Whether you want to avoid long-term contracts, manage your mobile bill more easily, or skip credit checks – a pay-as-you-go SIM deal is the way to go.

In this article, we take a look at the best pay-as-you-go SIM deals in the UK, explain how you can benefit from these deals, and take a deep dive into how to pick the right deal for you based on your needs.

List of pay-as-you-go SIM-only deals

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What is a pay-as-you-go SIM?

A PAYG (pay-as-you-go) SIM gives you access to mobile services without a long-term contract. With no termination fees, you can cancel the service or switch providers easily anytime for free.

Unlike contract plans, no mobile is included with PAYG deals. So, you’re required to already own a phone or purchase a mobile separately.

How does a PAYG SIM work?

Instead of monthly bills, with a PAYG SIM, you can add credit to your account whenever you want. Depending on your network, you can buy this credit in a shop, online, or directly through your bank.

Most pay-as-you-go SIM deals have bundles that might include a blend of texts, minutes, and data at a discounted price. When you claim a PAYG bundle, you must top up by the network’s specified amount each month to keep the special deal. If you don’t, you’re going to have to pay the standard rates again until you do.

For most networks, there are top-up time limits for PAYG accounts. The time varies from provider to provider. But it’s usually between two and six months in the UK. If you don’t add credit before this time limit, your account, deal, and mobile services are cancelled. However, you can just sign up again.

Benefits of PAYG SIMs

PAYG SIMs are a popular choice in the UK for many reasons, such as:

  • Flexibility. PAYG SIMs are contract-free, allowing you to switch networks or deals anytime without termination fees.
  • Easy budgeting. With PAYG, you’re able to top up as much as you want (ensure to have the minimum amount required). Plus, there are no surprise bills at the end of the month.
  • Affordability. Unlike contract deals, PAYG SIMs don’t come with fixed and high monthly costs. With most networks, topping up with £5 every few months keeps your PAYG account active.
  • Low barrier to entry. You won’t have to pass a credit check to get a PAYG SIM. Plus, the sign-up process is quick and simple with very few requirements.

Which networks offer PAYG SIM-only deals?

Let’s take a look at some of the UK’s most popular mobile networks that offer excellent PAYG SIM-only deals.

Tesco Mobile

Using O2’s network, Tesco Mobile has excellent and reliable UK coverage. Backed by one of the UK’s most popular supermarket chains, it offers a range of affordable prepaid SIM plans.

As a bonus, with a Tesco Mobile PAYG SIM-only deal, you won’t have to pay any EU roaming charges until 2025.

O2

With 20+ million customers, O2 is one of the most popular mobile networks in the UK. It’s got an excellent variety of prepaid deals with free SIM delivery to your home when you order online.

Thanks to its 99% 4G coverage in the UK and 5G support in most densely populated UK regions, O2 is a favourite for many heavy data users.

EE

Like the other most popular providers, EE has wide 4G coverage and a constantly expanding 5G network.

Being the second-largest UK mobile operator, it’s no surprise EE has some of the best PAYG deals. From free WiFi hotspots to data boosts – there are plenty of potential perks and bonuses.

Pros and cons of pay-as-you-go deals

If you are thinking about getting a pay-as-you-go SIM deal, consider the benefits and drawbacks. Our list below can help you make up your mind.

How to find the best pay-as-you-go SIMs

There are several factors you can consider when looking to find the best pay-as-you-go SIM deals. We have outlined some of them below:

  • Understand your usage. The number of minutes, texts, and data you get can vary from plan to plan. Check your mobile data usage, call history, and how often you text in advance. This way, you know for sure you’re getting a deal that matches your needs.
  • Compare providers. The UK has several mobile networks with pay-as-you-go options. Check the prepaid mobile deals of every possible provider in your area so you don’t miss out on the best value offer.
  • Evaluate plan options. Networks with limited prepaid options, likely are more focused on customers with contract deals. To get the best PAYG deal, pick a network with a decent variety.
  • Break down prices. Some prepaid SIM deals include a blend of data, minutes, and texts. Others include a singular service such as data only. When looking at prices, make sure to consider the value of each service.
  • Consider coverage. Some providers have inadequate coverage and slow internet speeds in certain areas. Try to find regionally-based reviews, ask your local friends for recommendations, or pick a network you’re already happy and familiar with.
  • Look for rewards. With no long-term commitments or contracts, you can switch providers whenever you like. To improve customer loyalty, some networks offer very beneficial extras and discounts.

How does Cybernews deal comparison work?

We collect a live database of deals and special offers from the most popular mobile network providers, including Three, Vodafone, O2, and Tesco. Since the data is taken straight from the provider, you can be sure that the prices and all the other offer details, such as contract length and monthly cost, are up to date.

If you’re looking for a contract deal with a handset, you can choose from the newest models from the most popular phone brands - Apple, Google, Samsung, Xiaomi, Sony, Motorola, OnePlus, and many more. Instead of going through several network providers’ websites, use the filtering system to select the best SIM-only or contract with a handset deal!

What is the difference between SIM-free and pay-as-you-go?

A SIM-free phone isn’t locked to a specific network. So, you can insert a SIM from any UK provider and it’s going to work fine. Pay-as-you-go phones are sometimes locked – insert an incompatible network’s SIM and it won’t work without an unlock code. This code is challenging or sometimes even impossible to get. Locked PAYG phones are usually cheaper but lack SIM-free flexibility because you’re stuck with a single network.

On the other hand, SIM-only deals offer network services without a phone which is ideal if you already have a SIM-free phone and don’t want to pay for a new device unnecessarily. Some SIM-only contracts require a 12-month commitment or more, while others require as little as one month.

Pay-as-you-go SIM deals are a type of SIM-only plan. They offer mobile services without a phone. However, there are no time commitments required with these network plans. This means it’s free to switch or cancel at any time.

With PAYG deals, you can add credit as you please and there’s no fixed monthly cost unless you’re claiming a bundle deal. However, if you don’t pay for your PAYG bundle in time, there are no extra charges - you just lose the special offer and go back to standard rates. PAYG options are far more flexible than long-term SIM-only deals but, for users that use a lot of bandwidth, it can cost more.

Can you get roaming with a pay-as-you-go SIM?

Yes, you can get roaming with a pay-as-you-go SIM. Not every prepaid SIM supports roaming, but most mainstream UK networks, including Three, Tesco, Vodafone, O2, and EE, do.

Roaming costs for PAYG SIMs vary depending on your network, the deal you’re on, your location, and the service you’re using. It’s important to note that roaming rates for PAYG users are usually more expensive compared to the rates for customers with contracts.

If you’re a frequent traveller and use the internet on your phone a lot, you might want to consider a contract deal to lower roaming expenses.

Alternative SIM-only plans

Not sure if a pay-as-you-go SIM deal is right for you? Check out these alternative SIM-only plans:

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