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SIM only vs pay monthly - what’s the difference?

Do you get a new handset contract or keep your old phone and take out a SIM only deal? Which is more suited to your needs?
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Sim only vs pay monthly - sim card and handset icons

If your contract's coming to an end, or you're eligible to upgrade, the main thing to decide is whether you want another mobile phone contract or a SIM only deal.

One comes with a new handset, the other will let you keep your current phone for a much lower monthly price. So whether you want a more recent phone, or you're looking to save some money, here's what you should consider.

SIM only vs mobile contract: which should I choose?

Here are the main things to keep in mind when it comes to deciding between a mobile pay monthly contract or a SIM only plan.

Mobile contract

  • You can choose a new & improved phone

  • Good for your credit score

SIM only

  • Usually much cheaper

  • No credit check often required

  • More sustainable (less waste)

What is a pay monthly plan?

First things first - even though SIM only plans are also charged on a monthly basis, 'pay monthly' usually refers to a mobile phone & SIM contract. Since you'd be paying off your handset on a monthly basis, compared to no handset charge at all if you opt for SIM only.

When you sign up to a pay monthly plan, you generally commit for either 12 or 24 months. During this time, you’re committed to paying a set amount of money every month until the contract is paid off.

This fee will change depending on what you get with your contract. You’ll usually receive a set amount of calls, texts and data, as well as a phone. But your cost mainly depends on how expensive your chosen phone is.

For instance, the iPhone 15 Pro currently costs £999 without a contract. But you can get your hands on one if you sign up to a pay monthly plan for less.

If you choose a phone that doesn’t cost as much, the contract will usually have a lower monthly cost. The latest iPhone SE is a relative bargain with its retail price of £429. But of course, for most of us, that’s still a significant amount of money. On a pay monthly plan, you can get the iPhone SE for as little as £20 a month.

Need to upgrade your phone?

Compare the best-selling mobile phone deals from the UK's biggest networks.

What is a SIM only plan?

A SIM only plan does what it says on the tin: you get a SIM card with no handset included. So it’s perfect if you already have a phone you’re happy to use. And since you’re not spreading out the cost of a handset, you can get a SIM only plan for a lot less than pay monthly plans.

While you still pay for your SIM only plan every month, it differs from a contract in the sense that there’s no long-term commitment. In most cases, you can change or even get out of your chosen SIM only plan after just 30 days.

And since there’s no long-term commitment, there’s usually no need for an in-depth credit check, which makes SIM only a really good option for quickly getting your hands on a decent plan with no fuss or commitment.

Switching to SIM only is also a great way of cutting down your costs if you were previously on a pay monthly plan. If you’re happy to keep your handset, once your contract is up there’s no need to keep paying the same rate.

Compare SIM only deals

Browse our full range of SIM only mobile deals on Uswitch.


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