in, enabling you to take advantage of Three’s growing 5G network. There’s no data yet on customer service, and Smarty has adopted a similar community-led approach to support as Giffgaff, which won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. All the same, if you can manage things yourself, Smarty is as irresistible as it is cheap.

Key details – Smarty
Network providerThreeMandatory top-up period220 days
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call chargeInclusive minutes
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff10p per minute; 10p per text, Data add-ons available from £1 per GB

Buy now from Smarty


4. Giffgaff: The best PAYG SIM for data-hungry users

Price: From £6/mth (1GB) to £35/mth (unlimited) | Buy now from Giffgaff

Giffgaff doesn’t specialise in PAYG SIMs, but was the pioneer in low-cost, no-contract monthly plans. Its no-commitment goody bags are consistently good value, whether you’re looking at the low-end £6/1GB option or the £10/15GB mid-range plan. And as the data allowances go up, things only get better. £20 will nab you 100GB of data to use across 30 days, while £25 gives you Always On data, albeit with speed restrictions after you’ve used the first 80GB.

All plans include EU roaming and unlimited UK calls and texts and also come free of any contracts or commitments. You can switch goody bags from month to month as your needs change or go for one of the extra value golden goody bags with added data if you set up recurring payments first.

As Giffgaff runs on top of O2’s network you’re not going to get best-in-class performance everywhere, but its 4G speeds are still solid in most areas and O2 is posting some impressive 5G results in the latest RootMetrics research. What’s more, Giffgaff did superbly in our last Mobile Network Awards survey – not to mention Ofcom’s most recent customer service and satisfaction research. What’s not to like?

Key details – Giffgaff
Network providerO2Mandatory top-up period3 months
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call charge8p per minute
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff25p per minute; 10p per text, 10p per MB

Buy now from Giffgaff


5. Vodafone: The best PAYG SIM for flexible data

Price: From £10/mth (21GB) to £40/mth (unlimited) | Buy now from Vodafone

Vodafone’s basic Pay as you go 1 plan is only for the most occasional users: you pay £1 every day you use your phone and get unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and a rather stingy 50MB of data. Luckily, better deals are available if you take on one of its 30-day bundles. Not only has Vodafone upped its data allowances across its range, meaning you can have 40GB of data for £15 with unlimited UK calls and texts – or 80GB for £20 – but these bundles all come with inclusive roaming across 51 European destinations and a data rollover, where any unused data rolls into the next 30 days.

What’s more, Vodafone has a tasty £40 bundle with unlimited 5G data. Of course, if you want unlimited data you could save by finding a cheaper SIM only contract, but if you wanted to flex up to unlimited data for just a month or two, then return to a cheaper bundle later, going PAYG still might make more sense.

According to the latest figures from RootMetrics, Vodafone is second only to EE for UK speeds and coverage, and actually ahead on 5G speeds in some major towns and cities. Our last Mobile Network Awards survey and Ofcom’s latest research pointed to issues in customer service and support, but if you want a fast service with plenty of data, Vodafone is definitely worth a look.

Key details – Vodafone
Network providerVodafoneMandatory top-up period180 days
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call charge5p per minute
Data rolloverYesTetheringYes
Base tariff£1 per day for unlimited calls, unlimited texts, 50MB data.

Buy now from Vodafone


6. Three: The best PAYG SIM for unlimited data

Price: From £10/mth (16GB) to £35/mth (unlimited) | Buy now from Three

While it’s not quite as cheap as it used to be, Three is still one of the least expensive options for basic PAYG services, with calls at 10p per minute, texts at 10p per message and data at 5p per megabyte. However, it makes a lot more sense with its Data Packs, particularly the current Amazon-exclusive deals. These give you a generous 16GB for £10, 30GB for £15, 50GB for £20 and Unlimited data for £35 a month, and all come 5G-ready with unlimited minutes and texts, and the flexibility to move from one pack to another from month to month.

Three’s network isn’t quite as fast as EE or Vodafone, although its 5G network is spreading and delivering improved speeds in many places. More seriously, Three trails EE, Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile for customer service and satisfaction, both in last year’s Expert Reviews Mobile Network Awards survey and in Ofcom’s 2022 report, where only Virgin Media had a worse score. Still, it’s hard to grumble with the value of Three’s PAYG deals, or with Three’s Go Roam roaming features, which give you your data, call and text allowances when you’re traveling to over 70 different destinations abroad. These include Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brazil and the US, making Three a good option for temporary use while you travel.

Key details – Three
Network providerThreeMandatory top-up period6 months
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call charge3p per minute
Data rolloverNoTetheringYes
Base tariff10p per minute; 10p per text, 5p per megabyte

Buy now from Three


7. EE: The best PAYG SIM for high-speed connectivity and coverage

Price: From £10/mth (5GB) to £30/mth (100GB) | Buy now from EE

EE isn’t the top network for bargain PAYG bundles. Even its cheapest £10 PAYG Pack gives you half the 10GB data allowance you’d get from Giffgaff or Tesco Mobile, not to mention less than you’d get from Three, O2 or Vodafone. Nor do you get the most data for your money at the higher end.

However, EE doesn’t always need to compete on price, just because it’s ahead on speeds and 5G coverage. The latest research from RootMetrics still puts EE well in front of Vodafone, Three and O2, both on 4G and 5G performance. This makes EE a serious contender if you want the flexibility and freedom of a PAYG package while still getting the latest, greatest 4G and 5G speeds in most areas (although other networks are beginning to catch up).

What’s more, EE also has a good track record for customer satisfaction and support. It was just behind the leaders in our last Mobile Network Awards survey and did even better in Ofcom’s last report, with fewer complaints per 100,000 subscribers than any other major UK network except Tesco Mobile. You’ll have to pay extra for the privilege, but if you have the cash to splash it could be worth it.

Key details – EE
Network providerEEMandatory top-up period180 days
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call charge35p per minute
Data rolloverYesTetheringYes
Base tariff35p per minute; 15p per text, data requires pack or add-on

Buy now from EE


8. 1pMobile: The best cheap PAYG SIM

Price: 1p per minute, 1p per text, 1p per MB | Buy now from 1pMobile

1pMobile’s proposition couldn’t be any more straightforward. Buy a SIM for £10 and you get £10 of credit, and after that everything costs a penny. All unused credit rolls over, but you need to top up every 120 to 600 days, depending on how much money you top up with.

This makes 1pMobile an attractive option for anyone who doesn’t plan to use a lot of data or make a lot of calls, but the network has now added some additional SIM deals, including 1-year SIM deals that stretch your credit across a whole year, and a range of boosts that give you unlimited calls and texts or 1GB to 50GB of data for 30 days. While it’s the whole 1p rate that makes 1pMobile different, there’s scope to upgrade if you find you’re needing more.

As 1pMobile runs on EE’s network, speeds and coverage won’t be an issue, and you’re good to go with both 4G and 5G connections. We don’t have any data to work with on customer service or satisfaction, but the network offers a 14-day money back guarantee and UK customer support.

Key details – 1pMobile
Network providerEEMandatory top-up period120 days
Network types2G to 5G servicesVoicemail call charge1p per minute
Data rolloverYesTetheringYes
Base tariff1p per minute, 1p per text, 1p per megabyte

Buy now from 1pMobile


9. Lyca Mobile: The best PAYG SIM for international calls

Price: From £5/mth to £20/mth | Buy now from Lyca Mobile

If you’re looking to stay in touch with family and friends abroad, then Lyca Mobile has a lot to offer. Its PAYG plans bundle UK minutes, text and data with cost-effective international calls, which would usually cost significantly more on other networks. You could still save by using IP-based voice and video chat services like Skype, Google Duo and FaceTime, but that’s not always possible at the other end.

Lyca Mobile’s plans start with the £5 UK Plan Smart, with 3GB of data, 1,000 UK minutes and UK texts and 100 minutes of international calls and go all the way up to the £30 Go Endless Plus plan, with unlimited data, UK texts and minutes and international calls. These work across 50 countries around the globe, or if your chosen country isn’t covered, you can look at a country or region-specific calling plan. It’s worth checking for offers, as Lyca Mobile sometimes has cut-price or half-price deals for new customers.

Lyca Mobile runs on top of O2’s network, and all plans now support 5G. While O2 currently comes behind the other major UK networks in RootMetrics’ speed research, performance is improving - and dramatically with 5G in some areas. Lyca Mobile used to make sense as a PAYG option for making international calls, but not so much for UK calls and data. Now, thanks to data-rich bundles and competitive pricing, it’s another virtual network that can do it all.

Key details – Lyca Mobile
Network providerO2Mandatory top-up period90 days
Network types3G to 5G servicesVoicemail call chargeFree
Data rolloverYesTetheringYes
Base tariff12p per minute, 19p per text, 12p per megabyte

Buy now from Lyca Mobile


How to choose the best pay as you go SIM deal for you

How do I buy a PAYG SIM?

What differentiates the various SIMs on offer is how this credit gets used. The traditional approach is to have a base tariff, setting out the standard cost of making calls, using data or sending texts, with additional charges for calling premium numbers, using premium SMS services, retrieving voicemail messages or using your phone abroad.

However, most providers now push you toward a package or bundle, with a set data allowance and included calls and texts. This usually lasts for 30 days, and you can either set the package to renew with a direct debit or credit card payment or buy a new one. Often the networks give you better deals on recurring packages – and you still have the right to cancel at any time. With these packages the base tariff only kicks in if you burst through your package’s allowance.

How much data do you need?

The trick is to be realistic. If you spend almost all of your time connected to a home or office Wi-Fi network, 2GB to 4GB of mobile data could easily last you a month. However, as more apps place more demands on your mobile connection and websites throw in more videos and animations, you may need a little more these days. If you’re a heavy user of social media, use Google Maps or make voice and video calls, your usage could go up a lot – and that’s without streaming video or music. If that’s the case, the larger 20GB to 100GB deals look more attractive, although you might find you get better value by going for a pay-monthly 12-month contract SIM deal instead, or even a SIM on a 30-day rolling contract.

Most networks now allow you to use your bundle’s data for tethering, connecting a laptop or tablet to the internet through your smartphone. This can eat through your data even faster and, once you’ve exhausted your bundle, costs can rocket, with some networks charging 10p or more per megabyte.

The key thing is to have a balance. While it’s important to buy enough data, there’s also no point spending money on a huge allowance you won’t use, even if more networks now allow you to roll unused data over to the next month. The beauty of PAYG is that you can stick to a low-data bundle for most of the year and then switch to a high-data bundle as needed – for example, when you’re travelling on business or going away on holiday.

Do I need to worry about speed or network coverage?

A cheap SIM deal isn’t much use if the connection is slow or flaky – and speeds and coverage vary massively from network to network and location to location. The smaller operators normally piggyback on one of the major mobile networks, and each one has a coverage checker so it’s worth using this to discover the speeds expected in your immediate area. It’s also worth asking friends who live nearby which networks have and haven’t worked for them.

Another good and entirely independent option is RootMetrics’ coverage map, which can help you pinpoint coverage and speeds in your area. Click here and have a look before you grab a new PAYG SIM.

What about making international calls or going abroad?

If you have friends and family overseas, you should investigate how much it costs to make international calls. Many providers offer cheap calls to specific destinations, but (for example) the SIM that’s cheapest for calling the US might be expensive for calling Brazil, and vice versa. In some cases, paying for an add-on can slash call costs.

It’s also a good idea to do some homework if you’re planning to take your own phone abroad. Within the EU you should be able to use your phone on exactly the same terms as within the UK, although it remains to be seen whether that will still be true after Brexit.

Outside of the EU, things can be much more expensive. Certain networks offer lower charges or free usage in specific territories or add-ons that can cut the cost. Alternatively, it might make sense to buy a local PAYG SIM, rather than roam on your UK SIM.

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