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Best SIM cards for tourists visiting the UK: all your options

SIM card and map of the UK

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If you're coming to the UK for a temporary trip and want to avoid roaming charges with your home provider, here are the networks you can join. Last updated: 22nd August 2022.

Best networks for visiting the UK

It is possible to get a UK mobile plan even if you’re just visiting

Roam Like You're Home banner

Many providers let you roam in the EU too

If you’re coming to the UK for an extended visit then you may want to take out a UK SIM, so you won’t have to worry about what roaming here will cost with your home network.

If you’re arriving from abroad then you most likely won’t have a UK bank account. So you’ll need to know which networks let you pay by alternative methods like Paypal and which ones let you pay with a debit/credit card.

The majority of networks require you to have a UK address to deliver a SIM card to, and only one of them delivers SIMs outside of the UK. And eSIMs aren’t that common here yet.

But there are also some networks where you can pick up a SIM card in a supermarket, vending machine or local shop, which let you pay for monthly bundles of minutes, texts and data. These tend to be poorer value than buying online though.

Useful link: The best UK networks for roaming

Some UK networks are better than others

Three logoEE logoO2 logoVodafone logo

There are four main mobile networks in the UK

There are four main networks in the UK. These are EE, O2, Vodafone and Three. But there are also an unusually large number of smaller, low-cost virtual operators in the UK that use the main networks to provide signal.

One thing you’ll have to consider when choosing between networks is how well they cover the UK with call signal (3G/2G) and 4G/5G data signal. Vodafone and O2 have widespread call signal, EE and Vodafone have widespread 4G, while Three tend to be decent in big cities mainly.

UK networks can use nine different network bands (ranges of signal frequency) and each network uses different bands. There may be some compatibility issues with foreign devices. You can check which bands your phone is compatible with on the manufacturer’s website.

You might also want to know which networks let you roam in the EU for free if you’re going to another country and still want to use up the allowance you’ve paid for. Not all networks offer EU roaming these days, so it’s important to know.

Finally we may highlight the specific benefits of each network if we think they’re relevant to UK visitors. If you want to know more about each one you can read our full reviews of them on this website.

Useful link: Find the best value deals with our SIM comparison tool

eSIMs aren’t yet really an option for you

eSIM on O2

No pre-pay networks offer eSIM yetRead eSIM guide

at simsherpa.com
(opens in new window)

If you’re on an eSIM-ready phone, you might be wondering if you can just order a UK SIM online and download it to your device. That would remove the waiting time and hassle of having your SIM delivered and remove the need for a UK address.

The issue is that the only networks here that offer eSIMs either restrict it to their pay monthly contracts, which require you to have a UK bank account, or make you take out a physical SIM card first.

We could see eSIMs come out on more networks in the future, which could be another option for people visiting the UK to take a SIM. But for now it’s just not an option, which is a bit of a shame.

Useful link: Our full guide to eSIMs

Which networks are best for visiting the UK?

giffgaff will deliver your SIM abroad

giffgaff Europa delivery abroad

Get your SIM card in advanceHow this works

at giffgaff.com
(opens in new window)

giffgaff are by far the best network if you’re travelling to the UK. This is largely because they’re the only UK network that will deliver your SIM to you outside of the UK. This means you can take out and activate your SIM before arriving.

This takes a lot of the hassle out of the process. And giffgaff let you pay by Paypal on their website, meaning you don’t need a UK debit or credit card in order to take out your plan. Their plans are also typically low-cost:

Add to that the fact that all their SIM only plans are on 1-month deals, rather than contracts. That means once the month is up you can leave your plan without an issue, and there are no credit checks to join.

Finally, if you’re going to travel outside the UK within that month then giffgaff let you do that. You can roam at no extra cost in these EU destinations up to 20GB of your allowance.

And giffgaff use the O2 network, which means call signal is very widespread and 4G/5G coverage is decent. Overall, giffgaff should be your first choice if you need a SIM to visit the UK.

Useful link: Our full review of giffgaff

You can buy pre-paid SIMs in UK shops

A Tesco Mobile store

Convenience stores and vending machines

There are a few UK networks that let you buy a SIM that’s already topped up with a monthly allowance of minutes, texts and data in supermarkets, convenience stores and other types of shops.

This has its advantages. You can buy them using any payment option the shop will take, you don’t have to wait for delivery and it eliminates a few of the pre-requisites stopping you getting a SIM online.

Vodafone, EE and Three all three of the four main UK networks. Their pay monthly bundles are fairly expensive and worse value than their contracts. None of them include EU roaming on your plan and make you pay for it separately.

O2 are the fourth UK network. Their monthly bundles are similar value to Vodafone’s and EE’s, however they’re the only main network to include EU roaming in your plan at no extra cost.

VOXI are a sub-brand of Vodafone and offer brilliant unlimited streaming data benefits (read more here), EU roaming in these destinations and use Vodafone’s brilliant network on all their flexible 1-month deals.

ASDA are a supermarket brand, but you can join their mobile network ASDA Mobile by taking a SIM in an ASDA store. They offer 1-month plans and use the Vodafone network at low-costs. You get free EU roaming in these destinations.

Tesco Mobile are another mobile network set up by a supermarket brand. You can buy a pre-paid SIM or top-up in any Tesco store. They’re also the only network that let you use your whole data allowance abroad.

SMARTY are a super-cheap provider offering flexible 1-month deals. They do use Three’s network which isn’t as great for call or 4G signal coverage. You can roam in these EU destinations and use up to 12GB of your allowance.

You can also take a giffgaff SIM in-store, but we think you’re better off getting it delivered abroad as you’ll get a better value deal and set up your SIM before you arrive.

iD Mobile are a low-cost provider that use Three’s network. They offer free EU roaming on all plans in these destinations. You can only get iD Mobile SIMs in Curry’s (computer hardware) stores.

LycaMobile and Lebara offer some free international minutes on all of their plans as well as EU roaming. You can find their SIMs in most stores (see LycaMobile’s store locator here)

There are a few downsides to these as well. Typically these will be worse value than buying online (and much worse value than their monthly contracts) as you have to pay a premium. And SIMs from vending machines tend to be even pricier.

And of course you can’t set up your SIM before you arrive like you can with giffgaff. It’s inconvenient to go around looking for a shop and then sorting through the different SIMs on the shelf. It just adds another layer of things to do.

But if you don’t mind all that, then you can see which networks offer the best value monthly bundles here.

Useful link: Our guide to the best PAYG networks

Some cheaper mobile networks let you pay by PayPal online

Pay via Paypal on mobile networks

Pay with your home bank on Paypal

There are a few networks that let you pay for your deal via Paypal or alternative payment options online. If you’re able to get your SIM delivered to your accommodation then this is certainly an option.

VOXI, SMARTY, giffgaff, 1pMobile, Tesco Mobile, LycaMobile, Lebara and iD Mobile all let you order a SIM online without needing a UK debit/credit card. You can either order one with a monthly bundle of minutes, texts and data installed, or top-up online separately.

Since you’re not setting up a direct debit or joining a contract, you won’t need to pass a credit check on any of these networks. This is essential, as you won’t have a credit history when arriving in the UK.

Some of these networks claim you’ll get your SIM delivered within 2 working days, others say up to 3 days or more.

Useful link: Use our SIM only comparison tool

There are contract options that probably won’t be available to you

Screenshot of a checkout

You'd need a permanent UK address

Finally there are a few networks who either offer their best deals as SIM only contracts, or who only offer contracts, meaning that they’ll largely be closed off to tourists visiting the UK.

Sky Mobile, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile and Talkmobile only offer SIM only contracts online, requiring you to have a UK address and bank account. That means they’re simply not options for anyone visiting the UK, unless someone takes out the deal for you.

Honest Mobile offer flexible 1-month SIM only deals, but they require you to have a UK bank account and address, so they’re also not an option for you.

It’s a shame because Talkmobile and Virgin offer some great value deals, while Sky, BT and Honest offer some unique benefits on top of their plans.

If you know someone in the UK you can get them to buy for you, but that’s not ideal as most of these offer at minimum 12-month contracts. But Talkmobile and Honest offer 1-month contracts, so that might be an option for you.

Useful link: The difference between 1-month plans vs 1-month contracts

SIM only deals



1p Mobile logo
Three logo
ASDA logo
Boshhh Mobile logo
Coop Mobile logo
EE logo
Genius logo
giffgaff logo
Honest logo
ID logo
IQ logo
Lebara logo
Lycamobile logo
O2 logo
Sky logo
spusu logo
Talkhome logo
Talkmobile logo
Tesco logo
Vodafone logo
VOXI logo


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