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Cheapest basic pay as you go rates: each network's SIM cards

SIM card and top up symbol

The retailers featured on this page may compensate us when our readers follow links to their websites and make a purchase. More

If you just want to pay as you go in the traditional way per minute, text and MB data, we've rated each network's SIMs to find the best value. SIM Sherpa is your trusty guide. Last updated: 26th March 2020.

In our pay as you go SIM guide

There's now barely any old-style pay as you go plans around

Pay as you go SIM packs

Networks are turning payg into pay monthly

In this guide, we're looking for what we'd call proper pay as you go. Where you top up with credit and then pay for what you use out of that. The lower the rates per minute, text or MB data, the better.

Annoyingly there aren't actually many mobile networks offering this type of SIM card anymore. A lot have moved towards making you buy monthly bundles of minutes, texts and data, which defeats the point.

If you find you top up once a month with £5 anyway, these options might be worth a look, even though they're pay monthly:

In the next section, we've looked at every mobile network's pay as you go SIMs and ordered them based on how cheap their basic per minute, text and MB data rate is and whether your credit expires.

How each network compares

1st: 1pMobile have the cheapest UK pay as you go rates

1p Mobile tariff banner

The lowest rates by a mileSee all rates

at 1pmobile.com
(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Simple, cheap rates
Green plus sign Uses the EE network
Green plus sign Customer service you can phone

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Minimum top up requirement

Our overall best choice for the cheapest basic pay as you go rates is 1pMobile, who charge an unbeatable 1p per minute, 1p per SMS text and 1p per MB data in the UK:

The SIM card uses the EE network, which offers excellent 4G, 3G and 2G coverage (check your local signal here). It's a cheap and cheerful brand but works as you'd want it to (read our real-life review here).

There is one condition attached to 1pMobile. Your credit doesn't ever expire. But you do have to top up with £10 at least every 4 months. But you'll never lose what you add as credit.

Useful link: All other costs and charges on 1pMobile

2nd: ASDA Mobile is more expensive and also on EE

Asda Mobile's rates among cheapestOrder free SIM card

at mobile.asda.com
(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Uses the excellent EE network
Green plus sign No compulsory top up rules
Green plus sign Can be not used for long periods

What we don't like:
Red minus sign More expensive rates than 1pMobile

On the face of it, there's no point considering Asda Mobile when they're way more expensive than 1pMobile and use the same EE network. But if you're an ultra-infrequent user they could be an option still.

While 1p make you top up every 4 months to keep your SIM active, Asda only require you to do something on your phone that costs money once every 180 days to keep it going (make a call, send a text etc).

Other than that you'll you keep whatever credit you top up with as long as you like. It never expires unless you use nothing for 180 days and don't ask to re-activate your SIM by 270 days (full rules here).

Useful link: Asda Mobile FAQs

3rd: Three's pay as you go is cheaper than most networks

You can still just top up and pay from thatOrder a free SIM

at Three.co.uk
(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Simple tariff
Green plus sign Use every 180 days to keep active

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Not as cheap as before

Three have now scrapped their popular 321 pay as you go plan (3p per min, 2p per text, 1p per MB data), although there's a chance you may still be able to find these SIM packs in supermarkets and other retailers.

In its place is a relatively simple tariff, which is a little more expensive than before but still offers lower basic pay as you rates than their competition:

The SIM is free to order online. And although it looks like you have to buy a bundle, you do not. You can still top up and pay just for what you use. You can check Three's signal near you here.

If you're an infrequent user, you'll need to use your SIM for at least one chargeable activity (a call or a text) every 180 days. But otherwise, your credit lasts as long as your SIM's active.

Useful link: See all payg rates on Three (choose "new pay as you go" price guide)

Joint 4th: giffgaff best pay as you go option on O2 network

Free credit offer banner

Get £5 free credit with first £10 top upUse free credit offer

at giffgaff.com
(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Some free calls to giffgaff numbers
Green plus sign Uses the extensive O2 network
Green plus sign Delivers outside the UK

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Comparatively expensive

Although giffgaff are mainly set up around buying monthly bundles called goodybags, if you won't use your phone that much, you can still choose to pay as you go the traditional way at these rates:

If you just use your phone mainly for "emergencies", the odd text or getting people to ring you back, it's an option. And credit lasts forever as long as you do something chargeable every 6 months (e.g. make a call).

If you've got someone else you'd regularly call on giffgaff, you'll get free calls to them if you top up at least every 3 months (if you don't it costs the same as normal), which could come in handy.

Useful link: Check your coverage on giffgaff

Joint 4th: Vodafone have a simple basic pay as you go SIM

Vodafone free pay as you go SIM card

Top up and pay for what you useOrder free SIM card

at Vodafone.co.uk
(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Simple enough tariff
Green plus sign Bonus minutes, texts and data

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Expensive if you actually use it

If you want a provider that uses the Vodafone network, joining them direct is the best value option, although their basic pay as you rates are higher than any of the above:

If you're hardly going to use the SIM, it's worth knowing that you have to do something chargeable (like make a call or send a text) every 180 days to keep it active. Else you'll lose your credit and the number.

Vodafone have excellent coverage, particularly for calls and texts (you can check their signal near you using their coverage checker).

Useful link: FAQs on Vodafone's pay as you go

5th: Tesco Mobile's Triple Credit payg is overly complicated

Tesco Mobile pay as you go SIM card rates

Top up and pay at these ratesOrder free SIM

at tescomobile.com
(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Can work out decent value
Green plus sign Use the O2 network
Green plus sign Triple Credit offer

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Pointlessly complicated
Red minus sign Pretty expensive

Tesco Mobile have a couple of ways you can do pay as you go with them. Rocket Packs, which are bundles. Or their Triple Credit plan, which is the sort of pay you go we're after in this article.

It's a bit of a faff to find out what you'll actually be paying on Tesco Mobile but here are the basic rates if you just want to top up with a credit and pay when you use your phone:

In theory, those rates will actually work out cheaper, because Tesco will triple the value of your top up for a month. So for example, pay £10, get £20 free. The £20 lasts for a month. The £10 lasts beyond that.

That'd mean usage effectively costs one third the price. But it's a useless system if the whole reason you want pay as you go is because you barely top up or use your phone. If you're topping up that much, you should pay monthly.

Useful link: Tesco Mobile Triple Credit explained in full

SIM Sherpa can help you find your next SIM only deal

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