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I will be travelling very soon in the UK (London first for a couple of days then up north to Scotland for the greater part of the trip). I live in Canada.

I was wondering if there is a cheap & effective option to get cell phone coverage (calls, texts and internet) while on the road. The trip will last 2 weeks (14 days).

  • I'd like to be able to call & text my friends who reside in the U.K to sync-up with them.
  • I'd like to have some internet access to check on things without having to find a WIFI hotspot every time.

My cell phone is recent (it has 5G support) and was bought unlocked. It has dual-SIM support so there should be no issues on that front I believe.

Thanks!

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    I'm not sure what your question is? There are plenty of "pay as you go" (PAYG, which actually means "pre-paid") SIM offers available. Pick one based on your estimated needs, find a reseller, pop it into your phone, voilà!
    – jcaron
    Aug 18 at 14:28
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    @jcaron Coming from a country where cell phone plans are prohibitively expensive, "pay as you go" options don't immediately jump to my mind as they do not really fit my definition of "cheap". But perhaps I am overthinking this and it's just a non-issue in Europe where prices seem very much more reasonable for these things. Thanks!
    – ereOn
    Aug 18 at 14:35
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    In the UK PAYG bundles start under £5 for unlimited calls, unlimited texts and a few GB of data, valid for one month.
    – jcaron
    Aug 18 at 14:50
  • I usually use Giffgaff. It's pay as you go, easy to top up, and they'll send you a free SIM card pretty much anywhere in the world. Aug 19 at 3:01
  • I recently used giffgaff. They sent me a free sim which I loaded up with £10 which was plenty for one week.
    – user79729
    Aug 19 at 3:24

3 Answers 3

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You have roughly two options. One is 'true PAYG', in which you topup by say £10 a time and the tariff is X pence/call, Yp/SMS, and Zp/MB. Here is a list of PAYG operators and their prices.

The other is that many of the UK 'traditional' networks have moved from true PAYG to a system where you pay £x for a 'bundle' of calls/SMS/GB that typically lasts for a month, but there is typically no requirement to keep paying - once the bundle expires (or if you exceed it) you end up on some default tariff, which will burn through credit fast unless you buy another 'bundle'. You topup in the same way, but the system may buy the 'bundles' automatically if you have available credit. Many of the carriers linked on the website above also offer such 'bundles', either as addons to their PAYG service or as their main offering. Typically the most use for 'bundles' is to get more data than you might get on say a 1p/MB PAYG tariff.

The next question is how to get hold of a SIM. You may find you can purchase a SIM on say Amazon or eBay and get it shipped to you (or to your accommodation ready for you to arrive). The carriers will ship locally but probably not internationally. If you try to buy a SIM at the airport / street where you're staying, you may find a limited selection - typically just the major networks, most of which now have punitive true PAYG rates. Sometimes family-run smaller stores (newsagents, corner grocery stores, petrol stations, etc) keep some SIM cards, although not a good selection.

Once you have the SIM, you can topup online or from your phone via a credit/debit card, at many shops (eg supermarkets - you ask them for an £X topup on XYZ Mobile), and at some ATMs (withdraw £X from your bank and it goes directly to your chosen mobile number). Some of the more obscure operators may be online/phone topup only rather than at physical stores. It may be more difficult to topup online with a non-UK card, depending on whatever fraud prevention measures are in place.

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    Regarding getting hold of SIM cards, one of the advantages of Asda and Tesco is that because they are associated with the supermarkets in question, most branches of the supermarkets will stock their sim cards. Even if a supermarket doesn't have its own network they are often worth a look for SIMs. Aug 19 at 13:35
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I live in Belgium and regularly go to the UK for a few weeks at a time. The best option seems to be indeed a Pay As You Go SIM with a bundle. I have a SIM from Smarty that I picked up in one of these phone repair shops and loaded it online (download the Smarty App). I put GBP 20 on it and got unlimited data for a month. I think the calls and SMS were 100 minutes for free. But I never used this as WhatsApp etc. uses data, so effectively free! I was doubting about the "unlimited" part but I was regularly using over 10G per day for work. No problem. Have fun on your visit.

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  • As an American, it seems odd to me that work made you pay for your own cellular data for work purposes, but I realize that rules/laws/expectations vary in different countries around the world. Other than forgetting what we were doing and burning our prepaid SIMs trying to get hold of our credit card company when our cards were locked for suspected fraud (despite telling them we were traveling), this is exactly what we did for a European trip a few years ago.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 19 at 13:09
  • Just chiming in to point out that it isn't effectively free if you've already paid £20, but it's not a bad deal if you're using that much data for sure. Aug 19 at 13:40
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    @FreeMan expand "buy" to "buy and reimburse as a business expense" and you'd capture how I'd expect most reasonable companies in the US to handle needing to get a local SIM and service. I'd probably default to just saying/writing "buy" unless the question of who ultimately paid for it was significant. OTOH I also wouldn't be surprised by a US company saying that paying for it yourself was an extension of their existing BYOD policy, or that a company paid SIM couldn't be used for non-work related purposes forcing someone to buy one out of pocket anyway. Aug 19 at 18:42
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A third option (In addition to user1908704's answer) is a travel SIM. Some are available as both physical SIM and eSIM. For example from Orange.

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