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  • Keep your phone and get a cheap SIM card only contract
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Our guides

What is a Sim only deal?

A SIM only deal is a contract that gets you an allowance of data, calls and texts for a monthly charge. The difference from traditional pay-monthly phone deals is that with SIM only deals, you don't have to pay for the phone. All you're paying for is the SIM card and the allowances.

Looking at the table below you can see that SIM only deals cover a wide spectrum. From low cost deals to unlimited data, the flexibility of SIM only plans is a huge attraction to people who don't want to be tied down to a pay monthly contract.

Cheapest SIM deal£3.95 p/m
Unlimited data£18.00 p/m
Uswitch exclusiveLebara
Contract lengthNo contract

FAQs

Why choose a SIM only deal?

Out of contract? Love your current phone and don't need a handset upgrade? Well you could save big by switching to a SIM only deal.

First of all, if you stay on the same price plan once the contract is up, your network might still charge you the same amount as when you signed up - and that was mainly to pay for the cost of a handset you've since paid off, so you'd be spending more than you have to.

And if you do have a new smartphone in mind, have you considered buying it out right and sticking to a SIM only deal?

Whilst this may be a big outlay initially, if you can afford the one-off payment you may find that you'll save money in the long run, as SIM only deals often give you great plans with plenty of data, minutes and texts for a fraction of the cost of a contract plan.

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What SIM card do I need?

SIM cards come in a range of sizes. There's the standard SIM, smaller micro SIM and even smaller nano SIM. Standard SIMs are rarely used these days, and even micro SIMs are on the way out. The latest smartphones will usually work with a nano SIM.

Regardless of the size of the SIM, SIM cards all hold the same info - your phone number and plan details. You won't be able to access your network and use a mobile phone without popping in your SIM card first.

Once you insert your SIM card into a phone, it'll be synced to your network. but you're free to use it in different handsets. That way you can switch to new phones and keep the same number, contacts and even your saved messages.

Want a phone-and-tariff contract instead? Take a look at some of the best on the market at our dedicated comparison page.

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Which mobile phone network is best?

With a wide range of networks all after your custom, you'll find there are options for every type of smartphone user.

From pay monthly packages to SIM only deals, with lot of data or maybe just some minutes and texts - figuring out what you need from a mobile plan is how you'll decide what the best network for your needs is.

Every year we host the Uswitch Mobiles Awards, to recognise the best customer service, coverage, roaming and more.

Determined by consumer research as well as the decisions of a panel of judges, comprised of technology journalists and industry experts, these awards represent a seal of quality.

Take a look at the 2020 winners to see how the networks did in a selection of different categories.

Best SIM Only networksWinnerHighly commended
Network of the YearSkygiffgaff
Best Network CoverageO2Vodafone
Fastest Mobile Network - Powered by OpenSignalEEVodafone
Best SIM-Only NetworkVodafoneSMARTY
Best Value SIM-OnlySMARTYVOXI
Best Network for Customer ServicePlusnetTesco Mobile
Best Network for DataSkyBT Mobile
Best Network for RoamingThreeEE
Most Popular Mobile NetworkThreeiD Mobile
Best Pay Monthly NetworkSkyTesco Mobile
Best PAYG NetworkVOXIgiffgaff
Best Value Pay MonthlyPlusnetiD Mobile
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How much data should I look for in a SIM only deal?

How much data you need is all down to how much you use your phone. According to statistics, the average Brit needs around 2GB-3GB per month for general daily phone use.

That covers things like checking your email, browsing the internet and updating your social media accounts.

But if you love streaming video and regularly listen to music and podcasts apps, you'll probably need quite a bit more.

If you want to see how much data you're using, all you have to do is take a look at the network app on your phone.

You should find a detailed breakdown of exactly how much data you use on a monthly basis.

With this info you should be able to make a well-informed decision on the kind of SIM only plan you need, unless of course you plan to change your usage. Either way you'll have a clear view of how much you're using.

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How easy is it to switch networks?

If you want to switch networks to find a better deal that suits your needs, first you need to find out how long is left in your existing contract.

Handily, if you're approaching the end of your contract your network is now obliged to send you an end of contract notification.

Once you're out of contract, switching networks is as simple as sending a text thanks to the introduction of recent 'text-to-switch' legislation.

You can find out more about text to switch in our in-depth guide

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What is an end of contract notification?

Mobile phone networks must now notify their customers when their mobile phone contracts are coming to an end.

This lets consumers avoid overpaying, as well as giving them a heads up that they are free to find a better deal with a new network should they wish to shop around.

Are you in or out? Find out more about end of contract notifications here.

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Can I trust smaller, less well known networks? Is the service as good?

Although the likes of giffgaff and the people's operator aren't as instantly recognisable as high-street names such as Three, EE and Tesco Mobile, they're certainly brands you can trust.

In fact, many smaller networks offer market-leading call rates and data deals, so they can often work out cheaper than more well known networks.

You'll also find that there's no difference in call quality and mobile internet coverage with smaller providers.

That's because their service is based on larger providers' network infrastructure, which these smaller networks pay a fee to use.

Where you may find a difference compared with the larger networks is in customer support, however.

In order to keep prices low, some smaller networks don't operate a call centre and offer online support only.

If you choose smaller networks you also shouldn't expect enticing customer incentives, such as O2's Freebies or movie downloads with EE.

But you may decide that you don't want or need those and that a good service and cheap rates are your priority.

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How can I tell if my phone is unlocked and will accept another network's SIM?

A locked phone means yu can only use it on the network you bought it on, but this can differ depending on which network, handset and plan you have.

For example, if you buy a phone with EE or Vodafone, it'll be locked to their networks. So if you want to switch over to another network's SIM, you'll have to unlock your handset first.

But when it comes to O2 phones bought on pay monthly plans, you'll find that some are completely unlocked. But all pay-as-you-go phone from O2 are unlocked.

Three phones always come unlocked. Regardles of the type of phone, price plan it was bought on or if you got it on pay monthly contract or pay as you go plan.

Don't wory if youre a bit confused, it's all abit complicated. However, there's a simple way to see if your phone is unlocked.

All you need to do is to take out your current SIM and put another network's SIM in to your phone. Just ask a friend or family member if you can borrow theirs for a quick test.

If your phone takes the SIM and it works like normal with a signal, this means your phone is unlocked and so it won't need to be unlocked at all.

But, if you can't get a signal, this means your phone is indeed locked. You'll then have to call your network to ask them to unlock your smartphone which may incur a payment.

For more info on switching networks, check out our handy guide

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My phone is unlocked. What's my next move?

Great, that's good news. You're now free to get a new SIM. The next thing to do is find a SIM only deal that suits your needs.

The best way to do is that by using the Uswitch comparison tables above. For some guidance as to which network to choose, take a look at all networks that picked up prizes at the 2020 Uswitch awards in the section below.

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I've found a SIM only deal with another network. What do I do next?

The next thing to do is make sure you're not still under contract and are free to switch. The best way to do this? Ring your network.

Once you’ve made sure you're able to switch, contact your new chosen network and sign up for for the new SIM only deal. You'll then get your new SIM card in a couple of days.

Don't forget you'll also need to ring or email your current network to let them know you’d like to leave. If your phone is locked, they will need to unlock it.

Your network wil probably try to keep you on board and you may find yourself being passsed on to its customer retentions department. If this happens, just make sure you're firm and clear over your desire to switch.

You may have to pay charge to unlock your phone. But this shou;d be pretty small, maybe around £15-£20. And once the phone is ready and unlocked you can pop your new SIM in and get started with your new plan.

If you want to keep your current number, which is always handy, you'll need to request your PAC code (Porting Authorisation Code) when you tell your network you are leaving. We'll explain more about PAC codes in the section below.

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How do I keep my number when I get a new SIM?

If you want to keep your number when you change networks, you'll need to ask for a PAC code from your current provider.

A PAC code is made up of three letters and six numbers and is provided free by your network.

Previously, getting your network to part with your PAC code would involve phoning or emailing your network or even filling out a PAC code request form.

But now, thanks the recent introduction of 'text to switch', getting your PAC code is as easy as sending a text message.

All you have to do is text PAC to 65075, and your network provider is required to send your PAC code in a text reply as soon as possible, you may even get it right away. You'll also receive important info regarding any charges, costs or outstanding balances you may have.

In the meantime, leave your old SIM in your phone. This means that apart from a very brief period when the transfer is actually underway, you’ll still be able to receive calls and texts on your phone.

To check if the transfer is complete, just insert your new SIM in your handset and see if your new number is registered on your new network. If you are, everything's gone according to plan.

Find out more about keeping your number when you switch network.

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Will I lose service if I switch to a SIM only deal with another network?

Moving networks is meant to be a near-seamless process so you're hardly ever out of service.

You'll still be able to take calls and receive texts after you've given your new network your PAC code (see above for more about PAC codes).

When the actual switch to your new network happens, you may lose service for a very small period of time.

When the transfer is said to be done, just put your new SIM in to your phone and switch it on. If the phone works and you can make calls - you've got service and you're all set.

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I’ve found a good SIM only deal with my existing network. What happens now?

So you’ve found a new SIM only deal you want to sign up to and you know for sure you're no longer tied into a contract with another network. Great.

Now, all you need to do is ring up your network and let them know you’re going to switch to a new SIM only deal you’ve chosen.

You’ll then be switched over to your new chosen SIM only deal 30 days after your current contract ends. It’s really that easy.

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What do I do with my old SIM?

Data theft is a big worry these day, and if you're concerned that your SIM and all the info on it - contacts, text messages, personal information - could fall into the wrong hands, you'll need to dispose the SIM card with due care.

Just like a bank card, the best thing to do is chop the SIM card up with a pair of scissors.

While you're destroying the card make sure you cut through the gold foil so its absolutely corrupted and there is no way anybody can get any info off the SIM. then just through the pieces in the bin. Job done.

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Will there be a credit check? What happens if I fail?

When signing up for one-month rolling SIM only or 12-month SIM only contracts with a brand new network, you will need to pass a credit check.

For pay monthly plans the credit check isn't as stringent as for 12 month contracts. So even if you haven't been accepted for a 12-month contract in the past, you can still pass the check.

And if you don't pass your credit check, you can still get a decent SIM only deal.

Compare SIM only deals that don't require a credit check.

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Will a SIM only deal improve my credit rating?

Yes, passing a credit check for a for 12-month SIM only dealis good for your credit rating. That's because you're committing to paying a set fee for your plan every month on time.

By paying every month on time, you show lenders you are good credit and trustworthy.

Be careful though, if you miss monthly payments, you can risk affecting your credit score. If you're worried about making montly payments a one-month SIM only deal might be best so you can cancel or downgrade should you need to with no issues.

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