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Basic Pay As You Go SIMs: networks with cheapest rates

SIM card and top up symbol

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Here are the networks with the cheapest traditional pay as you go SIMs, where you just top up with credit and pay for what you use. Last updated: 26th March 2024.

Cheap classic pay as you go SIMs

Only a handful of providers still have proper Pay As You Go

Pay as you go SIM packs

Monthly PAYG bundles are more common

In this guide we’ll go over the mobile networks that offer the best traditional Pay As You Go SIM cards. These providers let you top up with credit and pay for what you use out of that.

These days, only a handful of networks let you pay as you go this way. Most prefer to sell monthly bundles of mins, texts and data. That's no good for infrequent users or remote devices like alarms.

If you usually top up with £5 credit each month anyway, then you might want to consider these options despite being pay monthly plans:

Below, we've ranked the networks based on the cheapest rates per minute, text and data. And looked at any annoying terms and conditions like credit expiring or minimum top ups.

How each network compares

Joint 1st: 1pMobile have the cheapest UK PAYG rates by far

1p Mobile tariff banner

Top up and pay at just 1pSee all rates

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

What we like:
Green plus sign Cheap and easy to understand tariff
Green plus sign 5G/4G/3G/2G coverage via EE’s network
Green plus sign Over the phone customer service

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Must top up £10 every 90 days

1pMobile offer the cheapest pay as you go rates you’ll find in the UK. True to their name you’ll pay 1p per minute, text and MB of data rates, making the other networks’ rates seem expensive:

They piggyback off EE’s network for signal and offer identical 3G/4G/5G coverage to being on EE directly (check their map here). 1p also include extra network features like WiFi calling.

1p are also one of the few budget networks to offer over-the-phone customer service. But it's worth knowing, you will have to pay to call 1pMobile at your usual 1p per minute rate. It's not free.

The main downside with 1p is that you have to top up with at least £10 credit every three months, else your SIM will be deactivated and your credit will disappear. But if you keep topping up, your credit never expires.

Useful link: All other costs and charges on 1pMobile

Joint 1st: Talk Home Mobile offer the same 1p rates on EE

Talk Home pay as you go tariff

Joint cheapest rates in the UKSee full tariff

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

What we like:
Green plus sign Uses EE’s 5G/4G/3G/2G network
Green plus sign Cheap 1p tariffs

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Have to top up every 90 days
Red minus sign No WiFi/4G calling
Red minus sign No way to call them up for help

Talk Home Mobile are another smaller provider on EE’s network that offer super cheap rates of 1p per min, text and MB of data. You’ll also get 5G where available if you’re on a 5G-ready device.

After taking out a SIM with them you can top up with credit and Pay As You Go right away. They have the same 1p per minute, text and MB of data rates as 1pMobile, making them a brilliant choice for PAYG:

One big disadvantage of Talk Home is you have to do something that uses your credit every 90 days (like sending a text) and top up with some credit. If you don't, your SIM will be suspended and you’ll have to top up again to get it working.

But their minimum top-up is £2.50 while it’s £10 on 1pMobile. However, unlike 1p, Talk Home don’t have WiFi/4G calling or over-the-phone customer service. If you don’t mind that, they’re the closest alternative to 1p.

Useful link: Talk Home’s guide to their PAYG scheme

2nd: RWG Mobile are another good value PAYG option

Screenshot of RWG PAYG rates

Works in the whole UKOrder a SIM

at rwgmobile.wales
(opens in new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign No regular minimum top up requirement
Green plus sign No credit expiry
Green plus sign Decent PAYG rates

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Can’t take a free SIM to begin with
Red minus sign Calls and texts more expensive than the networks above

RWG Mobile are a smaller, Wales-based provider that say they use Now Mobile’s network, which ultimately means they use EE’s network. They’re worth looking at even if you’re not Welsh, as they offer cheap PAYG rates:

While calls and texts are quite a bit more expensive than on 1pMobile and Talk Home, if you don’t use calls or texts very often then RWG can be a decent choice for using data on Pay As You Go.

You can take a SIM from their website here. What also makes this scheme so good is that your credit never expires. There’s no minimum top up requirements, you can top up and use your credit how you like.

The only downside is that you can’t get a free SIM, you have to take one with £1 loaded. But since you can get through this £1 in your own time, that’s not really a big issue. RWG are an excellent choice for PAYG.

Useful link: See all rates on RWG

3rd: ASDA have the cheapest PAYG on Vodafone’s network


The second cheapest UK PAYG ratesOrder free SIM card

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

What we like:
Green plus sign Signal via Vodafone’s 4G/3G/2G network
Green plus sign No minimum top up requirement
Green plus sign A long time to use up your credit

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Higher rates than the above
Red minus sign Tariffs have gone up in price

ASDA are the next cheapest PAYG network, but it’s a big leap from the cheap rates on the providers above and ASDA’s rates. At the very least, there’s no top up requirement like there is on the networks above:

You’ll only lose your credit if you don’t use your SIM at all for 180 days in a row. If you do nothing for 270 days straight, then your account will be deactivated (see their guide here).

ASDA can be a good alternative to 1p and Talk Home if you’d rather be on Vodafone’s network than EE’s and if you’d prefer not to have to top up regularly. But 1p and Talk Home’s rates are much cheaper.

Useful link: ASDA Mobile FAQs

4th: Tesco are the cheapest PAYG option on O2’s network

Tesco Mobile triple credit tariffs explained

Choose Triple Credit when SIM arrivesOrder a free SIM

at tescomobile.com
(opens in new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Excellent coverage via O2’s network
Green plus sign Use up your credit at your own pace
Green plus sign Your credit is tripled

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Rates aren't really that great
Red minus sign Triple Credit only lasts a month

There are only two providers on O2’s network that let you pay as you go in the conventional way. Tesco are one of them and giffgaff are the other. And they both have the exact same tariffs:

But Tesco’s scheme is a little bit complicated as you can either top up with £10, £15 or £20 to get a triple credit boost. For example, topping up with £10 will actually get you £30 of credit.

It sounds amazing, as their PAYG tariff is then effectively a third of what’s shown above. But the extra credit you get from the boost (the extra £20 in our example) goes away if you don’t use it up after a month.

Your regular credit won’t expire as long as you do something that costs money at least every 180 days, like make a token call to someone. But in our eyes, their Triple Credit is more trouble than it’s worth.

Useful link: Tesco Mobile’s pay as you go rates

5th: giffgaff’s basic PAYG tariffs are quite expensive

Free credit offer banner

£5 free credit on your first £10 top upUse free credit offer

at giffgaff.com
(opens in a new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Call other giffgaff users for free
Green plus sign Coverage via O2’s 5G/4G/3G/2G network
Green plus sign Get your SIM delivered outside the UK

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Higher rates than the networks above

giffgaff mostly market themselves around their monthly bundles of mins, texts and data called “goodybags”. But you can still pay as you go in the traditional way if you use your phone infrequently:

Those rates are alright if you don’t use your phone often and just need a SIM for “emergencies”. But if you frequently use your phone your usage will add up fast.

It’s good to know that calls to other giffgaff users won’t use up your credit as long as you top up every three months (if not they’re charged at the regular rate), which can come in handy.

And your credit lasts forever as long as you use your SIM at least once every six months. The downside is that their rates will add up fast compared to the networks above, hence why they’re this low down.

Useful link: Check your coverage on giffgaff

6th: Lebara PAYG tariffs will eat up your credit quickly

Screenshot of Lebara's pay as you go rates

Their standard PAYG UK tariffsSee all costs

at mobile.lebara.com
(opens in new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Uses Vodafone’s 5G/4G/3G/2G network
Green plus sign Get 5GB free for transferring your number to them

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Rates are quite high
Red minus sign Free 5GB boost for transferring your number to them

Lebara are the second provider on this list who use Vodafone’s network. But their tariffs are quite high, meaning your usage on Pay As You Go will add up quickly:

You do get 5GB free when you transfer your old number onto Lebara. It’s a nice boost for joining them, but once you’ve got through that you might be better off on a network with cheaper tariffs.

But you might not like that you have to use up some of your credit every 90 days or else you’ll lose all of it. That will turn off a lot of users, especially those who want to use up their data at their own pace.

You might be better off joining a 1-month SIM only deal on Lebara as they’re much better value for money. Or if you want to pay as you go on Vodafone’s network, we think ASDA are a better option (even without 5G).

7th: Three have fairly expensive Pay As You Go tariffs

Three PAYG

Traditional Pay As You Go at high ratesOrder a free SIM

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

What we like:
Green plus sign Keep your SIM active by using it once every 180 days

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Their tariffs are very high

Of the four main UK networks, only Three offer a traditional Pay As You Go scheme. But we think most users won’t even want to use their scheme due to their really high PAYG rates:

The cost of calls and data has gone up massively over time, and they have the highest tariff for calls out of all these networks. So they’re only really good if you use your phone very infrequently.

You can take a free SIM from their website here. While they only advertise their monthly bundles you can still pay as you go the traditional way. It’s worth checking Three’s signal coverage where you live.

To make sure your SIM stays active you’ll have to do some that uses some credit (like sending a text) at least every 180 days. If you keep doing that your credit never expires, unless you cancel your SIM.

Useful link: See all payg rates on Three

8th: Lyca Mobile are an expensive option for PAYG

Screenshot of Lycamobile's basic rates

Your usage will add up very quicklySee their rates

at lycamobile.co.uk
(opens in new window)

What we like:
Green plus sign Coverage via O2’s 5G/4G/3G/2G network
Green plus sign Hold onto your credit for up to a year

What we don't like:
Red minus sign Tariffs are very high
Red minus sign Data especially gets expensive fast
Red minus sign Your SIM will deactivate if you don’t use it every 90 days

Lyca Mobile are a budget provider on EE’s network. However, for Pay As You Go they have the highest tariffs of all UK networks. You’ll eat up your credit very quickly at their rates:

Data especially will add up very quickly (just 1GB would cost over £10!) when compared to the networks higher up the list. Their rates per min and text are also high, but not as high as some of the networks above.

You can hold onto your credit for a year on Lyca, but you have to make a chargeable action every 90 days to keep it. You can’t hold onto your credit forever like you can on ASDA, but a year is long enough for most.

Infrequent users won’t like Lebara as you have to use your credit often to keep your SIM active. And frequent users will end up paying a lot with their high rates. So we can’t really see who would like this scheme.

Useful link: Lycamobile’s standard UK rates

Vodafone, EE and O2 only sell monthly bundles nowadays

O2 logoVodafone logo

No traditional PAYG on these networks

These days, O2 no longer let you pay per min, text and MB of data out of credit. Instead, you can join a monthly “Big Bundle”, which also include data rollover to help you get the most out of your allowance.

Vodafone offer bundles of mins, texts and data. They do have a PAYG scheme, but it costs you £1 per day to get unlimited mins, texts and 50MB of data. It’s not a very flexible option, but it’s there if you want it.

iD Mobile have the best value monthly bundles of these networks. It is possible to let your plan run out and start paying as you go, but their high rates and the hoops you have to jump through make them an unappealing choice.

EE don’t let you top up with credit and pay out of that, your only option for PAYG is their monthly bundles. And Sky Mobile don’t offer monthly bundles or traditional PAYG.

So if you’re sure you want a traditional Pay As You Go scheme, then you’ll want to stay away from these networks.