The Best SIM Card for UK Travel: Roundup of Your Options
The Best SIM Card for UK Travel: Roundup of Your Options

The Best SIM Card for UK Travel: Roundup of Your Options

Traveling in the United Kingdom is expensive enough without nasty international roaming charges slapped on top. To help you avoid these and stay connected as cheaply as possible, I put together this useful roundup highlighting the best SIM card for UK Travel.

In the UK you can get pay as you go (PAYG) SIM cards, also called prepaid SIM cards, and 30-day rolling SIM-only plans. Both of these options offer good value for money and data allowance for travelers.

Read on to discover what I think is the best overall SIM and some other good recommendations. I’ve based my recommendations on detailed research into the latest offerings from providers and network speed/coverage reports, and my own extensive experience of using UK SIM cards.

The best SIM card for UK travel: quick answers

Don’t have time to read the whole article? Find the key information summarised in this section.

The best SIM card for UK travel

A screenshot of pay as you go sim card deals. These are Lyca mobile, who offer the best  sim card for UK travel.

I recommend one of the Lyca Mobile 30-day SIM plans for people traveling in the UK. Lyca offers the cheapest options for data along with unlimited calls and texts to UK numbers. You also get a maximum of 12GB EU roaming.

Lyca Mobile have plans with 5GB (£5), 20GB (£10), 30GB (£12), 50GB (£15), 100GB (£20) and unlimited GB (£25).

You have the option of using a physical SIM card or an eSIM and you can find Lyca SIM cards on sale in convenience stores across the UK.

Lyca runs on the EE network which has excellent UK coverage, so you should be well connected during your trip.

All Lyca SIMs are set up with autorenewal activated by default. If you’re staying in the UK for less than a month, just member to turn off autorenewal at least 24 h before your plan is set to renew. 

Other good SIM cards for UK travel

I’ve listed a few good SIM cards for the UK in the table below. All SIMs are free when bought directly from the mobile network—you only pay for the plan—and are 5G ready.

Good SIM cards for UK travel
NetworkSIM typePrice (£)Data allowance (GB)UK minutesUK textseSIM availableNotable extras
Lyca (runs on EE network)30-day PAYG (prepaid) SIM1020UnlimitedUnlimitedYes12 GB EU & India roaming + 100 minutes free international minutes
Lyca (runs on EE network)30-day SIM-only plan1230UnlimitedUnlimitedYes12 GB EU & India roaming + 100 minutes free international minutes
Vodafone30-day PAYG (prepaid) SIM  1520UnlimitedUnlimitedNoData rollover
EE30-day PAYG (prepaid) SIM1525UnlimitedUnlimitedNoData rollover
O230-day PAYG (prepaid) SIM1525UnlimitedUnlimitedNoData rollover
Three30-day PAYG (prepaid) SIM1530UnlimitedUnlimitedNo 
giffgaff (runs on O2 network)30-day PAYG (prepaid) SIM1015UnlimitedUnlimitedYes5B of data allowance can be used in EU countries
ID Mobile (runs on Three network)30-day SIM-only plan715UnlimitedUnlimitedNo 
ID Mobile (runs on Three network)30-day SIM-only plan1060UnlimitedUnlimitedNo 
ASDA Mobile (runs on Vodafone network)30-day PAYG (prepaid) SIM53UnlimitedUnlimitedNo 
Lebara (runs on Vodafone network)30-day SIM-only plan1020UnlimitedUnlimitedNo100 international minutes
VOXI (runs on Vodafone network)30-day SIM only plan1015UnlimitedUnlimitedNoUnlimited social media within UK

Things to consider before buying a SIM card for UK Travel

Your mobile phone model

Pretty much every smartphone nowadays can hold 2 SIM cards. Some can take 2 physical SIMS, while others can take a physical SIM card and an eSIM card.

Make sure you know what type of SIMs your phone can hold so you don’t buy the wrong one.

For example, if your mobile only has 1 slot for a physical SIM and you use this while at home, then you’ll need an eSIM if you want a UK SIM card and to still be able to use your regular number while traveling in the UK. 

Duration of your stay

If you plan on staying in the UK for more than a month, then consider a SIM card that has the option for autorenewal. Most, if not all providers offer autorenewal for all of their SIM cards.

If you opt in to this, mobile providers usually sort you out with more data for the same price. Some networks will also include extra benefits.

But if you know your trip isn’t going to last longer than 30 days, then make sure to turn off autorenewal.

If you forget to and are charged for the next month after leaving the UK, check the refund policy. Some networks will give you with a refund if you cancel the plan within a few days.

Any fees

Look on the mobile network’s website to be sure about any fees for cancelling a plan or for using your phone if your plan has expired, for example.

GB of data you’ll need

Think about how much data you’re likely to use before buying a plan. This way you can avoid wasting money on a SIM that has too much. You can check your typical data usage in your phone settings.

I recommend a SIM with at least 15 GB of data per month so that you have a daily data budget of a few hundred MB. This should safely cover general Googling, social media and using maps. 

To give you an idea, I tracked my data usage during a 17-day trip to Morocco. I bought a 20 GB local SIM and used about 13 GB.

This did include hot spotting my laptop in remote places so I could work on my blog, so you might not use that much. But if you use your phone a lot in general for social media and YouTube, for example, then you might.

Breakdown of the best local SIM cards for UK travel

You have the option of getting a local SIM or an international SIM card. I almost always recommend getting a local SIM card for the UK. There are a few good and cheap options for data, texts and calls.

The UK mobile network market is dominated by 4 big players: Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE. Each of these companies also hosts mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs).

An MVNO is a mobile virtual network provider that runs on the infrastructure of a larger host network. This is called piggybacking and it means that an MVNO will  have similar data speeds and coverage as its host.

The great thing about MVNOs is that they often have the best deals.

Three

SIM card data pack offers as shown on Three website.

Three call its prepaid SIM options data packs and they have one data pack that I think offers pretty solid value for money.

  • 30-day PAYG data pack: 30GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £15

They also have a rolling 30-day SIM-only plan that gives you unlimited data. If you truly need unlimited data, this is one of the cheapest options.

  • 30-day SIM-only plan: unlimited data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £30

Make sure to check how much notice you need to give Three if cancelling a monthly rolling SIM-only plan and any early cancellation fees.

Vodafone UK

Vodafone pay as you go sim card deals.

Vodafone doesn’t offer the most value for money for people traveling in the UK, but it does have 1 SIM I’d recommend.

  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 20GB data /  unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £15

The upside of Vodafone’s PAYG SIMs is that if you opt in for autorenewal, any unused data  gets rolled over to the next month. This is great if you plan on spending more than a month in the UK.

O2

O2 prepaid SIM card deals on their website.

O2 call their prepaid UK SIM deals big bundles and there’s 1 that I think offers people traveling in the UK exactly what they need. It includes a small balance of international minutes which is a nice bonus.

  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 25GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts / 50 international minutes | £15

giffgaff

giffgadd pay as yu go sim deals. This is one of the best sim card for UK travel.

giffgaff piggybacks on the O2 network and has made a good name for itself over the years for offering decent low-cost data packages.

Other networks have since upped their game, but giffgaff is still one of the cheapest options for prepaid SIMs in the UK.

  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 15GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts / up to 5GB of data allowance can be used for EU roaming | £10
  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 15GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts / up to 5GB of data allowance can be used for EU roaming | £12

ASDA Mobile

Asda mobile sim card deals.

ASDA Mobile piggybacks on Vodafone and has a couple of prepaid SIM offers, called bundles, that I think are worth mentioning.

You don’t get any extras like you do with giffgaff or Vodafone, but you get the important stuff such as data, texts and calls for a competitive price.

  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 15GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £10
  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 25GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £15

Where ASDA Mobile sets itself apart is its bundles with smaller data allowances. These are great if you only need a minimum amount of data.

  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 3GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £5
  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 5GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £7
  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 10GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | £10

Lyca Mobile

A screenshot of pay as you go sim card deals. These are Lyca mobile, who offer the best sim card for UK travel.

Lyca Mobile has what I think are the best prepaid SIM cards for UK travel and they’ve got an option for all trip durations. On top of generous data allowances, you also get a decent allowance for EU roaming and a small allowance of international minutes.

The MVNO runs on EE’s infrastructure, so you also get the best 4G coverage in the UK too.

  • 30-day PAYG SIM: unlimited data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | up to 12GB EU roaming | £25
  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 30GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | up to 12GB EU roaming | £12     
  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 20GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | up to 12GB EU roaming | £10     
  • 30-day PAYG SIM: 5GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts | up to 12GB EU roaming | £5         

VOXI Mobile

Voxi mobile pay as you go sim card offer.

VOXI piggybacks Vodafone and is the ideal choice if social media and video and music streaming are your priorities. They have 2 monthly rolling SIMs great for this.  

  • 30-day SIM only plan: 20GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts / unlimited social media within  UK | £12
  • 30-day SIM only plan: 30GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts / unlimited social media, music and video streaming within UK | £15        

Lebara

Lebara sim card deals on its website.

Lebara gives you a competitive amount of data for your dollar. But what really makes them a good choice is that you can use your plan in the EU up to 30 GB a month. This is a much higher EU roaming allowance than any other mobile network on this list.

  • 30-day SIM-only plan : 20GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts / 100 international minutes | £10
  • 30-day SIM-only plan: 30GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts / 500 international minutes | £15          
  • 30-day SIM-only plan: 30GB data / unlimited UK minutes / unlimited UK texts  /  unlimited international minutes / 1000 minutes to India | £20     

Most mobile networks increase monthly SIM-only plan prices every year in line with Consumer Price Index rates.

Travel SIM card options for the United Kingdom

If you’d prefer not to buy a SIM from a local carrier and keep using your regular number in the UK, see what options are available with your network provider.

There might be international roaming add-ons which you can pay for to essentially turn your regular SIM into an international SIM card. I doubt this will work out cheaper than buying a local SIM, but it won’t hurt to find out. 

International prepaid SIMs that cover the UK

screenshot of global sim card deals as displayed on a provider's website.

There are a few companies that offer international SIM cards.

You can choose a SIM that connects you to the internet within a specific country, a region or within the maximum number of countries possible. For some international SIMs this is well over 100 countries.

 Some of the better-known international prepaid SIM providers include:

  • Airalo
  • GigSky
  • OneSimCard
  • WORLDSIM
  • Keepgo

Know that data for these SIM cards is expensive. You’re looking at around £5 per GB, although this can be cheaper, or more expensive, depending on how many GB you buy and/or the length of time the data is valid for.

For example, a 30-day Airalo eSIM for the UK with 20GB data currently costs £28. This is significantly more expensive than buying a local SIM card with the same amount of mobile data.

For budget travelers, I would only recommend a global SIM card if you’re on a shorter-term trip and are visiting a few different countries, not just the UK.

In this case, I think that the expensive cost kind of outweighs the hassle of having to get a new SIM card in each country you go to.

That said, if you are on a shorter-term trip, then buying a UK roaming add-on for your regular plan could work out cheaper than an international prepaid SIM.

Where to buy a SIM card in the United Kingdom

You have a few options for getting hold of a SIM card in the UK.

If you want the SIM before you arrive, look carriers’ websites to see if they deliver to your country. Most networks will deliver SIM cards internationally. Another option would be to have a SIM delivered to your accommodation in the UK for when you arrive.

Either of these options is likely the easiest way to get your SIM.

Ordering a prepaid SIM online directly from the mobile network is usually free including delivery. And you choose when to buy your first batch of data, minutes and texts.

But if you can wait until you’re in the UK, then you can head to a phone store or convenience stores that sell SIM cards.

All the major phone networks have stores across cities and some towns throughout the UK. You’ll be able to pick up a SIM card at one of these. If getting your SIM at a mobile network’s store, then you might have to pay £1 if you don’t top it up with the minimum amount when you buy the SIM.

Most supermarkets sell SIM cards including: ASDA, Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrisons and Waitrose. Supermarkets typically sell SIMs for the major networks and some MVNOs.

Convenience stores that sell SIM cards include: OneStop, Morrisons Daily, Co-Op, Tesco Express, Londis and Budgens. You might find some MVNO SIMs on sale in convenience stores, but mostly they will stock SIMs for the major networks.

Argos is a large retailer that also sells SIM cards. They stock SIMs for all the major networks and many MVNOs, including the lesser-known ones, such as VOXI and Smarty that you typically won’t find in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Buying a SIM from a third-party retailer usually costs £0.99 and you normally have to top it up with at least £10 of credit there and then.

Can you buy a UK SIM card at the airport?

Planes parked at airport terminal gates.

You can buy a prepaid SIM card at some airports in the UK. Your best bet is to fly into a major city as airports in smaller cities might not sell them. 

London

London Heathrow (LHR) has Sim Local shops in all terminals either near baggage collection or in the arrivals hall. Sim Local sells prepaid SIM cards for major networks and select MVNOs.

Sim Local also has SIM card vending machines at LHR. These operate 24 h unlike the shops which usually open in the morning and close at night.

WeKnow is another SIM card retailer in LHR and they have shops in the arrivals area of terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5.

The retailer WH Smith operates across several UK airports including LHR and sells SIM cards.

Edinburgh and Glasgow

WH Smith also has shops in Terminal 2 arrivals at Edinburgh and the arrivals hall at Glasgow airport. You can buy Prepaid SIM cards here.

Dublin

At Dublin Airport you can buy prepaid SIM cards from convenience stores in terminals 1 and 2. WH Smith and Left Luggage sell them in terminal 1 arrivals. In terminal 2 the SPAR shop sells SIMs, also in the arrivals hall.

Cardiff

There is currently no option to buy a SIM card at Cardiff Airport. Your earliest chance of getting one will be in Cardiff city centre inside the St David’s Dewi Sant shopping centre.

Buying a SIM card at a UK airport is expensive. You typically pay at least double for the same data package than if buying at a shop outside of the airport.

For this reason, if you can, I highly recommend waiting until you leave the airport to sort out a SIM card. When you arrive, look for free airport WIFI so you can check where you can buy one.

Mobile signal coverage and data speeds in the UK

Signal coverage and data speeds are especially important if you will be working remotely while traveling in the United Kingdom. You can’t rely on WIFI 100% and there might be times when you’ll need mobile data to come to the rescue. 

So which UK provider has the best mobile coverage and data speeds? Obviously these figures change year on year, but the latest data shows that:

  • EE has the best 4G geographic coverage, with about 87% of the UK able to access its 4G connection
  • Three has the best 5G geographic coverage at around 58% (outside of buildings)
  • EE has the fastest 4G upload and download speeds
  • Three has the fastest 5G download speeds
Network connection success rate (%)
Network3G4G5G
Vodafone92.29694
EE94.295.392
Three93.395.691.4
O292.895.595.9
Source: Ofcom
4G network coverage & speeds
NetworkGeographic coverage (%)Download speed (Mbps)Upload speed  (Mbps)
EE87409.7
Three8025.26.3
Vodafone8221.67.4
O28217.15.4
Sources: Telegraph & Ofcom
5G network coverage & speeds
NetworkGeographic coverage (%)Download speed (Mbps)
EE45151.03
Three58231.07
Vodafone 159.49
O2 155.54
Sources: Telegraph & Ofcom

Keep in mind that these speeds might not be what you get with your SIM. Some mobile networks set connection speed limits on cheap plans with access to faster speeds sold as an add-on.

So, if data speed is important to you, make sure you read the details of your SIM plan carefully.

Are eSIMs available in the UK?

Screenshot of sim card setting panel of a smartphone.

eSIMs are yet to fully take off in the UK. Only the major carriers and a couple MVNOs offer them.

However, of these, it’s only the MVNOs that currently offer prepaid eSIMs. At the moment, you can get a local prepaid eSIM from Lyca Mobile and giffgaff. For other networks, you’ll have to sign up to at least a 30-day SIM-only plan.

Of the 2 prepaid eSIM networks, £10 with Lyca Mobile gets you:

  • 20 GB data
  • Unlimited minutes and texts to UK numbers
  • 100 minutes for international calls.
  • Up to 12GB of EU roaming at no extra charge

Whereas £10 with giffgaff gets you:

  • 15 GB data
  • Unlimited minutes and calls to UK numbers
  • 5 GB of data allowance can be used for EU data roaming at no extra charge

These packages compete well with each other. The 5 GB for EU roaming is a big draw to giffgaff, but the extra 5 GB of data within the UK with Lyca steals it for me.

Another reason why I recommend Lyca Mobile is because I have lots of personal experience using a giffgaff SIM and I’ve often run into network coverage issues.

I haven’t used a Lyca Mobile SIM, but as they moved from O2’s network (the same as giffgaff’s) to piggyback on EE, their coverage must be better than giffgaff’s. 

Another benefit of Lyca Mobile is that you can contact customer support. This is unlike giffgaff, which is a community-based network relying on maintained online forums to solve issues.

Are data-only SIM cards worth it in the United Kingdom?

In my opinion, a data-only SIM is not the best SIM card for UK travel.

They operate on a contract basis and typically work out costing the same, if not more, for the same amount of data as a standard prepaid SIM card minus the minutes and texts.

It’s almost always a better deal to get a regular SIM. That is, unless you only care about data and want an unlimited amount. If that’s you, then I recommend Lyca’s 30-day PAYG SIM with unlimited data for £25.

Does the UK still have free roaming?

After the UK left the EU, UK SIM users lost the free-roaming guarantee that existed in 27 European countries. And at the time of writing, of the major networks, EE and Vodafone have reintroduced European Union roaming charges.

The good news is that there are UK networks that still offer free EU roaming in some capacity. This is great if your trip to the UK is part of a bigger European trip.

Which UK networks let you roam in the EU?

An EU flag blowing in the wind.
Dušan Cvetanović CC (Pexels)

Three and O2 both allow EU roaming at no extra charge, including prepaid SIMs. In fact, you can continue using your plan as you would in the UK.  

Three have a maximum EU monthly roaming limit of 12 GB at no extra charge. If your O2 package gives you at least 25 GB data, you’ll be limited to 25 GB of roaming per month in the EU at no extra charge.

MVNOs

A few of the smaller networks give you some EU roaming allowance. Some of the better ones include:

  • iD Mobile – up to 30GB/month no extra charge
  • giffgaff – up to 5GB/month no extra charge
  • SMARTY – up to 12GB/month no extra charge
  • Lyca Mobile – up to 12GB/month no extra charge
  • Lebara – up to 30GB/month no extra charge

The exact amount of EU roaming allowance you get depends on your plan. Check networks’ websites to see the countries included in their free EU roaming policies and charges for exceeding limits.

More travel tips on A World Over adventure travel blog

So, in my opinion, the best SIM card for UK travel is a Lyca Mobile SIM card. It should sort you out with good connection and mobile coverage cheaply while you’re adventuring in the UK.

Keep in mind that mobile network providers can change SIM plans and policies so always look on their websites for the latest info.

Anyway, I hope this roundup has helped you pick a SIM card and that you enjoy your travels in Britain.

If you want UK destination recommendations, be sure to check out my Wales and England landing pages.

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